All About American Airlines Premium Economy

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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?

You can purchase Premium Economy tickets like any other fare class and cabin. When American Airlines initially launched Premium Economy, it differed as it pertained to bookings, ticketing, and upgrades. Now those differences and oddities are gone. The product are now fully integrated into every system at American Airlines. That said, you can book Premium Economy any way you’d prefer. Since its launch in January of 2019, cash and miles are both accepted with Premium Economy awards.

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

St. Louis, MO (STL) to Hong Kong (HKG) in mid-March, 7-day trip, round-trip fare

American Airlines Premium Economy

St. Louis, MO (STL) to Santiago, Chile (SCL) in mid-March, 6-day trip, round-trip fare

American Airlines American Airlines Premium Economy

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

dfw - lhr

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.

American Airlines Premium Economy
American’s New Premium Economy (Image: American Airlines)

Cash upgrades are first offered 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. Your last chance for an upgrade is 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.

Are spirits, wine, and beer complimentary in Premium Economy?

Yes. This is the case in Premium Economy and 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.

Beer and Spirits
Sparkling Wine Offered in American Airlines Premium Economy from Los Angeles (LAX) to Auckland (AKL)

Is the meal service in American Airlines Premium Economy better than what I would get in standard economy?

Yes. It’s not a huge upgrade compared to food served in economy. But it’s still significant. 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. However, that beverages still come served in plastic cups.

American Airlines Premium Economy Dinner Service LAX-AKL
American Airlines Premium Economy Dinner Service LAX-AKL

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 seated in a middle or window seat, it’s easier to access the aisle compared to seats in other rows.

American Airlines Premium Economy Legroom

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 American’s extra legroom product in standard economy, Main Cabin Extra. 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. Boeing or Airbus use the same Premium Economy product on every aircraft. 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 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.)

Premium Economy Seats
Select a bulkhead seat in American Airlines Premium Economy regardless of the aircraft type

What aircraft in American Airlines’s fleet are 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, a handful of Boeing 787-8 aircraft 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, 777-300, 787-9, 787-8*

*(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 such as 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.

American Airlines Premium Economy
American Airlines Boeing 777

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 which 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 standard economy. In my experiences with Premium Economy, I found the service to be fare more consistent 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. This is a huge benefit to many frequent flyers.

Still, personally, I’d rather save the few hundred bucks upgrade to Business Class on another trip. I might also consider putting that money into a spending bonus like the one currently offered by American Express. 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?

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  1. Matthew Jon Leeder says

    I messaged AA and they said the recline in Premium Economy is the same as Main Cabin Extra … can you share your source on this detail?

  2. Margot Gorske says

    Unfortunately none of premium economy comes with additional bathrooms or Reserve bathrooms which continues to be a pain as people end up from economy standing in your aisle the whole time waiting to get to the restroom hey

  3. Sieto from NeverNotFlying says

    A while ago, when they only just had it, I made a video review of AA’s Premium Economy (click on my name to watch the video). I liked it, but I did have seat 9L, arguably one of the best seats in the ‘cabin’.

  4. James Walters says

    I have flown the PE product on AA from LAX-LRH and the hard product is much better than BA’s. However, I have also discovered that booking PE on BA gets you the same credit with AAdvantage as if you booked business class. However, booking PE on AA does not get you the same credit.

  5. DavidB says

    I found the AA PE product quite good when I flew MIA-GIG-MIA a few months ago. The fare was exceptional (U$550 return ex-YYZ!) and my only two complaints were minor: not having a pre-flight drink offered, and having cold drinks in plastic vs real glasses. My third is unfounded based on your report: we were never made aware we could use the J washrooms (at the front of our cabin) so I trotted back to Y washrooms when necessary. Seat was comfortable, good leg room, aisle seat gave good mobility and a very nice (and functionally reusable) amenity kit. Certainly better than BA’s product which I’ve flown. No longer an ExecPlat, I’d grown used to my SWU upgrades to J on overseas flights but those are now diminished and my status has moved over to BAGold so I can at least enjoy those Flagship lounges (and AA clubs0 when flying within North America on AA.

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