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Seat selection is complimentary for many seats on most American Airlines tickets. However, as you can tell by that convoluted sentence, American Airlines seat selection isn't free for all passengers.
So, how much does American Airlines charge for seat selection? We’ll answer this question and explain how you can avoid paying an American Airlines seat selection fee.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
American Airlines seat selection fee
The cost to select a seat on American Airlines ranges from free — for standard seats except when booking basic economy fares — to over $160 for an extra-legroom seat on a long-haul international flight.
American Airlines seat selection fees vary based on several factors — including the flight length and what type of seat you want. Window and aisle seats are generally the most expensive. Meanwhile, a middle seat in between two preferred seats might not cost anything.
» Learn more: The complete guide to American Airlines partners
How to select seats on American Airlines flights
American Airlines travelers can select seats during the flight booking process or after purchasing a flight. If you're just starting a flight search, we recommend logging into your AAdvantage account first. That way your information will be auto-filled, and you'll be able to maximize any frequent flyer perks you have. More about that below.
Say you want to travel from Denver to London. First, you'll need to select your flights. During the search process, you can preview available seats by selecting the "seats" link in the search results. This can give you an idea of the number of available seats for your group. However, the price for selecting seats won't be listed yet.
After selecting your flights, reviewing fare upgrade options, entering your information and declining the option to buy miles, you'll finally be able to select seats for your flight.
If you booked a basic economy fare, you'll have to pay for a seat selection no matter the type of seat. In the example below, prices to choose a seat range from $9-$24 depending on which one you select.
If you booked a standard economy fare, you can select any standard seat for free. Or you can pay for preferred and extra-legroom seats — in this example, the cost ranges from $10-$22 for a preferred or Main Cabin Extra seat.
You won't be able to select seats on flights operated by partner airlines — even if the flight has an American Airlines flight number. Instead, you'll have to complete the booking to get the partner confirmation number (also referred to as a PNR or record locator). Then, you can contact that airline for seat assignment.
If you booked an American Airlines flight through another airline, you’ll need your American Airlines confirmation number. Once you have this, head to the American Airlines homepage and click the "manage trips/check-in" tab.
Enter your last name and the confirmation number to find your trip. Then, you'll see your seat selection options.
How to avoid paying American Airlines seat selection fees
The most reliable way to avoid paying a seat selection fee is to have elite status through American Airlines or through an eligible partner airline, such as Alaska Airlines or British Airways. Additionally, you can redeem AAdvantage miles to pay seat selection fees.
All tiers of AAdvantage elite status get complimentary access to preferred seating — standard-legroom seating in preferred areas of the cabin — from the time of booking. Similarly, elite members of oneworld Alliance partner airlines get complimentary access to preferred seating on American Airlines, even at the lowest Ruby tier.
Main Cabin Extra
In addition to extra legroom, Main Cabin Extra seats also grant travelers early boarding and complimentary snacks and drinks — including beer, wine and spirits.
AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elites get complimentary access to Main Cabin Extra seats from the time of booking. Gold elites can select Main Cabin Extra seats free of charge within 24 hours of departure.
Similarly, Alaska MVP Gold, Gold 75k and Gold 100k elite members can select Main Cabin Extra seats from the time of booking. Alaska MVP members must wait until 24 hours before departure to select Main Cabin Extra seats for free. However, basic economy fares aren't eligible for this benefit.
» Learn more: The guide to American Airlines elite status
Using AAdvantage miles
If you can't use elite status to avoid American Airlines seat selection fees, you may be able to redeem AAdvantage miles to pay for them. Like the cash cost, the mileage cost depends on factors such as the length of the flight and the location of the seat in the cabin.
The redemption rate for seat selection fees is typically about 1 cent per mile. That's not a great rate. NerdWallet values American Airlines miles at 1.7 cents each. Still, this could be an appealing redemption option if your mileage balance is too low to redeem miles for flights.
You'll need to have enough AAdvantage miles in your account to cover the entire cost of the seat selection fees. Otherwise, you'll either need to select a seat that costs fewer miles or buy more miles. Travelers don't have the ability to buy a single seat with a combination of miles and cash.
» Learn more: Easiest ways redeem American Airlines miles
Upgrading to a Main Plus ticket
Travelers who pay for a Main Plus ticket get complimentary access to preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats. This option isn't free. However, the extra cost may be worth it to get an extra checked bag, preferred boarding and complimentary seat selection.
When can you get a refund of American Airlines seat selection fees?
American Airlines seat selection fees are generally nonrefundable. However, you can get a refund of your seat selection fees in a few specific situations.
For example, American Airlines will refund your seat selection fees if you opt to upgrade to business or first class, pay more for another seat on the same flight, cancel your flight within 24 hours of booking (if you booked at least two days before departure) or cancel your flight and purchase seats on a rebooked flight.
You'll also get a refund when American Airlines cancels your flight — or if American delays your flight long enough to miss a connecting flight on which you purchased seats — and doesn't provide a comparable seat on the new flight.
Final thoughts on American Airlines seat selection
American Airlines seats can generally be selected during booking or after booking your flight. However, you'll need to avoid basic economy fares to get free seat selection. And you'll only get free preferred or extra-legroom seat selection if you have elite status or use miles to pay the fee.
If you’re having trouble making your American Airlines seat selection, check to see if your flight is operated by a partner airline. If so, you'll need to retrieve the confirmation code for that airline and contact the airline to choose a seat.
(Top photo courtesy of American Airlines)
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