Zach emailed me yesterday with a very good question: What’s going to happen to award tickets if you need to make a change after the American Airlines award chart devalues on March 22, 2016? You might want to book an award now when the price is low, hoping that more award space will open up later. On a related topic, will American still allow members to “upgrade” their award to a higher cabin and pay the difference in miles while waiving the change fees? This is particularly useful for some carriers that don’t release first or business class award space in advance.
British Airways took the position earlier this year that you could book an award and make changes after its own devaluation while keeping the original price. There was one important restriction: you had to keep the same routing. Different dates and nothing else.
What Does American Airlines Say?
I still wasn’t sure what position American would take, so I made a call. The agent I spoke to put me on hold to speak to a supervisor. Fortunately she came back with good news. (Just keep in mind the following is from an agent and not a formal announcement.)
If you want to change the dates of your award, you’ll pay the same number of miles. This means you could book a trip for September 30, for example, and move it to August 30 if your schedule changes (and there’s still award space available). Sometimes more convenient award space opens up very close to departure, so this is not uncommon.
This makes sense. It’s essentially the same award even if you change the dates.
If you want to actually change the type award — such as moving from business to first class or changing your destination from Asia to Europe — you’ll need to pay the new award price. So you can’t book business class now and change it to first class a few days before. I mean, you can, but you’ll pay a lot more. Again, this makes sense. It’s a different award entirely.
The Strategic Approach
My agent wasn’t completely familiar with the rules, so I didn’t grill her for more details than this. I cannot say for certain how many changes you can make but would guess multiple changes are okay if the price isn’t changing.
Say you want to fly business class to Hong Kong. If you can find any date when there’s award space from Los Angeles to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, you can book it now. Book it for a far out date like December or January — any random date that has availability. If you really want to go in September, it sounds like you can wait until a couple days before and change your ticket to September without paying any extra miles.
Ultimately the important message here is that some changes will be permitted without imposing a new award price. This should make it easier for some people to book an award that has availability in the cabin they want and to the destination they want while making changes at a later time.