I’ve always been weary of points and miles programs. While you won’t hear me promote using credit cards for points because credit cards are harming your neighborhood I don’t discourage others from using individual company programs like hotels and even gas stations for the occasional perk. After all, I use some of them myself.
I should, however, caution you on collecting points and falling into their trap! This is the story of how booking a free American Airlines flight cost me $883!
The Temptation Of Rewards
Reward clubs are branded as “Loyalty Programs” and were designed to get you to come back. Panara Bread has their MyPanera program, Kroger promises $.10 off per gallon when you spend $100 on groceries, and Speedway give you 10 points per gallon of gas and bonus points when you buy items inside their stations. Given the choice of places to fill my tank I would choose the one that gives me a perk – and I often do!
However, the repeat business could lead us into making purchases we would never make otherwise. While the gas is flowing into my tank I would often go inside to see what the latest deal was on drinks or candy – two things I should probably be staying away from. Loyalty Programs know this type of benefit works in their favor, that’s why they make it so fun to buy their product instead of the competitions.
Getting a Free Ticket, or so I thought
Over the past year I have accumulated over 18,000 Advantage Miles from American Airlines. My wife needed to comfort her newly-widowed mother so I went online to buy her a ticket. I only needed 7,000 more miles for a free $441.80 round trip so I weighed the costs of purchasing the miles. It cost me $192.50 for the miles, a $14.44 Federal Excise Tax, and a $35.00 Processing fee – brining the total to $241.94.
In other words I would spend $241.94 for a free $441.80 ticket. Sure, done deal!
Unfortunately, that was Mistake #1.
What the Large Print giveth, the Fine Print taketh away
I didn’t realize that the points would not be posted to my account for up to 5 business days. My wife will be flying out Friday after work, a very busy travel time, so I couldn’t take the chance of waiting to book the flight. I decided to skip the path to rewards and opt-in to buying a ticket outright.
Already logged in to AA.com with the flight numbers staring me, I clicked on purchase and booked the flight. The tickets were issued two hours later.
That was Mistake #2.
And it just keeps getting worse
Once the E-ticket confirmation hit my email box I realized my error: I failed to change the information to my wife’s name. No biggie, I’ll just call them the next day and have them change it. No harm no foul – except they didn’t think so.
I called the 800 number and spoke to a very friendly customer service agent. I told her my story and was told that she needed to contact the Help Desk. Funny, I thought I was calling the Help Desk. She returned within a minute to inform me that she could change the name on my electronic ticket for $200.00.
Wait a minute. She must not have understood me. This was a simple mistake. It couldn’t possibly cost two Benjamins to change a first name on an electronic ticket. She persisted. I continued. She stated her company’s policy. I had to apologize to her because I was beginning to sound rude. This was going nowhere. I needed her Supervisor!
All Tickets Have To Be Approved By The Federal Government
I spoke to a stern but friendly-sounding supervisor named Karen. She explained they could cancel the ticket, credit my account for the $441.80 less the $200.00 change fee. I questioned why couldn’t a transfer fee cost $35, or why wasn’t it $2,000? Was it made to be prohibitively expensive so people wouldn’t change their flights as often?
She stated that it was American Airline’s policy to charge $200 and included some kind of Federal agreement, that “all ticketed flights have to be approved by the Federal Government”.
WHAT? That sounds like some kind of “I’m sorry Sir, the Government has our hands tied” excuse! I call bologna! If this was true then how does Southwest Airlines avoid charging me a change fee? (Put that in my “I wish I would have said” list).
Three Strikes, I’m Out $883
That’s it. She wins. No matter what I say, no matter how much I cry, I’m going to have to fold. I hate confrontation and I’ll pick my battles elsewhere.
When it’s all said and done what could have been a free ticket (other than the purchase of 7,000 miles) cost me $883.74. This was nowhere near the result I was anticipating.
I’ll pay the unbelievably exorbitant exchange fee to get my wife to visit her newly-widowed mother. That’s all that matters here.
The Silver Lining
There is a lot of negative energy oozing from the words in this post. My wife has a saying that always brightens her day: “Whether the glass is half empty or half full, there is always room for more wine”. So, looking at the bright side of this expensive learning experience:
- The entire process took less than 20 minutes. Thank God I wasn’t put in Hold-Hell.
- The points I purchased will allow me to fly solo sometime in the future.
- This experience has taught me to trade in airline miles for rental cars or hotels instead.
My plea to American Airlines
Dear American Airlines, I understand when planes breaks down and weather delays the flight crew for my plane out of St. Louis. I’ve always defended you when others complained about your customer service. I am often bewildered how you can get so many people to their destinations without more mishaps. Great job.
However, this $200 is crazy. I understand you are in the business to make money but where is the legitimacy of charging what is equal to the price of another flight? Does it really cost you that much to have a person working on a computer with a headset to change the name on my E-ticket?
I made a simple mistake. Charge me a fair rate and please don’t do this to anyone else. It’s just not good business in this day of Social Media and electronic ticketing.