This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

See that ancient 2-5-2 economy up above? American still operates that cabin on many of its international routes, but you can do so much better when flying overseas. AA also flies its 777-200 on a few domestic routes (to reposition the plane for long-haul service), and while it’s hardly a terrible option for a three-hour flight from Miami to Dallas, if you’re an AAdvantage elite member, you can reserve a business-class seat on a few domestic routes for free!

Over the weekend, I was scheduled to fly from Miami to Denver — in coach. When I missed my flight, I rebooked via Dallas on the 777-200. The only open premium seats were in the exit row in coach or a seat up in biz. That’s when I noticed that as an Executive Platinum member, I didn’t have to fly squished back in the economy cabin. I changed my flight and simply clicked seat 8J — a window seat in the 2-3-2 business-class cabin (which AA is very slowly working to phase out).

Now if I had booked first class on this flight, I would have landed a lie-flat seat — the same model the Pope flew around the US during his visit in September. But I was more happy with my angle-flat business seat since I was flying on an economy ticket! Note that you’ll still get economy service (so no in-flight meal), but that’s not a huge deal.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 3.20.39 PM

So how does this work? Essentially, American needs to get its 777-200s from one hub to the next before a long-haul international flight. For example, the same plane used to operate a flight from Rio to Miami may later fly from Dallas to Tokyo. At some point between those two long-haul flights, it needs to make its way from Miami to Dallas, and rather than fly it empty (on a “ferry” flight), AA opts to load it up with paying passengers.

The challenge is, the airline will likely find it difficult to sell seats in three cabins on a short domestic flight, and with an aircraft substitution being a possibility (a 737 being swapped in for the 777, for example), it’s easier for AA to just sell first class and economy tickets on the flight. This is great news if you’re an elite member traveling on one of these flights, since American will let you pick a business-class seat for free.

Here are a few examples of flights where AA’s selling two cabins on a three-cabin plane 777-200 (all on May 4, 2016):

  • AA281 Miami (MIA) 7:00am Departure ⇒ Dallas (DFW) 9:12am Arrival
  • AA2391 Dallas (DFW) 4:45pm Departure ⇒ Miami (MIA) 8:30pm Arrival
  • AA2339 Chicago (ORD) 4:55pm Departure ⇒ Dallas (DFW) 7:27pm Arrival
  • AA1295 Dallas (DFW) 6:20pm Departure ⇒ Chicago (ORD) 8:38pm Arrival

You’ll typically only see this with the older version of AA’s 777-200 flying between Dallas and Chicago or Miami, or occasionally on A321T flights between New York and Boston. American operates the 777-300ER on several domestic routes from MIA, but the airline sells all three cabins on most of these flights. What’s especially interesting about the way AA sells the 777-200 flights is that AAdvantage Gold members will need to purchase Main Cabin Extra seats (at a discount), but business-class seats are available at booking for free. The choice is pretty clear here!

Have you scored a free business-class “upgrade” on AA?

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.