American Airlines Wore Me Out And Took Me For $21.60

In 2019 I earned a $99 companion certificate on American Airlines by spending over $20,000 on my Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard. My real goal for the spending was help towards elite status – qualifying miles and qualifying dollars – but the ability to bring two people with me on a trip for $99 plus tax each was an extra perk.

That certificate was going to expire during the pandemic (travel complete by January 31, 2021) but got extended to June 30, 2021 so I just applied it to a reservation.

Recently I haven’t been able to use it because flights have been available for less than $99. However I’ve got an upcoming trip that,

  • Met the 14 day advance purchase requirements
  • Met the fare class requirements (L, M, N, Q, S V, G or O classes)
  • Avoided published blackout dates
  • Was running about $289 per person

And I was going to be flying with my wife and daughter, so why not use it?

These are paper certificates that you have to mail in. American doesn’t actually issue the tickets until they receive and process the certificate, though new certificates have a more electronic process. You still will have to call Meeting Services (800-433-1790) but they will be able to find the certificate in your account and get the tickets issued.

I found the flights I wanted, and called in. The agent had no problem setting up the reservation. But we ran into several problems with pricing.

First she set up pricing for a single companion (two people at regular price, one companion) because she looked up the wrong STAR File. She said she doesn’t get many of these two-companion certificates.

Then she quoted the price of the companions as $99 plus $54 in taxes ($153 per person). But the certificate is clear that,

The certificate entitles the AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard cardmember named on the reverse to pay $99 for the ticketing fee, plus $21.60 to $43.20 in government taxes and fees based on itinerary for each round trip qualifying economy fare ticket for up to two companions when an individual roundtrip qualifying fare ticket is purchased by and for the primary cardmember, using the AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard.

The certificate discloses maximum taxes of $43.20. So it seemed to me that American was overcharging me by $10.80 per ticket or $21.60.

The agent spoke to her support desk, who agreed that this publish tax maximum applied, but they couldn’t do anything about it. We involved another desk who was unwilling to adjust the taxes ‘because that requires a higher level of authorization than we have available.’ I went back on hold for a third department, which didn’t answer.

At this point I’d been on the phone for an hour. I had been avoiding booking this reservation because I knew it would take a good bit of time. I can be productive while I’m on hold, but I can’t take calls or be quite as productive while listening in the background.

Five minutes before a commitment I made to record a podcast, the agent came on and I agreed to pay the fully quoted taxes. I knew that if I left the line I’d have to start all over with another agent, and I decided not to fight the $21.

I’ll fight even a small amount on principle but this time American had beaten me because I didn’t have the time to spare.

In fairness when doing my own tax calculation I think they should have charged me $53.33 per passenger, though not $54.

  • US Transportation Tax (US) $6.93 (7% of $99)
  • United States Flight Segment Tax Domestic (ZP) $17.20
  • United States Passenger Civil Aviation Security Service Fee (AY) $11.20
  • US Passenger Facility Charge (XF) $18.00

However American should have honored its credit card benefit as advertised and disclosed, perhaps reducing the $99 by $10.80 on each ticket to match. But they wore me out and took me for $20 instead.

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, 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. @Gary: I have the same certificate – but for one companion. Given the exp. date, if I just buy a ticket for next year with the expectation of changing it later, if I have to, will that cost me the standard change fee ($125?)?

  2. @Jimmy Gottfredson: Agreed on Alaska. Something of a model, even though Alaska isn’t normally thought of as an IT leader. I used an expiring companion cert. last night to book and it was as easy as booking a regular fare.

    One complaint. They are sticklers for enforcing expiration dates. That should be a marketing decision. Waive it based on loyalty.

  3. They’re the Home Depot card of the airlines. They complicate it so you give up. Loyalty went the way of high top shoes. I guess keeping all that stimulus aid only goes so far!

  4. Had the taxes been increased since the certs were sent out? If so I think I’d give AA a pass on the $20 as it’s not like they are in control over the taxes levied. They should probably word it as just a vanilla $99 + tax.

    Considering they extended the certificate I think you are still ahead. But I’m guessing you could write AA customer service and they’ll throw you some miles or an E-voucher.

  5. What a PITA. But I’m surprised you didn’t employ your very sensible HUCA strategy as soon as you ran into problems with the agent, Gary.

  6. I’m sure there is a check in the mail to you anytime now
    American always does the right thing for it’s customers
    The only delay May be Duggie Parker has to sign it first 😉

  7. i agree it is the principle more than the money — your time is (hopefully) worth more than $20/hour!
    the frequent runaround by customer service (what a weird term) is intended to do what happened to you. better luck next time.
    (well, at least you did get a couple of reduced rates, so there’s that at least)

  8. Really?!
    Get a life.
    Agents cannot override the system. Was all that time worth the $21.30? You could just write in and they may give you points or a electronic credit which is now the new system (these certs are old system), but being it’s this bloke who is constantly slamming AA I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  9. I agree that the Alaska system is much easier to use. It would be great if American would adopt an online system for companion tickets.

  10. I am from Dallas and was a frequent flyer until I realized American doesn’t give a hoot about their customers. They are a marketing firm that flies planes.

  11. @Steve it wasn’t a bad agent though, the system prices the taxes and it was holding for department after department hoping someone would own the discrepancy, I could have hung up and called back but that would have meant another hour whether I succeeded or not

  12. @ Gary — I don’t understand why you wasted your valuable time on this nonsense. I wouldn’t have.

  13. I have certificate & miles. Wanted to fly round trip for just under $100 but planned to use mike’s. Have a 4& 1/2 pound poodle pet that I wanted to use miles to pay the $250 round trip. They wouldn’t accept my miles or certificate. Finale – I drove. Too annoyed to deal with American.

  14. Certificates and coupons are generally worthless. Employees don’t know how to process them. The entire process is designed to be so complex and aggravating that the customer just gives up.

  15. Hey Gary! I work for American Airlines in Customer Relations. I’ll take a look at your reservation tomorrow morning and I’ll get you fixed up.

  16. I had the same issue. In fact, they extended my 2019 and 2020 certificates till June 30, 2021 which I thought was great! Just used one of them. Was good for 2 companions, but only used it for 1 companion. They charged me taxes of $50.83, but I did not fight the difference. Although now reading your post, may notify Customer Service and see if they will do anything. And at least my 2021 certificate -that is good till 2022 – is now electronic and you only need to book 48 hours in advance – not 14 days. So they are getting better 🙂

  17. On the one hand, I have a little bit of sympathy if there was a tax increase since the certificates were issued. On the other hand, if they make you piss around with a paper certificate, I completely understand the desire to hold them to the printed terms. Obviously they make it difficult in the hopes of high breakage and that’s just stupid after putting that much spend on their cobrand card.

  18. If 20.00 is of concern to any body
    This day , u need reevaluate your
    Existence .

    I really feel sorry .

  19. American used to be my preferred airline due to the routes I fly. They have priced themselves out and are just no longer interested in their customers.

  20. *In fairness when doing my own tax calculation I think they should have charged me $53.33 per passenger, though not $54.

    US Transportation Tax (US) $6.93 (7% of $99)*

    The domestic US tax is 7.5% which on $99 would be $7.43, taking you to $53.83. Not sure about the other 17¢ if the TFCs were exactly $54.00. US tax amount is different if to AK/HI.

  21. So you are the cheapskate holding up customer service over 21.00. while I waited on hold to get a new reservation and missed my flight because you hogged up the line.

  22. Its interesting I guess AA doesn’t have Gary flagged in their system as a blogger/influencer? Or do they? I would think maybe they would route him to something like the Concierge Key desk (even if he is not a key) to prevent any bad PR if there is a SNAFU on his reservation. But maybe you have to be a member of congress to get the VIP treatment on AA? Gary, when you interact with the airlines either over the phone or at the airport, how often do they know about the blog or seem to know about you?

  23. @Boston – occasionally I get an agent who reads the blog, but I almost never interact with anyone who gives me better service as a result of writing here. The regular occurrence of problems across my stays pretty well underscores that. Although one hotel chain once sent around an email with upcoming stays by bloggers and other media, intended for use internally, but accidentally sent it to a staff member at The Points Guy instead.

  24. @Pissed flyer – unlikely, because I was dealing with Meeting Services and not reservations… plus you don’t know what day this even happened!

  25. I like this card but Barclays is far more conservative with credit limits. I find I need to make a mid month payment to keep this card running and keep the utilization percentage on my credit report down.

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