Back in August I stopped by an American Airlines’ ticket counter at SNA to book a ticket for a client using a voucher. Unbeknownst to him (and me), I found that AA levies a $30 fee to book at airport ticket counters.
That’s all fine and dandy for tickets that can easily be booked online, but the only way to book a ticket with a voucher is either at an airport or by telephone. The telephone fee is waived when booking with vouchers, but that requires hold time and mailing in the paper vouchers to an AA ticketing center (so tack on insurance as well). No similar exception was permitted, until late last year, for airport ticketing. Other airlines, including United Airlines, have never charged booking fees for tickets booked with vouchers.
These are the type of fees I have problems with. While I do not like fees for baggage and food, at least those are optional. But if you have only two options to book, both of which require incidental expenditures, don’t tell me I have a $300 voucher when it is really worth $270. And if you are going to pull that stunt, you better make it crystal clear. AA never bothered to tell passengers receiving vouchers, mostly from getting bumped off oversold flights, that there were hidden fees attached.
Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation fined AA $90,000 for this underhanded practice. Sort of. AA has agreed to pay $45K and the DOT will cancel the other half of the fine if AA abandons their trickery for one year.
Let this be a lesson to other airlines: don’t get too greedy with your fees. I support the DOT’s fine.