Why American Isn’t Selling All Their 787 Business Class Seats

Filed Under: American
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I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m booking a flight on which I’m hoping to upgrade, I always choose flights based on how many first or business class seats are left for sale, since that’s typically the best indicator of upgrade odds. The more seats that are still available, the better the odds of your upgrade clearing.

Well, if you’re looking to book an American 787-8 anytime soon, your upgrade odds are actually much better than you may assume. Let me explain.

American is in the process of retrofitting their longhaul fleet to add premium economy. As of now, all of American’s 787-9s, 777-200s, 777-300s, and A330-200s, feature premium economy.

All American 777-300ERs already have premium economy

The only remaining aircraft on which American is installing premium economy is the 787-8, and it’s expected that all of those planes will be reconfigured by mid-2019.

American is making one other major change to their 787-8s. While these planes are being reconfigured, they’re going from having 28 business class seats to having only 20 business class seats, which is obviously awful news in terms of upgrade and award ticket odds, and even in terms of finding cheap premium fares.

American is reducing their business class seat count on the 787-8

American Airlines currently has 20 of these Boeing 787-8s in their fleet, and it appears as if effective immediately, the airline is only selling 20 business class seats per flight on the 787-8.

However, for the time being a majority of 787-8s still feature 28 business class seats. As far as I know, only a single 787-8 has been reconfigured so far.

What this means is that a flight that’s sold out in business class may in fact only have 20 of the 28 business class seats booked, a flight that only has two seats for sale may actually have 10 more business class seats available, etc.

Take tomorrow morning’s flight from Chicago to Dallas, for example, which has only one first class seat for sale.

However, if you look at the seatmap, you’ll see that nine first class seats are still for sale.

While seatmaps aren’t always an accurate indicator of availability, in this case they are, as it seems to reflect American’s current practice.

Of course the risk is that there could be a last minute aircraft swap, in which case them selling 20 seats is the right move, and you won’t suddenly find an additional eight last minute upgrades processed.

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However, for the time being you can expect that if you’re booked on a 787-8, there are likely to be a lot of upgrades at the gate.

Bottom line

American will be rather aggressively retrofitting their existing 787-8 aircraft to remove business class seats and add premium economy.

Effective immediately they’re only selling 20 business class seats per flight, regardless of whether the flight is operated by a plane with 20 or 28 business class seats.

What this means is that your upgrade odds may be much better than you’d think based on looking at the inventory. Just expect upgrades to clear day of, and don’t be too disappointed if you end up with one of the planes that has just 20 business class seats.

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  1. @LAXJeff

    No kidding. 6A/7A and 6D/7D are some of the only non-shaky seat pairs on the 788, and those are going away.

  2. Premium economy is a rip off. I flew once for free from US to Europe. It looks like the economy cabin we used 10 years ago.

  3. Last Saturday flew on a full fare paid business ticket from DFW to MAD. Despite status was unable to choose a window seat in advance or at check-in. Once on board they said that (most) of the business class cabin WINDOW seats were “reserved” for pilots? Usually try to avoid US carriers, so is this a common practice? Seems odd they have prefence over passengers with elite status on paid full fare tickets. Not surprisingly, the service was equally bad, not one please or thank you are uttered out of the staff’s mouth. Shameful.

  4. I was booked to fly ORD-DFW on Dec 1st or so. Booked the 788 and selected seat in row 7. Three days before departure I got a notification I np longer had a seat assignment. The one refurbished 788 had been put on for my flight. I was offered a nice voucher and more direct routing in exchange for changing. I’m guessing they got tired of offering vouchers for overbooking

  5. I would be careful with that logic of seat availability. The seats left are for that fare class being sold in that bucket. There are probably more seats in a higher fare class. And when you look at seat maps, some people might have purchased a ticket but not selected a seat yet.

  6. We were discussing this yesterday on FB (a closed group) and I mention that restriction, which AA did the same when they started re configuring the High 45J 772 to low 37J in order to avoid downgrades. Since I knew about it I was able to select PE as MCE, even when their map were showing 45J, but I knew only a couple of 772 with 45J were available.

  7. Thanks for the info! I am flying in J on a 788 toward the end of April from Santiago, Chile and selected seats 6A/7A for two of us to avoid the rocking nature of the seats. Now, I am wondering if it is worth gambling with this seat selection or moving up into the front part of the cabin so we can sit together. Hmmmm…..

  8. The 787-8 sucks and AA service sucks in general. Seats were narrow and service was garbage at best. Not the best way to fly JFK-BCN.

  9. I think they also are adding a bunch of MCE, right?

    So, a flip side of this is that those booking in Y who don’t otherwise have MCE access might be able to select seats that give them at least a chance of mapping over to MCE.

  10. I see how this is a good development for travelers hoping for same-day upgrades (I’m flying that very same ORD-DFW flight in 2 weeks) but this doesn’t come anywhere close to making up for the dearth of mileage-upgrades on international routes.

    I just did a quick run through of flights from ORD to LHR on expertflyer, and there is zero upgrade availability in business class between now and the beginning of June. A random sampling of seatmaps throughout the entire period show that most have flights are only at approx 20-30% occupancy. Even tomorrow’s flights seem to have several seats available.

    How is this possible? Is it that AA tend to open up award/mileage upgrade availability in batches or are they truly hoping all of these seats will be scooped up by last-minute revenue passengers?

  11. There are 3 788’s flying with 20J as of today (29 Jan): N800AN, N812AA, N810AN.

    N809AA and N802AN are at KPAE getting refit.

  12. The only time a business class seat is saved for a pilot on a 788 is when there are 4 pilots required per FAA. Then only one seat is reserved for one resting pilot in business class. It meets the FAA requirements for a rest area. The other resting pilot will be in the pretty tight bunk space above the Business Class section.

    Sadly, people yell and scream and get their panties in a wad about things they have no real clue about. And I’ve hardly EVER noticed any of the rocking movement people are crying about. I dare say, I’ve ridden up there more than anyone.

  13. Interesting.
    When you upgrade from Y to J, 25,000 miles and $350.
    Now with P class do you pay the same or does that only get you Y to P?
    My last flight I purchased P class and paid the same amount to UG to J.

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