Is it a Scam to Charge Gold Elites for Extra Legroom Seating?

An American AAdvantage Gold elite member complains that the airline wants to charge her to reserve exit row seats.

“I’m a frequent flier with American who has gold status because I have been commuting every 2 or 3 weeks between Miami and New York for the past year,” she says. “Each time in the past I made a reservation and purchased a ticket and I was able to obtain an exit row seat for no extra charge.”

But the last time she tried, American said nuh-uh.

“I was informed that I had to pay $19 extra for each leg of my trip if I wanted to reserve such a seat,” she recalls.

So is she being scammed?

Here’s what happened.

Two years ago American began adding extra legroom ‘Main Cabin Extra’ seating to the front of their coach cabins.

They said at the time that it would be free for Platinum elites and above, and that Golds would be able to reserve those seats free at time of booking only through December 2013. (After that Golds would get the seats free at check-in.)

Exit row seats — which had been free to Golds — got folded into Main Cabin Extra since they had extra legroom.

American actually gave the seats away free to Golds for 3.5 months longer than promised.

Now Gold members can have the seats free at check-in, or get a 50% discount on reserving these seats in advance. That’s the Gold benefit, as promised in April 2012. For more on the policy, see here.

This story via Christopher Elliott, natch. He calls it a scam.

Oh, you don’t think this is a scam? Well, think about it. According to Zaritsky, American offered her these confirmed reservations — and let’s face it, it’s the least they can do for a good customer — in exchange for her business. And then one day it quietly pulled the rug out from under her, deleting this perk.

In my book, that’s a scam.

Then he polls readers on whether he should “mediate Joyce Zaritsky’s case with American Airlines?”

Early readers of the column, though, are pretty smart. It will be interesting to see whether people who read Elliott without throwing their computers will continue to hold the same view.

Main Cabin Extra — combined with British Airways Avios — is why I’m flying coach more and more and loving it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. MIA-JFK-MIA every two weeks? Just throw in a couple connecting flights here and there and you’ve got PLT. Often cheaper too. Problem solved.

  2. As a current gold, basically do I have it correct that if I check in ASAP 24 hours before, I can change my seat to a MCE or Exit Row?

  3. You’re conflating the two issues. ‘Folding in’ the exit rows into MCE is a loss to Golds, period. For tall folks, that’s not insignificant, and is one of the primary reasons I maintain Delta Silver status.

  4. Not conflating, I’m explaining what happened since the original article doesn’t, and making the case most favorably to the author (making a better case than he does, I think). Question though is would you characterize that as a scam? 😉

  5. For a brief while earlier this year US Air Silver flyers could reserve exit and preferred seating for no charge. Then they changed that and started charging but less than non-elites. Now I don’t know what to expect from AA.

  6. Not a scam. A negative change, like nearly all changes the airlines make, but I fail to see how it is a scam.

  7. I love how Chris Elliott writes, “And then one day it quietly pulled the rug out from under her, deleting this perk”, when in fact, AA gave plenty of notice to its Elites on its policies, effective 2014, for MCE seating. In addition, the T&C of airlines’ FF programs allow them to unilaterally change benefits… at least in this case AA did not do it without notice.

  8. @Joelfreak – actually, DL started the devaluation for bottom-tier elites and, as usual, UA copied the change pretty much exactly. Now if UA would only start copying some of the actual benefits DL has instituted…

  9. JFK-MIA-JFK is 2180 miles x 26 trips (every two weeks)= 56,680 EQM => no need for connecting flights/lounger routes to achieve PLT.

  10. Elliott’s hyperbole really gets to me. He writes more like a tabloid sensation than a consumer advocate.

    But hey, gotta get the clicks.

  11. But let us remember that “Gold” is not really much status. I think it is called Status Inflation…

  12. Don’t see how it’s a scam on AA’s end when they gave plenty of warning. If her employer will not pay $19 a leg for the extra legroom after all of this commuting, it’s time to either get another job or accept that you’re maybe just not that important to your employer…I don’t see what Elliott can mediate here. She needs to get a job where $19 is not a big deal to her boss. I mean, nobody’s flying for pleasure every 2 weeks, right? I’m not in the mood to give him the clicks to find out some minor detail so…

  13. Chris Elliot’s audience is the naive traveler, and he is very good at manipulating them. It’s his schtick; he probably doesn’t actually believe half the things he says. Best to ignore him. The people that read your column don’t read his.

  14. AA Gold flyers are getting the treatment that Delta gives to it’s Silver (25k) Medalions. Delta Golds get free on Domedtic, and 1/2 off on International. Makes me glad I’m a delta FF, not an American FF.

  15. @Greg D

    AA Gold is equivalent to DL Silver. AA Platinum is equivalent to DL Gold and enjoy similar benefits. AA Exec Platinum is the 100k mile level. There is no upper-middle class 75k tier with AA.

  16. @gobluetwo Thanks for clearing that up for me. I’ve been PM on Delta for the last two years, and it’s a LOT better than GM, so it’s too bad AA doesn’t have something like it.

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