American Airlines reached out to tell me that one of their published policies doesn’t mean what it says. Even though American’s travel waivers say that Basic Economy customers can only be rebooked onto flights that have Basic Economy inventory available, American tells me that isn’t true.
In fact, it’s partly true but there’s an unpublished exception.
American Published a Policy That Basic Economy Customers Don’t Get to Take Full Advantage of Travel Waivers
On Monday I wrote that American Airlines customers booking basic economy aren’t fully eligible for travel waivers. If there’s a storm or a terrorist attack and most customers get to change their plans without penalty, Basic Economy passengers will find it harder to do so.
That’s because American had published a rule with their waivers that said, “tickets issued as Basic Economy fares must be booked in “B” inventory only. If “B” inventory is not available, then an alternate flight must be selected.”
During bad weather events, strikes, and other events leading to a travel waiver flights often sell out quickly. Only the most expensive inventory is often left even on flights that aren’t full since an airline will want to sell seats for more money. Basic Economy customers may have a hard time finding Basic Economy inventory to get rebooked into.
American Says This Isn’t Enforced By Reservations
American acknowledges this is the published rule for travel agents, and that travel agents won’t be able to rebook Basic Economy customers via the waiver into anything other than Basic Economy (and customers won’t be able to do it on a self serve basis), but that in practice American Airlines agents will still rebook basic economy customers into other inventory when you call.
Put another way, they’ll do exactly what I suggested, “for agents to oversell Basic Economy when [other] coach inventory is available.” (This is not a published benefit customers can point to so if the first agent you speak to won’t do it, hang up and call back.)
Didn’t Book Your Tickets Directly With American? You May Be Out of Luck
Travel agents aren’t allowed to rebook Basic Economy customers when Basic Economy inventory isn’t available. Expedia and other online travel agency customers won’t be able to use waivers calling up their agency. And the policy doesn’t instruct agents to tell customers to call American, indeed most won’t know to do so.
American generally assesses a $50 “External Reservation Handling Charge” when you want American Airlines reservations to make a change to a ticket that was not originally created by American itself. That’s a fee to ‘take over’ the reservation from the travel agency.
Applies for voluntary trip changes not initially created by American Airlines Reservations or on aa.com
Here’s how the fee is described in SalesLink:
I asked American if they will waive the $50 charge so that customers on Basic Economy tickets booked outside of American’s own reservations centers and websites can avail themselves of travel waivers, since the airline’s new restrictions would otherwise put customers in a catch-22: they can only have their travel agencies rebook them, but their travel agencies often aren’t going to be allowed to rebook them.
It took a couple of days while they looked into this, but a spokesperson tells me “[w]e will waive the fee if they call.” So if customers booked through third parties call American, and know to ask to take advantage of the waiver, and find an agent familiar with this policy they’ll be able to take advantage of it.
American Says The Restriction Will Soon Become Moot. I Doubt It.
Eventually with the full roll out of Basic Economy, I’m told that “whenever Y is available B will be available” so it becomes a non-issue. There shouldn’t be times when Basic Economy is unavailable on a flight when there are still seats for sale, so anyone taking advantage of a waiver will be able to be booked back into Basic Economy.
We’ll see if that holds. United tried this but backed off at the beginning of July. United would offer $819 one way basic economy fares, with a buy up of $25 to be able to bring on a carry on bag and select a seat.
This wasn’t treating their highest-revenue customers well. It was about squeezing them. I contended it was stupid. United began to believe they were losing lucrative ticket purchases if they continued. Beating up on full fare passengers isn’t good business. So they quietly stopped, despite articulating their original strategy of offering Basic Economy whenever any coach seats were available on a flight.
I have to believe American Airlines won’t actually keep basic economy inventory open whenever there is a seat for sale in coach on the aircraft. United tried it and already discovered it was a bad idea. Even if they do at the outset they too will be wise to backtrack from that policy.
And Day Of Travel, Basic Economy Customers Are At the Bottom of the List for Re-Accommodation
This isn’t new and it isn’t surprising. Elite frequent flyers are still prioritized for auto-rebooking when flights cancel. However the airline does prioritize rebooking of non-elites based on fare and Basic Economy fares are at the bottom of the list.
If there are customers who are going to be stranded for a couple of days, it’ll be customers who buy the cheapest ticket fare class.
However American tells me that “[a]t the airport, during IROPS, we will book the lowest available fare.” So when Basic Economy customers do get re-booked the procedure isn’t to open up Basic Economy inventory to maintain the restrictions. Having a flight cancelled or changed due to a substantial delay may be a way out of Basic Economy if only more expensive fare classes are available on the new flight.