The Irony Of American’s New Business Traveler Upsell Fares

American Airlines has introduced new ‘Main Select’ fares that bundle various perks into the price. These are currently offered on a handful of routes, but the airline plans to roll them out more broadly.

The fares are refundable, bundling priority boarding and check-in, free seat assignments for any coach seat (including extra legroom) and free same-day confirmed changes.

The strange thing is that American Airlines had bundled fares a decade ago – and US Airways management eliminated the idea after taking over the airline. Now they’re bringing it back.

At the end of 2012 American Airlines revolutionized how they upsold customers. They published actual fares with additional benefits.

You might spend $68 more for no change fees, one included checked bag, and group 1 boarding or $88 to also earn 50% bonus miles and have free same day changes and standby plus an onboard cocktail.

These were sold as actual fares (“Choice Essential” and “Choice Plus”) rather than fee bundles. The bet was distributing fares that could be sold across channels would deliver enough revenue to more than offset the additional taxes they’d pay.

  • Domestic airfares are subject to a 7.5% federal excise tax
  • Fees are not, so moving money out of fees and into fare means more taxes

Then shortly after US Airways management took over American dropped the change fee waiver and introduced variable pricing for these more expensive fares. Two years later they eliminated these bundled fares entirely instead of upselling with fees, though they never got very good at the upsells.

When American introduced bundled fares in 2012 it was bold and revolutionary, though the idea needed tweaking. Now American is re-introducing the idea. The timing may be right. It’s still clunky, since the fares aren’t displayed before you select coach travel for a flight (and then you’re presented with an upsell opportunity). American managed to do the customer-facing sales better ten years ago:

Still this is also an admission that legacy American Airlines executives, much derided by the crew that took over from Tempe, may have been onto something.

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