American Airlines has eliminated the $75 fee on award tickets booked within 21 days of departure, the last of the major U.S. carriers to do so.
American has long levied this surcharge on close-in tickets booked with American AAdvantage miles, calling it an “award processing fee.” Whether you book a domestic American flight or a flight on Japan Airlines, it was an unavoidable part of last-minute bookings unless you had top-tier status with the airline.
Until now. The Points Guy reports that American has removed this additional surcharge for late award bookings, leaving just the standard award taxes and fees you pay on any ticket booked with miles.
American confirmed the change, saying the airline is “always looking for ways to make AAdvantage award redemption easier for our customers, and this update offers more flexibility when booking award travel and requesting mileage upgrades.”
But is this the whole story? That remains to be seen. And recent history with United may suggest another shoe could drop.
United proudly announced that it would get rid of these same fees last year as it transitioned to a dynamic award pricing model. In truth, United's new pricing model meant those fees just took a different format – rather than tacking on a cash fee, United charges more miles for last-minute bookings. United even adds a mileage penalty to late bookings on partner airlines.
Delta also eliminated these fees years ago. But Delta is notorious for doing the same, charging often exorbitant rates when booking with SkyMiles within two or three weeks of departure.
So while this may be a win for using your American Airlines' miles on last-minute travel, it may be a very short-lived victory.
If this is indeed the end of the story, bravo to American Airlines for doing something that makes using AAdvantage miles more valuable.
But airlines rarely do things because they're truly good for consumers. So don't be surprised eliminating close-in booking fees is just a precursor to bad news.