Chris Elliott rails against US AIrways for their award redeposit fees.
Award tickets are not free. Victoria Casey knew that when she made plans to fly to Europe on US Airways this summer. Each reservation cost her $50, in addition to the 320,000 miles she spent for four first-class tickets.
But Casey never imagined she’s be paying the airline for nothing — and paying it a lot more than $200.
Hers is a cautionary tale about the value of frequent flier mileage programs.
Yes, frequent flyer programs are some sort of trap to suck out your money.
Granted, US Airways charges award ‘processing fees’ in this case the $200 referenced above for 4 tickets. That does strike me as unreasonable, a fee for the privilege of booking a free ticket. And that’s entirely apart from the telephone booking fee (waived on itineraries that can’t be booked online such as partner awards, which makes partner telephone redemptions cheaper than US Airways ones). So it’s not a fee for telephone assistance, just a redemption tax.
I don’t like that fee at all, but I deal with it because US Airways miles are easy to obtain and they’re great for international premium class redemptions.
But the person writing to Chris cancelled their trip,and they were charged award redeposit fees.
If these were paid tickets, there’d be a cancellation fee as well. Most tickets will retain their cash value minus that fee, and award tickets get the miles back. You can’t withhold the fee from the miles, so they take the fee upfront in cash and refund all the miles.
Of course this fee is optional, you don’t have to pay it if you want to let the miles go to waste. You’re just buying back your miles, and in this case buying over 300,000 miles for an incremental $1000 is hugely worth it.
I will say that the amount US Airways charges — $250 on an international itinerary — is high. It’s very high. British Airways charges $70. Air Canada charged CDN$90. American and United do charge $150. And US Airways says they’ll charge the fee on redeposits or on any change at all in advance of travel, and no changes or redepostits once travel begins. They/re certainly on the high side here. But for an optional fee that’s worth it that mirrors paid tickets, it is what it is.
Ultimately I’d like to see these fees more closely mirror paid tickets that allow changes and credits for a fee. That fee is taken out of the value of the ticket. Why not allow the cancellation fee to be paid in miles? Though if this option were introduced, it would probably be for too many miles to be worth it. Still, it seems a reasonable thing to ask for.
The point of the column, as I take it, is be aware of the fees you face. And since top tier elites at most programs don’t actually face these fees at all, it’s another argument for focused loyalty.