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At the beginning of this month, American Airlines quietly removed a valuable benefit that had made available to all oneworld Sapphire and Emerald elites. There was no notice given for this move nor was any announcement made, but now it looks like American has had a change of heart…at least in part.
The best seats on offer in American’s Economy Class cabins are those designated as “Main Cabin Extra” seats as they usually offer more legroom than any other seat in the cabin (generally speaking, they don’t offer more lateral space). Up until the end of September, oneworld elite flyers with Sapphire or Emerald status (e.g. British Airways Gold & Silver, Cathay Pacific Diamond & Gold, Qantas Platinum One, Platinum & Gold, etc…) had been able to select these seats at the time of booking without charge. As of the beginning of October, this was no longer the case.
Here’s what the American Airlines website had to say about access to Main Cabin Extra seating at the beginning of this month:
Here’s what that same page shows now:
If you’re a oneworld elite flyer with the likes of Qantas, Cathay Pacific, or Qatar Airways you’re still out of luck, but British Airways, Iberia, Finnair, and JAL elites have all had their Main Cabin Extra seating privileges restored.
Why The Change Of Heart?
The key to understanding what’s happened here is to understand what differentiates the oneworld airlines whose elites have had the Main Cabin Extra benefit resorted and the airlines whose elites are still frozen out. The former are all airlines that have joint venture partnerships with American Airlines while the latter, with the exception of Qantas, do not.
The fact that Qantas elites have been left out in the cold makes American’s reasoning a little more blurry than it would otherwise be, but it looks as if the airline has realized that removing the Main Cabin Extra benefit from flyers belonging to the loyalty programs of its joint venture partners goes against the idea that all joint venture elites should get the same benefits.
As I pointed out when this benefit was first removed, the cost of a Main Cabin Extra seat will vary between approximately $32 and $112 for one-way travel, so the fortunate oneworld Sapphire and Emerald elites who can now once again book these seats for free are being given a very nice reprieve.
Overall, this is very good news for the oneworld elites who have just had a key benefit restored while it’s less good news for all the American Airlines elites who, understandably, were looking forward to having considerably less competition for the best seats in their preferred carrier’s Economy Class cabins (I suspect that Qantas elites will also be decidedly unimpressed).
Assuming that the reason for the reinstatement of the Main Cabin Extra benefit for some oneworld elites is the one I’ve outlined above (and it looks as if it is), the obvious question to ask is why no one at American thought about this before the benefit was withdrawn? Removing a benefit with no notice or announcement never looks good, but withdrawing a benefit and then reinstating it less than a month later is even worse – it gives the impression that there’s a good deal of incompetence at work. If we also end up seeing Qantas elites having this benefit restored, the only question left will be the one asking how the person responsible for all of this still has a job.
British Airways, Finnair, JAL, and Iberia oneworld Sapphire and Emerald elites have had their Main Cabin Extra seating privileges restored by American Airlines less than a month after having them removed. Now we just have to wait and see if Qatanta elites are given a similar reprieve.