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American Airlines has launched their version of “dynamic pricing” for award travel. But AA’s dynamic award pricing isn’t quite the same as United or Delta’s, though it’s very close. I decided to look at a domestic route I am very familiar with to understand what it means.

AA Dynamic Pricing Vs. Award Charts

Before this week, American priced all mileage award redemption fares on it’s award charts. There were separate charts for domestic travel, international regions, and Oneworld and partner airline travel. The prices listed were the miles you  used, with added taxes and fees – simple. Now the AA charts are still there, but the prices listed aren’t reliable.

AA American Airlines Award Chart 121919

AA’s domestic and international award chart is still visible, but prices can be much lower and much higher than listed.

Both Delta and United removed their award charts when they implemented dynamic pricing. I expect American will as well, and soon, but for now you can compare the “old” and “new” prices for awards.

AA’s Dynamic Award Pricing Example

I’m not savvy enough to run scripts checking thousands of fares at a time. Instead, to examine AA’s dynamic award pricing change, I chose a route I fly quite often: round trip Phoenix, AZ to Lexington, KY.

For travel dates, I decided March would be a good starting point. It’s about 90 days away, a relatively typical planning time for travel. Cash prices on Google Flights for 6 day trips (my standard) are about average for recent months, in my experience.

a screenshot of a calendar

AA basic economy round trips, PHX-LEX. Main cabin costs $70 more.

The picture shows basic economy pricing; main cabin is $35  more each way for seat selection and the opportunity to change your ticket. So the cheapest comparison to AA’s dynamic pricing awards is $377.

But of course, prices are often much higher than the minimum. Choosing a specific set of dates gives us a range of American cash fares.

a screenshot of a number of flights

Each of these is basic economy pricing.

Compared to the old award chart, these flights would typically cost between 25,000 and 60,000 AA miles round trip. However, 25K MileSAAver round trips (plus $12 in fees) weren’t hard to find with flexibility.

a screenshot of a web page

Comparing that to cash (adding $70 for main cabin), you’d generally receive 1.5 cents – 2 cents per mile outside of high travel times. Summer travel would be much better, at generally nearly 3 cents/mile.

(I consider 1.5 cents/mile acceptable, 2 cents good, and 3+ cents excellent. Your mileage may literally vary.0

AA’s Dynamic Award Pricing: Time vs. Miles

I compared the same dates and flights with AA’s dynamic pricing that just went into effect. The results were both good and bad. To get the view based on “lowest price” overall, you’ll need to use American’s new search engine.

AA's Dynamic Award Pricing American Airlines

AA’s calendar shows great award pricing but doesn’t tell the whole story.

AA’s dynamic award pricing shows some great deals, if you just look at the calendar. But that’s just the low price, with no other considerations like number of stops or travel time. On those dates prices ranged from 13K – 40K miles.

AA's Dynamic Pricing Low to High

Lowest award fares aren’t necessarily the shortest or most convenient.

Looking more closely, the cheapest award fares are relatively long itineraries. If I have to spend the entirety of my waking hours flying a simple domestic route, that’s a non-starter. I assume most families would feel the same way.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

Shortest travel time generally means most miles

Sorting by shortest travel time shows that the flights are much pricier. While not in the picture, the highest priced awards (38K and 40K) were all about 6.5 hours. Convenience = higher price, as expected. So are you stuck trading off long flights for fewest miles? Not necessarily.

AA’s Dynamic Award Pricing Sweet Spots

AA’s dynamic award pricing shows a wide range of options between the cheapest and shortest flights. And if you have flexibility during the day of travel, you can find good awards. For instance, morning flights on both days show a very good price.

AA's Dynamic Pricing sweet spot American Airlines

Award “Sweet spots” may come to mean specific flights on specific dates. This is 2 cents/mile.

Those same flights cost $388 in cash. That’s a redemption of ~2 cents/mile…definitely acceptable, and better than the worst rates under the standard chart. Then again, once we get close to summer and fares on this route are $500+, 2 cents/mile is less than the 3 cents+ I could achieve with the old system.

Also, these deals are limited. Either red-eye flights or these specific morning flights return good prices for short travel times. Any other flights under 10 hours bring a much higher in cost.

Conclusion, and how will “sweet spots” change?

Similar to Delta and United, American’s dynamic pricing for awards shows a wide range of prices for awards that used to be mostly stable. Unlike DL and UA, AA is still publishing their award chart for now.

an airplane flying over the ocean

When searching for awards, convenient and shorter itineraries generally cost the most, and the absolute cheapest awards are usually flights you’d prefer not to ever take. However, it’s possible to find good routes with prices cheaper than the old award chart, if you can freely choose departure times.

Currently, finding a “sweet spot” for award travel typically means routes between destinations that cost fewer miles than expected. With dynamic pricing, that may come to mean finding the exact right flights on specific dates, a much more limited and time consuming endeavor.

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