Yes, this is a bit of a rant! Also, because it is something that brings in easy money for the airlines, I do not see it changing any time soon but it is definitely something that should change! A couple of airlines charge this close-in booking fee where you will pay $75 for booking an award within 21 days of departure. This should not be happening on their most expensive awards!
Airlines Should Waive Close-In Booking Fees on Anytime Awards
What Are Close-In Booking Fees?
Unlike foreign award programs, US airlines like American and United charge a $75 fee for booking awards within 21 days of departure. This fee is waived for elite members (or, in the case of United, if you have the United Club card). It is actually waived for any passengers when booking from an elite account.
These fees are a great reason to use partner miles for flights that those airlines would otherwise charge for. For example, you can book American Airline awards using British Airways Avios and not pay that $75 fee – even if you are booking a flight that takes place tomorrow!
What Are “Anytime” Awards?
US airlines recognize that some customers are willing to spend increased amounts of miles for the flexibility of booking awards on any flight. As a result, they have those awards – standard awards, anytime awards, whatever the airlines call them – that will let you book even the last seat on an airplane with miles. These come right out of the standard ticket bucket so you don’t need to search for award availability.
Of course, that kind of flexibility comes at a cost. For a European award from the US, you could pay 65,000 miles vs the 30,000 miles American would normally charge. That is 7,500 more miles than you would pay for a saver business class award! American used to soften that a bit by letting customers get to pick preferred seats for free but not anymore.
My Problem With the Two Combined
The airlines are getting customers that need those seats to pay a ridiculous amount of miles for them (and I am very happy that they offer them and have almost used them myself for emergency purposes). The are essentially getting customers to cash in miles for a seat that they may have been able to sell for potentially thousands of dollars to a last-minute customer.
Waive the Fee for the Most Expensive Awards!
In my opinion, when they are charging that many miles already, it is downright petty to require that close-in booking fee of $75 on those tickets. In fact, I think those award tickets should be subject to the same fare rules as the ticket they are booking (which would include things like free change fees, cancellation/redeposit fees) but that can be saved for a rant on another day. 🙂 Instead, I would really like it if the airlines would just stop charging people that fee to those that are spending a huge amount of miles on an anytime award.
…But, They Won’t Because…
But, of course, because this is basically a total profit fee for the airlines (there is nothing that this fee has to go to – the whole system is automated anyway), the airlines will not be removing that close-in booking fee anytime soon. Still, it may be worth it to just let American and United know that such a fee is really a customer-unfriendly one on these expensive awards. Delta is able to get along fine without charging that fee.
How to Avoid the Airline Close-In Booking Fees?
If you have to book within 21 days (and doing so with AA and United for partner flights is often the only way to get business/first class seats), there are a couple of things you can do:
- Book using partner miles (not always an option for some due to fuel surcharges that will likely be more than the close-in booking fee!)
- Have the United Club card (waives close-in booking fees and also has lounge membership for Star Alliance lounges – but costs $450)
- Book from an elite account (if you have a friend or family member that has elite status with American or United, they can book it for you. There are ways to move points into their accounts to convert to miles later)
- Book and change over the phone (this is not as easy as it used to be but if you book over 21 days out and then call in within 24 hours to move it within 21 days, you may have a sympathetic rep that will do it without the fee)
- Use a card that covers travel incidentals (if you absolutely have to, use a card like the Amex Platinum – if you have that airline as your chosen airline for fees – Chase Sapphire Reserve, US Bank Altitude Reserve, Hilton Aspire, Citi Prestige, Ritz-Carlton to pay the fee and get a statement credit for the amount up to your limit)