My American Airlines Hong Kong Fare Mix-up: What Should I Do?

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Last week when I was in Mauritius, I heard about a good deal on a first class fare from Hong Kong to many cities in the US. When I priced it out for my dates HKG-JFK it came to $3,757.90, which to me is not an insignificant amount of money. I thought about it because the miles earned don’t really help me towards elite status since I’m a Delta flyer, but I’ve always heard great things about Cathay Pacific First Class, so I decided to go for it. Since the fare is for travel originating in Hong Kong, I figured I’d use some of my British Airways miles to get me there and home at the end of the paid trip. (FYI: I did not post this deal on the blog, because it was pulled by the time I verified it).

My confirmed First class ticket on Cathay Pacific

Setting the Plan in Motion

So, since the fare originated in HKG, in order to get there and back, I’d be taking two trips to Asia – one in November and one over New Year’s.

JFK-HKG using miles sometime in early November
HKG-JFK first leg of this discount fare at the end of November
JFK-HKG last leg of this discount fare at the end of December
Asia-JFK using BA miles sometime in early/mid January

I secured a room at the W Hong Kong for New Years (refundable) and I started to plan out both of my trips. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Asia, so I was happy this fare was the catalyst to get me thinking about it.

I bought the ticket on aa.com on July 13 and received an email from AA confirming and the corresponding charge went through on my Platinum American Express card (though I really wished I had a Premier Rewards Gold card to get the 3x Amex points on airfare!

The Snag

However, 9 days later, on July 22, 2011 I got the following email from American stating that I had actually purchased an economy class fare and that they made an error.

Dear Points Guy:

Due to an inadvertent coding error for a brief time on July 12 and 13, your recent
purchase of First Class travel between the Hong Kong and the U.S. was priced at the
Economy Class fare.  This service is marketed by American Airlines with an AA* flight
number and is operated by our codeshare partner Cathay Pacific.

We sincerely regret our error, but you will not be able to travel in First or Business
Class on Cathay Pacific using the ticket you purchased at the Coach fare.  However, in
order to provide you with alternative arrangements to best accommodate your travel
needs, we are offering you the travel options listed below, which apply to your own
ticket(s) plus any traveling companions in the same booking record.

-You may be re-routed between Hong Kong and the U.S. via Tokyo/Shanghai, with
travel in Business Class on Cathay Pacific between Tokyo/Shanghai and Hong Kong
and in First Class on American Airlines between Tokyo/Shanghai and the U.S. at
no additional charge.

-You may travel in Economy Class on Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong – U.S. flights on
the date(s) you are ticketed at the price you paid.

-You may cancel your itinerary for a full refund to the credit card you used to
purchase the ticket(s).

We will also reimburse customers who mail in receipts showing travel-related expenses
incurred from reliance on the erroneous fare, such as fees for canceling other
flights, hotels, and rental cars.  To do this, log on to www.AA.com/customerrelations
for information on how to write to Customer Relations.

We have presented our offer to the Aviation Enforcement Office at the U.S. Department
of Transportation.  The offer has been reviewed by DOT s enforcement staff and is in
line with the agency s acceptance of past responses by other carriers that have
made pricing errors.

While you may have previously understood from American Airlines or Cathay Pacific that
your ticket would be honored in the First or Business Class cabin, this email
supersedes any prior discussions.

Please contact American Airlines at 800-736-6344 if calling from the U.S. for calls in
the U.S.  If calling from outside the U.S, contact an AT&T operator to be connected to
the 800 number.  When you reach one of our agents, make reference to your six
character AA Record Locator(s).

If we do not hear from you with your preferred option by Monday, August 1, we will
cancel your itinerary and refund the ticket price to your credit card.

Again, we regret this fare filing error, and appreciate your understanding to help us
best accommodate you and meet your travel needs on American Airlines.

My (Horrible) Options

So I’m a little bit bummed about the options. I recently flew American Airlines International First Class and it was a joke. While the seat was big, everything else was pretty bad – you can read my whole report here. I would never pay first or even business class prices to fly this product. Also, connecting through Shanghai or Tokyo will add a considerable amount of time to the trip, so that option doesn’t really appeal to me.

Flying Cathay Pacific coach is a ridiculous option. My exact trip would only cost $3,136 in coach, so them offering to keep my reservation in coach is a huge rip-off and would cost me $621. This option is not good, either.

The third option is to get a refund. I always had that option because it was a fully refundable fare, so I’m not too enthused here, either.

The first option is probably the best bet, but frankly American has a poor product and I’d rather use miles to fly a better carrier. For example, $3,757 right now could get me roughly 150,000 American Express Membership Rewards points if I purchase them directly from Amex at 2.5 cents a piece (which they allow up to 500,000 per year), which until July 31 can be converted into British Airways miles at a 50% bonus, yielding me a grand total of 225,000 British Airways miles. I can use 150,000 BA miles to fly Cathay First class JFK-HKG and add in another city in Asia after my Hong Kong stopover. They also allow one-way awards, so I can fly into one city and home from another with stops in Hong Kong both ways. Granted, finding award seats can be tricky, but I’m only one person and my dates are flexible (and I am an expert on booking awards), so I’m sure I could figure it out.

So overall, I’ll probably walk away from this if they actually won’t let me fly Cathay First (since that’s what I bought), but I think American should have sweetened their deal a little bit more – maybe with 20k miles or a $200 voucher saying, “Sorry we messed up and wasted your time thinking you actually had a ticket booked.” A couple years ago they accidentally sold $1,400 First class Qantas fares to Sydney, which I also snagged, and I ended up walking away with $600 in vouchers per ticket purchased, which I thought was fair. They were calling me every day multiple times a day trying to get me to cancel the trip, so I felt that a little bit of compensation was warranted considering the hassle I went through.

However, I’m most curious to hear your thoughts on this situation. Should AA honor a reservation that was ticketed and confirmed, just like we have to honor itineraries we book (and pay crazy change fees when we change our minds?). Or was there offer of re-routing on AA sufficient?

What would you do if you were me?

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