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If you’re hoping to get a prime seat assignment on an American Airlines flight booked with your miles, be warned…
There’s a big catch when it comes to your seat assignment.
While you still get a free seat assignment, booking a ‘MileSAAver’ ticket means you lose the option to pay for a preferred or extra legroom ‘Main Cabin Extra’ seat on any American Airlines flight.
MileSAAver tickets are the award tickets we’re all looking for, the lowest advertised price of 25,000 roundtrip for domestic flights, or 40 – 60,000 miles for flights to Europe. And the restriction also applies if you book an American flight using the miles of a partner like British Airways for its cheap 12,500 point flights to Hawaii on American flights.
So if you have a big vacation planned with miles and want to spend some of the savings on more comfortable seats you’ll be out of luck.
It’s all spelled out in the fine print of American’s Main Cabin Extra frequently asked questions. And if you try to view a seat map either online or when you check in at the airport you’ll see all the good seats are greyed out.
How can you get around this?
Unfortunately there is no easy way, unless you are an AAdvantage Elite member who flies more than 25,000 miles a year, or an Elite member of American’s OneWorld partners or domestic partner Alaska Airlines. Elite members can select Main Cabin Extra seats as they normally can per elite program rules.
If you’re not an elite member one option is to hope that an agent at the airport will assign you a better seat.
Sometimes exit rows are assignable at the airport, or you may find that the regular coach seats are oversold, and gate agents will need to assign people to extra legroom seats for free. So nicely ask every airport agent you can that “you’d like to buy an extra legroom seat, but the system won’t let you.”
Or if you see no seat you like when you book your flight, you could try going with no seat assignment in the hopes you’ll be among the first chosen for remaining premium seats at the gate. But that’s a big gamble that could still land you in a middle seat.
This customer unfriendly policy is a real missed opportunity for American to earn extra cash selling those seats to loyal passengers on mileage tickets. And it’s one of the hidden gotchas that gets people mad at airlines and mileage programs.
Neither Delta nor United have this restriction, so if you book a Saver level mileage ticket with them you can still buy up to a better seat.
Our advice is if you must book American flights, check the seat map before you book to make sure there are aisle or window seats available in the ‘regular’ seating section. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in a miserable middle seat on a long flight.
Or avoid American miles altogether. They’re getting harder to use anyway.
If you’re headed to Europe, Delta miles are a better bet thanks to improving award availability and you don’t have to deal with nasty fuel surcharges. To Asia, American miles are hard to beat, but at least flying there you can book your flights on partners like Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines that don’t have this restriction.
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