American Airlines Eliminates 24 Hour Reservation Holds For Most Customers

On Tuesday American Airlines removed the option to put a flight on a 24 hour hold, rather than purchasing it right away, for many – but apparently not all – customers. Competitors haven’t had this option for years. It’s one of the things that set American Airlines apart and made them easier to buy from.

Six years ago American eliminated its commitment to offer 24 hour holds. They stopped offering it through reservations, but kept offering it on the AA.com website. Now the option appears gone, at least for now for most customers. An American Airlines spokesperson confirms:

We continue to evaluate our product offerings to customers on aa.com and understand customers may need flexibility when booking travel plans. Customers whose travel plans change after they purchased a ticket with American can receive a full refund if they cancel the ticket within 24 hours of purchase.

I understand the airline is still evaluating how customers use the option for a reservation hold through the website. There’s some indication that they want to see if forcing customers using trip credits to purchase right away could reduce calls to reservations, since they never introduced the ability to apply those to reservations on hold and that meant a phone call. Eliminating the hold option gives them a counterfactual to test against, but I don’t know odds on whether they could bring this feature back.

Bottom line is that 24 hour holds are fantastic for customers, and especially for the airline’s best and most dedicated customers they reduce time spent on the phone and reduce errors.

  • I put a reservation on hold precisely when I am going to need help over the phone. That way the agent has something concrete to work with and the call goes more quickly. It is more time consuming and error-prone to have to build complicated itineraries with agents over the phone, so holding it first is better.

  • I can also secure the reservation, and complete the transaction over the phone at my and the airline’s convenience when customer service hold times aren’t interminable.

  • This might be a reservation that I want to confirm an upgrade on contemporaneous with ticketing, or where I want to have an agent refare the reservation (sell me a more expensive ticket, in a higher fare class than what the website will book, such as to be eligible to use a Business ExtrAA upgrade). These are things you cannot do at AA.com.

  • I also may just need to secure the reservation and seats and don’t have my credit card handy. So I make the booking and come back later to pay. Without that convenience I may just not come back later, American’s pricing may change, and I may wind up booking with someone else.

However for the airline there are tradeoffs. It’s convenient for customers, but not every reservation that gets put on hold gets ticketed. And held reservations tie up inventory for 24 hours. If someone was holding the last cheap seat, American lost the opportunity to present the fare to someone else. They might lose a sale.

Like most airlines, American offers 24 hour refunds. U.S. airlines are required to choose between 24 hour refunds or 24 hour holds, and American was offering both.

It’s true that you can buy a ticket and cancel within 24 hours as long as you are purchasing at least 2 days prior to departure. (American used to only allow this when booking at least 7 days in advance.)

That’s not always a true substitute for holds. If you’re paying with a flight credit from a previous trip you cancelled 24 hour refunds don’t apply.

Fortunately the 5 day hold option for AAdvantage award redemption has not disappeared at this point.

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