You can now purchase seats with miles on American Airlines, but it’s a bad deal

May 20, 2020

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American Airlines is busy using the downtime due to the coronavirus pandemic to make adjustments to boarding times, award change and redeposit fees, elite status and more.

The Fort Worth-based carrier is back with a new feature that allows you to purchase seats using miles. As first noted by xJonNYC, this capability is now loaded on AA’s website and is only available for certain itineraries.

When purchasing a standard coach ticket, there’s a limited selection of seats available free of charge. The rest are reserved as Preferred or extra legroom Main Cabin Extra seats. Unless you have AAdvantage elite status that includes complimentary access to these seats, you’re going to need to pay for them.

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The cost varies by length of flight, location within the aircraft and other factors, but the splurge could be worth it if you’re looking for some added comfort without paying for first class.

And now, with the ability to purchase seats with miles, you’ll be able to save cash when upgrading to these seats. However, it isn’t a great value.

I took a look at an upcoming flight from Denver (DEN) to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and found that the airline is valuing miles at 1 cent each towards a seat assignment. TPG values AAdvantage miles at 1.2p each, so this redemption is hardly rewarding. Personally, I’d much prefer saving my AA miles for more aspirational redemptions down the line.

This could represent a good use of miles if you’ve got a few orphaned in your account that you can’t otherwise use. It’s also possible that AA sweetens the redemption value later on, but for now, it appears pegged at 1 cent per mile.

The ability to purchase seats with miles isn’t yet available when purchasing your flight. You can only access the feature when managing an existing reservation through the website (the app doesn’t yet support this new feature). Additionally, you can’t use a mixture of cash and miles — it’s one or the other.

One nifty feature is that you don’t have to use miles from the AAdvantage account of the ticketed traveller. I was able to login to my account and redeem my miles for seats on my friend’s flight.

American confirmed that this release is currently limited to departures from select cities with a U.S. point of sale (including international flights). Specifically, it’s only available for flights departing certain airports: Atlanta (ATL), Austin (AUS), Denver (DEN), Nashville (BNA), Orlando (MCO), Pittsburgh (PIT), Raleigh-Durham (RDU), San Francisco (SFO), Santa Ana (SNA) and Seattle (SEA).

It’ll be interesting to see if it’s expanded to other buy-ups like day-of-departure upgrades or excess baggage fees.

As travel begins to slowly rebound, adding more options for redeeming miles is certainly a welcome development. Though the value proposition isn’t great, it could make sense for those with just a few miles in their account.

Along with the changes to the award fee structure, this feature points to the fact that AA’s beginning to think of its miles as a dynamic currency pegged at a certain valuation. In my mind, it’s only a matter of time before we see AA remove its award charts.

All photos by the author.

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