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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.