Would you pay a fee to avoid paying a fee? American Airlines thinks so

by Christopher Elliott on June 29, 2010


Fees on top of fees.

It used to be the kind of hyperbole with which I spiced up my columns. But now, thanks to American Airlines, it’s real.

AA just introduced something called a Boarding and Flexibility Package that allows you to pay a fee and get priority boarding, offers a $75 discount off a change fee, and lets you standby free for an early flight that day.

I’m not making this up, folks. American is allowing you to pay a fee to avoid paying a fee.

And before you say, “Fees gone wild!” let’s get to the fine print.

• Places you in Group 1 of General Boarding, which allows you to be one of the first groups to board the plane for your flight. (Group 1 boards immediately following PriorityAAccessSM customers).

• Provides a $75 Flight Change Discount, which means that if you need to change your itinerary, you’ll save $75 off the regular service charge when applicable.

• Allows you to standby for an earlier flight on your day of departure at no charge.

• Applies to all travelers in your reservation per-person charge.

How much does this cost? The introductory pricing looks pretty affordable, for now.

$9 for Dallas/Fort Worth to Kansas City, Mo.
$14 for Chicago O’Hare to Boston
$14 for Dallas/Fort Worth to Orlando, Fla.
$14 for Miami to Washington, D.C.
$19 for New York JFK to Los Angeles

This looks to me like a version of Southwest’s Early Bird program. Call it Early Bird plus.

Dan Garton, American’s executive vice president of marketing, is thrilled by this new ancillary revenue opportunity.

We’re excited to offer customers options to tailor each travel experience to their preferences. Our customers appreciate value and convenience. With American’s Your Choice services, we’re able to further enhance the services we deliver to them. And we are hopeful of adding more Your Choice offerings in the future.

Hopefully not, Dan.

This is as bizarre a move as charging for the first bag, which American Airlines pioneered. Any other bright ideas, guys?

(Photo: boeing dreamscape/Flickr Creative Commons)

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  • DaveS

    Kind of confusing, but there might be people who want it, and it’s just an option. I don’t see why having more choices is a bad thing. It’s sort of an odd combination of things, but the price isn’t that high.

    This column seems to be stuck in a 15-years-ago mindset. Everything that isn’t the way it was in 1995 is bad. The final comment about the baggage charge gives it away. Lots of us think it is GOOD – not bizarre – to charge for baggage if that holds down the fare, since that gives the consumer more options.

  • BB

    If you look a bit deeper into this, the fee is really nothing more than a fee for carry-on bags. Everyone knows those who board first get the lion’s share of the overhead space. It’s as simple as that. So the airlines have now successfully figured out a way to make us pay for carry-ons as well as checked bags.

  • Robert

    In AA’s marketing brilliance, they have designed this program so it is not available for travel agents to sell. AA is disingenuous if they say that it is available for travel agencies but it is only available with the fare logix booking channel. AA says it has no plans to make these services available through any of the major GDS booking channels. In some ways it’s another attempt to drive business away from legacy GDS sales tools used by most travel agents. As for the GDSs – they really don’t have a good way for airlines to market “anciliary” services through their booking channels yest, although they say they are working on it.

    Oh – one other question – So how much do we tell our clients it costs to change a ticket now if they change their flights? This gets even more confusing now.

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