American Airlines has been using web specials to dupe passengers into more restrictive awards after eliminating redeposit fees.
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?
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