Huh? There’s a co-pay for that? Really American?

I’d like to think I’m pretty in the know when it comes to airline fees, but yesterday I encountered one I had no clue about. Before I rant, I should say that I’m not really against airline fees, and I don’t just say that because I’m an elite that is exempt from most of them. In this environment I don’t see an issue with “unbundling.” But then there are some things that are just downright silly.

Yesterday night, for example, I wanted to upgrade a friend’s domestic American Airlines itinerary. Admittedly not the best use of miles, but my AAdvantage account is looking more like an “orphan” account right about now, so I figured I’d do something nice.

I give American a call to upgrade my friend, and I’m informed there’s a $75 co-pay (which is ridiculous enough, but I was expecting that), but that there’s also a $50 expedite fee, so the co-pay is $125. I was friggin’ shocked. I’m familiar with the fee for booking awards within 21 days of departure, which I can kind of understand. Tickets booked closer to departure tend to be more expensive, so charging a slight premium is somewhat reasonable. But my friend’s reservation was made a long time ago, and I decided to upgrade now.

Can anyone explain to me how the hell that fee makes sense? If anything, they should charge a fee for locking in an upgrade further in advance, because there’s a chance that person might eventually be displacing a paid premium passenger. How the hell is there an “expedite” fee for requesting an upgrade a week out? It makes no sense to me, especially since anyone upgrading with “stickers” only clears a few days out. What’s next, an “expedite fee” when using stickers to upgrade a few days before a flight?

Absolute bull, if you ask me. But more than anything else I was shocked by the fee. I just didn’t know it existed… and it really ticks me off.

Comments

  1. You can’t have it both ways with airlines nowadays. In the 3rd paragraph you said “charging a slight premium is somewhat reasonable.” It’s that kind of mentality (and the fact that people are paying these ridiculous fees) that are driving airlines to add more and more fees on top of what they already charge (ie: the expedite fee you’re complaining about). Bottom line, they are one in the same. You need to be against all of the fees (all b.s. in my eyes) in order to complain about one particular one that you don’t like.

  2. American should be more transparent about this fee before hand. No one likes last minute financial surprises.

  3. Remember when American tried to institute a $5 fee for booking awards online?

    Did you know they charge a fee for seat assignments by phone? Booked an international first class award on American with BA miles. American says if they assign seats for you they have to charge you… Of course with the record locator you can deal with seat assignments yourself on the website. But it’s an INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS TICKET.

    Pathetic.

  4. You are redeeming an award within 21 days of departure, and upgrade award. But, I thought I saw “EP” on a recent boarding pass image you posted. EXPs are exempt from all the close in award fees….

    But, another opportunity to dump on American….

  5. Scott nailed it! Either you are ok with fees or you are not.

    As a road warrior for a defense contractor I don’t have to worry about most “airport” fees, but I do have to pay all the fees associated with booking “free” or “award” tickets. As such I find myself flying Southwest or Virgin for more and more domestic trips.

    I guess getting to my destination on time and with my luggage is more important than sitting in domestic first on UA or AA. That and being able to book an award ticket 2 hours before departure for nothing more than the PFC makes the choice pretty easy.

  6. @ scott, all or nothing, that’s totally stupid, paying extra and getting extra in return is nothing new in the airline world, its just the latest rounds you’re not used to yet. If you were really all for nothing, how would you feel if Economy plus was free, or maybe the red carpet club being free, hack, why not make first class free as well.

    I have no problem with a fee as long as two conditions are met:
    1. the fee has to actually give us something, in ben’s case the fee is just there because the airlines knew people would pay them, but as far as the airline is concerned, its actually better for customers to upgrade closer to the trip

    2. a fee has to be reasonable avoidable. Even if i wasn’t an elite, there are still ways for me to go around luggage fees, paying for on board meals and others.

    The fact of the matter is, the airline industry is so competitive and volatile, the airline will end up losing or not making any profit anyways. So by adding the fees, they are ultimately in the long run reducing fares. The choice isn’t between fees or no fees, the choice is to pay when you need something or pay all the time.

  7. Please don’t say it loudly, we do not want UA to hear this, UA is going to do the same again.

    I am with you my AA miles is getting dust 🙁

  8. If you fly AA (but not collect AA miles through credit cards) you know that upgrades are simply one of the worst uses of AA miles and the system is designed to make this option very unattractive. Guess what, as EXP I support this because the policy keeps the F inventory open for complementary EXP upgrades (about 110% for me over the last year). If you are AA GLD or PLT you should be using your upgrade stickers or buy them at $30/500 miles for your domestic upgrades. With 18-months mile expiration policy AA seems to be uninterested in loyalty of occasional travelers and their orphan AA accounts – the same could be said about other legacy carriers.

  9. @Willy
    @ptahchachacha

    You both should use the miles to book an international F ticket !!!!!
    Start with a nice 763 service on AA to HNL. 8 hours of domestic F bliss that could kill UA domestic anything (puts UA’s 767 and 777 domestic fleet to shame!!)
    Then catch something exotic like cathay to the far east and you’ll really tickle your own little feathers !!! And if you are an EXP you would pay any of the fees. Just like on UA a 1K doesn’t pay most, if not all, of the silly Willy little fees.!!!

    Love
    Katie

  10. @ Sam

    Actually you are incorrect. The choice is between fees and no fees. That is why Southwest continues to make money while the legacies don’t.

  11. Complete garbage. To upgrade with miles, the fee should be MILES. If they need to extract more from you, raise the number of miles. Charging cash to upgrade with miles is obnoxious.

  12. @ Scott — I’m going to have to disagree with you. There’s a difference between a bag fee and an online award booking fee of $5, for example. In the past passengers not checking bags were essentially subsidizing those that were. The same can’t be said for a bogus $5 online booking fee which is unavoidable. Not all fees are made equal.

    @ Gary — Gotta love the online booking fee. Had no clue about the (attempted) seat assignment fee. Unbelievable.

    @ Mark — I don’t know why you’re trying to make it sound so simple, because it’s not. There’s a difference between an award ticket and an upgrade. And thanks for accusing me of trying to dump on American. Guess you missed my trip report where I spoke very highly of them. Maybe it’s time you look at this objectively, because as far as I know, American is the only airline that charges such a fee. But I guess that makes me an American hater in your eyes…

    @ willy — In fairness to United, they were eliminated close-in ticketing fees not too long ago, which was a very nice move.

    @ ptahcha — Well sure they can, but they lost $125 and 15,000 miles because of it. They can also try charging $50,000 for a coach ticket between Tampa and Chicago, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good business decision.

    @ Illirik — I’d argue using miles for upgrades is a bad idea in general. And I’m sure you support it as an EXP. But from American’s perspective, would they rather give someone a free upgrade or charge 15,000 miles (which reduces liability) and $75 (cold, hard cash)?

  13. They once tried to charge me a fee for a seat assignment on an itinerary where I couldn’t assign myself a seat online. As far as I know, they’re the only legacy that’s sunk to that level.

  14. @lucky – My point is that we have no idea how many AA, *A, and other accounts go to zero after 18 (or 24?) months of inactivity. This is the cheapest way from the airline perspective to get rid off liability.

  15. @lucky I didn’t intend to label you a hAAter, don’t think you are, and, of course, I read your recent review. But you have your favorite programs (as we all do)…. I agree the expedite fee is both stupid and annoying, and is one of the many reasons to go for and maintain top tier to avoid such fees. However, right on the web pages AA defines its Travel Awards Chart and Upgrade Awards Chart; they define both as Awards aka there is no difference, in their program definition, when it comes to the expedite fee. That said, I would prefer it as you would prefer it: Eliminated completely on all awards. Looked like Delta was going to … but not.

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