American Airlines is the first US airline with a premium economy cabin. Delta plans to offer premium economy in the 3rd quarter onboard their Airbus A350 aircraft which will mostly fly to Asia. United hasn’t made a formal commitment to premium economy yet.
American’s premium economy was launched with their first Boeing 787-9 aircraft which began flying domestically in October and internationally in November.
Initially they sold the product as ‘Main Cabin Extra’ extra legroom seats, and elite frequent flyers could have them for free.
As of yesterday, premium economy is now for sale as a separate cabin (as it was intended to become) for travel starting May 4.
How is the Product?
Think of domestic first class seats with a foot bar attached to the seat in front of you, or a real foot rest if you’re in a bulkhead seat.
Premium economy has more legroom than Main Cabin Extra (38 inch pitch) and is configured 2-3-2 abreast rather than 3-3-3 in economy (so it’s a wider seat). There are just 3 rows of premium economy with 21 premium economy seats total.
Width is nice considering that premium economy on Singapore Airlines is 8-across so one additional seat with the slightly wider fuselage of an Airbus A350.
Passengers in premium economy receive noise reducing headphones (not noise cancelling); amenity kits; a better meal service than economy complimentary wine, beer and spirits; one free checked bag; and priority boarding (group 4).
The premium economy cabin has an oversized lavatory and a standard-sized one. In fact, it’s the only oversized lavatory on the aircraft. I went back behind the business class cabin to use it, since I changed in and out of American Airlines pajamas that I had brought for my flight a few days back.
All in all it’s a nice product although passengers consistently report that there’s not enough crew to provide a personalized service.
- It’s a reasonable ‘value’ substitute for business class on a transatlantic Westbound (day) flight
- It’s a value buy up for the economy passenger in a position to spend a little more for better comfort for whom business class is out of reach
What Routes is This Offered On?
So far American has 6 Boeing 787-9s and expects to have 14 by the end of the year. They will begin retrofitting Boeing 777-200 aircraft later this year, with premium economy across the bulk of the widebody fleet expected by the end of next year.
So far premium economy is available:
- Dallas Fort-Worth – Sao Paulo
- Dallas Fort-Worth – Madrid
- Dallas Fort-Worth – Paris
- Dallas Fort-Worth – Seoul
- Chicago O’Hare – Paris Charles de Gaulle (July 5 through August 5)
How Much Will it Cost?
There’s not a set amount more, necessarily, for premium economy over economy. Prices will be set based on demand like all other airfares.
I flew American’s Paris – Dallas flight just the other day. The premium economy cabin was full (of elites). I took a look at what roundtrips in economy and in premium economy on that non-stop flight look like in June.
Here’s premium economy:
Now, the Dallas – Paris flights in economy are quite high but premium economy is just about $600 more roundtrip, or $300 each way, an amount that many customers are likely willing to pay.
Of course catching that Dallas – Paris flight starting and ending in another city will see a different price entirely. For instance, it’s less expensive starting and ending in Austin with a connection in Dallas.
That’s reasonable considering that British Airways premium economy from Austin (Austin – London Heathrow – Paris and back) is running over $3000.
There are 2 premium economy fare buckets — W and P. So any given itinerary in premium economy may have more than one price possible.
If you already have an economy ticket, and want to buy up to premium economy for travel in May onward, American waives the change fee (as is standard for fare class upgrades).
What Does it Mean for the Future of Awards and Upgrades?
American is expected to offer complimentary upgrades at check-in from economy to premium economy for Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey members.
According to American, upgrades using miles and systemwide certificates are still from economy to business class “for now” and “for the time being.” I think we can safely assume that at some point upgrades will be one class of service, from economy to premium economy and from premium economy to business class.
That likely won’t happen until there’s a significant fleet of aircraft offering the premium economy product, and then until American prioritizes the IT resources to make the change.
Likewise we can eventually expect to be able to redeem miles for premium economy. Delta offers premium economy awards for travel on Virgin Atlantic and they’re almost as expensive as business class awards: 55,000 each way for premium economy and 70,000 miles each way for business class.
My guess is that when premium economy awards eventually come to American, they will similarly represent a poor value — and that business class redemptions will get more expensive not long after. If American charged 55,000 miles each way for premium economy between the US and Europe, they won’t continue to charge 57,500 miles each way for business class. They might, however, start offering premium economy awards not only on their own metal but on British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas as well.