Airlines love to tout the benefits of alliances and mergers. But from a consumer point of view, while these changes may mean more opportunity to collect frequent flier miles, they also often mean increased fees and confusion.

British Airways is part of a Oneworld partnership with, among other airlines, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. British was the first major carrier to charge for any seat assignment. These seat assignments are not only for premium seat seats like aisles or windows or exit rows, but for ANY seat assignments.

And now, Australia’s Qantas has followed suit. As noted on their websitethe charges start at $20 a flight, and go up.

A Qantas spokesperson was quoted in news.com.au as saying, “Advance Seat Selection complements Qantas’ pre-boarding services designed to make the pre-boarding experience quick and onboard experience comfortable.”

“It is another initiative enabling Qantas customers to have greater choice with their travel experience.”

“Should customers not select their seat directly after they have booked their flight, they can continue to select their seat during online check-in free of charge.”

(Ever wonder why no airline ever says “Look, we’re implementing these changes to make more money, period?”)

Most seats on international flights, for now, have only a $20 fee. Exit row seating can cost up to $160 per segment. The good news — seat assignments on domestic flights are still complimentary.

Qantas will not follow British Airways, for now, in charging their business and first class passengers for seat assignments. (British Airways charges for advance seat selection for discounted front cabin fares, except for Gold level frequent fliers and clients of preferred agents and corporate accounts.)

No word on what the carrier’s policy will be if, say, a family with young children chooses not to pay the advance booking seat fee, and if there are not seats together at the airport. Qantas does say that the seat assignment fee is nonrefundable unless they change your seat for “operational, safety or security reasons (even after boarding the aircraft), and we are unable to seat you in a suitable alternative.”

I would like to think this is not the wave of the future, but British Airways is showing no signs of backing down a year and a half after instituting the policy. Now, with two large Oneworld alliance carriers charging for seat assignments, I have to wonder, will American Airlines be the first major domestic carrier to institute the same policy?

What do you think, Consumer Traveler readers. Do you like the idea of having more seats available to choose because many travelers will choose not to pay in advance? Or is a seat assignment charge enough to make you consider choosing another carrier?