You can now purchase seats with miles on every American Airlines flight

Jul 28, 2020

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American Airlines is busy using the downtime due to the coronavirus pandemic to make adjustments to boarding times, award change and redeposit fees, elite status and more.

One new feature that the Fort Worth-based carrier launched in May was the ability to redeem miles for seat assignments. At the time, the functionality was limited to routes departing from select cities.

Well, AA was clearly pleased with the results of the pilot. As of July 28, 2020, American is expanding the functionality to every flight.

According to American,

Effective July 28, AAdvantage members now have the ability to redeem miles for seat selection on for existing reservations in Basic Economy or Main Cabin. We received a positive response from members who participated in our test cities and we’re proud to give members more opportunity to leverage the value of the program.

American confirmed that the feature is available on all existing reservations with a U.S. point of sale (including international flights.)

When purchasing a standard coach ticket, there’s a limited selection of seats available free of charge. The rest are reserved as Preferred or extra legroom Main Cabin Extra seats. Unless you have AAdvantage elite status that includes complimentary access to these seats, you’re going to need to pay for them.

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Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

The cost varies by length of flight, location within the aircraft and other factors, but the splurge could be worth it if you’re looking for some added comfort without paying for first class.

And now, with the ability to purchase seats with miles, you’ll be able to save cash when upgrading to these seats. However, it isn’t necessarily a great value.

I took a look at an upcoming flight from Denver (DEN) to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and found that the airline is valuing miles at roughly 1.1 cents each towards a seat assignment. (During the pilot period, AA was charging 1 cent each toward a seat assignment.)

TPG values AAdvantage miles at 1.4 cents each, so this redemption is hardly rewarding. Personally, I’d much prefer saving my AA miles for more aspirational redemptions down the line.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

This could represent a good use of miles if you’ve got a few orphaned in your account that you can’t otherwise use. It’s also possible that AA sweetens the redemption value later on, but for now, it appears pegged at 1 cent per mile.

The ability to purchase seats with miles isn’t available while purchasing your flight. You can only access the feature when managing an existing reservation through the website (the app doesn’t support this new feature). Additionally, you can’t use a mixture of cash and miles — it’s one or the other.

Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines

One nifty feature is that you don’t have to use miles from the AAdvantage account of the ticketed traveler. I was able to login to my account and redeem my miles for seats on my friend’s flight.

Related: A beginner’s guide to choosing seats on American Airlines

It’ll be interesting to see if it’s expanded to other buy-ups like day-of-departure upgrades or excess baggage fees.

Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines

Of the major U.S. carriers, Delta’s the best at letting you use your miles for such charges. The Atlanta-based carrier has long offered the Pay with Miles feature for airfare for those with a cobranded Delta credit card, as well as the ability to use miles for a range of ancillary charges, including premium cocktails in the SkyClub.

As travel begins to slowly rebound, adding more options for redeeming miles is certainly a welcome development. Though the value proposition isn’t great, it could make sense for those with just a few miles in their account.

Along with the changes to the award fee structure, this feature points to the fact that AA’s beginning to think of its miles as a dynamic currency pegged at a certain valuation. In my mind, it’s only a matter of time before we see AA remove its award charts.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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