Exciting Development?: American Airlines Eliminates Close-In Award Ticketing Fees

For many years, American Airlines has charged a $75 fee for award tickets that are booked within 21 days of departure and there is only one way to avoid these fees…having status (i.e. Gold, Platinum, Platinum Pro, or Executive Platinum) with American Airlines.

In other words, if you book a ticket using AA miles and the flight departs within the next 21 days, you will be penalized and have to pay American Airlines an additional $75.

Well, it appears that American Airlines has eliminated the close-in booking fee, effectively immediately.

IS THERE A CATCH?

In any other industry this would be great news for the consumer. However, in the airline industry, things are a bit more…grey. Particularly in the USA, the airlines are copycats. When one airline makes an “enhancement” to their frequent flyer program, it’s only a matter of time before the others follow suit.

For example:

  • Delta SkyMiles was the first to eliminate close-in ticketing fees (out of the Big US 3 – Delta, United and American). Although they eliminated the fee, they started charging cRaZy amounts for award tickets.
  • United MileagePlus followed Delta’s lead and in November 2019 eliminated their close-in ticketing fees also. However, they immediately increased the amount of miles required for redemptions. For example, instead of charging 80k miles + ~$80 ($5.60 in taxes + $75 close-in fee), they now charge 85k miles + $5.60.
  • American AAdvantage: TBD

At the moment, there does not appear to be a catch with this change from American Airlines, but I’m filing this under the “uh ohhh” category.

A CLOSER LOOK

I searched for an award ticket from Los Angles (LAX) to Phoenix (PHX) for today (January 16th). According the website, I can book this ticket for 7,500 miles +$5.60 (one-way) and there is no mention of the last minute fee. Normally, it would say “7.5k + $80.60.”

WHAT IS THE POINT OF LOYALTY?

This change is particularly negative for elite members. You’ve worked hard and earned that elite status and the benefit for your loyalty is not having to pay those pesky fees. But with the elimination of the fees (and increase of the mileage required) for everyone, we all pay the same price.

Personally, I almost never book close-in travel using the miles of any US-based carrier because most foreign carriers do not charge close-in fees. For example, I can book flights on American Airlines planes using miles of British Airways or Iberia and pay no close-in fee. I can book flights on United Airlines using miles of Singapore Airlines and pay no close-in fee. I can book flights on Delta using miles of Virgin airlines and pay no close-in fee.

FINAL STAMP

I’m not completely sure American Airlines’ angle here but I’m highly skeptical. It’s difficult for me to imagine that American is forging its own path here and didn’t send out a press release about it.

I would imagine they would want positive press at this time. It was only a few months ago that they were having challenges with their mechanics union and mechanics were being arrested for sabotaging planes.

What’s your take on this? Do you think this is an enhancement or another “enhancement?”

HT: JT GENTER

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