No, American’s Preferred Seating is not considered an upgrade

On a recent trip to Mexico, Allen Lipscher purchased tickets on American Airlines and paid extra for seat assignments, but he believes he did not fly in the type of seats he bought. He wants a refund, but is this case really one where American messed up, or is it a case where the customer didn’t understand what he was buying?

When Lipscher booked his and his wife’s tickets to Puerto Vallarta, he elected to pay $63 each for what he thought were “upgraded” seats in row 10. On the outbound flight, he felt he received an upgrade, but he didn’t think they received the correct seats on the return, even though they were seated in the same seat numbers. So he wrote to American Airlines Customer Relations.

The company replied, and informed him that he did not purchase the seats with extra legroom, which American calls “Main Cabin Extra.” Instead, he purchased “Preferred Seats,” which American defines as “standard legroom seats that are more favorably located throughout the Main Cabin.” So while these seats may have a more desirable location (aisles and windows are usually included, and depending on the specific equipment used for a flight, may only be located towards the front and center of the aircraft), Preferred Seats are not an upgrade from the standard seat.

The description of each of the available seats on American Airlines flights can be found on its Main Cabin amenities page. When booking a ticket online and selecting seats, the available Main Cabin Extra seats are shown in red on the seat map, available Preferred Seats are shown in green, and available Basic Economy are shown in blue.

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While this case refers specifically to the American Airlines seating policy, all airlines have seat definitions and maps that identify which seats are part of a category. Airlines also identify which seats are included in the price you paid for your ticket, and which ones are an additional cost, based on the ticket you purchased and on some airlines, your frequent flier status. On some websites the cost of the seat is identified on the map, while others have a “pop-up” when your mouse pointer hovers over the seat.

Lipscher quickly received a response from American Airlines on his request for a refund. The representative told him that he purchase Preferred Seats, not Main Cabin Extra, was not entitled to a seat with extra legroom, and his request for a refund was denied. But Lipscher was certain that he received extra legroom on the outbound flight, and since it was the same equipment he did not receive the correct seats.

He could have escalated his case to the contacts we list on our website. Instead, he wrote to us and asked us for help.

Our advocates reached out to our contact at American and received a quick response. In addition to checking the flight numbers, our contact also checked the tail numbers of the equipment used on each flight, just to be certain the exact equipment used was being investigated.

The flights that Lipscher selected were operated using 737-800 equipment, and did not offer Main Cabin Extra seating in row 10. The outbound flight did offer an entertainment system that includes a screen at each seat, which the return flight did not, but that was the only difference in row 10 between the flights.

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I looked at flights between Chicago and Puerto Vallarta online, and searched for the same equipment. I found that Main Cabin Extra seating is available in rows 7, 8, and 9, but not row 10.

It seems that Lipscher actually purchased Preferred Seating for his flights, and that he received the seats that he selected. We don’t believe American owes him a refund.

While we can’t help Lipscher on this case, we can take this opportunity to remind all our readers to read everything when you purchase your flights online: know what the seat definitions are, how the seat categories differ, and how to identify the seat you really want to reserve for yourself and your travel companions. If you find the definitions or the seat maps confusing, call the airline directly or use a travel agent.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

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