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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’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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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