American ‘Seat Coupons’ are Live

A month ago I wrote that American would be introducing ‘seat coupons’. Presumably this means that non-elites may be able to earn preferred seat assignments on American Airlines instead of having to pay for these seats.

Reports are that the functionality to support this feature is now live,

Seat coupons are going to be offered as an incentive through AAdvantage for completing promotions and challenges. This is live in the despacito Qik system for agents to view (they can see seat coupon balances) however nobody has any yet.

Seat assignments — even the most undesirable ones, if a non-elite wants them in advance (even if they’re buying up from basic economy) — 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 an material incentive that drives loyalty behavior, but I’m curious if you’d disagree?

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. Let’s see how long it will be until these AA seat coupons end up being a means for AA to try to squeeze even AA Golds and Plats into paying more money for economy class seat selection.

    The idea that AA did this seat coupon change merely to provide a benefit for elite status match and/or status challenge customers seems to be a naive one. I’m not buying it.

  2. Let’s see how long it may be until these AA seat coupons end up being a means for AA to (further) limit a bunch of AA Golds/Platinums from freely selecting economy class seats which AA would rather see sold to customers as part of a paid seat selection process.

  3. AA now requires a customer to pay an extra $18 to sit in the last seat in the back of the plane in steerage class? LMAO.

  4. The Airlines current pricing model reminds me of the old cow joke. Well, I heard it when I was young and the joke was at least 50 years old at that time.

    Basic Cow with Options
    Basic cow $999
    Shipping and handling $85
    Self-propelled, auto-steer forage finder $969
    Extra-large capacity stomach $379
    Genuine cowhide upholstery $179
    Two tone exterior $142
    Heavy duty forage choppers $189
    Four spigot/high-output milk system $159
    Automatic fly-swatter $88
    Automatic fertilizer attachment $139
    4 x 4 traction drive assembly $884
    Ranch brand leather-work $69
    Rancher’s Suggested List Price $4,286

    Ownership Transfer fee: $200

    Total Price (Including options): $4,486

  5. I agree that “seat coupons” sounds like just another layer of needless complexity in the airline world but — that said — these could be very useful to sophisticated flyers who don’t have AA elite status. If you travel AA regularly (like every month or two) but don’t qualify for Gold (probably due to the minimum spending requirement) the biggest annoyance is seat selection. If you can somehow game this “seat coupon” game, there’s really no need to be gold (just have an AA credit card, which are handed out like candy). So this is very much worth watching for this sizeable group of AA travelers.

  6. BTW, maybe AA will offer some “seat coupons” as part of its credit card perks? Sounds like a good marketing idea, no? Along with the free checked bag benefit, this would make the card nearly indispensable for any regular non-elite AA flyer. I would think that is what AA and Citi/Barclays would want.

  7. Well, god know they should do -something- to keep folks interested in those cards considering all else that’s going on with AAdvantage. But so far I only see them referring to these “challenges” etc.

  8. The devil knows best how AA plans to try to get more pounds of flesh from customers/partners out of “seat coupons”, but AA isn’t launching this out of the goodness of AA management’s heart. One way or another it’s got to be about the moolah, as ofheewise AA wouldn’t be doing this.

  9. Wait if seat assignments cost money for regular economy, why would one buy up from bAAsic?

  10. With as many times as I see the ‘green seats’ completely open on a seat map but most or all the blue seats are filled, my guess is AA (1). Failed to sell this lame idea that sitting a few rows up in preferred seats are worthy of real cash to anyone (2) Are trying the coupon thing to win (at absolutely no cost) some ‘goodwill’ from the large cohort of sub-Gold members.

    As someone that for most of the last decade would fly 4-7 times a year domestically but always would be short of ‘gold’, I would have actually appreciated having free access to those green seats the few times when all that was left in the blue were middle seats. So, I think AA might be actually onto something in giving a small token goodwill gesture to making ‘loyalty’ worth something to the large cohort of occasional flyers. Otherwise, these green seats are mostly being given to BE flyers anyways.

  11. Sources are telling me the primary purpose of the coupons are for trips to the Lav. You’ll need a coupon to operate the door.

  12. @JonNYC — Say what you want, but I think it is marketing genius to take something free (a seat assignment), charge for it, and then concoct a scheme to give it back to motivated customers “for free” if you do something they want (like their surveys, get a credit card, etc.). Nothing is too complicated in America these days. Sigh.

  13. Would love to see meta-posts on the travel blogosphere industry – can it as a whole survive on this kind of domestic value arbitrage? The most expensive seat on that paid seat selection is $64.

  14. Its all this stuff that just complicates things more, that makes Southwest successful. They rarely have the lowest prices any more but people can buy a ticket, get free luggage, most seats are the same (and usually a bit more space than many other economy seats around), can cancel and get full credits, etc.

    Obviously the trade off is the rush to get a decent check in # to avoid a middle seat but compared to other airlines with basic economy, regular economy, etc. its still fairly simple.

    And if you have enough money then most of this doesn’t matter and you just pay up for the business/first class seat.

    Some of this “complexity” of prices have gone into the sports world where I had a tough time trying to figure out the normal ticket price for a hockey game since it seems like it all depended on the opponent.

  15. I recently registered with SkyCop who advertises they can get you money fpr a cancelled UK or EU flight. They do take a 25% commission. I had a British Air flight cabcelled from London to Dulles, VA.
    However, they are telling me the only way I can get my 75% of the payout is by providing them my bank account info.
    Have you ever heard of them (Skycop) or the cancelled flight “payout” or is it all just a scam?
    I asked them to provide my monies via PayPal but they insist sending it via a “wire transfer”, which I am totally leery of providing my details for!

  16. @Mary Morgan, there is no reason to pay someone like SkyCop to get your EC261 compensation. You can file directly with the airline. If SkyCop has already filed the claim and has your money, I suppose you will have to provide your bank details to receive your now-gouged share.

  17. @rich — I agree that WN is simpler, but they’re not that simple. Inexperienced travelers always get the worst seat on Southwest (you can always tell that the last people onboard a WN plane LOOK inexperienced!) because they don’t know the crazy 24-hour boarding number drill. Sadly, “ancillary revenue” makes airlines money. WN is struggling a bit here because they don’t have many tools to upsell. It will likely be a bigger problem for them going forward, as airlines like Spirit are targeting them because their model is not as defensible as that of the major carriers (who’ve adopted many of their ancillary revenue strategies).

  18. @chopsticks – I think that WN will do just fine. They haven’t lost their emphasis on customer service to monetize their business model, as have the “Big 3”. You’ve got to applaud an airline that has kept free checked luggage, no penalty for change fees, and doesn’t have surly employees. They’ve now begun Hawaii flights direct from CA. A quick look-up on their website shows r/t flights in the $400 range. This should shake up “Big 3” coach pricing to HI.
    And let’s face it, the last boarders on any airline’s plane certainly look like they’re having an adventure!

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