Late last year American announced that they planned on adding a premium economy cabin to much of their longhaul fleet. While the airline has long offered an extra legroom economy section, this is the first time they’re offering an actual premium economy cabin.
The premium economy cabin is debuting on American’s new Boeing 787-9 aircraft, though will eventually also be added to their A330s, 777s, 787-8s, and A350s.
In July we found out that the first longhaul routes to feature American’s premium economy cabin would be from Dallas to Sao Paulo and Madrid as of November 4, 2016. (in the meantime, American is flying the 787-9 between Dallas and Los Angeles).
What’s interesting is that for the time being American isn’t actually selling the premium economy cabin. Instead they’re simply selling premium economy as Main Cabin Extra, meaning eligible elite members can reserve those seats for free when booking economy, or non-elite economy passengers can pay a nominal fee to select those seats.
Premium economy is a huge upgrade over economy (and even over Main Cabin Extra), given that the seats are more or less like domestic first class in terms of the amount of personal space.
American’s 787-9 premium economy
I suspect the reason American isn’t yet selling premium economy is because they needed time to figure out service procedures, catering, fares, upgrade policies, etc.
However, it looks like American has finally decided when they’ll start selling premium economy seats. JT Genter from The Points Guy notes that American is blocking all premium economy seats for travel starting April 2, 2017. So they’re not selling those seats yet, but also aren’t letting people assign them when booking economy tickets, as they did before.
This certainly suggests that American plans to sell premium economy seats for travel as of that date. I suspect the actual sale of these seats will begin in the coming weeks, since they’ll want to start selling these seats months before the service is formally introduced.
It’ll be interesting to see:
- What kind of fares American charges for premium economy (for transatlantic flights, I suspect they’ll be in line with what British Airways charges, given their joint venture)
- What American will do about upgrades, given that currently systemwide upgrades and mileage upgrades are only available to the next cabin of service (as of this year American only gives Executive Platinum members four of these, rather than the eight they got previously, so this would be a further devaluation of the benefit, as it would mean the upgrades are only valid from economy to premium economy or from premium economy to business on select planes)
- Whether American will allow AAdvantage members to redeem miles for travel in premium economy (I suspect they will eventually, so it’s more a question of “when” rather than “if”)
Will upgrading to business class soon be much more expensive?
I’m sure we’ll have answers to all these questions soon. In the meantime, it looks like you have until April 1 to select a premium economy seat at an economy price… as of now.
@DavidB, I was gold for a while and I never really got any WT to WT+ op-up neither across the pond nor to S.Africa. The times I've flown wt+ is when I paid for it. Wt+ was wide open. I'm not going as far as saying it's a myth but I had better luck on LH as a SEN with Y to C upgrades
Once AA makes it possible to redeem for PE, I wonder if they'll raise the redemption rates for business.
I'm not so sure about the upgrading thing. PE is a product created to generate revenue from those who can't buy J either for corporate travel policy reasons, or personal budgetary, but could afford a small premium over regular economy. Why would AA, or any airline offering a true PE product, give it away with advance upgrade options? Remember that upgrades are tightly controlled, it is more likely the larger capacity J cabins will still...
I'm not so sure about the upgrading thing. PE is a product created to generate revenue from those who can't buy J either for corporate travel policy reasons, or personal budgetary, but could afford a small premium over regular economy. Why would AA, or any airline offering a true PE product, give it away with advance upgrade options? Remember that upgrades are tightly controlled, it is more likely the larger capacity J cabins will still have empty seats, while the objective of PE is to sell every seat. That would suggest to me that SWU or miles upgrades would still be from Y to J for a while longer, at least until the fleet has been at least 50% or more converted.
AA has already annoyed we ExecPlats by reducing the number of SWUs we get. And increasingly advance confirmation of SWU upgrades on overseas flights is becoming a thing of the past, clearing a day or two prior to flights, or at the gate. To limit them to "next cabin" on flights with PE would severely reduce the number of open seats by flight day, while there could be many more open J seats going out empty. And every PE seat taken with a SWU upgrade means AA doesn't get the enhanced revenue it's after.
It would be in AA's interest to modify the wording for this transitional period as cabins are reconfigured, and specify Y>J or J>F on such aircraft, and perhaps offer ExecPlats comp upgrades to any empty PE seats at the gate. BA often upgrades its Gold and even OW Emeralds from World Traveler to WT+ on a comp basis when there are open WT+ seats. I an see AA doing this, not guaranteed but as a courtesy every so often, until it comes up with new SWU policy, or even an upgrade credits system ala Air Canada.
Ben - are you sure these seats are being sold as Main Cabin Extra? Going through every DFW-MAD departure between now and Nov 12 shows every one of these PE seats as unavailable, with plenty of regular Main Cabin Extra seats still available. Are they maybe blocked for the gate agents?
Another important question is what connecting flights book into. There is a good possibility they map to Y/B, making upgrades much more likely.
I think we can take the fact that economy to business upgrades will be a thing of the past once this becomes the norm on the fleet. Like other airlines before, you'll have to buy a PE ticket to use your upgrade to business. I'd be amazed if they didn't .
@Ziggy I wasn't sure it was you but, I knew someone had pointed it out quite a while ago
@Nathan No it won't be.
LAX-HND is served by the 787-8 Dreamliner (AA27) which has yet to have a Premium Economy cabin fitted. The Dreamliner being discussed in the blog post above is a 787-9 and is not scheduled to fly LAX-HND (as far as I know).
So MCE is gone on those flights with PE?
I booked a flight last week in row 9 for a Lax to Hnd flight on April 7. Will this premium economy?
Pretty sure I pointed this out back in the middle of September - TPG's staff are slipping :)