American Airlines Strips Key Seating Benefit From Gold Elite

Jun 5, 2018

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One of the current benefits of reaching American Airlines elite status is access to “Main Cabin Extra” extra-legroom (including exit row) seating on AA flights — either for 50% off before check-in or for free at check-in. Unfortunately, AA just announced it’s cutting back this benefit in exactly three months.

For seat selections starting on September 5, AAdvantage Gold elite members will no longer be able to purchase Main Cabin Extra seating with a 50% discount. Gold elites will still be able to choose Main Cabin Extra seating for free within 24 hours of departure.

This was originally announced via an update to American Airlines’ elite status page Tuesday morning: “Gold members who buy Main Cabin Extra seats on or after September 5, 2018 will no longer receive a 50% discount.”

This announcement comes the same day that American Airlines began serving free alcoholic drinks in Main Cabin Extra. And it seems the two weren’t unrelated. A spokesperson for American Airlines confirms that “as we enhance the onboard experience and increase the value of the onboard product, we made the difficult decision to limit discounts from certain customer groups.”

The good news: I was able to confirm that this was the only elite change that has been made at this time. Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elite members will still be able to select Main Cabin Extra seating for no charge at any time. And all other Gold elite benefits will remain the same.

Gold elites will soon have to pay full price for exit row and other MCE seating before check-in.
Gold elites will soon have to pay full price for exit row and other MCE seating before check-in.

My take: This feels like a petty change to make. After all, it’s not like American Airlines was giving away these seats for free to Gold elites. Providing a 50% discount on extra-legroom and exit row seats seemed to be a fair benefit to reward these members’ loyalty.

Also, there’s the timing of this change. Instead of waiting until the end of the elite status year (January 31, 2019), it’s disappointing that the airline is making this change mid-year. There are certainly elites that factored this benefit into their decision of which airline to be loyal in 2017. Even worse, there’s likely flyers that purchased Gold elite status factoring in the advanced-purchase savings on these extra-legroom seats.

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