After briefly appearing on the American Airlines’ website for several hours on Tuesday night, partner award space on five carriers disappeared like a subway car leaving the station. What really happened?
First, let’s breakdown AA’s own statement on the incident.
Late yesterday, we incorrectly displayed award bookings for several of our partners on aa.com and they have since been removed. Making more award partners bookable on aa.com is something that our customers continually ask for, so please rest assured that we are working towards this.
AA confirms it was a mistake (“incorrectly displayed”), but also hints that it will be be back, noting it is “working towards…making more award partners bookable on aa.com.”
We can assume that AA is in the midst of testing this added online inventory. What probably happened is the same thing that happens if I publish a blog post by accident while I am writing it. It appears online for awhile, but is pulled down quickly because it is unfinished.
What we saw with the partner award space displaying on Cathay Pacific, LATAM, Malaysian, Qatar, and Sri Lankan was an incomplete picture. Nonstop flights did not show up. Longhaul flights generally did not show up. Only connecting flights with longhauls on American Airlines or British Airways appeared.
A Cost Concern?
I quickly lamented this impending change, noting that it would make finding partner award space more difficult for those who already knew about it. Suddenly, people who had no idea you could actually call to book space on Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airways had that award space at their fingertips.
But could there be another reason for AA to pull back this online functionality and be hesitant to release it?
Like most loyalty programs, AA has billions of miles outstanding. I’m just speculating here, but what interest does AA have in directing passnegers to Cathay Paicifc to use miles at an attractive rate as opposed to paying significantly more for an AAnytime award on AA metal? It’s not like oneworld partners simply give away these flights for free…AA must pay for them, albeit at a great unpublished rate. If the floodgates are opened, imagine the increased cost for partner award space. Points that may not have been used at all will now be used on awards that are more expensive to AA.
This is more than a technology issue. British Airways’ website offers all partners online. This has been true for years. Truly, the issue is one of choice and not technical limitation.
What I’m trying to say is that AA has no incentive to bring additional partner space online. I don’t view satisfying customers as an incentive unless there is a greater return on that investment. Redeeming points for saver-level partner awards in premium cabins is not a great way to bring revenue into the AAdvantage program. It will probably still happen…eventually…but in the meantime let’s not forget the incentives at work. It would hardly be a surprise if AA drags its feet on this.