News from Milepoint this morning about disturbing changes from American Airlines. They have gutted their year-old choice fare bundles in a fairly substantial way. There’s been no official announcement, just a quiet change to the terms & conditions. Here’s what we’re seeing so far:
American appears to have removed the change fee waiver from this offering, according to their website. Now, $58 buys you a free checked bag, group 1 boarding and the ability to earn AAdvantage miles. That last statement scares me a bit as it positions them for the future where certain fares don’t earn miles.
A checked bag costs $25 on its own so you’re essentially paying $8 (or $33 if you only check a bag one way for some odd reason) to board the plane early. If you’re not checking a bag, that’s a pretty steep price to pay to store a carry-on bag overhead, since I can’t think of any other reason you’d want to board early.
Choice Plus still seems to include all the benefits it did before, the change fee waiver, free same-day changes and standby as well as 50% more miles and a premium beverage on board. But the price has changed from $88 round-trip to $160 round-trip (or $80 one-way). When these fare bundles were announced the change fee for domestic flights was $150. It’s now $200.
That meant that for someone like me who changes flights often, I was paying roughly 60% of the change fee up front on each flight betting on whether I change the ticket. If I did a same-day change (normally $75) it was essentially break-even for me, and a full change was a win.
Under the new formula, $160 represents 80% of the change fee. Same-day changes are still $75, so if I only do a same-day change on a reservation I lose ~$100. If I make a $200 change, then I saved $40. The premium beverage and same-day standby already come free for me as an Executive Platinum member, so no value there. I don’t check bags and I would never pay these sorts of prices for miles.
That really just leaves the change fee waivers and American has pretty much killed the Choice Plus tiers for me with this price change. It won’t make sense for me to buy it when I fly to markets like Denver, Seattle or Las Vegas where the fares traditionally don’t have huge spikes leading up to the days prior to travel. I might consider buying it for trips to somewhere like Los Angeles where last-minute fares can be much higher. In those cases, same-day changes may not be available for $75 (they are capacity controlled) and a waiver of the $200 change fee might be a significant enough difference to make the change absent another way to do so. But, in areas where I expect the fare difference to be minimal I’m likely better just risking that I don’t have to change my ticket or same-day changes won’t be available.
Bottom Line It For Me, Ed?
Choice Essential is now completely useless for almost all travelers. You’d have to be a non-elite who knew you were checking a bag at the time you buy your ticket just to recoup most of the value and pay $8 to board early. I just can’t see that being a good value proposition for most folks. If you’re American Airlines, exactly how do you spin that to customers? I guess you could raise the price of checked bags! Oy, now I’m starting to think like Doug Parker.
Choice Plus is significantly more expensive at $160 per round-trip. If you assign a value of 2 cents to the miles and you had something like a transcon flight you could try and justify $50 of the expense that way (an extra 2,500-ish) miles earned. But, I don’t think buying miles ahead of time and hoping they’re valuable later makes sense for most folks and certainly not for me when there are so many ways to earn them for free or close to it. That means you need to have a supreme level of confidence you will change your ticket in some fashion and/or don’t have status and would thus pay to standby for a different flight. And, in 2 of those 3 cases (same-day change and standby) you’re only incurring a $75 fee, making you $100 poorer.
It’s only been a year since they implemented these new fare bundles. Unless they raise other fees considerably in the near future, I would say the useful life of these products is in the rearview mirror.