Here’s Why Today’s American AAdvantage Fuel Surcharge Award Glitch Shouldn’t Scare You

This morning American appeared to be starting to collect fuel surcharges on international award tickets (and not just on British Airways and Iberia award travel). This was sounding as though they were going to spread this out across all of their airline partners, and would have meant new out of pocket cash costs of several hundred dollars per ticket.

Within a few hours, American explained that this was all a mistake, that there were some changes which were supposed to apply to revenue tickets only but that accidentally affected some award travel as well — it was unintentional and would be fixed.

Specifically, American said:

Last night, in a routine effort to better align American to industry standards with other global carriers, American begin 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.

When I shared this explanation, several folks commenting were confused by it (and frankly I was as well). Why would they need to start collecting fuel surcharges on paid tickets, don’t they do that already?

Here are a sample of comments:

I wonder if this is a honest mistake or an attempt to backtrack. What does “American begin collecting carrier-imposed surcharges on tickets for travel on other carrier’s metal” mean? Even for revenue tickets, was American not charging some fees previously?

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

..the answer to the last question.. is important and I hope you write a short blog post on the answer, as a bad answer could mean that surcharges are coming at some point.

I’ve gotten some additional clarification from American so let’s walk through this.

  1. The memo didn’t write itself, it was apparently just talking about revenue tickets and didn’t make clear anything about award travel. The agents, having just seen the memo, inferred that when fees were higher it must have applied.

  2. This clearly begs the question, why put out the memo in the first place? Didn’t American already add fuel surcharges onto revenue tickets? It turns out they weren’t (gosh I wish I had realized this earlier…).

    Two airlines we did not collect from previously, as examples, were Malaysian Airlines and LOT Polish Airlines.

  3. And indeed it was Malaysia Airlines where fuel surcharges started getting collected on award tickets (LOT is not a mileage redemption partner). So this makes sense — they programmed the change for Malaysia Airlines (among others) and it affected all bookings on Malaysia, not just revenue fares.

  4. When I reached out to folks at American this morning, not just in PR but also who work at AAdvantage, they weren’t aware of any changes to the fees collected with award tickets. They didn’t stonewall, they didn’t spin, they seemed to be surprised.

  5. Telephone agents weren’t initially aware that anything had changed for award travel. When I pressed about higher fees, that’s when some but not all agents surmised it could be related to a memo they had seen (and that I got them to pull up for me).

So this all does seem like a mistake, and a case of lots of confusion that followed in part because of how the mistake came about (programming error, accompanied by memo that didn’t explain awards were not involved in the change) and compounded by American’s social media team simply making a mistake in their understanding of what was going on — trying to get out information quickly, acknowledging customers (as they should do) but appearing to confirm a change that they apparently misunderstood.

Now that we’ve gotten the details that there were indeed airlines where American had not been collecting fuel surcharges, the rest of the explanation makes sense and holds together just fine I think.

I also think that there have just been so many devaluations from so many programs recently, some with a bit of notice and some with no notice at all, that we’re prepared to believe this is the future. In this case, at least, it isn’t — and I do not believe this glitch reveals anything about American’s future intentions regarding award travel, either.

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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. If anything, this accident might have helped us frequent flyers

    Hopefully the calamity that was in the middle of taking place on social media, blogs and through the news just at the mere hint they would add fuel surcharges will scare them and United from adding fuel surcharges anytime soon (Delta obviously doesn’t care for frequent flyer satisfaction and US Airways doesn’t use the internet, so doubt it would sway them)

  2. I hope this is the same outcome when a coach award from BUF-ATL on DL prices out at 72,367 miles next month.

  3. American is too smart to intentionally do something like this in the middle of their merger fight with DOJ. Anything that unilaterally raises prices for consumers is essentially off-limits for awhile.

  4. Having been EXP for the last few years, I would have been shocked if AA would actually have implemented such a change without notice… I’m not saying they won’t devalue in the future, but it’s almost always the case that they provide advance notice of major changes, e.g., the Million Miler program. I can’t believe anyone truly thinks that it wasn’t a mistake and that they reversed because of the backlash. Surely if they actually intended to collect YQ, they would have foreseen customer anger, and the backlash wouldn’t have surprised them.

  5. LoneTree is absolutely right. If you’re looking to defend a DOJ case that says in effect you’re all about sticking it to consumers, then it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to go out of your way to stick it to consumers right at that moment. Further, when you’re in bankruptcy doesn’t seem the ideal time to stick a dagger through the heart of one of your most solid assets, the Aadvantage program.

  6. So, is the suggestion that prior to last night it was possible to buy tickets from American on Malaysian and LOT flights without paying the YQ? Wish I’d known!

  7. I can confirm that until 27AUG13 MH fares plated by AA did not accrue YQ or YR (MH charge both).

    So it looks like that AA complete an agreement with MH and in its implementation forgot to exempt aadvantage “fares” from YQ/YR. The rest is all due lack of ownership/communications.

    I wish I had known as well!

  8. wait. so you’re saying it was cheaper to buy flights for Malaysian airlines through AA (because AA wasnt adding fuel surcharges on revenue tickets)? i find that hard to believe.

  9. Mulbry,

    It is not hard to believe. People have been picking ticket plating carriers that are different than one or all operating carriers on a regular paid ticket in order to avoid fuel surcharges.

  10. One can use the website, say Expedia, in a different country and you often find different (lower) prices.

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