UPDATE: American has delayed the launch of this new policy until July 1.
American Airlines finally joined the stampede of airlines giving their elite flyers a breather this week with a status extension into 2022. The airline also unveiled a brand new policy for changing or canceling award tickets booked with AAdvantage miles.
And as with almost all things in the world of points and miles, there is good news and bad news. On one hand, this new policy will give some unprecedented flexibility to change or cancel award flights at least two months for free. At the same time, this new policy will gut one of the most lucrative advantages of booking AAdvantage award tickets.
Let's take a look.
Breaking Down American's New Award Change Policy
American unveiled this brand new award fee structure as a part of its status extension for elite flyers.
For starters, it kicks in for awards tickets on or after July 1, 2020. So if you've already booked flights with AAdvantage miles for future travel, the older policy will apply.
But starting July 1, you'll be able to cancel or change any AAdvantage award ticket 60-plus days before departure for free. Within 59 days of departure, there's a scale that depends on how close your flight is and your status with the airline. As always, top-tier Executive Platinum can change or redeposit any award for free.
Considering all but the highest elite flyers typically pay $150 to cancel a ticket and get their miles back, that's a major win for many travelers. And one aspect in particular stands out.
I almost can't believe I'm typing this, but here it is: This new policy means you'll be able to change or cancel some economy web special fares for free. Economy web specials are American's way of testing dynamic award pricing, sometimes with ultra-high rates, sometimes unbelievably low. But the biggest sticking point with these fares is that they couldn't be changed, and canceling to get your miles back typically incurs a big fee.
With this new award policy, you can change or cancel any award at least 60 days before departure for free starting with tickets issued July 1 and onward. And an American Airlines spokesperson confirmed that applies to every type of award – even economy web specials.
These new changes are permanent – at least to the extent that anything is permanent in the crazy world of points and miles. And while it's a windfall to be able to cancel dirt-cheap economy web specials for free, there are downsides to consider, too.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, it's not all good news.
While American is allowing free change and cancellation to flights 60-plus days out, one of the best parts about using AAdvantage miles to book flights will soon disappear.
An American spokesperson confirmed that this new change policy will replace the unlimited free date and time changes you can make to AAdvantage award tickets. That's been among the most lucrative change policies for frequent flyers and award travelers. It allows you to change an award ticket booked with American miles – on any airline – for free so long as your origin, destination, and class of service (aka First class, business, or economy) don't change.
That meant you could speculatively book a flight while waiting for a future date to open up, shifting by as much as a year from your original booking date. Or book a business class flight with one airline, then change to a better airline when award space opens. It even allows you to completely change your routing: You could change a flight with multiple layovers to a one-stop journey so long as your origin and destination remain unchanged.
On the whole, this may still be a positive change for many flyers – especially when considering that economy web special fares will make the cut. Still, this one stings a lot. It's a huge devaluation for savvy travelers who have used the ability to change the time and date of an award booking.
It hurts to lose the ability to make free date and time changes to AAdvantage awards. That's a big downgrade for many travelers. American is spinning this new policy as a positive, but the fact of the matter is that it's a gut punch for many.
Yet the ability to change or cancel any American award 60-plus days in advance is undeniably positive. The fact that typically restrictive economy web specials can be changed or canceled too is almost unbelievable.