Is American Airlines Systems Unknowingly Giving Free Upgrades?

by joeheg

American Airlines is currently experiencing some challenges. While running an airline is difficult, AA seems to be facing multiple issues. The most publicized problems are in the management team, where the airline recently announced the sudden departure of its Chief Commercial Officer, a decrease in expected earnings for the upcoming quarter, and a halt to the planned change in how the airline awards miles for purchased tickets.

While any of these could shake confidence in a company, the triple-hit sent the stock reeling, falling over 15% on the day of the SEC filing. It’s easy to blame the large-scale focus of the management suite for the problems, but turmoil upstairs often leads to problems on the front lines. In that respect, I think I found one of the reasons American Airlines’ earnings aren’t up to expectations.

They’re not charging for the services they provide.

Buying Main Cabin Extra

When I fly on American Airlines, I find the main cabin seating uncomfortable, especially on the 737 planes with Oasis interiors. There’s very little space, making it difficult to work on my laptop during the flight. As a result, for any flight lasting over 2 hours, I pay for Main Cabin Extra, factoring in the extra cost when I calculate the total price for my ticket.

On my recent flight to Las Vegas with a connection in Austin, I decided to wait until check-in to select a Main Cabin Extra seat. I noticed that AA flyers with status have the advantage of choosing Main Cabin Extra seats when they book their flights, often securing the best seats. However, the airline might upgrade these same flyers to First Class close to the flight, leaving their original Main Cabin Extra seats empty. That’s exactly what happened on these flights.

I was able to pick the bulkhead window seat for one leg and the second-row window for the other flight. The upgrade cost was $79 for the bulkhead and, I think, $49 for the second row. I paid for my seats and appreciated the extra legroom for my flights.

a person's feet in a seat

Paying with AMEX Platinum

I paid for the seat upgrades with my American Express Platinum card. It’s one of the approved uses for the Airline Fee Credit and I still hadn’t used any of this year’s $200. I checked my account and saw a pending charge from American Airlines for the cost of the upgraded seats. I waited for the charge to post because I wanted to make sure that the credit was applied. It usually happens automatically, but since this was a larger amount, it sometimes takes a call to AMEX to get things sorted out.

But here’s the funny thing: The charge never posted. I stayed pending for a while, and eventually, it disappeared from my account. There’s no sign of it anymore.

That’s a Problem

Having IT systems that forget to complete transactions is a problem. More so because I’ve already flown on the airline. They can’t take back my seat assignment. I’m not trying to pull one over on American Airlines. Even if I wanted to, I’d have no idea where to start to tell them that they didn’t charge me for my seat upgrade. Even if I wanted to call them, the wait to talk to American Airlines at the moment is over 2 hours. I’m not going to waste my time because their computers messed up.

Final Thought

American Airlines is having issues right now. While major changes to the company’s strategic focus make the news, it might be better for the airline to spend time on the basics. Things like making sure you don’t cancel hundreds of flights because of bad weather or collecting money from passengers when they select a Main Cabin Extra seat. Problems like these might explain why your revenue is falling below expectations.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Greg June 12, 2024 - 7:03 pm

This is so un-BoardingArea.

Enjoy the benefit and let others enjoy it. AA is perfectly capable and responsible of handling this without snitching to point it out sooner.

joeheg June 12, 2024 - 7:41 pm

I don’t think this counts as an exploit that people is flying under the radar. How is anyone supposed to duplicate it? If passengers are planning on paying for a seat assignment, there’s nothing against AA collecting the money. The fact that, in at least one instance, their IT failure caused them to lose money is only degrading the airline even faster. If I knew a way to do it every time and posted it online, then you’d have every right for calling me out by ruining it for everyone else.

Ryan L June 19, 2024 - 7:28 am

Similar experience. I did a miles and cash upgrade on a MAD-JFK-DCA flight last month. They took the miles but not the $350 cash.


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