American Airlines further improves AAdvantage with added flexibility

Nov 11, 2020

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American Airlines made some more big customer-friendly changes to the AAdvantage loyalty programme yesterday.

Back in April, AA announced elite status extensions eight days after its two largest rivals, Delta and United. The Fort Worth-based carrier was late to the game but offered some generous and innovative promotions.

Ever since then, however, American’s been at the forefront of customer-friendly adjustments to its billion-dollar loyalty programme. The carrier has improved the basic economy experience, introduced new rewards for top-tier elites and tweaked status qualifying thresholds for 2021.

On Tuesday, 10 November, American unveiled its latest move: making miles more flexible than ever.

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American drops change and cancel fees for everyone

Back in August, United jolted the industry when it announced that it was permanently eliminating change fees. Within hours, American (and Delta) matched.

But the devil is in the details.

While every major U.S. carrier (except JetBlue) has now dropped change fees, the exact policies differ widely by carrier, based on the destination, fare purchased and more.

One of the biggest differences is how the policies apply to award tickets.

Well, effective 11 November, AAdvantange awards will be the most flexible of the Big 3. That’s because the carrier is eliminating redeposit fees.

Before the pandemic, most members would be on the hook for $150 per ticket to cancel and redeposit an award. The carrier was slated to introduce a new change fee policy on 1 January 2021 that would allow bookings to be canceled for free 60 days or more before departure.

But now, everyone can cancel an award right until departure for free. This applies to all destinations, partner airlines and award types, including Web Special redemptions. It includes mileage upgrade awards, too. (Note that partially flown tickets are not eligible for reinstatement.)

Previously, the pesky fee was always waived for top-tier Executive Platinum elites, but now all AAdvantage members will enjoy fee-free cancellations. As such, it remains to be seen if the carrier will introduce a new benefit to replace this once exclusive perk.

Additionally, AA will now waive change fees on all awards. Previously, the carrier announced that domestic and short-haul international redemption would be eligible for fee-free changes. With Tuesday’s update, American is expanding that offer globally.

Delta’s also eliminating the award redeposit fee, but only for domestic SkyMiles redemptions (and excluding basic economy tickets). United still charges for award cancellations made within 30 days of departure, for both domestic and international journeys.

Interestingly, the words “permanent” and “for good” aren’t included in American’s press release about eliminating these fees. A carrier spokesperson confirmed that there are no plans to bring them back, but stopped short of offering confirmation that this is “permanent.”

In fact, that’s likely the right move. Once the pandemic is far behind us, airlines may bring back some of these fees down the line — whether that’s in five or 50 years. By using words such as “permanent” or “forever,” it makes it hard for airlines to walk back on their promises without significant backlash.

Along with eliminating cancellation fees, American continues to make it easier to redeposit an award online or through its mobile app. Eligible customers can cancel tickets online and get miles reinstated within 48 hours. Note that you’ll still need to call in if you’re flying one of AA’s partners.

Related: Exclusive interview with American’s loyalty chief about future changes

Goodbye to the service charges

Most savvy flyers use the website (and possibly a deal alert from TPG) to search and book award tickets.

Those travellers who still prefer to call reservations will be delighted to learn that AA’s eliminating the service charge for booking awards through the phone.

Previously, AA charged $30 for domestic tickets and $40 for international tickets issued by the reservations department.

Note that the carrier will continue to charge a fee if you book a paid ticket through the 1-800 number.

You’ll no longer be charged if you call AA to book an award ticket (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Mile expiration extended again

Will the third time be the charm?

Back in April, AA announced that it would pause mileage expiration through 30 June 2020. In August, the carrier recognised that most flyers are still grounded and further extended the expiration through the end of 2020.

And now, American is pausing mileage expiration for another six months — through 30 June 2021.

Of course, this date could be pushed out again depending on the state of the world during the coronavirus pandemic, but fingers crossed this is the last extension AA needs to offer.

AAdvantage miles usually expire after 18 months of no activity, meaning that a member hasn’t earned or redeemed miles in this timeframe. Since 1 July miles belonging to members under the age of 21 don’t expire.

Bottom line

American continues to improve its loyalty programme.

Tuesday’s update includes the elimination of the redeposit and booking fee, as well as a third extension to mileage expiration.

Given the positive changes AA has made over the past few weeks, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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