American Takes Away Free Checked Bags from Full Fare and Full Award Tickets and Some Elites

American announced changes today to their Checked Bag Policies, in most case taking away from free checked bag benefits.

  • Some elites get fewer free bags. “AAdvantage Gold members and Dividend Miles Platinum and Gold members will receive one fewer free checked bag than they do today.” American Executive Platinums still get 3 free checked bags and Platinums get two. Golds now get only one.

  • South America flights get more bags. Flights to and from South America won’t have second bag charges.

  • Full fare tickets and AAnytime awards don’t get free checked bags anymore.

  • Again, not much notice.
    • For flights operated by American, changes take place for tickets issued starting today. (Again with the lack of notice.)
    • For flights operated by US Airways, changes take place for tickets issued starting April 23. (Not much notice but still better, ‘get your tickets purchased if you want better baggage policies’)

  • US Airways MasterCard holders get a free checked bag on US Airways starting April 30, matching the benefit that American’s co-branded Citicard holders get. This benefit only applies to cards with a minimum annual fee of $79 (and of course applies during the first year of cardmembership even if the fee is waived that year.

If you’re going to change full fare tickets, the change to AAnytime awards makes sense (since historically those have been effectively treated as full fare).

I suppose someone buying a full fare ticket isn’t price sensitive, is probably billing their company anyway, and so a checked bag waiver doesn’t materially impact their buying decision. At the same time given industry trends towards providing services to higher revenue customers it does seem strange to take this away.

American has been relatively generous with its checked bag waivers for elites, so it’s not surprising though it’s certainly disappointing to see generous checked baggage allowances scaled back.

The biggest issue — and what the new US Airways management at American needs to understand — is that they absolutely need to start giving their customers reasonable notice when making changes. They’re giving a little bit of notice on the US Airways side, and certainly should give notice on the American side.

That could even earn them a bit of incremental revenue, making some customers make buying decisions today to get in under the wire that they wouldn’t otherwise make, and diverting short-term business away from competitors.

In any case, that has to be a better business strategy than leaving customers feeling as though you’re pulling the rug out from under them, whether on an issue large or small.

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. Yet another move to give the same benefits to credit card holders as higher level elites (US gold and platinum). Why fly any more for benefits when you can just get a credit card?? It seems like the only good news thus far from the merger was better meal options. I’d rather buy my own food which actually provides me benefit than buy not always safe passage for my luggage.

  2. I get all of my miles from credit card signups and buy one ticket a year on Air Tran. If I actually bought tickets on the legacy carriers, I would be PISSED with all of these last minute “no notice” changes and massive devaluations.

    Gary, AA deserves more flack, particularly after the “trust us” advertising.

  3. If I am AA GOLD and have a citi card, is my baggage allowance 1 for my GOLD status and 1 for the card (total of 2), or the more like likely 1 total?

  4. Airlines need to realize that there’s no such thing as a devaluation so small that it does not warrant advance notice. Advance notice is a matter of principle, the principle being honesty.

  5. As an AA Lifetime Gold, this makes me feel so special. 🙁

    This is not going to help with turnaround times either.

    Previously, if you were going to check a bag, you might as well check both of them, since you were going to have to wait at the carousel anyway. Now more people will want to carry on that second bag. So the overheads will be more full, people will be clogging the aisles looking for overhead space, leading to more gate checks, etc.

  6. Sooo is this the “bad news” alluded to earlier, or should I still be waiting for the “we’re gutting the partner award chart” post?

  7. Taking away free checked bags for full fare tickets just seems… tacky. It shows who’s really running the show in Dallas (which we already knew).

  8. Reason why I am not taking advantage of the 100% share miles promotion. AA will become the new delta.

  9. @CW – no changes to partner awards at this time [other than the US airways partner awards to North Asia]

  10. I had intended to cancel my US Airways card. Now that they’re saying it entitles me to a free checked bag, I might change my mind. I would have to make 2 roundtrips per year to make it worth keeping…

    Overall, I think airlines are realizing that Southwest is the only airline with true loyalty travelers. Frequent travelers on other airlines don’t seem to have the same level of dedication, & are prone to traveling on whichever airline gets them to a destination cheaper or faster. Realizing such, in desperation to be the low-cost provider, the airlines are screwing their few remaining loyalists.

  11. “Overall, I think airlines are realizing that Southwest is the only airline with true loyalty travelers.”

    Sorry, but I don’t see a whole lot of loyalty to Southwest. Since the fuel hedge bonanza ended around 2009 fares have gone up, the frequent flyer program has been overhauled and devalued, and comfort has been reduced by adding an extra row of seats.

    Back on topic, I’m now glad that I didn’t spend the money or effort needed to achieve 1 million AA miles and permanent Gold status. That would have become less a benefit than an annoying reminder of my error investing in a loyalty program.

  12. @Shaun – typical language for both is that the first checked bag is free. So if you have Gold + CC, you still only get your first (or just one) bag free.

    @Lindy – that’s exactly what they want you to do. This is the same credit card strategy used by United to great effect. You can expect to see “priority” boarding associated with the card, also. Gives you an almost-low tier elite experience for $79/year.

  13. What is the definition of full fare and how does this equate to OW Emeralds (BA Gold, CX DIA, etc) ?
    In the US I travel in AA’s domestic First cabin, either via paid First tickets or Y-UP fares.
    How many bags do I now get with such tickets in combination with OW Emerald status ?

  14. @Rambuster you’ll still stick your status-based and cabin-based baggage.

    – AA first class gets 3 free checked bags.

    – As a BA Gold you get one extra piece of luggage

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