American Airlines has been using web specials to dupe passengers into more restrictive awards after eliminating redeposit fees.
If you are considering booking travel or signing up for a new credit card please click here. Both support LiveAndLetsFly.com.
If you haven’t followed us on Facebook or Instagram, add us today.
American Airlines Removed Redeposit Fees
In a slew of passenger-friendly moves, American Airlines eliminated award redeposit fees. In so doing, anyone who holds AA miles (Advantage miles) can cancel an award without paying anything to return those miles to their account. Prior to the change, those that were not elite frequent flyers with the airline would pay $150 to get their miles back from a canceled award.
As Gary Leff commented back in November 2020 when the change was announced, this move helped anyone who held Advantage miles including all credit card customers. That change makes holding status with American less valuable but helps less frequent flyers who may hold a variety of miles and points including with American.
“Ironically it’ll also reduce the incentive I have as an Executive Platinum to keep my status. Waived award cancel and redeposit fees has actually been one of the benefits I’ve valued most. It’s let me make flight bookings and then try to plan a trip – getting hotels in order, arranging schedules, getting family buy-in. That, though, is indicative of how helpful this can be for everyone else.”
Suspicious Pricing to Mexico
I was helping a customer price an award trip to Mexico this week, one of the most popular destinations for Americans right now. Award prices showed up normally for the market, especially for something last minute – normal award chart pricing is between 25-30,000 miles roundtrip.
However, when I clicked on the pricing for 30,000 miles in economy, I found something unexpected. The 30,000 pricing was actually an economy web special award which imposes restrictions that normal awards do not.
I looked at the other classes of service including first class and business class to see if the airline was simply full in economy but found the same surcharge despite plenty of open seats. These are worse than the old “milesaaver” awards and in some cases, even worse than “aanytime” award which were the maximum price. This dynamic pricing model makes me yearn for the old days of the “aadvantage” program – despite the superfluous extra “a” added to everything.
However, the cash prices don’t communicate overly full flights. Depending on the destination within Mexico prices ranged from $450-600 from Pittsburgh during the period over New Year’s. For comparison, trans-Atlantic business class flights on American sell for $2,000-4,000 and are often available for the same award ticket price as these 1,000 mile hauls to Mexico.
Flights are absolutely full to Mexico in the current environment so getting a surcharge is fair. However, the airline already utilizes dynamic pricing so increasing the cost of awards is part of their current pricing program. Web Specials, however, are intended (and marketed) as a deal, something that is better than the price everyone else gets. It comes with a cost, further restrictions in the itinerary, but by pricing all of the awards so high but marketing some as a better deal than others when it’s in fact worse is deceptive to customers.
Just Another Way to Dupe Passengers
American Airlines award web specials were a great deal when they were initially introduced. Short-haul awards sold for as few as 5,000 miles for empty flights like Pittsburgh to New York Laguardia. Adhering to the strict restrictions that came with those awards and relatively cheaper prices seemed fair.
While American’s site does not include all award bookings in web specials, when they are available, they tended to offer a good value for passenger’s miles. Business-class awards to Japan were once offered as inexpensively as 90,000 miles roundtrip, about the same price to fly economy at the time.
However, this move shows that American sends one message but delivers another. By pricing standard awards at ridiculously high rates, they pigeonhole their customers into restricted awards by date, flight number, and route. While the awards remain refundable under American Airlines’ new refund policy (they were before non-refundable) they maintain that the flights cannot be altered as normal awards would.
It’s not illegal. It’s not a violation of their terms. It’s just dramatically disingenuous. To suggest that the privilege to move one’s flight by an hour would be impossible without a surcharge of nearly 400% is not in line with what the airline has done in the past, nor does it suggest that all other options are full.
American Airlines Web Special award pricing is a slap in the face to anyone who knows what they are looking at (our readership qualifies as just the sort of informed audience.) This is what an airline does when they don’t really want to conform to the flexibility other carriers have allowed but feel that they must to stay competitive.
It also relays to me that the airline believes some will simply not call in to cancel if a flight no longer works for their plans. Pricing awards normally but then introducing arbitrary restrictions for what should be a normal award is cheap and speaks to the relatively low intelligence American Airlines believes their customers possess. It’s slimy, and it’s par for the course in Fort Worth, TX these days.
What do you think? Is American Airlines trying to dupe their customers into restrictive fares? Is there a better explanation?
Advertiser Disclosure: Opinions expressed on LiveAndLetsFly.com are of the author alone. American Express, Citi, Chase, and other bank advertisers featured in the credit card offers section has not reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed this content. As an editorial note, we may receive compensation from successful applicants.
I booked one of these in F to Turks and Caicos in January. I honestly don’t see what the big deal is unless I am missing something. You can still cancel and redeposit and then rebook again.
Seconded. With a redoposit fee, sure. Without, I must be missing something. Or this post is pointless, which would be a shock for a “Sunday” post.
By making this switch, American has, in essence, moved the cost of standard awards through the roof and moved standard prices to restricted fares. If redeposit fees come back, the goalposts have already been moved. I was also rather clear that redeposit fees are gone, cited a post about that and quoted from it too. I was clear that it’s not illegal nor in violation of the program rules – it’s just disingenuous.
You’re a well-informed reader, but those who are not and need to make a simple change may find the process difficult and arduous (we all know how quickly replacement award space goes.) They may be less inclined to process a full cancellation and rebooking, essentially duping them into either spending more than they ever should for a standard award (as is the case here) or trapping them into a process that even for mileage veterans can be a pain and cause heartburn.
Yep, and as long as AA allows the 5 day hold on awards, I really don’t see the problem. Hold an award, cancel the old one, book the held award when the miles redeposit.
We slid our Christmas reservations around all the time in years past. We might book on the 18th (too early) or the 25th (too late) and the same with our return – wherever the availability was for the route which has become anemic with American. We would then move our award as availability changed. Canceling and rebooking doesn’t come without risks especially when moving multiple seats and flights. If American offered more reasonable availability maybe adding another hurdle wouldn’t be such a concern. Likewise, on a simple nonstop or one-stop flight to Turks I can understand the “what for” but take a smaller market like MCI, CLE, SAT, or PIT then add flights to HKG with a stop in DFW/LAX and now you’re lining up 3-4 seats in a premium cabin on two flights minimum which can be more of a struggle than it looks. Booking standard awards that now cost 400% with normal flexibility also penalizes those with smaller balances.
I don’t get the problem either. As opposed to screwing over AAdvantage members, this move seems to screw over partners. American has effectively cut saver awards that would be bookable by other programs while preserving space for AA’s own members.
50,000 miles plus taxes/fees for a ticket you can buy for $450 ? I’d just buy the ticket.
Yeah, I don’t get the uproar. If you decide you want to switch flights just cancel the original booking at no cost and rebook.
If later the flight you want is priced way higher and you can’t switch….that would be the same as trying to switch a saver award to a flight that had no saver awards.
Tell me what I’m missing
The information Is not entirely accurate. There are several categories of web special awards. Basically, they carry Versions of the classic Milesaaver awards AND aanytime awards, so even if listed as reduced mileage awards, they might take up More miles than the usual Milesaaver. When in doubt, place on hold and call for clarification
Stupid post, I don’t see the issue either. Why so negative? Life must be so sad for you when you look through the lens like this all the time (glass 1/2 empty).
Lol – the carrier just jacked up the price on standard awards 400% and Jim shrugs?
Except they didn’t? Anyone reading this blog knows the rules and knows these are refundable. While your point that it may be sleazy and confuse less informed passengers is valid, it’s just not going to generate outrage here. Know your audience.
Don’t see what the issue is. Before we had the saver awards and the normal ones that could be as high as 500k miles (lax to syd) in Biz.
If you wanted to change your saver flight and nothing was available in saver you had to pony up the difference in miles. Now the only difference is that you have to cancel your flight and rebook it, and the same applies, of web special isnt available, pony up the difference in miles.
Except that now with the web special, I flew DFW to LHR in Business rountrip for only 75k miles. Or economy for 15k each way, if you watch closely there are some great deals to be had.
It’s not about the difference in price, it’s that these are no longer standard awards with the same perks and privileges, but they are standard prices. This causes three problems as I and some commenters have pointed out. 1) They have in essence moved the goal posts for standard awards in price and function. 2) Other airlines can no longer access these prices, which will make them equally territorial with their award space. 3) If you’ve ever set an alert for a flight change and had multiple passengers on an award, you’ll agree that even when the space appears available, others are jumping on the same space (getting the same alerts) and depending on the speed of your agent, they may be gone by the time you cancel, refund, and rebook the seats.
Your examples are great in terms of the benefit of web specials but they also highlight a fundamental misunderstanding. Had your tickets from DFW to LHR been sold as a Web Special for 115,000 points round trip in business or economy each way for 22,500 and the standard award prices had moved to 480,000 round trip in business and 112,500 in economy each way that would be the equivalent to what’s happened with these Mexico flights.
Web Specials are restrictive in nature and should be great deals like the one you snagged. But this wasn’t a great deal. It was literally the base award chart price, marketed as a Web Special, and the standard award (which these tickets should have been) were marked up 400%. That causes all of the issues above and hurts average Advantage miles holders disproportionately.
Is it just me, but does moving so much of what was saver award availability into Web Specials also limit OneWorld and other AAdvantage partner availability on redemptions. I mean using Avios for AA awards was always hard but with Web Specials it made the already hard task of finding AAdvantage saver availability even harder!
So much ado about NOTHING! BTW–arent ALL airlines onerous in one way or another?
I also don’t really see the issue here.
Unless when you cancel a ticket the seat doesn’t go back immediately into the award bucket and so you can’t rebook if the price went down.
But if you are changing dates what’s the problem with canceling, redepositing and booking another date?
Not to mention that American Airlines is not located in Grapevine, TX. The author is too clever for his own credibility.
You’re right, Jack. I’ll change it in the post. DFW is in Grapevine, TX and the building American just remodeled adjacent to the airport is somehow in Fort Worth. Mind blown.
This is way in the weeds, but technically DFW isn’t in Grapevine, either. The airport’s footprint sits in part of five cities – Coppell, Euless, Fort Worth, Grapevine, and Irving. Fort Worth only gets a piece because as part of the agreement to build the airport, the city annexed a funky little arm of land so that the airport’s south entrance would be in the city. One of the quirks in the original agreement in the 60s because FW and Dallas hated each other. (Allegedly it’s also why all the terminal buildings are in Tarrant County – because then FW mayor Amon Carter refused to sign off if they were built in Dallas County.)
So I finally know the basis for “Amon Carter Road” or “Blvd” where I used to mail AA vouchers for redemption. Thanks for the info.
Reading through the comments, at first I was equally confused just as other commenters since I didnt see a big issue to what you described. However there is one huge caveat with booking web specials disguised as regular awards. They are only valid on AA and in case your itinerary changes and you would like to get rebooked, any other OW carrier will not be an option and you will have to wait/hope that AA opens up space on another flight.
Good catch. Also, who’s to say that these “Web Specials” won’t have additional strings attached? Just because they don’t have redeposit fees now doesn’t mean it won’t change. For once, I don’t think Kyle is out of line in pointing out that it’s a shady practice that might affect award redemptions in the future.
It seems awfully similar to the implementation of BE fares… Making “regular” fares/awards more expensive by adding a “cheaper” option that’s restrictive (and priced at previous “regular” levels). 🙁
I’ve noticed this change actually protects those with American miles. No more cheap avios bookings on short hauls since saver award space is gone. Just webslecials for Aadvantage members.
Kyle, you need to chill the F down. I like AAs new redeposit policy and totally in love with the Web special mileage offers. Stop complaining since it an XP and now AA isn’t giving you enough benefits. I get it that non elites are able to cancel award tickets with out a fee.
@TalentHacker – Who is unchilled? I didn’t type that the world was on fire, just that this move was shady. I also highlighted that it doesn’t really effect elites, it effects the uninformed without status. Maybe give it a re-read.
*affect. Sorry I just had to post.
Seems like maybe the worse aspect of this is what it does to the value of Avios? Took a chance and converted some Amex points to Avios when there was a bonus, hoping to use at least some on domestic AA flights. Sounds like this will be much more difficult in future.
My God you cry about such useless things man. Who cares if you can’t change them, cancel and rebook. Let’s not discourage AA for being the new best miles to earn.
This post once again proves many have so idea when it comes to value of things in particular. Most of those in the miles world these days use credit card to acquire miles at least 1/2 the times if not more, If you are getting 1 point/$1 spend and the value is 1 cent for every point and the bank decides overnight to suddenly change it to 0.5 cent after you acquired those points, it would be considered unethical. However airlines and other loyalty programs change the value of their miles/points overnight and that too purposefully to dupe the customers/members and people are happy to pay the difference because many view award tickets as free tickets. Award tickets are NOT free tickets, you could have earned $$ instead of earning miles/points.
Looking at all the comments, it appears you’re making a big deal out of nothing for what is no doubt a slow blogging season. The awards are still refundable, for FREE. this did not happen before. Web Special awards have never been able to be changed, that’s the whole point of a “special* price. As for dynamic standard awards, poor example picking low-demand INTL travel during a pandemic. There are plenty of saver awards to Asia, on partners I might add for the standard price.
Color me confused as well. I booked a Web Special round trip LAX-LHR late the coming summer for 136,000 miles. I’m retired so I can be flexible but couldn’t pass this up. Now just to get a vaccine…
I learned more in the posts (and your defensive responses) than the circuitous article. Perhaps choose a title that accurately describes your intended topic v making a roundabout argument that the reader has to decipher. Thought you were going to talk about the disadvantages of booking the web savers v a convoluted conspiracy theory. For once I side with the airline.