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.
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!