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American Airlines eliminates partner elite seating benefits

Oct. 01, 2020
4 min read
American Airlines eliminates partner elite seating benefits
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Airlines are busy making policy adjustments during the pandemic.

In April, all of the major U.S. carriers extended elite status and made temporary changes to their loyalty programs. In August, major U.S. carriers then moved to permanently eliminate (most) change fees.

As part of American's no-change-fee announcement, the airline also unveiled some welcome improvements to the basic economy experience, including the ability to purchase (or use complimentary elite) upgrades, access extra-legroom seating and more.

While last month's announcement was overwhelmingly positive news for flyers, the Fort Worth-based carrier also has quietly made a negative devaluation for Oneworld partner elites.

Effective immediately, AA's partner elites will no longer receive complimentary access to the airline's extra-legroom Main Cabin Extra seating. This policy change has been confirmed to TPG by an American Airlines spokesperson.

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The AA spokesperson also confirmed that Oneworld elites will still have complimentary access to Preferred seats. These seats offer standard coach legroom but they're positioned at favorable locations within the cabin.

Previously, partner Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members received free Main Cabin Extra seating at booking for themselves and up to eight traveling companions on the same reservation. Oneworld Ruby members could previously assign complimentary extra-legroom seats beginning 24 hours before departure.

Going forward, partner elites will need to purchase Main Cabin Extra legroom at standard pricing, which ranges depending on flight length and seat location. For example, a bulkhead extra-legroom window seat from Miami to New York hovers at around $28.

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Aside from offering additional legroom, Main Cabin Extra seats include early boarding and an elevated drink experience. Before the pandemic, you'd be served a choice of beer, wine or spirits when seated in Main Cabin Extra on flights with full beverage service.

American Main Cabin Extra on the Boeing 737 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

American is a founding member of Oneworld — one of the three major airline alliances. If you are an elite member with one of Oneworld's 13 member airlines, you don't just receive benefits when flying your preferred airline. You also unlock a "status-lite" equivalent when flying other Oneworld partner airlines. These privileges vary depending on your status level — and range from entry-level Ruby status to mid-tier Sapphire status to top-tier Emerald status.

One of the most popular Oneworld Emerald benefits is access to first-class lounges when traveling internationally. That means that top-tier Emeralds can use the incredible Cathay Pacific The Pier first-class lounge when flying in any cabin on an international flight from Hong Kong. The same story applies to other partner lounges across the world.

Related: A beginner’s guide to American Airlines economy seats

Of the Big 3 U.S. carriers, American's partner elite seating policy had long been the most generous. Neither Delta nor United offer confirmed complimentary access to Comfort+ and Economy Plus seating options, respectively, to partner elite members.

Thursday's update doesn't impact AAdvantage elites. Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro and Platinum members will continue to receive complimentary Main Cabin Extra seating at the time of booking for themselves and up to eight traveling companions on the same reservation. Gold members get a free pick at the remaining seats beginning 24 hours before departure.

In addition, as of Oct. 1, AA elites enjoy their seating privileges when purchasing basic economy tickets.

In the years leading up to the pandemic, airlines have been focused less on their alliances and more on cultivating close partnerships with individual airlines. During the pandemic, American has doubled down on that playbook. The carrier recently announced a strategic partnership with a non-alliance competitor — JetBlue.

We'll likely see some level of reciprocity for AA and JetBlue elites when the partnership formally begins, which may include complimentary access to Main Cabin Extra seating.

But for now, Oneworld elite benefits on AA just took a hit. Partner elites will no longer enjoy free Main Cabin Extra seating when flying American.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023