Why I Think American’s New (To Me) Policy Is Very Smart

Two days before we were due to fly on American Airlines from Orlando to New York, Sharon’s phone rang. We’re generally not ones to answer our phones (Note from Sharon: As a meme I recently saw said, “The best time to call me is in a text message”) and when a random call comes in from an 800 number, it’s a definite direct-to-voicemail call for both of us. For some reason, I had Sharon’s phone in front of me and after the first call went to voicemail, the phone rang again from the same number. I was at my computer so I Googled the number (800-433-7300).

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At first glance, my heart dropped. Why would American Airlines be calling us two days before our flight? I imagined the worst, like our flight was canceled because of the 737 MAX schedule changes. I picked up the phone.

“Hello, Sharon’s phone. This is Joe. How can I help you?”

That’s not how I answered but it has to be extraordinary circumstances for me to pick up a call on her phone.

A very nice representative from American Airlines introduced herself. Since I was also a passenger on the trip, she confirmed that Sharon and I were flying from Orlando to LaGuardia via Miami in two days. She then informed me that the flight from MIA-LGA was oversold. Instead of taking our original flights, would we be willing to change to the direct MCO-LGA flight? Instead of leaving around 9AM and arriving at 2:30PM, we’d leave at 7:43PM and arrive at 10:26PM. If we’d be willing to change flights, American would pay us each a $400 voucher for a future flight.

Now, I’d normally never book a connecting flight from Orlando to New York but this flight was on the Saturday after Easter and every family wanted to fly back home to New York from Disney World and flights were crazy expensive. The connecting flight through Miami was the cheapest one I could find.

Changing flights would mean we’d lose an evening in New York but we didn’t have any plans that night.

Here’s what we paid for the two one-way flights:

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American wanted to pay us $800 to change flights that cost us $460. We’d be on a non-stop flight instead of having to connect. We’d be able to take our dog to camp the day of our flights instead of the day before, giving us another night of cuddles and saving us an additional $30 at the kennel.

It didn’t take us long to say yes to the offer. The American rep told us she’d send us two $400 vouchers to our email. We had a year to use them to book a flight; we didn’t have to fly by then, we just needed to book the flights by that date.

Our vouchers showed up by email within minutes, along with our updated itinerary. Besides putting us on a non-stop flight, she also assigned us seats in the exit row. These seats were going for an additional $37 each.

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When the flight departed, no one took the middle seat so we had the whole row to ourselves. While I appreciate the extra legroom of the exit row, it brings a different set of challenges for Sharon.

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Why This Is A Brilliant Idea

I’ve been at the airport before when airlines are trying to get people to accept money to get bumped to the next flight. I hesitated once when Delta was willing to give $700 Delta Dollars to take the next flight, because I didn’t know what a Delta Dollar was worth. In that case, I was already at the airport. If I took a later flight, I’d have to figure out something to do for several hours. I might be able to get into a lounge, maybe not. For $700 each, we could pay for a really nice dinner (but we were at the airport, and are there many nice airport dinners?).

In other words, once you’re at the airport, your time is already spent. You can’t go back in time to get to the airport later. Whatever time you spend is going to be at the airport and not where you were planning on being. If you’ve arranged for someone to pick you up, you; have to inconvenience them as well.

By calling us in advance, we were able to consider what plans we had for the day. If we were meeting friends for dinner or had a business meeting, we just wouldn’t take the bump and they could move to the next person. But since we had no plans that evening and would have booked a direct flight if it hadn’t been mega expensive, it was a no-brainer for us to take the later flight and the money. American managed to get us on a better flight, paid us $400 each and didn’t have to run a lottery at the gate, like when Delta paid $4,000 to a passenger to get bumped to a later flight.

I’m ignoring the fact that the flight we were changed to was delayed, delayed and then un-delayed before it was delayed and delayed again. Even if our flight had been canceled, having $800 in vouchers in our pocket would have been a decent consolation prize.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

 

 

3 thoughts on “Why I Think American’s New (To Me) Policy Is Very Smart”

  1. I agree that it is a good (new policy). However, it sounds to me like an extraordinary circumstance though. The airlines always try to overbook their flights because they bet on someone not making it in time to their flight or having to cancel last minute etc. but they usually won’t know whether the flight is overbooked or not until shortly before departure when (almost everyone) is already at the gate. So I can only imagine that because of equipment change or maybe the 737 MAX disaster was the reason for this flight to be more than 10% overbooked and American having to pro-actively offer certain passengers something to change their flights voluntarily.

    1. This didn’t have to do with “bidding” for a bump on the app. They called us out of the blue to offer it to us.

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