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Cashing In Q&A columns

Variable award pricing now makes award travel easier

More airlines, such as American Airlines, are moving away from fixed rates and now offer round-trip flights for as little as 10,000 miles

Summary

Airlines are ditching their fixed award charts, allowing frequent flyers more flexibility when redeeming an award flight. Flyers are no longer locked in at 25,000 miles for a round-trip ticket.

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Dear Cashing In,

I have an American Airlines credit card. So far, I have only built up 14,000 from using it. Do I have to get to 25,000 miles for a round-trip ticket? – Jon

Dear Jon,

Airlines used to be fairly inflexible when it came to their award charts. If you wanted a free ticket using miles, the standard rate was at least 25,000 miles for a round trip. If it was a popular flight, it might cost 50,000 miles. The best value was to find a longer flight – which tends to be more expensive than shorter flights – and cash in 25,000 miles for a ticket.

However, within the last few years, airlines have harnessed new technology to offer a much wider range of redemption options. Southwest Airlines has done this for years, with the number of miles needed varying widely based on the demand for the flight. And now other major airlines are catching up.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Tony a question.

See related: How much are American Airlines miles worth?

Changing with the times

Of the airlines making changes, Delta dropped its award chart a few years ago and United Airlines stopped publishing theirs this year. This reflects the reality that award tickets cost a highly variable number of miles.

Now, American Airlines is also getting into the act. It still publishes an award chart, but it has ramped up its use of dynamic award pricing – and the number of miles needed isn’t always more than 25,000 for a round trip.

For instance, the airline recently listed round-trip flights from its hub in Charlotte to San Francisco for just 10,000 miles through February 2020. There are good deals on other routes as well. American calls them “economy web specials.”

The number of miles required varies by flight and is constantly changing. Tickets cannot be changed once purchased, but they can be canceled with miles redeposited – for a fee.

Your miles now go further

What does this trend mean for people who have credit cards that earn miles for purchases? Well, it means that you can potentially find some good deals if you consistently look.

Dynamic pricing of airline frequent flyer awards probably won’t help you much during peak travel times – such as around holidays or in the summer. Fuller planes mean airlines have less of an incentive to offer deals on frequent flyer tickets.

But you could see some deals in slower, off-peak times of the year – such as the winter or during shoulder season.

So, if you have a credit card and are earning miles but haven’t reached that magical 25,000-mile figure yet, you might not need that many to qualify for a free flight.

In your case, if you have one of the American Airlines cards – including the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard or the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard – you should have received a healthy sign-up bonus of tens of thousands of miles. Those can go a lot further with low award levels.

And even if you have just 14,000 miles, you might be able to land a trip. It’s worth checking!

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