American Launching Premium Economy as a Class of Service on April 2

Oct 27, 2016

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Update 11/5/16: AA has reached out to clarify the procedure for systemwide upgrades, explaining “For now, when Premium Economy goes into service, our customers will continue to upgrade from main cabin to business class. When we do have more to share, we will definitely reach out to you.” With five months to go until the launch of the premium economy class of service, we’ll have to see if this policy will still apply then. Fingers crossed!

While American Airlines has had an extra-legroom economy option since launching “Main Cabin Extra” in 2012, it wasn’t until just this month that the airline finally unveiled a true premium economy seat in its fleet. For now, the new premium economy seats can only be found on American Airlines’ brand new 787-9 Dreamliner, and the airline only has three of these so far. But, AA plans to “continue to add it across some of our fleet.” TBA on which aircraft will be retrofitted and which won’t.

Since October 6, the airline has been breaking in its new 787-9 planes between Dallas (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX). If you’re lucky, you might still be able to grab a premium economy seat on this route between now and November 3. And, if you’re really lucky, you can snag an upgrade — or use miles — to try out the awesome new business-class seat while it’s still flying domestically.

The premium economy seats have plenty of legroom.
Starting in just a week, you’ll be able to fly in an American Airlines premium economy seat on an international flight — while only paying for an economy ticket.

But, you only have until November 3 to try out the 787-9 domestically before these aircraft are switched to international service. So far, we know that the 787-9’s will be utilized on the following routes from Dallas (DFW):

  • São Paulo (GRU) — starting November 3, 2016
  • Madrid (MAD) — starting November 4, 2016
  • Paris (CDG) — starting January 9, 2017
  • Seoul (ICN) — starting February 16, 2017
The premium economy cabin is wide open on the inaugural flight from DFW-ICN, but it's going to cost you quite a bit if you don't have status.
The premium economy cabin has good availability from DFW-ICN, but it’s going to cost you quite a bit if you don’t have status.

American Airlines is launching these new international routes with an excellent premium economy seat, but — for one reason or another — it’s not selling these seats as part of a separate “premium economy” class of service. Instead, these seats are being sold as part of the economy cabin. For simplicity’s sake, it made sense for American Airlines to treat these seats as part of economy cabin on domestic flights. However, it’s a bit puzzling that AA didn’t launch its premium economy class of service in time for these international flights to begin.

This has opened a golden opportunity: Starting November 3, you can fly internationally in a premium economy seat while paying for an economy ticket. Granted, if you don’t have American Airlines status, it’s going to cost you to select these “Main Cabin Extra” seats. Meanwhile, American Airlines Gold elites get to pay half of the standard price, and AA Platinum and Executive Platinum elites get to choose these seats anytime for no cost.

Premium economy bulkhead legroom.
The premium economy bulkhead seats are great, but they’re nowhere close to international business class.

However, this golden opportunity has a bitter aftertaste. The eventual launch of American Airlines’ premium economy service will effectively devalue the systemwide upgrades that American Airlines Executive Platinum members receive for qualifying for top-tier status. Systemwide upgrades provide an “upgrade to the next class of service.” For now, that means an upgrade from economy to business class on international flights (and economy to first class on domestic routes). However, once American Airlines launches its premium economy class of service, the “next class of service” after economy would be premium economy — not business class.

In practice, this should only be a problem when flying on an aircraft that has a premium economy cabin. As mentioned earlier, only three aircraft currently have a premium economy cabin. However, American Airlines will likely add quite a few more 787-9s to service before the premium economy class of service goes into effect — and AA might also retrofit other aircraft with premium economy during this time.

All of this leads up to the big question on a lot of our minds: When is American Airlines going to begin its premium economy service? For now, the official line from American Airlines is that premium economy will be launched as a separate class of service in “early 2017.”

But now, we have our answer.

For some reason, I doubt that all of the premium economy seats have been taken...
For some reason, I doubt that all of the premium economy seats have been taken…

I enjoyed my premium economy and business class flights between DFW-LAX so much that I’ve been looking at dates to try out the 787-9 Dreamliner on international routes. However, I ran across an interesting problem when trying to select premium economy seats on a flight next April. Although the economy cabin is practically empty, all of the premium economy seats are showing as “unavailable”. My hunch was that this meant these seats were blocked.

An American Airlines spokesperson confirmed that this is the case:

The Premium Economy rows are being blocked prior to its first departure as its own class of service. Therefore when the class of service goes on sale, the seats will be unblocked and sold as Premium Economy, not MCE like they are now.

Premium economy seats are unblocked on April 1, but fully blocked the next day.
Premium economy seats are unblocked on April 1, but fully blocked the next day. Image courtesy of ExpertFlyer.

Using ExpertFlyer, I was able to dig into seat maps to see when these seats were available and when they were blocked. Sure enough, I’ve found the first date that American Airlines is blocking these seats: April 2.

Note that AA will very likely start selling premium economy tickets prior to April 2. But, this information gives us the effective date that American Airlines will launch the premium economy class of service.

Bottom Line

We now know the date that many American Airlines Executive Platinum elites have been dreading: April 2 is launch date for premium economy class of service. After that point, a systemwide upgrade should only upgrade you from economy to premium economy — instead of business class — on aircraft equipped with a premium economy cabin.

However, until April 1, we have an excellent opportunity to fly internationally in a premium economy seat while paying for an economy ticket. Just make sure to travel before April 2, and make sure to pick your seats as soon as possible.

Have you experienced AA’s newest 787-9 Dreamliner yet?

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