The news broke some weeks ago that United would be tacking on a $15 fee for award tickets booked anywhere other than on its Web site, and would be increasing its award change fee from $75 to $100 as of Oct. 15.
Since then, some other Big Six members have jumped on the bandwagon.
American has implemented a $5 service fee for tickets (including award tickets) booked via reservation centers, and a $10 fee for tickets purchased at U.S. airport locations. The service fees will be waived for AAdvantage Executive Platinum members and AAirpass customers.
Continental is doing the same, though the new service fees are waived for OnePass Platinum Elite members and their traveling companions booked on the same itinerary.
In turn, US Airways has added a $5 fee for tickets booked through the Dividend Miles reservation system, and tickets purchased at airport ticket counters will incur a $10 fee. Dividend Miles Chairman’s Preferred members will not be subjected to the new fees.
For Northwest, the $5 “Call Center Ticketing Fee,” originally on tickets for travel in the U.S. purchased through one of Northwest’s reservation call centers, has expanded to include all tickets issued by one of the airline’s U.S. call centers, including tickets for international travel. The $10 “Airport Ticketing Fee,” originally on domestic tickets issued at Northwest airport locations in the U.S. and Canada, has expanded to all tickets issued by the airline at all airport locations in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, fees that originally applied only to domestic WorldPerks frequent flyer program award tickets have been expanded to include all award tickets issued by the airline in the U.S. or Canada. Platinum Elite members will not incur the call center ticketing fee or airport ticketing fee on either paid or WorldPerks award tickets.
Thus far, Delta SkyMiles members have been immune to this trend, and our sources at Delta tell us they know of no plans to introduce such fees. If true, we applaud Delta for holding its ground, but we’re not holding our breath — these things rarely go un-imitated.
The key to avoiding these nickel-and-diming efforts (aside from being a top-tier elite member) is to go online. Our own studies have indicated that there is very little difference in availability for tickets booked on the Internet. The catch, of course, is that it will be up to you to plot the strategies that a real-life representative would normally take care of.
To that end, consider some of the timeless tricks of the frequent flyer trade. If there’s nothing available to Dulles, try Baltimore. San Francisco booked solid? Head to Oakland. It may not be ideal, but remember that by remaining flexible and willing to drive or take a train a few extra miles, your award options can increase significantly.