That’s ridiculous! A “free” ticket on American Airlines has $476 in fees; a “paid” ticket has $180

Of all the preposterous fees to cross my desk, I think this one deserves an award.

It comes to us by way of Jennie Chan, a law student at the University of Tennessee, who wanted to redeem some of her hard-earned American Airlines miles for a trip to Warsaw, Poland.

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Now we all know that award tickets aren’t free, and probably shouldn’t be called award tickets anymore, for that matter.

If you want to redeem them, there’s a fee. If you want to redeem them faster, there’s a fee. And if you want to put the miles back into your account, there’s a fee, too.

But here’s where the avaricious nature of these redemption fees clashes with cold, hard logic.

Chan says redeeming the miles wasn’t easy. She had to call American, which quoted her a price that didn’t make sense.

It took awhile to get through to the phone and managed to find some suitable dates, but before I could purchase, the saleswoman told me that the fees will be $476.

I noticed that with the cheapest roundtrip on with the same dates, the fees came out to around $180?

How is this possible? It seems better to purchase the regular roundtrip ticket for $900 than use my miles and pay almost $500.

Hmm. Almost $500 in fees for a “free” ticket is outrageous any way you look at it.

Should Chan save her miles and spend them elsewhere? Or should she pay nearly $400 for a ticket that she can buy for $900, anyway?

A few months ago I wrote about the total futility of frequent flier programs. Stories like this do little to change my mind.

It’s enough that frequent flier and stayer programs influence your purchasing decisions, compelling you to buy more expensive tickets and rooms, which are sometimes of inferior quality to others. But sticking it to you when you want to redeem those miles — that’s some way for a company to show your gratitude for your business.

I remember when frequent flier award tickets were free. Ah, the good ol’ days!

So that’s today’s installment of “that’s ridiculous.” And by the way, I’m thinking of making it a regular feature. There’s plenty of absurd, counterintuitive and strange stuff in the travel industry.

Do you want a weekly column that explores these oddities?

Update (1/20): Chan wanted to add something after reading the comments.

Both flights are the same. I called to see what flights were available (and they told me the flight numbers and times), and I then checked on the website.

I don’t know where the $300 difference comes from. And I’m booking them in April (before the peak season), so at least to my knowledge, shouldn’t be any fee with last minute booking.

(Photo: rya rwood/Flickr Creative Commons)

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