American makes another change to partner elite seating perks

Oct 21, 2020

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American Airlines has been busy making policy adjustments throughout the pandemic.

Just last week, the Fort Worth-based carrier was first to announce elite status changes for 2021. AA has also permanently eliminated most change fees, improved the basic economy experience and more.

It isn’t all good news, though. Earlier in October, the airline eliminated partner elite seating benefits without warning. Previously, elite members of partner Oneworld airlines received complimentary access to American’s extra-legroom Main Cabin Extra seating. On Oct. 1, AA removed that benefit for all partner flyers.

Just three weeks later, the carrier has (slightly) reversed course.

Effective immediately, select partner elites will once again enjoy complimentary Main Cabin Extra seating, an AA spokesperson confirmed to TPG.

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Specifically, Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members who hold status with British Airways, Iberia, Finnair and Japan Airlines will have free access to Main Cabin Extra seating at the time of booking. This includes free seating for up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation. Oneworld Ruby members of the aforementioned airlines will have complimentary access within 24 hours of departure.

You don’t need to be traveling on a codeshare flight to access these benefits — all eligible partner elites can take advantage of free extra-legroom seating. This includes domestic flights without any international connection.

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 only 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.

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

With the latest update, American is restoring the previous policy — but just for elite members of its closest joint venture business partners. Nonetheless, this adjustment makes sense. In recent years, airlines — and AA in particular — have been heavily focused on strengthening their partnerships with a few select airlines. As airlines embark on recovering from the pandemic, broader alliances aren’t nearly as important as close partners.

As such, Wednesday’s change likely spells great news for Alaska and JetBlue elites. That’s because AA will soon offer an expanded partnership with both of these carriers. When the details are announced, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the carriers offer reciprocal access to extra-legroom coach seating.

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

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.

Wednesday’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.

Of course, the policy update doesn’t help frequent flyers with one of the remaining eight Oneworld airlines. However, all Oneworld elites will continue to receive complimentary access to Preferred seats. These seats offer standard coach legroom but they’re positioned at favorable locations within the cabin.

Either way, it’s great to see American listening to feedback and making adjustments as needed. As American’s new president of loyalty recently told TPG exclusively, “if we haven’t made the right decisions, we’ll figure out ways to fix and adapt.”

And that’s exactly what AA seems to be doing here with its latest update to the partner elite seating benefits.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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