American Airlines moves to charge for more seat assignments

American Airlines announced yesterday that they have expanded their Preferred Seating product offering. While this is being spun as making more seats available to all customers they are conveniently overlooking the part where such availability comes at a price – starting at $4 per seat per segment. This paid option starts at the 24-hour check-in window and will be available throughout the check-in period.

For customers interested in select aisle and window seats near the front of the main cabin, Preferred Seats are available for purchase as early as 24 hours prior to departure with prices beginning at $4 USD per flight.

Taking a look at a seat map for a flight with no customers yet booked one can get some ideas of what the seating options are. The forward two-thirds of the aircraft no longer offers aisle or window seats for free to non-premium passengers. That’s pretty rough. The MD80s are actually worse than the 737-800s, I think, as the two seat side is pretty much entirely blocked. There are significantly fewer free aisle or window seats available.


American is quick to point out that passengers choosing to not pay for a seat assignment will be given one for free. If there are still middle seats left to be assigned those will likely be the free ones. The company also points out that not all blocked seats are Preferred. Some are Preferred Plus, reserved only for elites and full fare customers. So the fee a non-elite pays for a seat assignment doesn’t even necessarily get them a particularly great seat.

The company is also advertising that active-duty military get free access to these Preferred seats. The fine print suggests that might actually only apply when they are ticketed on military fares, but it is not clear how this will actually apply at the airports.

Lest folks think that only non-elites are losing out here, it seems that elites are actually losing in some scenarios. Yes, they now get complimentary access to more seats (including bulkheads) which is a benefit, but they are also losing the ability to have companions on a separate reservation granted the good seats for free. That’s not so great.

Finally, there is one awesomely awful quirk in the new policy with respect to award tickets. While AAnytime Award tickets (double miles) are considered premium and will get the seats for free the same cannot be said for MileSAAver level (normal rates) tickets. In fact, these tickets are expressly ineligible for even paying for the seats.

We’re excited to provide you with even more options to customize your travel experience based on your needs.

Apparently paying more for the exact same seat assignment is a great new option for customers. I’m not buying it.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. How does this impact pax who are elite with one world carriers? Will we get same elite benefits or are we overlooked?

    1. OneWorld elites are included in the “elite” category for both Preferred and Preferred Plus seating. That’s actually quite a bit better than the Star Alliance version of similar rules.

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