If anyone is skeptical of a good deal, it’s moi. I can usually figure the “catch” in any good deal pretty fast.

But one gets complacent. One lowers one’s guard.

So when I got Visa’s American Airlines upgrade promotion — stay at a Fairmont or Loew’s hotel and you’ll get a free American Airlines upgrade certificate — I figured what the heck. I have to stay someplace in San Francisco. The Fairmont’s nice.

I assumed that when I called the Fairmont, they’d tell me I could have a room for $169 . . . but that when I told them about the Visa promotion, they’d say, oh, that only applies at our standard $259 rate. But it was worth a call to see.

To my surprise, the rate they quoted was only $99! Whoa! That’s pretty great even without the upgrade.

At that point I figured, hmmm. It’s probably not a round-trip upgrade, just one-way. (Yup.) And it probably involves limited availability. (Yup.) And is valid only within the U.S. (Yup.) And you probably can’t confirm it until shortly before the flight. (Three days.)

But even so, as any American frequent flier knows, a coast-to-coast flight normally requires “two longs and a short” — two 1000-mile long-segment upgrade stickers and one 500-mile short-segment sticker — which, between them, now cost something like $110. So here was a deal where for $99 I got a room at the Fairmont and an upgrade that would save me $110 in stickers on my flight home.

They were paying me $11 to stay at the Fairmont! (Room tax, phone charges and my $11.38 cup of black coffee we won’t discuss.)

It was at this point I should have smelled a rat. But, as I say, I had become complacent. Maybe I’m losing my edge.

You don’t get your upgrade until you check out, which is smart for two reasons. First, they assume, I’d guess, that some percentage of the folks will simply forget to ask for it. Second, they assume you’ll be in the cab on the way to the airport before you realize you’ve been had.

You’ve been had because, I realized on my way to the airport (well, how could I not have intuited this from the start?), the one-way upgrade applies only to a full-fare coach ticket. It says it right there in tiny print on the back of the coupon. Which means it applies to almost nobody (and certainly not the kind of people looking for a bargain). When was the last time you bought a full-fare coach ticket? OK, you, maybe. But most of us find some kind of discounted rate. My flight from Miami to San Francisco was $344, round-trip. Full fare coach would have been about $1,458. The upgrade coupon said all I had to do to use this upgrade was to pay the difference when I arrived at the airport. Uh-hunh.

Actually, I can’t complain. For starters, how can you miss with a $99 room on Nob Hill? What’s more, to my surprise, there actually is some value to this coupon. Unlike most, it’s transferable. Anybody traveling on a full fare American Airlines ticket before July 15? Do I hear any offers?


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