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Jan 16

American Airlines Just Destroyed Their Best Mileage Award

With all the sturm und drang of the past several weeks, American slipped a change through. It was not a particularly well-publicized move, but it was one that put severe restrictions on one of the most valuable aspects of the program. It’s going to get a bit wordy, but it’s one that matters.

Easy Upgrades

One of the best parts about American is how easy it is to upgrade domestic seats from economy to first class. You can pay 15,000 miles and $75 and boom, if available, the upgrade is yours. So if you’re flying from Boston to San Francisco and don’t feel like sitting in the back for the full 2,500 or so miles of travel. Now, that privilege is going to be much harder to obtain.

Every ticket comes with a “fare code,” a single letter that designates the nature of the ticket. For instance, on American, “F” means full-fare first class, while Y means full-fare economy. 24 other letters represent different options, ranging from deeply-discounted coach tickets to various award tickets. Recently, American made some changes to its fare codes which will affect those upgrades. It wasn’t done specifically for that reason, but that was one of the results. Here are the details:

Upgrade Changes

If you wanted to upgrade using miles and a $75 copay, you were rebooked into fare code A. In other words, American needed to have seats remaining in A. other words, American needed to have seats remaining in A. That was not normally a problem due to an idiosyncrasy in American’s system: Fare code A had multiple purposes. Not only was it a domestic upgrade code but it was also the code for discounted first-class tickets (among others). The airline always had a first-class seat that it was willing to sell; that’s where the big bucks are. Thus, it was rare that there wasn’t a seat available in the category and, therefore, you could always get an upgrade through miles and a copay.

Recently, though, American made a change. In order to get a domestic upgrade using miles and cash, you now need tickets available in fare code C. This code is the same one that American uses for certain categories of international upgrades (in particular, those that Executive Platinum elite status customers get for achieving status). Since international business class tickets are so expensive, though, they don’t make seats in category C easy to obtain. At any given time, there may be only one or two seats available, if that. Frequently, they hold those seats until the last minute, hoping that they can sell them, rather than give them away.

The 15,000 mile and $75 copay upgrade is not going away entirely. There are going to be seats available, particularly at the last minute, but booking one far in advance is likely going to be very, very difficult, unless they find a way to separate the types of upgrades with the fare category.

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