American Airlines Takes Extra Legroom Seat Benefit Away From Partner Airline Elites

American Airlines will not allow AAdvantage elite members to receive their benefits when traveling on an award ticket issued with a partner airline’s miles. For instance if you redeem your Alaska Airlines or British Airways miles for an American Airlines flight, you’re not supposed to be able to apply your AAdvantage account number to the booking.

In practice though some agents would let you do it, and it’s long been possible to use a workaround to do it yourself.

But what if you have status with the partner airline and you’re traveling on American?

As first reported by Zach Griff, American Airlines has taken away access to Main Cabin Extra seating from partner airline elites. Elite members of programs other than American AAdvantage are no longer entitled to complimentary Main Cabin Extra.

  • This matches a change United made many years ago, so isn’t surprising
  • But American, British Airways, Iberia and Finnair are supposed to be in a metal neutral joint venture – surely they should treat elites in those airline frequent flyer programs as well as their own

Whether traveling on an award or a paid American Airlines itinerary, if you’re using a partner frequent flyer account number you aren’t supposed to receive extra legroom seats in coach any longer.

Ironically the airline’s fundamental strategy has shifted to focus more on partnerships, building up not just British Airways’ Heathrow as a hub but now Boston and New York (JetBlue) and the West Coast (Alaska). Last month Vasu Raja – who himself now oversees the AAdvantage program – said that integration of experience and benefits matters to make the airline’s strategy work, and that benefits from one airline to the other need to be seamless. Yet they’re moving in the opposite direction.

This makes the most sense to me though as a (strategically poor) reaction to their closer partnership with Alaska Airlines. For most customers it makes sense to earn elite status with Alaska, not American even if you fly American – but this move is a block against that.

Right now, though, if a Main Cabin Extra seat is open on an American Airlines flight the carrier’s policy (that not all flight attendants realize) is to let you take it for social distancing reasons. So until the pandemic ends everyone can have Main Cabin Extra if there are seats available upon boarding – though for the moment these seats do not come with complimentary alcoholic beverages anymore.

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. Honestly this move makes sense. Most OW airlines do not give extra legroom seats or “paid” seat assignments (coach/business) for free to AA elites so AA was extending a major benefit that wasn’t really being reciprocated anyway.

    Sucks for OW elites but AA is significantly reducing the number of MCE seats and it has gotten harder to secure one (before the pandemic) when booking 1-2 weeks out so this helps AA elites.

  2. I agree that this aligns AA with other OWorlders as well as the domestic alliance partners are Skyteam (DL) and Star (UA). Better yet, more seats for me!

  3. I also like this. First of all AA was an outlier so they are in line w UA/DL (along w many One World airlines). Secondly, as a long time EP and now Lifetime Platinum since I’m retired, I like that this is reserved for AA elite members. I’ve never had a problem getting a main cabin extra seat but any opportunity to reduce competition for us that earned our status on AA is a good move.

  4. If AA needed business amid a pandemic, avoiding this at any cost would make complete sense. Since they do desperately need the business, this is pretty much indefensible. Another stunningly bad decision by Parker. Remind me, how does this guy keep his job?

  5. Prior to the virus scourge airlines were talking about squeezing the cabin with more seats. Perhaps this will put an end to that! Another thing they can put an end to is pets in the cabin! When I see a
    “companion” ready to board I have to ask isn’t this unsanitary in the wake of things. It needs to stop.

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