American to impose fuel surcharges for all international AAdvantage awards(!!!)

Update: It appears that this was all a huge glitch/misunderstanding. Here’s an official statement from American:

Last night, in a routine effort to better align American to industry standards with other global carriers, American began collecting carrier-imposed surcharges on tickets for travel on other carrier’s metal.  This change was intended for revenue tickets only, but the surcharge was erroneously added to AAdvantage award redemptions on other airlines as well.  Except in the cases of British Airways and Iberia (where American currently collects these surcharges), no carrier-imposed surcharges will be applied when redeeming AAdvantage miles for award travel on other carriers.  Any customers who encountered this fee in error will be fully refunded.

I wish this were an April Fools joke, but sadly it’s not — it’s quite possibly the worst thing that has happened to our hobby in a very long time.

A friend was trying to book an American AAdvantage award ticket for travel on Malaysia Airlines just a couple of hours ago. He texted me and said they tried to impose fuel surcharges on his ticket, and he got the same response after calling again.

So I decided to hold a Malaysia award ticket as well, for travel in business class between Kuala Lumpur and Los Angeles, and was quoted ~$375 in “taxes.” After looking at the fare breakdown on ITA Matrix, that is indeed the total when you factor in the ~$326 fuel surcharge.

ITA_Matrix

That’s clearly new, because up until now American only imposed fuel surcharges for travel on British Airways, along with very mild ones for travel on Iberia.

I asked the agent about it, and she called up the rates department to figure out why there were fuel surcharges on the ticket, because she agreed they’re not usually charged for travel on Malaysia. After a few minutes she came back and read me the memo, which stated that as of August 28 (today) American will be imposing fuel surcharges for award tickets on all carriers… even for international travel on American!

So far they’ve apparently only updated the rates for Malaysia Airlines, but I expect they will shortly as well for travel on other carriers. After all, this policy is only in effect as of a couple of hours ago. Just to be sure the agent wasn’t going crazy and literally making up a (really legitimate sounding) memo, I called back, and the agent gave me the same answer after putting me on hold to talk to the rates department.

If this is in fact the case, it’s horrible, horrible, horrible news. To do this without any advance notice sucks, but to not even announce it sucks even more (though in fairness it has only been in effect for a couple of hours now, though I still think at worst they should announce it the second it goes “live”).

If you were planning on booking travel on one of American’s partners other than British Airways or Malaysia anytime soon, do so NOW, because they haven’t updated the system with fuel surcharges on those airlines yet. Literally, book your award tickets now.

Not only does this suck for the value of American miles, but you can bet that when American does something, other airlines will be quick to follow as well, so if they do in fact go through with this then I wouldn’t be surprised to see Delta and United imposing fuel surcharges on all their partners in the near future as well.

This would literally be the single worst devaluation to a mileage program in… well, a really, really long time. And frankly I’m kind of shocked they’re making a change like this right before a merger (or whatever you want to call the current state of that), since they usually have bigger fish to fry and only devalue award charts/redemption values once the programs have combined.

I’ve emailed a contact at American for an official statement/confirmation, so I’ll stay on top of this. I’d suggest waiting till after I hear back from them before we start too much of a feedback campaign.

More to come soon… but book those award tickets now!

Comments

  1. says

    Hi,

    I’m not up with the terms and conditions but surely AA has to give some notice of a change like this? I haven’t got time to read the T and C right now but this makes them just as bad as other programs who change point levels with no warning.

    I have a booking planned for Christmas but my wife won’t commit just yet so this is really going to stuff things.

    Dale.

  2. lucky says

    @ Dale — Sadly they can do whatever they want. The miles ultimately belong to them and they can change any part of the program anytime as they please.

  3. DCAcubsfan says

    I hope people give AA enough backlash to reconsider. Ugh, it wouldn’t surprise me if Smisek were to follow suit.

  4. glu800 says

    Is there another U.S. carrier that imposes fuel surcharges across the board like this? I know Delta charges some… but I don’t believe any others do. I’m afraid they’ll all be joining in very soon :(

  5. GOUDA11 says

    The cost of oil is rising, now over $110. I can’t blame them for passing those costs along. Still, I would not assume anything at this time.

  6. says

    Coins,
    This is indeed really bad news but thanks for breaking the news. I was going to book a trip for both Carrie and I and my mom this week and was dragging my feet. Time to call the mum and verify the trip…

    I guess this won’t affect South America trips as well as Air Berlin and LAN…

  7. says

    GOUDA11 – you massively miss the point. American does NOT pass on the fuel surcharge to, eg, Malaysian. It pockets it for itself. The price of fuel has nothing to do with this, except in so far as it extends to AA’s own tickets.

  8. Simon says

    If we book now and change the dates later (I’m an ExecPlat), will the FCs be repriced/added in later?

  9. lucky says

    @ Simon — Yes they will be. My friend that brought up the whole issue was actually trying to change an existing ticket when they asked for the difference in “taxes,” which equated to the YQ.

  10. says

    Are we sure that this isn’t a change to Malay only? Like BA?

    It seems that CX and AA are fine for the time being.

  11. says

    Hi,

    I tweeted American Air @americanair and got the following reply – very efficient as usual:

    @dalereardon Effective now, we’ll collect other airline carrier imposed fees. Some carriers may have exemptions for AAdvantage itineraries.

    I have told them that notice would have been good and I’m not impressed.

    Dale.

  12. lucky says

    @ Drew — The memo I was read clearly stated it applied to all carriers, but they just haven’t updated the fuel surcharges on other carriers yet.

  13. says

    I’m glad AA counts on onemileatatime to give us updates. Well, this makes the decision of flying 30k for EX Plat easy. No thanks.

    How long til United follows?

  14. Antonio says

    Once again, proving that MR, UR, and SPG points are the most valuable, given their flexibility. In the past, you’ve valued these points the same as their highest valued redemption, perhaps now you should add additional value also to their flexibility, perhaps as a function of also the value of the 2nd and 3rd most valuable redemptions as well.

  15. says

    All I can say is, good luck to the DoJ. There are many measures of competition, but a good one is that the more competitive your industry is, the less willing you are to screw your customers like this. Should I be crediting my AA flights to Alaska?

  16. Miro says

    Bummer… and those innovative people at UA, DL and other will undoubtedly follow this bright example…

  17. GUWonder says

    The cost of oil changing has little or nothing to do with fuel surcharges on passenger tickets. Oil prices are just an excuse for the airline to change prices as the airline likes to do without sticking to the traditional method of changing the base fare price. The fuel surcharge practice is a less transparent way of selling tickets and a sign of competition being undermined.

  18. Serge says

    Why don’t we start complaining? I’ve already started complaining in Twitter. @AmericanAir.

  19. Linda T says

    What will that do to the cost on Explorer Awards? Wish I had booked one of those this year, not saving for next year! Don’t quite have the number I need to do what I wanted yet, but will in a few months, but that will be too late it appears. I have always had an earn and burn strategy so I may have to regroup with the ones I have. Guess this makes using them 25,000 a pop to upgrade on international flights (something I often do when I run out of systemwides) a better deal than it used to be…

  20. Segments says

    Who thought letting the AA team lead the merged loyalty program was a good idea? They seem to be handing DoJ evidence to break the merger agreement

  21. Jack says

    Thank you for the info Lucky…

    If I hold an award flight (US – HNL – NRT flying both AA and HA) and hold it, am I guaranteed the quoted price (without any FC)?

    Or assuming AA will update their system to impose FC, will the hold price change reflecting the FC?

  22. DavidB says

    As for a Class Action suit, all FF program “contracts” have that wonderful “Subject to change without notice” clause in them.

  23. NYBanker says

    I’ll take the other side. I suspect this will lead to enhanced availability similar to what I find on BA. The $300+/- copay seems to scare most people away – I think of it as an enhanced availability fee.

  24. Oilman says

    GOUDA11: Fuel surcharge is a misnomer these days and has NOTHING to do with oil prices, especially when talking about award tickets on partners, as the money AA will charge won’t go to the operating carrier but to themselves, this is just a moneygrab.

  25. nabeelj says

    Just hurried up and called to ticket an EY award I had on hold. They did not charge the YQ (yet?), even though it appears on Matrix.

  26. ABC says

    How much do you value aadvantage points now? I never thought AA could sink lower than Delta.

  27. farulg says

    Malaysia Airlines have always had fuel surcharges on award travel. I’ve flown with them via Enrich multiple times. I didn’t think it would be any different when they joined OneWorld so at least to me it’s not a big surprise.

    Let’s hope the twitter response from AA was a mistake though…

  28. TravelinWilly says

    AA had record-breaking profits for July. Not good for their “business” case to merge, not good in the least.

    This fee grab will only fatten their coffers. Perhaps they’ll re-name it as a “fuel copay” so everyone shuts up.

    Hey, AA, good luck with that merger. You’re really gonna need it, now.

  29. steve says

    Actually back to the topic of “Class Action.” These airlines advertise free award travel, this is “not” free, as these are not mandatory taxes/fees, but carrier imposed fees that are not mandatory; it amounts to false advertising.

    Cost of fuel is the cost of doing business, that they are trying to rebundle into a “free” ticket.

    I would write the DOT, your Office of Attorney General that American is falsely advertising free award travel, when in some cases they are not free.

    Plus since they are required to list all fees, they should have to publish the cost of YQ to all destinations on all carriers.

  30. DaninSTL says

    Officially not liking that US air AA merger anymore. Seems like poor timing with the DOJ looking over their shoulder.

  31. Jeff says

    The real question for this crisis managment:

    If we book or hold flights now, will changing dates in the future lead to the imposition of YQ?

  32. lucky says

    @ Jeff — Yes it will. That’s how the issue arose initially. Friend was trying to change existing Malaysia Airlines booking and was informed of difference in “taxes,” which came out to the total of the fuel surcharges.

  33. lucky says

    @ Jack — Holding the ticket just guarantees the cost on miles, and not the taxes/fees, which are always recalculated at the time of ticketing.

  34. Acs says

    Thanks for the heads up! Just called to ticket a CX F award for next summer. Taxes were still $2.50 as of 8am ET.

  35. lucky says

    @ Kyle B — Hmmm, I just priced it on ba.com and got the same price American was trying to charge.

  36. Jon says

    Verified on facebook as well:
    “American Airlines: Ryan, we’re collecting other carrier imposed charges effective today. Some carriers may have exemptions.”

  37. IdahoSt says

    everyone needs to tweet this is one reason to disapprove of the merger, airlines will do everything negative in an oligopoly environment…whenever they feel like it

  38. christina says

    OMG, I just booked 4 round trip cathay pacific first class tickets for my family. Thank God! There is no surcharge for CX now. I killed 540k AA miles.

  39. Nathan says

    I remember reading somewhere if all FF miles were redeemed at once the airlines would go bankrupt. Is AA going to have a flash crash with every redeeming miles today to avoid charges?

  40. lucky says

    @ Nathan — Hah, there are only a finite number of award seats. I highly doubt anything like that would happen.

  41. Vanessa says

    I have a award flights already ticketed on JAL and CX including domestic stopovers. If I make changes to the domestic portion of the award ticket, will I have to pay the fuel charges on the international portion since I am assuming that the entire award will have to be re-ticketed?

  42. lucky says

    @ Vanessa — Well they’re not imposing fuel surcharges on CX or JL just yet, but if/when they do, then yes, you’d be charged based on the new total cost that factors in the fuel surcharges when making a change.

  43. Casey says

    I’ve never participated in the AAdvantage program, but this fare is a D OW (one way on MY – I would be hard pressed to say this is an AAward fare basis. More importantly than the 326.00 YQ (fare supplement) is the fact the base fare of $2759 and change.

  44. lucky says

    @ Casey — Right, I was posting the fare basis for a revenue ticket, to point out that the taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges, match what American was trying to charge me over the phone for an award.

  45. Nathan says

    I would really like clarification on this. I just booked several AA tickets last night at around 6:00 PM because I qualified for the elite challenge. If the miles won’t be worth much in the future I want to cancel and fly United!

  46. Dax says

    Lucky,

    I recently ticketed some completely unnecessary flights in order to complete AA’s status challenge. Unfortunately this sudden sucker punch change (coming on the heels of record profits) changes my desire to maintain loyalty with AA. Now I’m wondering how to unwind those purchases. For instance can you upgrade a non-refundable fare to a fully refundable purchase and then cancel online or by calling back?

  47. Rasputin says

    @Lucky – Would this have any affect on being able to use Avios to book AA domestic with no surcharges?

  48. Sam says

    I have been reading Lucky’s blogg on most of Boardingarea for a few years now and one thing that I noticed is the difference in tone when AA or UA does something and Delta does something. If Delta had done this the headline would be “More proof that Delta the worst airline ever and they hate their customers!”. And the comments that followed would be almost unprintable.

  49. lucky says

    @ Nathan @ Dax — Wish there were a workaround, though sadly there’s not. That’s the risk with this hobby — ultimately the loyalty programs are in the airlines’ control, and they can do whatever they want. The best we can hope is that they’re benevolent dictators of their programs. Not the case today, sadly!

  50. DL says

    @Sam : I would venture that that is because Delta has had a long ignominious history when it comes to its treatment of frequent flyers and the Skymiles program. On the other hand AA and UA have been pretty good, so they have not been worthy of the justifiable excoriation OF DL (until today anyway).

  51. lucky says

    @ Rasputin — No, it wouldn’t. There are no fuel surcharges on domestic flights since American doesn’t impose them on revenue tickets either.

  52. lucky says

    @ Sam — Respectfully, how many changes has Delta made in the past two years that just destroy loyalty from any SkyMiles member? Meanwhile, how many has American made?

  53. Stacey says

    I was on the fence about whether to try to keep status with AA or switch over to AS this year. This makes the decision for me.

  54. TravelinWilly says

    @Nathan

    If you booked at 6 p.m. EDT yesterday, don’t you have 24 hours in which to cancel your AA tix?

  55. Downunder girl says

    Well that is not good news at all. You can bet United wont be far behind. I dont have any AA miles but I have been stockpiling UA miles for a big trip. Will not be happy if this expands to other airlines. Nickel and diming :(

  56. lucky says

    @ TravelinWilly — American doesn’t allow cancellation within 24 hours, but rather allows 24 hour holds.

  57. lucky says

    @ Lantean — Both airlines impose fuel surcharges in a majority of markets, so I would expect so.

  58. Allen says

    @ NYBanker — That’s perhaps a bit naive to think that this will enhance award availability. Airlines can always limit award seats regardless of YQ. Also, based on your logic, less demand actually means less supply. Good job for a banker.

  59. RL says

    Anyone having problems getting AA to book CX availability? For example, I’m seeing wide availabilty for 2 seats on CX F from JFK to HKG on both BA/QF websites in July 2014, but when I try to call AA they can’t find a single date with two seats…

  60. Lantean says

    @Lucky

    OK, thank you. I guess I am lucky I ticketed my trip this morning… LAX-EWR-stop-JFK-DUS-VIE for 50k miles and only $18! Not the most desirable products but at least I don’t have to pay big $$ in surcharges.

  61. Sharon says

    Just to clarify, does this affect the taxes/surcharges using AA miles for CX J to Asia or are those fees still the same for now?

  62. lucky says

    @ Sharon — At this very moment fuel surcharges aren’t yet being imposed for travel on Cathay Pacific, though based on what I’ve been told it seems like they should be.

  63. lucky says

    @ RL — Agent I spoke with a bit ago had no issues seeing space. Some agents just aren’t good at searching space, so I’d suggest hanging up and calling again.

  64. lucky says

    @ Sam — It’s anyone’s guess. If we used the logic of passing on carrier imposed fuel surcharges then yes, since Air Canada does impose fuel surcharges on their own redemptions and has fuel surcharges on revenue tickets.

  65. Copano Joe says

    Can you point me towards American’s change policy/fees for redopisiting miles? Looks like this development may call for some speculative bookings.

  66. MEOW says

    Ben, if AA applies the fuel surcharges to all international award tickets including CX and EY, how will your mileage earning strategy be adjusted?

  67. Jordan says

    So when is everyone going to start lighting up the AA Twitter page?? Lets have our outrage be heard!

  68. AKTCHI says

    Maybe things are moving in a direction to undermine this loyalty and miles hobby. I’ll re-evaluate and see if my old lifestyle makes more sense now: just by the cheapest ticket for each trip each time (after factoring in status, bag fee, etc.). I would still sign up and get whatever miles come with the flight, but it won’t be a consideration in the buying decision.

    A bit like “snacks” you get in domestic coach now. I may accept or refuse the bag of pretzels they are offering, but it is not a factor in deciding t buy or not buy a ticket. :)

  69. Georges Montalba says

    Wonderful news!! Can only hope this helps to eliminate the something-for-nothing joy-riding blogger scrum from valuable BC and FC cabins. Next can only hope the airlines impose a DRESS CODE to eliminate sweat pants, dungarees, white socks, luau shirts, backpacks and such just to post a photo of a hot towel, diet coke or toilet lid. Can assure you that many of us who pay for this class of service do not enjoy your company. Back of the bus is where belong! We won’t have to murmur UGH when you plop down next to or across the aisle from us.

  70. Joe says

    Q. Does this devaluation, and the inevitable devaluations by Delta, United, etc. mean that lucky will stop promoting points-earning credit cards so feverishly?

    A. No.

    Because…
    If you get this credit card, and
    If you spend thousands of dollars on it, and
    If you only keep it only for so long, and
    If you repeat this many more times, and
    If you’re able to book your travel 11 months out, and
    If you don’t mind buying a ticket to Dallas, and
    If you don’t mind laying over at JFK for five hours, and
    If you’re idea of paradise is visiting Dubai in July, and
    If you don’t mind connecting at Heathrow on the return, and
    If you’re cool with a six hour layover there, and
    If you don’t mind having to pay for a hotel near JFK due to no low level seats being available until the next morning, and
    If under no circumstance will you ever wish to make any changes to this itinerary, and
    If you don’t consider a fuel surcharge a fee, then
    lucky will be happy to tell you how the credit cards he’s selling will “earn” you FREE travel! Oh boy!

  71. lucky says

    @ Georges Montalba — I assume all of this only applies when your private jet is in for maintenance, yes?

  72. ZO says

    @Georges Montalba

    A piss-poor attempt at trolling. Did you forget to take your mama’s xanax this morning?

  73. Buddy M. says

    I’ve talked to a Rep at AMEX recently and was told if the ticket was purchased within the last 24 hours you could dispute the charge if the airline wouldn’t cancel and refund the ticket for you. The Rep cited some dot rule.

  74. Thanh says

    As all of you, I really hope that AA won’t start adding fuel surcharges to all carriers. On the other hand, I know Malaysian Airlines as the program charged fuel surcharges in the past. So I really really hope that because of that AA will only apply this change to Malaysian Airlines, much like how they do for BA. While I was excited for Malaysian in OW, it is not the end of the world if that was the only airline AA is going to levy fuel surcharges.

  75. Joe S says

    Thank G-d we booked our upcoming Thailand flights already. This is our first (and quite possibly only) trip in International First Class, on United/Thai the way there, and CX on the way back. Just locked in wife’s first class ticket a couple weeks ago when a 2nd seat opened up. Phew. Still, sucky news.

  76. Ivan Y says

    This is disappointing :( Are carriers simply regressing to the mean and eventually everyone will charge YQ?

    P.S. Do people really think the merger was going to go through?

  77. mileswhore says

    Take your complains to Twitter and their other social media – All this complaining here does nothing. Go there and POST

  78. Antipode says

    Buddy M. – I wouldn’t count on that. The DOT regulation requires airlines to have a 24 hour penalty-free cancellation OR a free 24 hour hold. AA has the latter, so they are not obligated to have a 24 hour cancellation/refund. I suspect disputing the charge won’t do you any good.

  79. says

    honestly you bloggers are a waste. you guys do nothing than asking us to use your links to get compensation. why don’t you work with us SOMETIMES and fight back these greed and injustice. These fuel surcharges are fraud. What’s the benefit of using tens of thousands of hard earned miles for an award ticket and than pay full coach fare in fuel surcharge on top of that? that is a rip off. I checked fares with airlines that charge fuel surcharge. It is better to just pay the full fare than waste miles and than pay full fare on top of that.

  80. artemis says

    What do you expect the bloggers to do, Jim? They can’t change the law and make these bogus “fuel charges” illegal. (Which they ought to be! Fuel isn’t optional, and the cost should therefore be included in the base price of the ticket.). They can’t force the airlines to not change their FF programs. All they can do is to tell their readership when an airline is trying to screw its loyal customers, and encourage those customers to protest their airline’s actions. And they ARE doing that. God knows I didn’t hear about this negative change to the AAdvantage program from AA.

  81. nomad says

    Lucky, if I book international award tix today without YQ on HA and change the dates later to end of 2014, you believe the YQ for sure will be implemented/adjusted ?

  82. Robert Hanson says

    Whether or not this holds depends on UA. If UA follows, this will stick. But if UA doesn’t follow on fairly quickly, the top members of AA’s program will change to flying UA, and AA will have to backtrack.

    So if this goes the way of baggage fees, where nearly everyone has them now, we will face these charges with everyone but SWA.

    As disappointing as that will be, we are still going to play this game. Given the choice of an award ticket with YQ, purchasing a revenue ticket with YQ, or never flying International again, I’m going to use my miles for award tickets and pay the YQ. And I’m sure AA is well aware of that.
    :(

  83. artemis says

    BIG sign of relief! It’s nice to know that AA still intends to play fair with its customers (at least for now) and not impose sneak charges with no advance warning.

  84. Jessica says

    I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not but I am trying to book an AA domestic flight on BA using Avios and I keep getting an error message stating “ERROR CANNOT FIND PRICE OPTION FOR DISTANCE BASED PRICING.”

    I tried calling BA to book it over the phone and their system, which is different than the one we use online, was saying the same thing and he was unable to book it. I asked if he knew what was going on and he said “sort of” but wouldn’t explain further. He did say this is only happening for flights being booked on AA.

  85. Stacey says

    Glitch? Sure… that’s why the agent had a memo that she read verbatim to Lucky, saying that they would charge fuel surcharges on award tickets, including American metal. AA already charges fuel surcharges when the carriers impose them, there’s no reason to update the system to ‘add’ that ‘feature’.

    The only question in my mind… is this a permanent backtrack, or just an effort to give AA breathing space while they figure out how to roll this out later?

  86. Stacey says

    Sorry, I meant, “AA already charges fuel surcharges when the carriers impose them on revenue tickets, there’s no reason to update the system to ‘add’ that ‘feature’.

  87. Dax says

    I’m still waiting for any of the bloggers who broke this story to explain how on earth a “glitch” wrote its own memo.

  88. lucky says

    @ Dax — The memo was real. The memo was as of August 28, which is today. American was imposing fuel surcharges for Malaysia award redemptions. Those are all facts. The agent read that memo as justification for why there were fuel surcharges.

    For that matter, I don’t actually really get what their statement means. They say they started collecting fuel surcharges for travel on partner airlines on revenue tickets… something they’ve always done!

  89. Dax says

    Lucky,

    I’m not doubting the memo at all. I’m doubting the illogical and nonsensical explanation. I’m asking for some additional research and investigation into what really happened. This isn’t the time to move on. This is the time to ask some follow-up questions that put prevent AA from simply sidestepping the issue. We know their answer doesn’t make any sense but we’re not willing to dig any deeper?

  90. Dax says

    Just to be clear, I don’t have any issue with your reporting of the issue thus far, in fact I’m grateful to hear about it so soon. I just don’t want to see AA let off the hook before we get a logical response. After a stunt like this they should be on the record with a more plausible explanation and promising no fuel surcharges are in the works. They should also be promising there will be no matching YQ on AA awards if any of the other majors begin to impose them to put the collusion signal question to rest. If they won’t promise any of that so be it, we’ll still have our answer.

  91. E says

    Kind of off topic, but have you noticed that award taxes coming out slightly higher if the two one-ways are booked as a “roundtrip” as in on the same PNR?

    I have the following at $75 ticketed on a single PNR:
    LAX-NRT JL JL F
    TPE-HKG-LAX CX F

    While booking the same thing separately comes out to $7 + $51..

    The difference is a bit trivial but just wondering if this is correct. Is it because they’re counting a Japan departure and/or Taiwan arrival tax?

    TIA for the input

  92. says

    @ E — Yep, it’s pretty normal for taxes to differ for one-ways than roundtrips. And on itineraries with fuel surcharges, those can vary substantially as well with one-ways vs. roundtrips.

Trackbacks

  1. […] With a bit of spare time on my hands this morning I checked several routes online. There are still no fees being charged for Air Berlin (they don’t have YQ anyways), Finnair, Hawaiian and Qantas awards, at least as of right now and what I’m seeing. Other partners cannot be checked online and that’s making verification rather harder. And all of this is subject to change as Ben indicated the changes may be slowly propagating through the systems. […]

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