American Airlines Drops Close-In Booking Fees on Award Flights

Jan 21, 2020

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Last week, American Airlines eliminated close-in booking fees. These $75 fees were previously imposed on award tickets booked 21 days before departure. American is seemingly following in the footsteps of United, which eliminated close-in booking fees after introducing dynamic pricing.

So what does this news mean to the average AAdvantage member? On the surface, it’s a positive — though it may also signal negative changes to come.

The positive implications

The elimination of close-in booking fees is a good thing for award travelers since some award space doesn’t open up until a few weeks before travel. When these seats opened up in the past, it was annoying for travelers to have to pay a $75 fee for something that was essentially out of their control.

This was especially expensive for those who booked one-way flights or award tickets for multiple companions. As someone who regularly books travel for four or more people at a time, I’ve had to pay $300+ in close-in booking fees before. So it’s nice that American Airlines decided to rectify this situation, especially for those folks who were forced to book last minute due to a lack of award space earlier than that.

If you’re a last-minute award traveler, now you won’t have to worry about being on the hook for $75+ in fees in these situations. Impulsive travelers and procrastinators will appreciate this development.

The possible negative impact

So how could there be a downside to eliminating close-in booking fees? It could be a sign of negative things to come. There have been rumors that American Airlines is moving toward dynamic pricing, like Delta and United already have.

As part of this model, award redemption rates would depend entirely on demand and ticket prices. While this can lead to some great deals (see SkyMiles Deals), it would also make redemption rates unpredictable and award travel difficult to plan in advance.

Because United announced a switch to dynamic pricing when also eliminating close-in booking fees, these rumors have some people worried that American will soon follow suit. Perhaps this close-in booking fee elimination is a way to soften the blow in advance of the news.

The bottom line

American Airlines has made many improvements to its online award search over the years, and eliminating close-in booking fees is another step in making miles easier to redeem. Hopefully any negative news, including dynamic pricing, is a long way off. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to redeem your AAdvantage miles at current rates while you can.

So take that trip to Singapore or try out the coveted apartments offered by partner Etihad Airways. You won’t be on the hook for booking last-minute booking fees — and if dynamic pricing does go into effect, you’ll be glad you put your miles to good use.

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