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In case you missed it, American Airlines is in the midst of a premium economy revolution. First introduced on its Boeing 787-9, AA is now aggressively retrofitting its existing long-haul aircraft to include premium economy seating by mid-2018. Currently, you can find AA’s premium economy product on its Boeing 787-9 and some 777-200s aircraft. But as the airline continues the process of retrofitting its 777-200s, it also plans to simultaneously retrofit its 24 Airbus A330s:

American Airlines unveiled its premium economy retrofit schedule this morning.
American Airlines premium economy retrofit schedule.

These retrofit aircraft will start showing up on American Airlines’ A330 routes over the next few months and American Airlines will formally launch the A330 premium economy class of service on January 15. These fares just went on sale:

AA Premium Economy A330 PHL-MAN

You’ll be able to find A330 premium economy class of service on the following AA routes:

  • Charlotte (CLT) to Frankfurt (FRA)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Paris (CDG)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Rome (FCO)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Madrid (MAD)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Manchester (MAN)
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Munich (MUC)
AA A330 premium economy routes
Here are AA’s initial premium economy A330 routes. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.

Status of Upgrades

Although you won’t get a true premium economy experience on the retrofitted 777-200s until December 15, AAdvantage mid- and top-tier elites can currently upgrade to premium economy seating on those aircraft for free, as the seats are marked as Main Cabin Extra seats for now. The same is true of the A330s — premium economy seats will initially be sold as part of the economy cabin, marked as Main Cabin Extra seats, until the product is available on all the planned routes starting January 15.

As it currently stands, after the official launch you’ll still be able to use systemwide upgrades (SWU or eVIP) to upgrade from economy directly to business class on flights that have premium economy. AA still hasn’t announced when it’ll let travelers upgrade from economy to premium economy with miles or book premium economy awards. In March, American Airlines updated its website to note “AAdvantage awards and upgrades into Premium Economy aren’t available now, but will be at a later date.” We haven’t received an update since.

While some may be looking forward to using miles to book premium economy, it’s concerning to us Executive Platinum elites that AA follows this statement with the following: “For now, you can upgrade to Business from Main Cabin and Premium Economy using your AAdvantage miles or systemwide upgrades” (emphasis added). If American Airlines changes systemwide upgrades so that they only get you into premium economy, it would be a massive blow to a reeling elite program.

Bottom Line

In many ways, the move by US airlines to add a true premium economy cabin is past due — especially for AA. Although AA currently has a rather inconsistent fleet, many of its long-haul aircraft have some of the top business class seats in the sky. However, this is juxtaposed by having tight economy seats on these same aircraft. Having an option in between is great for flyers who don’t want to squeeze into economy and don’t have the budget — in miles or cash — for business class. AA’s premium economy provides a nice middle ground with wider seats, plenty of pitch, improved catering and nicer amenities than what you’ll find in economy.

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