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Back in December 2012, American Airlines introduced a new set of economy fare options called Choice Fares that bundled benefits like priority boarding and free checked bags with perks like bonus mileage and waived ticket change fees. Priced starting from $34 each way, I found these fares to be extremely useful and a very good value even as a top-tier Executive Platinum elite, especially when I needed the flexibility to be able to change my travel plans without incurring $200 ticket change fees each time I did so – it was sort of like a discount refundable ticket, only you could get bonus miles, free beverages and more thrown in.
However, quietly and without notice, American Airlines has changed both the pricing structure and bundled benefits of these fares and like a lot of flyers, I’m pretty disappointed about it.
As a reminder here’s what Choice Fares used to cost and include:
Choice Essential: For an additional fee of $68 roundtrip, these fares include 1 checked bag, Group 1 priority boarding and no change fees.
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).
However, now it looks like American has made the pricing of choice fares more dynamic based on the dates and route you’re flying. According to the Choice Fares information page, here’s what each will now include:
Choice Essential: One checked bag (third checked bag for AAdvantage elite and Oneworld elite members; fourth checked bag for AAdvantage Executive Platinum and Oneworld Emerald members) and Group 1 Boarding for an additional cost ($9-$49) each way.
So you’re pretty much just paying for an extra checked bag – and prices seem to be well over $50 in most cases I found, though they do include priority boarding as well as the checked bag. Considering you can get a first checked bag for just $25 and a second for $35 more (so $60 total) without any elite status, this seems like a silly way to spend money, especially because Group 1 priority boarding doesn’t get you on the plane before many people these days, and because these fares no longer waive the change fees, which was where their value truly lay.
Choice Plus: No change fee, one checked bag (third checked bag for AAdvantage elite and Oneworld elite customers; fourth checked bag for AAdvantage Executive Platinum and Oneworld Emerald members), Group 1 Boarding, 50 percent AAdvantage mileage bonus, Same-Day Flight Change, Same-Day Standby, and a premium beverage, such as an alcoholic beverage onboard for an additional cost each way.
I priced these out on two itineraries, just to see what the new pricing structure is looking like. On this roundtrip from LAX-DFW, a regular Main Cabin fare will cost $385, while Choice Essential costs $443 – $58 extra for just that checked bag and Group 1 boarding.
However, notice that Choice Plus will cost you $545 – $160 more than the non-refundable economy ticket and $72 more than a Choice Plus fare would have cost you up till now. Granted, that includes waived ticket change fees ($200) and same-day confirmed fees, which even as an Executive Platinum I’d have to pay $75 for.
On this roundtrip itinerary from LAX-JFK, you’re paying $59 more for Choice Essential and $161 more for Choice Plus.
Now, let’s say you changed your ticket once – you’d already be saving more money with a Choice Plus fare, and you’d be breaking even with a couple Same Day Confirmed flight changes, but unless you really think your plans are going to change, you’re tossing the dice whether you’re going to get enough value out of paying for Choice Plus in order to justify the $161 price tag.
While I do think there’s still some potential value in these fares – especially for travelers who usually get hit with same day and date change fees, it’s a much less clear-cut value proposition and we’re all going to have to do the math more carefully each time we purchase American fares now. Not only that, but Choice Fares were a good alternative for last-minute flyers with volatile plans since American also just ended its bereavement fares – being able to change and same-day confirm was a good insurance policy for touch-and-go plans – but it’s not as good an alternative now.
So it looks like American was just testing these options for a year and once they found them to be popular among flyers like me, they decided to jack up the prices. I can understand that – after all, airlines are businesses – but I’m not happy about having to pay more now, and I’m really not happy that American didn’t issue a public announcement about this, but only started quietly repricing itineraries on AA.com. When will airlines learn that it’s better to communicate clearly with their flyers – even if it’s bad news – than to spring things on us sneakily like this. We appreciate honesty and openness – and deserve it for spending our money on your airline – so just be straight with us!
Hat tip: Pizza in Motion.