Why I Love American’s New Choice Fares

by on January 25, 2013 · 28 comments

in American

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Just over a month ago, American announced the launch of a new set of fare options called Choice Fares that give flyers the option of purchasing fares slightly higher than the lowest non-refundable ones that basically bundle together extra perks you’d normally get as an elite flyer or fees flyers tend to pay for things like checking luggage or changing flights into a lower fare.

American's Choice Fares enable my travel commitment-phobia.

American’s Choice Fares enable my travel commitment-phobia.

Here are the three options:

1. Choice Fares: These are basically the discounted economy fares as they are today – the least expensive way to get from point A to point B with no extras added on. You pay fees to make changes and you accrue miles normally.

2. Choice Essential: For an additional fee of $68 roundtrip, these fares will include 1 checked bag, Group 1 priority boarding and no change fees.

3. Choice Plus: These fares cost $20 above Choice Essential (so $88 above Choice/Regular Fares) and have the same three perks as Choice Essential plus a 50% AAdvantage mileage bonus (not Elite Qualifying Miles), waived same-day confirmed flight changes, same day standby and a premium beverage (including alcohol).

Though I’m an Executive Platinum on American and already get tons of perks like free checked bags, bonus miles and Priority AAcesss (which trumps the Group 1 boarding), I’ve been purchasing Choice Plus fares specifically for the waived change fees ($200) and the same-day confirmed changes ($75), which I would still have to pay on regular baseline Choice fares since even as an Executive Platinum, I don’t get those fees waived. Other  airlines such as  Delta and United will waive these fees for elite members but American doesn’t, which is one of my least favorite aspects of the program, but not enough to be a deal breaker.

Basically American Airlines is betting that I’ll spend more on these “buy ups” than I would on actual change and same day fees. The life of a full-time blogger is more hectic than you’d think and my schedule is constantly changing and my travel plans bear the brunt of it. I need to maintain my top-tier elite status by paying for and flying on American as much as possible, but with these Choice Plus fares it’s nice that I don’t have to pony up hundreds of dollars every time I need to switch my flights.

So far this year, I’ve already bought Choice Plus fares three times.  In fact, I just same-day confirmed change to an earlier flight on my way down to Miami earlier this week, and had to get back to New York earlier than expected for a television interview (it’ll air on the BBC next week, so stay tuned) and ended up changing my return as well, so that $88 I spent on my itinerary ended up saving me $225 – not a bad return on the investment! Not only that, but I earned a 50% mileage bonus to boot.

Another aspect of Choice Fares I love is that you can buy them per-leg for half price.

Another aspect of Choice Fares I love is that you can buy them per-leg for half price like on this JFK-MIA one-way.

Though the Choice fares are priced out based on roundtrip tickets, you can actually purchase them as a per leg add-on, so if only one part of your itinerary (outbound or return) is up in the air (so to speak), you can purchase the flexibility options on just that leg rather than having to spend double the amount for the whole itinerary. You can change your flights online and the system knows not to charge you the $150- kudos for not having to call in.

I’m not saying Choice fares are for everyone – after all, a lot of people like to make travel plans and stick to them and don’t have the flexibility in their schedules that I do. But for people whose plans change all the time like mine do, it’s a godsend being able to avoid outrageously priced refundable fares and one more reason I’ll be putting more and more of of my spend and time on American Airlines (especially as they start to put more of their new planes into service).

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Shawn

    Good primer but some more questions:

    It’s probably worth pointing out to the occasional reader that fare differences may still mean you pay money if you need to change at the last minute, you just don’t pay the penalty fee.

    Some questions: can you get money back if the fare goes down (either because a lower fare class becomes available, and you change into it, or because the fare for a particular fare class drops)?

    What happens if I buy a choice plus fare and then decide i’d rather fly paid first class. On many routes, paid first class is only $40 or so more than the choice fare.

    Suppose the choice fare is $260, and the first class far is $300.

    To change, do I pay a) Only the difference between the two fares, e.g., $40, or b) The difference between first class and the choice (cheapest) and new fare?

    Also, it doesn’t seem that choice plus is offered in first class–would the new ticket have a change fee, or would it carry through the legacy chocie plus flexibility?

  • Mike

    I know you’ve had issues, but this is the most important thing to you, you should just fly UA …one of the ONLY positive’s about their merger is the very generous confirmed standby policy of any flight within 24 hours, so you can confirm a flight for the day before or after (if there is availability in the fare class you booked), which is really valuable if you tend to make a lot of changes to your travel

  • Matt

    Depends if its a SDC flight change, SDC you won’t have to pay the difference in fares but its subject to availability. If you want to be sure you get on a diff flight outside the day of travel you’ll be waived the change fee but will have to pay a diff in fare.

  • Yderedec

    Hey Brian, quick question. I can’t find the “Business Special” fares anymore on the new website.

    –> Have there gone away?

    I thoroughly enjoyed the possibility to buy Biz class fares in Z and D class.

  • John-Paul

    I like the new features to be sure, but would really like the ability to quickly and seamlessly change flights (and select seats on the new flight) using the mobile app. Typically I’m in a meeting, stuck in traffic or something along those lines, and a quick display of options, followed by a seat map, would be much appreciated. But I get that it’s baby steps, and this is a good one!

  • Peter T

    Thanks for the details TPG! I also have a few questions – I assume “change” is not the same as “cancel”? But could I just change the fare to 6 months from now and then keep pushing it back until I want to take the trip?

    Also, is this for domestic flights only?

  • thepointsguy

    Correct- you can keep changing it- and if the fare goes lower, you get a voucher back

  • thepointsguy

    Agreed- they’ve got some work to do on app functionality!

  • thepointsguy

    Agreed that UA’s policy is the best, but I personally don’t like how they process/rank complimentary upgrades- I feel like AA Exec Plat is better than United 1k.

  • thepointsguy

    Correct- you simply get the $150 change fee waived- not any re-fare. If the fare does go lower, you get a voucher for the difference.

    I actually switched an expensive coach fare to a cheap first class fare with no issues, so that is possible.

    You can’t buy Choice on first class fares, but you can change a coach Choice to a first class fare. I’m assuming you’d be able to change again back to coach Choice, but not 100% sure.

  • Patrick

    My main problem I have with the “new” system is not the fares / choices but the lack of ability to do ANY kind of sort!! I can’t easily see earliest flights or latest arrivals. that WAS really helpful.

  • Works Both Ways

    getting on planes first = 15+ minutes waiting for others to sit down
    getting on planes at last call = open aisle to seat, less sitting

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  • Mike from Miami

    Brian I am having this issue too!

    Did AA remove this feature??

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  • Deryck

    I complained of this to AA and they said that the ability to sort will be added in the future, but they gave no idea of actual timing.

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  • MeanMeosh

    “Business Special” was really nothing more than a fancy way of displaying an I class (discounted business) fare. They aren’t available all the time on every flight. If you click on the “Business/First” tab within the fare display, the old “Business Special” or “First Special” fare is now just called “Business” or “First”. “Business Refundable” or “First Refundable” will be next to it, so you can compare the fare difference. If you don’t see both, then unfortunately that means the business/first discounted fare isn’t available on that flight.

    Just beware that although I class is the same business class seat, it’s either going to be non-refundable and/or subject to a change fee (up to $400 depending on where you’re going).

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  • Robert P

    Yes this is only for domestic flights. Domestic bookings are offered as Choice, Choice Essential, Choice Plus, and First. International bookings are offered as Choice [the most basic option], Business, and First.

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  • Kris

    OK BAD NEWS I just logged on, have been using the Choice Essential fares a lot even though at 3.5 million lifetime miles I have a lot of status. Essential no longer includes no change fee, so it is useless to a frequent flier. You have to go for the Choice Plus.

    To the other guy asking about discounted business class — it is just disappearing a lot. There used to be an I fare that was discounted business class to Europe with about a 6 week advanced purchase. It now only shows up when a competitor is having a fare sale, and only on select routes.

  • Kris

    And, I just also noticed that the cost has gone up, rather a lot. Choice Essential is now $160 more. That is not worth it either unless you are almost sure you need to change. And, since you still have to pay the fare difference, it is back to same old same old, by a Y -up first class changeable ticket to start, or go cheap. It was good while it lasted……

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