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It’s been a while since I reviewed American Airlines’s Premium Economy product aboard the Boeing 787-9. Okay, I admit it, it’s been well over a year since I published my review of what was then, a new product for American Airlines. However, as the first major US-based airline to debut a premium economy product, many travelers remain hesitant to shell out hundreds of dollars for the upgrade from standard economy to premium economy.
Even with most reviews out there indicating that American Airlines Premium Economy is of great value, I completely understand why a traveler would still be hesitant to book or upgrade to premium economy. The fact of the matter is that, for many US-based travelers, premium economy is a new concept. So, after months of questions from TravelUpdate readers, I’ve decided to answer some of the top questions about American Airlines Premium Economy.
How can American Airlines Premium Economy be booked? Can I use miles or is it cash only?
Premium Economy tickets are now treated just like any other fare class and cabin. When American Airlines initially launched Premium Economy, there were some differences in how the upgraded cabin was handled as it pertained to bookings, ticketing, and upgrades. Those differences and oddities are now gone as the product are now fully integrated into every system at American Airlines. That said, you can book Premium Economy any way you’d prefer. Both cash and miles are accepted with Premium Economy awards having launched in January 2019.
The cash fare varies with the desired route and itineraries. Occasionally, you might find a Premium Economy fare that’s only a few hundred dollars more round-trip but you’ll also come across Premium Economy fares that are well over a thousand dollars more than a standard seat. I’ve included two examples of economy vs. Premium Economy fares for 6 and 7-day trips departing in March 2019. All prices quoted are round-trip fares and were found using Google Flights and confirmed on AA.com.
St. Louis, MO (STL) to Hong Kong (HKG) in mid-March, 7-day trip, round-trip fare
St. Louis, MO (STL) to Santiago, Chile (SCL) in mid-March, 6-day trip, round-trip fare
As for the new Premium Economy mileage awards, when American Airlines launches its seasonal flights to Anchorage (ANC) from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) using the airline’s Boeing 787, awards will start at just 25,000 AAdvantage miles one-way plus any taxes and fees. Right now, in February, the least expensive one-way Premium Economy awards start at 40,000 AAdvantage miles.
Premium Economy award redemptions can only be found via American’s new award booking tool. If you use the original award booking tool, you will not find any award redemptions that feature Premium Economy. If you’re interested in the current rates for Premium Economy award redemptions, American is one of the last airline’s that seems to be very upfront with their award redemption rates featuring a simple yet informative chart. Additionally, here’s what a Premium Economy award looks like when booking a ticket using AAdvantage miles.
Dallas-Forth Worth (DFW) to London Heathrow (LHR) in late March, 7-day trip, one-way fare
Can I upgrade to American Airlines Premium Economy with miles or upgrades? Are cash upgrades available?
At the moment, only cash upgrades are available. American has stated that the airline will eventually offer upgrades to Premium Economy, however, this might not be great news. If you’re looking to upgrade on American Airlines from economy to Business Class, you can do so without having to first upgrade to Premium Economy. When American introduces Premium Economy upgrades, there’s a real chance that they will eliminate the ability to upgrade from economy to Business or First Class.
Cash upgrades will be offered first during booking. I would recommend passing on upgrading from economy to Premium Economy booking unless the fare difference is quite small. The next opportunity to purchase an upgrade to Premium Economy will come at check-in. The price to purchase an upgrade at check-in will vary a great deal as the upgrade price is based on space available, demand, the current price of a ticket in Premium Economy, and of course, the length of the flight. The last time an upgrade will be offered will be at the airport. Upgrading on the day of departure at the ticketing kiosks or counters will likely be the best time to do so. However, this won’t always be the case. In some cases, you may be able to purchase an upgrade at the gate prior to boarding on a first-come-first-serve basis.
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Are spirits, wine, and beer complimentary in Premium Economy?
Yes. This is not only the case in Premium Economy bust also in economy. Premium Economy is only offered on international flights, flights to Hawaii, and eventually flights from Dallas to Alaska. Economy passengers on longer international flights and flights from Dallas to Hawaii already received complimentary wine and beer. Additionally, economy passengers on some of American’s longest flights including flights to New Zealand and Australia receive free spirits. That said, yes, regardless of the route, if you’re flying in Premium Economy you will receive complimentary beer, wine, and spirits.
Is the meal service in American Airlines Premium Economy better than what I would get in standard economy?
Yes. Though not a huge upgrade compared to what’s served in economy class, it’s still a significant upgrade. The type of meal and portion sizes will vary depending on the duration of the flight and even the destination. In some cases, some Premium Economy entrees might closely resemble one of the options offered in Business Class. But overall, yes, you will receive enhanced meal service served on actual china and not in tins or plastic containers. The exception to that, however, is that beverages are still served in plastic cups.
Do Premium Economy passengers receive their own lavatory like in Business Class?
Kind of. The reason I say kind of is that the lavatories that are available to Premium Economy passengers will almost always be available to Business Class passengers as well. Passengers seated in standard economy class will not be able to access the shared Premium Economy/Business Class lavatory.
The only reason Premium Economy class passengers receive dedicated(ish) lavatories are due to FAA regulations on international flights. On international flights, passengers must use the lavatory in their cabin to prevent passengers from passing through multiple cabins. This is due to security reasons. This means that passengers seated in the last few rows of Business Class and all Premium Economy passengers will use the same lavatories. Don’t expect enhanced amenities in the lavatories as American Airlines uses the same amenities offered in the economy lavatories.
Are bulkhead seats better than standard non-bulkhead seats?
This, at least for me, is a resounding yes. Those seated in bulkheads seats will benefit from an actual legrest compared to the footrest offered at other seats. Additionally, the seats feel more open and less restrictive. If you’re seated in the middle or either window seat, you will notice how much easier it is to access the aisle when the aisle seat is occupied compared to seats in other rows.
While the armest is immovable at the bulkhead, this is the case at every Premium Economy seat. Regardless of where you sit, there will be an immovable console on either side of you. My advice is to book a seat at the bulkhead.
If the person in front of you was to recline, what’s the legroom like? Can you still use a laptop or does the seat impede on the ability to move around and use larger devices?
The recline is only a few inches greater than what’s offered in Main Cabin Extra, American’s extra legroom product in standard economy. When the passenger in front of you fully reclines their seat, it will not protrude into your personal space and won’t inhibit the passengers seated in the middle or at the windows from getting to the aisle. You will have no problem using larger electronic devices.
What are the best seats in American Airlines Premium Economy?
On every aircraft featuring Premium Economy, first, go for the bulkhead seats. The same Premium Economy product is used on every aircraft no matter Boeing or Airbus. The only thing that will change is the configuration and the number of seats in the cabin. On some aircraft, the Premium Economy cabin will be configured in a 2-3-2 layout while other aircraft will feature a 2-4-2 layout.
If you are unable to snag a seat at the bulkhead, my advice is to avoid middle seats and seats located in the final row of Premium Economy. Other than that, it’s up to you. Do you want the window or the aisle? That’s the only question you’ll have to ask when booking Premium Economy, assuming the only seats left aren’t middle seats.
Below is a seat map of the American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Premium Economy cabin featuring my recommendations for selecting a seat on the aircraft. (A seat with a star are seats that I personally tested on past flights.)
What aircraft in American Airlines’s fleet are equipped with Premium Economy? What routes featured Premium Economy service?
Nearly every one of American Airlines’s widebody aircraft feature Premium Economy with just a few exceptions. Neither the Boeing 767 nor the Airbus A330-300 feature Premium Economy and there are no plans for either aircraft to feature the product. Additionally, there are still a handful of Boeing 787-8 aircraft that have yet to be retrofitted with the new Premium Economy product though, it’s only a matter of months before all 787-8s feature Premium Economy. Here’s what aircraft feature American Airlines’s Premium Economy product:
- Airbus A330-200
- Boeing 777-200
- Boeing 777-300
- Boeing 787-8*
- Boeing 787-9
*(select aircraft have not yet received Premium Economy)
While those aircraft feature Premium Economy, only international flights and flights between Dallas and Hawaii, as well as Anchorage, feature the service. Some international flights like those from the US to Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America are excluded from Premium Economy service even if the aircraft is equipped with the cabin. Be sure you are booking a Premium Economy fare and not just selecting a Premium Economy seat when planning your travels.
Should I book or upgrade to American Airlines Premium Economy? Is it worth it?
The answer to this question will depend entirely on you as an independent traveler. Personally, if I’m trying to avoid economy or travel in luxury, I will save my miles and/or my money until I can fly in Business Class. I don’t typically upgrade from economy to Premium Economy unless it’s an amazing value which is quite rare. There are plenty of seats in American’s economy class cabins that offer far more legroom than what’s offered in Premium Economy and if you’re like me, unless I’m traveling in Business or First Class, I prefer my own food on long flights.
But don’t let me deter you from booking American Airlines Premium Economy. It’s a phenomenal product and a significant improvement over what’s offered in standard economy. In my experiences with Premium Economy, I found the service to be fare more consistent and premium than what’s offered in standard economy. Moreso, travelers in Premium Economy benefit from priority check-in, security, and boarding. Tickets booked in Premium Economy will also earn additional miles which is a huge benefit to many frequent flyers.
Still, personally, I’d rather save the few hundred bucks for Premium Economy and upgrade to Business Class on another trip or put that money into reaching a spending bonus like the one currently offered by American Express in which you earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after meeting spending requirements with The Platinum Card®.
What do you think? Would you book Premium Economy? Do you have any additional questions about American Airlines Premium Economy?