New American Airlines Tool Will Auto-Cancel ‘Backup Flights’ In Your Reservation

American Airlines has had more frequent delays and cancellations than most U.S. airlines recently, and at the same time has clamped down on the ability of many passengers to get re-accommodated when things go badly.

On the one hand American Airlines was proud of partially restoring its interline agreement with Delta so each airline could put its distressed passengers on the other carrier. When American flights are significantly delayed or cancelled, American can now move passengers to Delta flights. (In my experience American only has access to a subset of Delta’s available seats, while they have access to all of United’s seats.)

However a year ago they changed their policy so that coach passengers without elite status can’t be put on another airline when flights go mechanical or crews fail to show up, unless a supervisor signs off on the reason.

Now, per regular source of inside knowledge JonNYC, American is making it harder once again to deal with irregular operations.

  • American has a new system set up to cancel extra backup segments in an itinerary.
  • If agents add extra segments to give you options when things go bad those segments will be removed automatically.
  • American has said before that this would happen but apparently a new system is set up to handle
  • This will not apply to ConciergeKey and Executive Platinum elite members

Nonetheless it’s striking to me that this of all places is where they’re spending their IT resources, making sure customers don’t have any backup when the airline cancels their flight.

This may be the last reason I’ve kept access to an Admirals Club. For the past three years the airline has tried to restrict what their best reservations agents can do for customers in part by moving those agents over from having direct Sabre systems access to having to use the rules-based Qik graphical overlay.

Club agents go above and beyond, at least that’s certainly been my experience in the clubs I’ve visited most frequently. The best reason to keep access is for help when things go wrong. For instance getting double booked with ‘backup’ flights when it looks like I may misconnect due to a mechanical delay, or when a flight looks like it will likely cancel.

Agents have also been able to preserve complimentary 500 mile domestic upgrades when a flight is delayed or cancelled and they move me to another flight, rather than moving me into coach. (I wrote earlier in the summer about a glitch that was making this more common.)

Now at least most passengers are going to have to choose only one itinerary. If your flight is delayed and probably is going to cancel, do you bail on it now and take another later one giving up your first class seat? Or do you wait it out, but maybe not having any options when your flight cancels – you could be stuck for days.

The airline would argue that backup flights in a customer’s itinerary tie up seats that could help other passengers get where they’re going. That’s true, but it’s largely been a courtesy that paying club members with elite status received – to have priority and peace of mind flying American, something that premium passengers need now more than ever after the airline’s poor operational performance.

Of course if having backup flights in a reservation wasn’t beneficial to customers they wouldn’t be allowing it for Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey top tier elites.

American was handing out on the spot iSolve compensation to passengers this summer — at 4 times the usual amount — during irregular operations. Now that summer’s over they’re going to make it harder for passengers to get where they’re going quickly when problems arise.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Does ‘double booking’ in this context mean both flights are confirmed? Back in July my PHX-SFO was in a rolling delay so I approached an airport service rep hoping to be confirmed on a later flight without losing the seat on the original one. The rep said she couldn’t do it, but was able to put me on standby. I wonder if the new thing in Qik will even prevent a standby.

  2. Being able to be protected on another flight has saved me on more than one occasion. And the agents in the clubs never hesitated to do that for me.

    AA, are you intentionally trying to chase us all away???

  3. AA’s Board of Directors should have taught CEO Parker the “hole theory”—when in a hole, stop digging!

    Instead, Parker goes out of his way to further self-destruct AA’s once vibrant domestic network by giving new definition to “customer experience.”

    Their should be a compendium here listing all of the poor decisions foisted upon AA by Parker et al, e.g.,
    -Oasis interior imitating that Guantanamo environment.
    -Pathetic food selection and quality to match the Oasis feel.
    -Abandoning so many pleasure flights from NYC, as if folks only fly for business.
    -The reality that Parker’s leadership does not create the profits as much as it’s the credit cards and sale of miles.
    And so much more…

  4. To all our valued customers/hostages we will do everything in our power to destroy you
    If you double book use throw away ticketing etc
    We will cancel the flights in question seize your miles close your account bill your credit card even drag you down the aisle bloody and beaten ( thank you United for teaching us higher levels of customer service) And let’s not forget our ironclad rule
    we copy united and delta on everything pricing rules & terms conditions etc
    Because copying is always the best way run an airline when we are brain dead and greedy.Besides we all know you mostly fly for our award winning cuisine lobster rolls and shredded mystery meat with the worlds finest friendliest flight attendants and. award winning comfortable seating in every class of service
    Thank you for flying American Unbearable Airlines where it’s our pleasure to ruin your each and every day .We aren’t happy unless your miserable and turn a massive profit
    AA police/Enforcement /Incarceration Dept

  5. Why beat a dead horse? Just go fly Delta and be done.

    Based on what I read daily looks like at 90% chance of not reaching your destination.

  6. I would fly Delta but their cancellation costs for 3 people are punitive and almost 3x what American’s cancel fee is. Unfortunately that is a major consideration when booking personal vacation flights as plans change.

  7. Making flying miserAAble. This is why I am using my AA miles for other airlines and only taking them when I absolutely have to and no connections.

  8. OMFG. This is common sense people. No one should be protected. UA has largely done away with protection, even for elites. You cannot just pick any flight you want, consequences be darned. You need to wait for your flight to be cancelled or delayed and take a chance on plan B like the rest of us. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. After all, you wouldn’t rent a buick and drive off in a lexus!

  9. Seems like this would have a domino effect where if a connection is in question people will take the later “safe” option and could leave many more unsold seats on the earlier connecting flight and overselling later flights.

  10. It goes like this. If you like your Airlines you can Keep your Airlines. If you like your reservation. You can keep your reservation…..same clowns different circus.

  11. Not the same thing, but since last year, Southwest has started cancelling back-up tickets. If I’m not sure which flight I’ll be able to make, and buy refundable tickets at two different times on the same date from the same airport, even if they are for different destinations, there’s a nightly batch process that sweeps through ad cancels one of the two. Calling A-List customer service has sometimes, but not always, gotten the flight reinstated.

  12. This doesn’t strike me as a big deal and I think AA’s response is reasonable (i.e. it ties up seats that could accommodate other distressed passengers). I also think it is reasonable to confine the double booking practice/privilege to top tier elites.

    Ignoring the differences between the airline and hotel industries (and what could have, at the airline’s own fault, led to a desire to double boom), what sort of hurt would Marriott be in if everyone got guaranteed 4pm late checkout? Would it be in the best interest of their collective customer base to offer that benefit? It would seem that a lot of customers would be waiting on rooms rather than only a few (corresponding to elites who requested late checkout).

Comments are closed.