American Airlines eliminates partner elite seating benefits

Oct 1, 2020

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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.

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.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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