American Makes Frequent Flyer Award Travel Easier

If travelers had their druthers, they'd have absolute flexibility when it came time to redeem their frequent flyer miles.

  • They'd be able to book a one-way award trip, and do it for half the number of miles required for a comparable round-trip.
  • On round-trips, they'd be able to combine restricted awards, which are capacity-controlled but cheaper, with unrestricted awards, which are readily available but cost twice as many miles.
  • And they'd be able to combine classes of service in a single round-trip ticket.

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While some of those features have been available from some programs, only one major U.S. program offered them all, Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan. That changed today, with American's introduction of One-Way Flex Awards, allowing AAdvantage members to book one-way awards and to choose from a menu of options for each leg of a round-trip award.

One-Way Awards

The ability to book a one-way award flight, at half the price of a round-trip award, might seem like a no-brainer to many consumers. But, like advance-purchase fares, frequent flyer awards have historically been offered by mainline carriers only on a round-trip basis.

Sure, you can fly one way, but you'll have to book a round-trip itinerary, pay the round-trip price, and throw away the unwanted portion of the ticket.

Rejiggering the AAdvantage award chart and online booking application to be based on one-way flights is both sensible and fair.

Mix and Match Awards

There are two aspects to mixing and matching.

First, AAdvantage members can now create a round-trip by combining a restricted award for one flight with an unrestricted award on the other flight. That addresses a common problem faced by frequent flyer program members: no restricted seats available on one leg of their desired trip.

That bottleneck forces would-be travelers to either pay twice as many miles for unrestricted seats in both directions, or forego the award trip altogether.

So, for example, a round-trip flight between New York and San Francisco might have restricted seats available for award travel on the New York-San Francisco leg, but only have unrestricted seats on the return flight.

With the new Flex awards, an AAdvantage member could book the outbound flight for 12,500 miles (half the old 25,000-mile price for restricted domestic awards), and the return flight for 25,000 (half the old 50,000-mile price for an unrestricted award), for a total round-trip price of 37,500 miles. That certainly beats paying 50,000 miles for an unrestricted award, and may be preferable to abandoning the trip completely, assuming the member has 37,500 miles available to redeem.

Secondly, program members can now cobble together an award trip that consists of one coach leg and the second leg in business or first class. In the above scenario, our hypothetical traveler would be free to book a restricted first-class seat, in place of that unrestricted coach seat, for the same 25,000 miles.

As with one-way awards, the new flexibility will make it easier for more AAdvantage members to use their miles for more award tickets.

It's All About Rewarding Loyalty

Is this a game-changer, either for American or for its customers? In the short term, no, it won't swell the ranks of AAdvantage members at the expense of Delta or United loyalists. But over the longer term, the added flexibility will certainly raise the level of satisfaction among AAdvantage members, which in turn will generate more American ticket sales, and more transactions with other AAdvantage partners. And that's what loyalty is all about.

It also raises the bar for other airlines with less robust award features, especially United. And that's what competition is all about.

And lastly, it suggests one additional feature mileage mavens may have on their wish lists: the ability to combine miles and cash for tickets. That's what frequent flyer dreaming is all about.

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