In December 2013 I wrote a post advising people to use United’s “cancel without redeposit” feature to lock in awards under their old award chart.
United would only say that date changes would be allowed and wouldn’t comment further.
Other bloggers wrote that I would be proven dead wrong.
But I booked a half dozen awards and it worked better than I imagined. Having such a ticket allowed full access to the old chart, even if you changed the origin and destination!
American’s devaluation that is coming on 03/22 does a lot to copy United, but the truth is that it’s much worse. United has very generous routing, and stopover, and open-jaw rules that cushioned the blow. American has very strict routing rules and they don’t allow any stopovers or open-jaws. At least they didn’t copy Delta in deleting their award charts, but it’s not pretty.
American too says that they will allow date changes without being forced into the new award chart. And best of all AA doesn’t charge for date changes on awards.
Changing the origin or destination will likely result in having to use the new chart, but what about a change to the connecting city?
What will happen if you’re booked on Etihad business class from JFK to the Maldives and a first class apartment opens up? Business class is only going up from 67.5K to 70K, but first class goes up from 90K to 115K.
Or what will happen if you’re booked on Cathay Pacific business class from JFK to Hong Kong and a first class seat opens up? Business class will “only” be going up from 55K to 70K, but first class goes up from 67.5K to 110K.
Will you be able to upgrade that seat under the old award chart or will you have to use the new award chart?
It’s impossible to say at this point.
But if you know you want to fly somewhere in business or first class that’s getting significantly more expensive I’d risk it and use the same cancel without redeposit method. Find the availability on your preferred route for any date and book it. Then after it’s ticketed just use the cancel button on AA.com. That puts the itinerary in an inactive state. When you find dates that work for you just call AA and give them your existing record locator and they should be able to put in those dates without any charge.
Of course it can be tough finding business and first availability months before a flight. Typically the best award space is released as the flight date gets closer.
AA hits their non-elites with a $75 close-in booking fee, but that’s nothing compared to the cost increase to fly in first class after the devaluation.
Of course AA.com doesn’t show most partner awards. You can call AA to search for awards or you can use partner sites like Etihad to search for Etihad awards (AA can book awards labeled “Guest”). Or you can use a site like BA.com to search for Cathay awards before calling AA to book.
While you’ll never find many first class seats for JFK-Vancouver in advance, the entire 6 seat first class cabin is wide open for tonight! (You can read my 2012 trip report here) Currently those are 32.5K awards, come 03/22 and they’ll be 50K awards. My proposal would be to book a close-in award like this, cancel it right after it’s ticketed (there’s no charge to cancel without redepositing the miles), and then call AA back at a later date when space opens up on a flight that works for you. Note that tickets are only valid for a year, so if you don’t use it within a year of ticketing you’ll have to pay to redeposit those miles. Currently AA charges $150 redeposit fee for the first passengers and $25 for each additional passenger.
Same story for JFK-Hong Kong. Currently 67.5K in first class, soon to be 110K. Beat the increase for travel after 03/22 by locking in current rates on dates with available space:
It’s worth repeating that word of caution: Nobody can tell you with 100% certainty what exactly will happen with changes made on 03/22 to tickets booked under the old award chart and nothing is foolproof. But based on past experience I’d feel very safe using this method myself. Of course you’ll have to assess your own risk tolerance level to decide whether the upside (savings tens of thousands of miles per passenger) outweighs the potential redeposit fees if this method doesn’t work out after 03/22.
Will you be using this method to lock in awards under the current award chart? Or are you not the gambling type? Hit the comments!