Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Some Lessons From Today's US Airways & American Airlines Devaluation

If you haven't heard already, both American Airlines and US Airways made some unannounced changes to their frequent flyer programs overnight, the result of which was the elimination of some of the best "sweet spots" for both award charts. Gary over at View From The Wing wrote extensively about it here and here, while Ben from One Mile At A Time was far more scathing in his critique of the changes that were made without any advanced notice.

While I am just as upset over the lack of communication from American Airlines and US Airways, I am not as upset over the changes themselves. Yes, OneWorld Explorer awards are officially gone, as are the free stopovers at North American gateway cities, but I would venture to say that probably a minority of American Airlines customers actually took advantage of these benefits.

I'm far more heartbroken to see the long-expected demise of the 90k round-trip business class award to North Asia using US Airways Dividend Miles. This was by far the best value of any award program out there, and everyone knew it wouldn't last much longer. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to book this award, but coincidentally, I had just placed a round-trip first class award to North Asia on hold using only 120k Dividend Miles. Which leads me to a few lessons I learned within the past 24 hours:
  • If you have an award in mind using AAdvantage or Dividend Miles, especially those in the remaining "sweet spots", book it now. As we've seen from the previous mergers, no good can ever come out of combining frequent flyer programs. Award charts will be gutted, and the American Airlines and US Airways award charts are absolutely next on the chopping block.
    Even worse, we now know they are willing to do it without any advance notice whatsoever, which makes redeeming your miles for the most valuable awards priority number one. Since I had just placed a first class award to North Asia on hold using Dividend Miles yesterday, imagine my shock when I awoke to news of the devaluation this morning. I was lucky that the first class mileage requirement didn't change. If it did, there is a good chance I would have had to pay the new rate... all because I waited. Don't wait.
  • Related to the previous lesson: never, ever, ever place an award on hold using Dividend Miles. The infamous phone agents over at US Airways may not know much about geography (or their own award booking rules for that matter), but any advantages you glean from them will eventually be offset by that one agent who decides to conjure up non-existent issues just to make your life difficult.
    After learning of the devaluation, I immediately called in to ticket my itinerary. Unfortunately, the first agent who picked up decided that my routing was illegal (it wasn't), wouldn't let me hang up (she cut me off multiple times and put me on hold), and then proceeded to give me all sorts of reasons why my award wasn't "pricing out correctly".
    I was terrified she would dismantle my award or end up charging me more miles. After one hour and twenty minutes on the phone, I finally had my award ticketed for the original price. Something simple that should have taken ten minutes at most ended up almost imploding because of an incompetent agent.
  • The next award set to disappear will be the 120k round-trip first class award to North Asia using Dividend Miles. This may be obvious, but it bears repeating. Anytime bloggers or the frequent flyer community point out an "amazing value" on any award chart, be ready for it to disappear. The 90k business class award has now increased to 110k (which is still a good deal...), and the first class award will soon follow. The fact that there is only a 10k-mile difference between the two award levels should be clear enough. It won't last.
All of that being said, I am super excited about the "round-the-world" first class award ticket I booked to North Asia this morning. One of the loopholes left in the US Airways transition from Star Alliance to OneWorld is that fuel surcharges still appear to be missing from British Airways redemptions. These charges can be massive (~$1,000 round-trip), so now is the time to try out business or first class on British Airways. I have no doubt the problem will be fixed within days, if not hours. My itinerary is as follows:
  • SFO  LHR:  British Airways First Class
  • LHR  FRA:  British Airways Business Class
  • FRA  NRT:  Japan Airlines First Class
  • HND  HKG:  Cathay Pacific Business Class
  • HKG  LAX:  Cathay Pacific First Class
  • LAX  SFO:  American Airlines First Class

Total cost was $131.21 plus $50.00 in award booking fees and 120,000 Dividend Miles. Since this will be part of a two-week journey to Myanmar over the holidays, I used British Airways Avios to tack on an additional leg from Hong Kong to Yangon on Dragonair. Total cost for this economy round-trip award was $79.67 and 20,000 Avios. I may also try to book a few AAdvantage awards over the next few weeks in anticipation of a more comprehensive award chart devaluation.


  1. amazing booking! may I ask which tools you used to search? and approximately which dates?

    1. Thanks Roger! I used the BA award search tool mostly and supplemented with the AA award search. Amazingly, I booked during the holiday/new year high season. There are still a few business and first award seats scattered about... as long as you are flexible with your dates.

  2. What a dream itinerary! I imagine this would not be possible or require many more AA miles, maybe I should focus on US rather than AA. Congrats! Looking forward to reading your reports.

    1. Thanks Cameron! Actually, I'm glad you brought up AA. I debated using AA for this redemption, which would have only cost 135k AAdvantage miles, instead of the 120k Dividend miles + 20k Avios I used to get to Yangon. The big caveat, however, is that US Airways still allows you to route through Europe to get to Asia, AND there is currently a glitch where they are not levying a fuel surcharge on British Airways award redemptions. So, in the end, I felt like it made more sense to go with US Airways. As of now, I think their award chart is still more generous... however, that may change at any time.