American Airlines And The Tale Of The $100 "Prepaid Baggage Fee"

Reader Jeremy says that his attempts to be polite and have everything taken care of for someone who was doing his organization a big favor were made more difficult by a secret, unpublished “prepaid baggage fee” that American Airlines attempted to charge him.

Jeremy says:

My organization has a wonderful, articulate but disabled lady who has agreed to speak to a certain state’s legislature about patient’s rights, a very timely and powerful message in the times where scrutinizing healthcare is front and center in our national debate.

I made the reservations for her to fly down and back on my American Express — something we do all the time — through American Airlines because we are a corporate rewards BusinessExtrAA member. All things being equal, we usually pick American because of the rewards my organization get through flying with them. I clicked through the reservation online, trying to be considerate of her every option — wheelchairs and aisle seats all around, because of her disability. Because of her being generous with her time, we wanted to take care of everything for her. I thought it odd that there wasn’t a way to prepay for luggage, but made the reservation anyway and figured I had missed it and could add it later.

As an avid Consumerist reader and a chart nerd, I regularly click through to read what the baggage fees are on certain airlines and get incensed, feeling glad I mostly fly Southwest. I often saw discounts for other airlines for pre-paying for luggage on a reservation, I wondered why I hadn’t been given the option to do so with my American Airlines reservation. I logged back into the reservation online and looked for the option to prepay for luggage. Where is it? I searched their website for clues, and, figuring that it was one of the options they don’t allow you to change with your reservation online, called the reservations line.

The first woman, Lisa, couldn’t answer my question and didn’t know how to pre-pay for luggage, and having been a former call center representative myself, I very politely suggested that I hold for a few minutes while she ask the information from a supervisor. She came back a few minutes later and told me — it would be $20, and a $100 pre-payment fee. $120 total. Each way. I blanched, not expecting that answer at all. I very politely suggested that she may have gotten the information wrong and asked where I could find that information online to verify this, but she couldn’t answer my question. I then asked to speak to her supervisor directly, because I needed this information documented for possible tax reasons or because of corporate reimbursement policy. I think she was glad to get rid of me.

Pat answered and as a savvy supervisor as a call center can, she listened to my story and answered my questions with politeness and clarity. She repeated the information she had given me about the pre-paid baggage fee – $120 – and I said I could wait on hold for a few minutes while she checked with the people who work at the website helpdesk to see where this fee was published online. A few more minutes on hold and she came back to me, telling me that there is no information published on the website that mentions this fee. There isn’t anywhere this information is published.

I asked why, and by this point Pat and I had developed a polite rapport. She admitted that they must not publish it because of its exorbitance — although I suspect she regretted saying that, because you’re trained as a call center supervisor to never directly express your contrary opinion to corporate policy. She didn’t have the power to waive the fee, and there were no other options for me. To her credit, she actually said this out loud instead of transferring me to someone else. I decided not to fight it any more.

$120 pre-paid baggage fee! This is not an option for my organization going forward when we have to curry favor for someone to speak for us. I think that my organization’s policy on “all things being equal” for choosing American Airlines just got a little more unequal, BusinessExtrAA member or not. As for our disabled passenger – she will get to the event, thanks to pre-paid AmEx cards (wait, can you even use those to pay for luggage??) — but thank god there’s no “wheelchair fee” – YET!

Has this happened to anyone else?

(Photo:Oliver 62)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.