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Air Fares Going Sky High - American Airlines Applies The Pinch

The USA Today newspaper cover story in the Money section for August 4th hit really close to home.  USA Today posed the question - "Will fares go so high that only the rich can fly"?

Uh yes.  It would appear so.

Less than ten months ago I made my annual pilgrimage to the Fashion Mecca in New York City.  The cost of my unrestricted coach fare was more than 50% lower than it was when I recently booked my tickets for the current trip.  Although I booked my tickets almost 2 months in advance this time, due to dire warnings of cost increases, the number of non-stop flights had been reduced leaving the available flights very full.

In addition, I had hard won American Advantage Miles that would be expiring in 2009.  Since I heard rumors the mileage required to upgrade to First Class was going to double, I was prodded into using my rewards.  I hastened to the phone and cashed in some precious AA points for a cherished seat in the front of the plane.  Not only would I save my points from termination, but I would avoid being jammed into a completely full coach section during a 3 1/2 hour flight.  Definitely worth it to me to arrive less stressed and jangled.

My trip to New York was such a huge success (due to my trip planning book) I actually finished everything I needed to do on Sunday.  Yet my return flight was not scheduled until Tuesday afternoon at 12:45.

Wanting to scurry home to a more comfortable bed (that's another crazy story for another blog), I called American to see if I could possibly change flights from Tuesday to Monday.  I actually checked the AA target flights and found several first class seats on my desired flight change before I called the AA number.

Ahhh, maybe I was in business.  In the old days, it would have been a snap to arrange.

Needless to say, I was shocked to discover that it would cost me close to $300 (with all the appropriate fees) to change my tickets "at this late date" and sadly, I was informed, I would not be able to sit in First Class.  Even though I had already traded in my miles for a First Class round trip upgrade.

It should also be noted, I had no bags to check.  I always ship my clothes to my hotel and back home via UPS.  So no extra fees there and I have found that if I am prepared I can ship UPS ground for a much lower cost than fees for checking bags on the airlines.

Having already paid close to $500 for an advance fare that cost approximately $239 just ten months ago, I was not in the mood to change my plans.  Even worse, I had surrendered my hard won AA points and would forfeit the perk if I switched.

Add the additional $300 in fees to change my flights and the loss of my already arranged upgrade and I felt beat up and picked upon.

You know the rest of the story.  I told the AA agent "no thank you" with regard to my potential change in plans and proceeded to stay locked up in my hotel all day today answering emails and working on business documents.  On a good note, I had one day of peace and uninterrupted quiet, but on a bad note, my love affair with American had dimmed significantly.

Throughout periods of my business career I had done quite a bit of flying.  Not anything like my dearly departed husband who at one point had lifetime platinum advantage status from all the flying he did for a software company based out of Dallas.  When he died I lost rights to his platinum status, because afterall, his lifetime had ended.  It sucked because he always got us wonderful first class upgrades with his special points and long term association as a frequent flyer.

American did transfer his remaining AA points to me, which was very gracious, but in the process I was not able to use upgrade stickers he had in his account.  They are still listed there even today - 3 1/2 years after his death and I only wish the fairy godmother of American would somehow send them my way.

Besides all those upgrade perks, which he worked hard to earn by running through so many airports on a daily basis, we always got to board the plane first.  In addition, he had a special platinum phone number to call and we often found ourselves in a row of three seats with the middle left empty.

Those days are long gone and my memories of wonderful trips on American to accompany him on his business jaunts have faded along with everything else including the days of low fares and empty seats.

USA Today said that "consumers are already shell-shocked by higher prices, but their wallets are going to be hit harder than ever before on their next vacation or business trip".

In all fairness, American Airlines (like all the airlines) is raising their fares to combat record jet-fuel prices which have nearly doubled during the past 12 months.  Besides jet fuel surcharges there are charges for checked bags, ticket changes (my situation) and other services.

Which is why travel consultants and experts are predicting that at some point in the very near future air travel will only be for the rich.  It is also going to drastically reduce business trips, which I have also experienced.  Instead of going to New York of LA on my twice a year jaunts, I have been slowly reducing them to one and traveling by myself, whenever possible to save on extra fares.

The moral to my story?  If you're going to fly, plan your trip as early as possible, search for the absolute lowest rates, ship your luggage ahead of time to minimize bag charges and pray to the gods of airline travel that airfares stop escalating in the very near future.

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