Qantas frequent flyers lose American Airlines 'extra legroom' upgrades

The US airline axes free access to Main Cabin Extra economy seating for Qantas Golds and Platinums.

By David Flynn, October 2 2020
Qantas frequent flyers lose American Airlines 'extra legroom' upgrades

Qantas' top-tier frequent flyers have just lost a prized perk with partner American Airlines: no more free upgrades to the 'economy plus' seating known as Main Cabin Extra, which translates into valuable inches of extra legroom.

But the US carrier hasn't just singled out Qantas: it's also axed this practical benefit for the frequent flyers of all other Oneworld member airlines holding the equivalent to Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald status.

This includes

  • Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold and Platinum
  • British Airways Executive Club Silver and Gold
  • Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club Gold and Diamond
  • Finnair Plus Gold and Platinum
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich Gold and Platinum
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club Gold and Platinum

Under a long-standing arrangement, American Airlines offered the top-rated frequent flyers of those airlines – such as Qantas Gold and Platinum members – free access to Main Cabin Extra seating when travelling in economy (or 'Main Cabin', in AA parlance).

This wasn't just for that one card-carrying traveller: up to either others booked on the same reservation automatically received the same benefit.

Oneworld Ruby members – such a Qantas Frequent Flyer Silver, British Airways Executive Club Bronze and Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club Silver – could also choose any remaining available Main Cabin Extra seat from 24 hours before their flight.

The appeal of Main Cabin Extra

Main Cabin Extra seats are the same as regular economy seats, so they shouldn't be confused with premium economy: they're just located in their own rows of the economy cabin, usually at the front of the plane and sometimes at the exits, and give you an additional four to six inches of legroom.

American Airlines Main Cabin Extra delivers more legroom than standard economy seating.
American Airlines Main Cabin Extra delivers more legroom than standard economy seating.

That's welcome enough at any time, but especially on US transcontinental flights between the east and west coasts, where Main Cabin Extra can cost around $100 on top of the standard economy fare.

The extra legroom is a boon for taller passengers, while the increased distance between each row of seats also makes it easier to pull out your laptop to do some work or watch some BYO video content en route.

As a bonus, Main Cabin Extra seats at the front of the economy cabin means you'll be faster off the plane.

(Main Cabin Extra passengers also get priority boarding as part of the package, but this is already enjoyed by top Oneworld frequent flyers due to their shiny status.)

That all changes as of now, with American Airlines axing this free 'partner elite' benefit for all but its own AAdvantage frequent flyers.

American Airlines Main Cabin Extra delivers more legroom than standard economy seating.
American Airlines Main Cabin Extra delivers more legroom than standard economy seating.

A spokesperson for American Airlines confirmed the change to Executive Traveller, although adding that "for our Oneworld elite status members, we will continue to offer complimentary access to Preferred seats, which is consistent with the benefit offered by other Oneworld airlines."

Preferred seats have the same legroom as standard economy seats but are in slightly more convenient locations throughout the cabin, such as being closer to the front or in a row with only two seats.

American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members will continue to receive complimentary Main Cabin Extra seating (along with others traveling on the same booking, while AAdvantage Gold members can continue to select any remaining Main Cabin Extra seat from 24 hours before departure.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

KW72 Banned
KW72 Banned

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 238

This is fair enough as it is not a common benefit across all one world airlines, so fair for American to put its own members first.

And as QF has nothing like this at all, why expect it of others?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 462

QF doesn't expect it at all. But some QFF members have come to expect it, because it's been offered for some time. 

Like anything, it doesn't matter whether people should have received something in the past; if they have received it, and then it gets taken away, they spit the dummy.

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1245

Makes sense and is fair enough.

British Airways - Executive Club

23 Mar 2018

Total posts 14

Does this also include access to the standby system, where top tier oneworld members could go on stand by for earlier flights with no charge? That was a great perk that other oneworld carriers have never offered unless you have a fully flexible ticket!


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 May 2017

Total posts 13

It’s fair enough, but having been able to make use of this perk dozens of times over the last few years, I’ll certainly miss it!


12 Nov 2018

Total posts 14

Is there any point of having reciprocal Oneworld benefits? I would expect BA and CX to soon axe free seat selection for AA elite members. Not that BA is any better charging to choose a seat in business. 

When every decent seat is an extra or preferred seat, is advertising free seat selection fair to consumers? 

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Aug 2018

Total posts 106

Having flown across the Pacific a number of times with Q connecting from LA, SF or DFW with American to Memphis, now as P frequent flyers, the loss of this perk will be a pity. Let's face it, American domestic flights are a trial for Australian international travellers , no matter how you look at it. Now, it will be worse as for parents of American based offspring, we want to connect with them a minimum of twice a year under normal circumstances.

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 262

As long as they are still offering the free small bottle of booze to go with your soft drink (much to the chagrin of those around you!), then I’m all good!!

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 99

How about that! I'm losing something I didn't even know was available to me. I did get a rather nice bread roll and a small bottle of booze on several AA flights. I even took a bread roll on to a Qantas flight home. Beat the tar out of the Neil Perry stuff we were given on the 787. Desperate times needed desperate measures. It'll be a long while before we get to another AA flight.

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