AAnytime awards costlier than MileSAAver 

By Albert Podell
This item appears on page 23 of the May 2016 issue.

As every frequent flyer knows, trips can be hard to book using your miles because the few seats on each flight that can be purchased with miles sell out quickly. Savvy frequent flyers book on the first date that the flight they want becomes available, which, in general practice, is 330 days before the flight.

I wanted to book two seats on a nonstop American Airlines (AA) flight from New York to London in July 2016, with an Aug. 14 return. I waited until Sept. 19, 2015, when the 330-day period began on the return flight, and went to www.aa.com to book the tickets using my accumulated AAdvantage miles.

After filling in four pages of information for the tickets, I was shocked to find that, in addition to there being a charge of 120,000 miles (which I expected), there would be an additional charge of $1,393, more than $900 of which was for “carrier-imposed fees.” I had expected fees of only about $400 (about $200 for each ticket).

After phoning AA, I learned that the flights I had chosen were being operated by one of AA’s alliance airlines, British Airways, which required the additional charge. 

When I asked how I could book the flights with AA, I was told, “You can’t do that yet. We have not decided how many miles to charge on those or how many seats to make available.” 

I asked when that would be determined and was told, “Sometime in the future, depending on our bookings. Just check with us every week or two.”

In short, American was holding seats off the market from folks trying to use their miles; the flights listed were available only to people paying with cash or credit cards. (This applied to every flight back to New York from London that week, I found.)

I have taken more than a hundred flights in the past 10 years, foreign and domestic, often using miles. I have no record of which were with American or for which I used miles, but I often flew American and, until this happened, I never had a problem paying for any airline’s flight with miles 330 days in advance. 

On AA’s website, the flights I wanted were listed only on the part of the website where you pay in cash. When I indicated I was paying in miles, I was rerouted to the British Air code-share flights — which had dates and times exactly the same as those for the AA flights I was trying to buy — only there was no indication that I had been transferred to a different carrier that used a different set of rules. It looked as if it all was part of the AA family.

Also, there was no mention that AA flights were not yet available for those dates for flyers using miles; the website just zipped me to the British Airways code-share flights. I didn’t know what the charge was (or even that there was a charge) until the end.

A few days later, just to see, I went back on the AA website and filled in the info, only this time I checked a box to state that I did NOT want to fly on British Airways, only on American. What came up? Flights from New York to London (and return) via Chicago, Detroit, Raleigh, Philadelphia or Miami. I did not save up 120,000 miles so I could fly between London and New York by way of Detroit, wasting four or five hours in the process in each direction.

New York-London round-trip tickets for the dates I sought were fully available for Delta Air Lines flights for those of us who wanted to pay with our miles, so, on that first day (Sept. 19) I booked my flights with Delta instead.

Two weeks after first trying to purchase my American Airlines tickets, seats on those flights were still unavailable for purchase with frequent-flyer miles. This is no way to treat a loyal customer, nor is it necessary. I feel AA is not living up to the promise they made to frequent flyers when they began the program.


New York City

ITN sent a copy of Mr. Podell’s letter to American Airlines [4255 Amon Carter Blvd., MD 2400, Fort Worth, TX 76155] and received the reply, “We have both MileSAAver and AAnytime awards. MileSAAver awards are available for as low as 12,500 miles each way plus any applicable taxes and carrier-imposed fees. MileSAAver awards have limited availability. 

“You can use AAnytime awards for any seat on an American Airlines, American Eagle and/or US Airways flight for as low as 20,000 miles each way plus any applicable taxes and carrier-imposed fees, with no blackout dates.

“For passengers traveling on American Airlines on AAdvantage awards tickets, American does not add a surcharge beyond the required government taxes and fees. As we note on our website, British Airways and Iberia assess an added surcharge, which varies based on the origin, destination, cabin, etc.”

ITN emailed American Airlines for more information and received a call from Ross Feinstein, Corporate Communications, who explained that AAnytime awards seats are always available so long as there’s an empty seat on the plane. AAnytime awards seats require more miles than MileSAAver seats, which are capacity controlled and are not always available even if there are open seats on the plane. 

Mr. Feinstein said that to find seats available for purchase with MileSAAver awards, “You must keep checking.” Also, trying to purchase seats with MileSAAver miles could lead you to flights with an alliance airline, which may charge extra fees. 

AA introduced its AAnytime awards program in mid-2015.