HT to Pizza in Motion for sharing news on Friday morning that American Airlines has significantly devalued their premium fare options — Choice Plus and Choice Essential — that provide extra benefits for an additional fee.
Elite members may not have had much attraction to the extra baggage benefit, but the ability to save money on change fees and earn a few extra miles was probably worth it to some. For example, United and Delta allow their top tier elites free same day changes (with restrictions). American does not offer this perk to Executive Platinum members, so even top tier elites with frequent schedule changes could find value in Choice Plus fares.
Looking at a sample $398 fare from Seattle to Dallas/Fort Worth, the surcharge for Choice Essential had decreased from $68 to $58, with the loss of the waived change fee. Customers are now paying for a checked bag and early boarding only, which is hardly worth $58.
I’d recommend you just apply for an American Airlines credit card instead. In fact, the Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard® has only a $95 annual fee and includes Group 1 boarding and a free checked bag for up to five people. If you plan on bringing a companion or flying more than once, it’s already put you ahead.
The Choice Plus benefits remain appealing, including 50% bonus miles, waived change fee (you still have to pay the fare difference), and some free in-flight beverages. Ed points out that he already gets free beverages, and I’ll counter that this means you get more free beverages 😉
But at $160 — previously $88 — the value just isn’t there anymore. You’d have to be changing flights on every other trip to come out ahead even though American’s usual change fee is $200, or $75 for a confirmed change on the day of departure. Anything over $100 is what I consider the self-insurance level: put $160 in a jar every time you book a ticket and use those funds to cover your change fees and cocktails. When you reach the end of the year, use whatever’s leftover to buy some miles during a promotion.
I think it’s unfortunate these changes were announced just as I started shifting my travel to American. Hopefully the next surprise change will be something better.