A Couple Things To Know As An American Airlines Elite Before Booking On US Airways

With the announcement yesterday that American Airlines and US Airways elites can earn a 50% bonus by booking eligible codeshare flights on the other carrier, it’s certainly appealing to move a flight to earn that bonus.  But, there are a couple things you should know before you pull the trigger.

I only flew US Airways once last year for two segments, so I certainly can’t call myself an expert.  But, I did learn a few things when I booked a US Air flight a couple days ago right before they announced the bonus.  Some of these tips are things I’ve already covered but I figured it was worth a refresher.

1.  You Can’t Get An Upgrade.  If you’re an elite on either airline and expect to get an upgrade flying the other one right now, you are wrong.  It’s something they’re working on, but there is no path to get an upgrade right now.

2.  You.  Can’t.  Get.  An. Upgrade.  What can I say?  I really like upgrades, it seemed worth saying twice.

3.  More Legroom In Coach Is Not A US Airways Philosophy.  Intuitively, I knew this, especially given how close to my legs the first class seat was on a recent US Airways Airbus plane I was on (see below, and no the seat in front of me is not reclined).

American Airlines Elite


American Airlines Elite

Those of you that have met me know I’m not the biggest guy in the world.  If my knees are almost touching the seat in front of me, you can imagine what a tall person might have to cope with.  Coach isn’t going to be much better, but you may have to pay for a coach seat anyways if you don’t want to be stuck in a middle seat.

US Airways has two different types of “upgraded” coach seats they offer.  Preferred seats are the front row (s) of coach and the exit rows.  These are reserved for Preferred members, and are not to be confused with “ChoiceSeats”.  ChoiceSeats are seats seats near the front of the plane but don’t actually have any extra legroom.  However, they do charge for these seats and that fee is not waived for elite members at this time as it is for some elites (Platinum and Executive Platinum) on American.

On the recent flight I booked,  my only choice for an aisle seat was to pay $68.  If I wanted a window I could take the last row of the plane.

American Airlines Elite American Airlines Elite

Is it worth 50% more redeemable miles to have less legroom in coach?  It certainly could be for some.  But, if you have to pay to get the seat of your choice then the extra miles certainly aren’t worth it.  If you’re not sure what type of seat you might be getting, check out Seat Guru before you book.

4.  Codeshare Flights Can Be Confusing.  As operations get consolidated, it will be easier to transfer from an American Airlines flight to a US Airways one and vice versa.  For example, at IAD US Airways departs from the Z gates right past security, whereas American departs from the B concourse.  At DEN, American is in the A concourse as are some US Airways departures, but the bulk of US Airways flights still depart out of the B concourse.  None of this is life-altering, but if you’re short on time it pays to know where you’re going.  Take a close look at who actually operates the flight you’re booked on and make sure you know where it departs from.  Leave extra time if you have to change terminals.

5.  US Airways’ Website Can Be Confusing, Too.  I don’t find myself on the US Airways site frequently, but when I do it’s notable that their IT infrastructure is not as robust as American’s when it comes to the booking engine.  When booking my recent flight I was presented with a blank seat map and told there were no seats for assignment.  That seemed a bit odd to me, so I checked Expert Flyer and saw plenty of seats available.  I exited out of the seat maps and attempted to select a seat again and the map popped up.  No biggie if you know how to navigate, but certainly a pain in the butt if you didn’t know how to check that there really were seats available for you to select.  In my specific case, there were slim pickings for complimentary seats anyways.

50% more redeemable miles is certainly tempting.  Just make sure you’re aware of the potential travel pitfalls while we’re in the middle of the integration.  It’s also worth noting that these miles may not post automatically given the lack of robustness on the US Airways website.  So, keep an eye on your account afterwards to make sure things post correctly.

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About the Author

My goal in life is to fill my family’s passports with stamps, creating buckets of memories along the way. You’ll find me writing about realistic ways for normal people to travel the world, whether you’re on a budget or enjoy luxury. I also enjoy taking us on the occasional detour to explore the inner workings of the travel industry.

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  1. I swore off US Airways after a 10-hour flight squished up against the seat in front of me. It’s not zero legroom — it’s negative legroom. Hopefully this is one of the first things to change with the merger.

    1. I know what you mean, Scott. Not sure I would do 10 hours. You’re a better man than me. I hope my upcoming flight in coach is my only one like that with no legroom but I suspect that may be wishful thinking.

  2. So absolutely no changes at all, except the 50% extra bonus. US Airways is fine domestic US. If you have some Dividend Miles in your account, it only costs 7500 miles + 50 bucks to get a confirmed upgrade to First. Also, they have more planes wifi than United does. If you don’t pick a seat, chances are you will be in a Choice seat as a Star Gold. I had about 15 flights with US last year, upgraded 80% of them and got great seats assigned at check in.

    1. We certainly have a different perspective. The lack of legroom on US Airways is very noticeable compared to United and American. And, American actually has those seats available for its elite members. The flights I purchased already have F sold out and no Choice Seats available, so as an AA EXP I can choose to pay $70 for an aisle with no extra legroom or sit in a middle. Maybe it’s an anomaly, but with the combination of the two airlines I wouldn’t be surprised to see a United-like effect where certain flights are so stacked with elites that unless you buy very early good choices aren’t available to you. Time will tell.

      1. There’s no change for EPs flying US at all, except the 50% bonus is what I meant.

        They have a different policy and business strategy anyone else in the US. They dont have a more legroom coach option, that’s just the way they are and have always been. The same was the case for American, who just reintroduced more legroom a short while ago but not on all their aircraft. Try to sit in Economy on an AA 777. THAT is the worst legroom in the biz (there’s no main cabin extra there) Melinda took it to London in December, her SWU didn’t clear (she had to take that flight, not flexible on dates). She’s 5,7 and said it was the most uncomfortable seat she’s ever been in.

        And I agree, there will for sure be changes, but as an EP, it will of course improve flying US, it will be a great experience if they stick with AAs upgrade policy (they probably wont). I bet they will put in Main Cabin Extra on US planes, though

        1. No changes, right. Except for the obvious part where AA elites get access to seats with more legroom on most AA planes now but don’t on US. Oh, and that part where AA elites might have to pay for an aisle or window seat. There may be no changes if you used to fly US Airways, but AA elites likely wouldn’t do that very often (myself included), and there are some stark differences in the products.

  3. It ticks me off a bit that US elites get access to MCE seats, which are far better than the Choice/Preferred seats that US offers. Also, that CPs get the free snack/drink benefit on AA flights but EXPs don’t get it on US flights. I understand that US doesn’t offer free snacks/drinks to their CPs but at least reciprocate the benefit..

    1. Jim, those are well-founded concerns. These differences make it difficult for me to fly US in the short-term and hope that Doug understands that folks like you and I are loyal to AA not because of a pretty logo but because of the treatment we receive as elite members of AA. Take that away and it truly is a choice among commodities, a race to the bottom where price and schedule dictate my choice, with a significantly smaller stake in loyalty.

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