American Airlines has been stingy with award availability specifically since the merger with US Airways management. They say things have gotten better, but how do they explain wide open flights, 300 days in advance with no premium saver seats?
Things Used to Be Much Better
When I first became an Executive Platinum member of American Airlines, I could secure saver space on long haul flights, especially in advance. Systemwide Upgrades (eVIPs) were often available at the time of booking. When American merged with (was bought by) US Airways, all of that changed.
Systemwide Upgrades became so useless that two years ago I didn’t use any. Last year, I gifted two of them to a friend and still have two left to die on the vine in a week or so. Booking long haul (specifically Asian) destinations in premium cabins using saver space has become a thing of the past.
Eliminating All of the Excuses
American offers limited flights to Asia, though Hong Kong should be easy enough to secure premium saver awards for flights. They utilize the largest aircraft in the system (777-300ER) with a four-cabin configuration including eight seats in First Class and 52 in business class.
Unlike American’s flight to Seoul which uses a smaller 777-200 and has no direct partner flights, the two daily flights to Hong Kong from LAX and Dallas Fort Worth complement American’s oneworld partner, Cathay Pacific. Cathay flies to Boston, Toronto, Vancouver, New York JFK, San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle, and 3-4 daily flights to LAX.
American Airlines apologists have made excuses in the past for the abysmal award availability so I want to eliminate those excuses. I searched for space far in advance (December 4-11th). I chose mid-week dates (lower demand) and during a period between US holidays when fewer travelers choose to travel, especially business customers.
There’s really no valid reason for American to not offer saver space unless the flights are already selling ahead of schedule.
Abysmal Availability Despite Wide-Open Cabins
Just how bad is it? I am so glad you asked. On a recent sample search (using the old search engine as it’s a finished product), I checked out the Los Angeles-Hong Kong flight which is often less full than Dallas-Hong Kong but uses the same 777-300ER equipment. Below is the availability that American lists. As you can see there are no saver level seats in First nor Business Class.
Presumably, those cabins are full, right? Let’s take a look at available space in First Class from the American Airlines website.
Hmmm. Not a single seat sold in First Class well in advance yet no saver level awards for the flight? Certainly, Business Class must be better though. In order to not have any saver space either I would imagine they have sold at least a quarter of the cabin, maybe more.
Nope! Just 3.8% of seats have been sold for the flight in Business Class. It’s even possible that none have been sold and the two seats are instead blocked for crew rest as is common on long-haul flights for pilots. In my experience, those crew rest blocked seats tend to be in window seats and closer to the front, so I will assume they have actually sold those seats.
American also recently announced that Premium Economy seats are available for awards though booking is still new. The new system shows there are seats available, but not at saver level. How many seats have been sold in Premium Economy?
Not one Premium Economy has even been sold. Not one.
Surely, American is holding back some of these seats for flyers that spend $12-15,000 in base airfare alone and fly 100,000 miles with the carrier right? Management reduced the number of eVIPs from eight to four distributed annually, fewer frequent flyers getting upgrades for free should make it easier to upgrade. Let’s see that glorious Systemwide Upgrade availability.
It’s not even listed as an option.
How Does American Airlines Justify This?
How can American Airlines justify this terrible lack of space despite not selling a single First Class or Premium Economy seat and only 3.8% of the Business Class cabin? I asked them just that question on Twitter.
I received a canned answer, par for the course.
It’s astonishing that American Airlines has released virtually no space. While I won’t list out every route, their default position is to release nothing. When they do release space (it’s worthy of press releases and blog posts), they open up large swaths for regions and then shut off the faucet within a couple of days, though this route is nearly never included.
American Airlines recently announced their Q4 performance for 2018 and once again, the carrier lost money flying passengers but made money off of their loyalty program. I’m sure the top brass perceives the strategy to be working, generating revenue from the sale of miles while never releasing cheap saver space. But I, for one, have let all of my American Airlines credit cards go instead of putting all of my spend on the Citi Executive credit card as I once did. I presume others have joined me which begs the question: How long this strategy can prolong?
Why do you think American refuses to release a majority of their long-haul premium award space? Does it affect your loyalty as a passenger?