American Expected to Eliminate $75 Close-In Booking Fees on Award Tickets

American Airlines is expected to eliminate the “close in booking fee” on awards, the $75 per ticket charge for booking award travel within 21 days of departure (which is currently waived for AAdvantage elite frequent flyers using miles from their own account).

In earlier days of frequent flyer programs there was a narrative about ‘expediting’ an award ticket, getting it issued and mailed out right away for which there was an extra service charge. In more recent times it’s been simply a tax on frequent flyers and a way to discourage use of miles for close-in travel that’s generally more expensive (or more available as airlines determine which seats would go unsold and release more space).

Close American Airlines watcher JonNYC reports:

This is a fee that Delta and United have already eliminated, which is why it’s predictable that American would follow suit (although there’s a logical reason for all three to do so).

  • Delta eliminated close-in booking fees but frequently charges more miles for close-in redemptions.

  • United eliminated close-in booking fees for award travel November 15 onward. In other words, the travel date where United no longer binds itself to pricing based on an award chart the fee disappears as well.

Close-in booking fees are no longer necessary once a loyalty program moves to revenue-based redemptions. The fee kept members from redeeming for expensive last minute tickets at the saver level and displacing paid travel they might otherwise have booked. The fees limited how much value you would get for miles.

But we are seeing a trend towards average value rather than outsized value, and American’s redemption model now explicitly allows for displacing some low value paid travel.

American starts off with 6 award chart price levels and is moving to more dynamic award pricing. In that model there are less blunt ways to limit the value that anyone will get for their miles, and how much displacement of revenue travel the program is willing to accept.

One unintended consequence of eliminating close-in award booking fees is to further reduce the value fo AAdvantage Gold status, and indeed reduce the spread of benefits earned by Golds (who have these fees waived) and any AAdvantage member who picks up a co-brand credit card.

  • The card gets earlier boarding and waived checked bag fees, just like Golds.
  • Golds rarely see upgrades, and don’t fly enough for the modest mileage bonus on paid travel to be material.
  • Golds get access to available Main Cabin Extra seats at check-in, but I find I have difficulty finding Main Cabin Extra aisle seats on the tickets I buy within a couple weeks of travel, especially as this management has reduced the number of such seats on many aircraft. Golds lost the discount they received purchasing these seats last September.

If general members no longer pay these fees, the difference between a general and Gold member shrinks. Nonetheless, for program members as a whole eliminating close-in booking fees will be a good thing though the underlying program changes that lead the fee to no longer make sense are a negative overall.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I hope you will write about the decrease in value of the same-day award travel change.

    I’m currently holding an early morning saver level award and was hoping to switch to a more favorable flight. I am 8 days out from travel and there is a lot of availability (some for less than 12.5k points) but I can’t switch because it’s “web special” (the dynamic pricing) and not saver level.

  2. Means nothing since the awards rarely exists or if it it does then it is with endless connections domestic or international .Domestic one way cost 30,000 or 50,000 miles even if the cash price is $200. No such thing as saver awards exists any more. International partner awards Rarely exists or cost 4 times more then cash price with endless connections and most have BA with huge fuel surcharge. It is AAdvantage for American Airlines and rip off for us.

  3. @Gene, I disagree. Search AA award charts. Rarely, unless last minute ticket prices are incredibly low, are they making any sAAver space available within 21 days. They’ll let you book an AAnytime award with no $75 fee, big whoop.

  4. While reading this article, I kept thinking, “How is Gary going to make removing a fee into a negative?” Without fail, the negativity came. It is amazing that anything other than how you would run your perfect airline, is met with such a harsh view. Maybe as Austin becomes more of a DL focus city, some of your flying will shift to them. It would be interesting to have you actually cover one of the other major airlines. Might confirm your thoughts that everything AA does is horrible, or you might even realize that there isn’t much that separates the 3?

  5. The most valuable benefit of Gold is likely free standby, which can save you time and significant amount of money on routes like LGA to DCA, LGA to BOS, LGA to ATL, LGA to MIA, etc

  6. IMHO only benefit of gold is ability to pick a seat without paying for it. I’m currently EP and lifetime Platinum. Retired this year so last year I’m EP. don’t expect upgrades at Platinum but at least nice to pick a seat for no fee (including main cabin extra at least for now until they follow DL’s lead) and board in group 3. Similar on DL I’m lifetime Gold (similar to Platinum on AA). Don’t expect much and plan to fly whoever gets me there cheapest in cabin I prefer

  7. @hotintx: Gary makes a good point in pointing out how airlines, especially AA, have a tendency to make a negative change along with a positive change. Trade off’s are a way of life, especially in the airline industry.

  8. @hotintx
    Oh look, Doug Parker found his way to the comments section.

    AA wants to copy DL, but not provide the product that DL offers. So any change they make these days is seen in that light.
    If AA was making this change purely to benefit their travelers without a corresponding negative change, they’d be advertising it and screaming about it, and it wouldn’t come as a tip on twitter from a 3rd party…

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