American Airlines Seat Coupons (and Seat Coupon Challenges) are Here

Two months ago I wrote that American would be introducing ‘seat coupons’, so that non-elites and Gold members could earn preferred seat assignments on American Airlines instead of having to pay for these seats.

We’ve now seen the first targeted seat coupon challenge: “register by May 15th and fly two qualifying flights by August 31st to earn one coupon.”

Eligible flights for completing the challenge are American Airlines flights and American codeshares on joint venture partners British Airways, Iberia, Finnair or Japan Airlines.

Here’s how seat coupons work:

  • Coupon valid for one seat on one flight operated by American
  • Expires after 180 days, and travel has to begin by the expiration date
  • Can only apply a seat booking when paying for a seat
  • Non-transferable but can be applied to any passenger in the same reservation as the person with the coupon
  • Can’t be used on basic economy fares

One Gold elite member reports receiving a seat coupon with no requirements, although not all Gold accounts have them.

Seat assignments — even the most undesirable ones, if a non-elite wants them in advance — can come at a premium. So ‘coupons’ to get them without cost or at a discount at some level have value, but they’re hardly aspirational.

I’m skeptical that seat coupons are going to be a big incentive. I just don’t see a future seat assignment getting people to book additional American Airlines flights with less desirable seats today. Am I wrong?

(HT: @xJonNYC)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Can you use them on other people? As an AA elite member, I’d love to be able to use them on family member’s flights.

  2. I feel like this is similar to what Hyatt is doing with incremental thresholds. For people who don’t fly enough to earn status, they can collect a few rewards along the way. That’s what pretty much what every loyalty program, including Starbucks, is doing.

  3. To answer Miles (and per the email T&C):

    • Seat coupon is non-transferable, but any passenger booked in the same reservation as the coupon owner can use and redeem the owner’s seat coupon

  4. Today’s seat coupons are tomorrow’s year-long-frozen first class meals: here today, flash-frozen tomorrow.

  5. This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Complicated, difficult to understand and use. How about they just let people choose a seat?

  6. To your point Gary, I think people will see this as American trying to distract them from moving towards a paid seat selection policy more in line with Spirit and Frontier.

  7. I have one of these seat coupons. One of the terms and conditions is “You must apply the seat coupon when you pay; it can’t be applied after or to reservations on hold.” Does that mean I have to apply the seat coupon when the ticket is initially purchased or does that mean I can apply the seat coupon later if I decide to upgrade my seat after initially purchasing the ticket? The reason I ask is that I also have a trip credit and the system will not allow me to use a trip credit and a seat coupon when I initially purchase a ticket.

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