Effective yesterday, July 29, Gold- and Platinum-level elite members of American's AAdvantage program are exempt from the so-called close-in fees for booking award travel within 21 days of travel. (AAdvantage members who had attained the program's highest level of elite status, Executive Platinum, were already spared from the fees.)
For background, United did away with these fees more than a year ago. And they did away with them for all members of the Mileage Plus program, not just elites. So: advantage United, both for the timing of their policy change, and for its scope. Delta, earlier this summer, followed United's example, discontinuing the fees for all SkyMiles members. So Delta is also ahead of American, both in beating American to the punch and in exempting non-elites as well as elites.
These fees are huge revenue-generators for the airlines—tens of millions of dollars annually for the largest carriers, by my own rough estimate. So it's no wonder that American wants to keep them in place for the great majority of AAdvantage members.
But close-in booking fees are the very personification of nuisance fees. As I argued in a recent column on airline fees, it costs American no more to allow an AAdvantage member to book an award last minute than to book 21 days out. Charging extra for a service that costs the airline nothing extra to provide is, to be blunt, a gouge.
Exempting Gold and Platinum members from these nasty surcharges is a step in the right direction. But American has stopped well short of real fairness and decency. You shouldn't have to be an elite customer to avoid being gouged.
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.