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New Mileage Fees Causing Headaches

Frequent Flyer Q&A
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Airplane - Sun Flare (Photo: iStockPhoto/Remus Eserblom)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on February 3, 2009. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: American, booking strategy, Delta, frequent flyer, Frequent Flyer Q&A, mileage earning, mileage redemption, taxes and fees, Tim Winship.

Dear Tim,

A new award ticket redemption fee will be introduced by Delta that charges members based on booking times.

  • Three days or less prior to departure date - $150 per ticket
  • Four to seven days prior to departure date - $100 per ticket
  • Eight to 20 days prior to departure date - $75 per ticket
  • 21 days or more prior to departure date - No Charge

From what I can see, that effectively obviates one of the best things about frequent flyer miles—the ability to make a quick decision to fly and not to have to pay big bucks for it.

Patsy

Dear Patsy,

Thanks for the note.

Such so-called rush fees aren't new. And those particular fee levels were implemented by Delta back in August. Delta's fees are, however, among the industry's highest. American, for example, charges $50 for award tickets issued between seven and 20 days prior to departure, and $100 for tickets issued within seven days.

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But you're right—these fees make last-minute award trips pricey propositions, just as they would be if you were purchasing a ticket last minute. I personally recall redeeming 25,000 miles for a next-day trip to visit an ailing family member. That ticket would have cost $1,900. But because this was before the advent of award rush fees, there was no out-of-pocket cost to me. Today I'd be charged $150 for that "free" ticket.

There is a way around the fees. In Delta's program, and others, Platinum-level elite members are exempt from them. So while the fees strip away some of the value of participating in mileage programs, they actually increase the value of elite membership. And of course, booking 21 or more days in advance also exempts you from any rush fees.

 
 
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