American Airlines: Main Cabin Extra vs. Preferred Seating — What Are the Differences?

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When it comes to seating on American Airlines, not all options are alike. For those in the back of the plane (the “Main Cabin”), there are 3 seating options: standard Main Cabin seats, Preferred seats, and Main Cabin Extra.

Here’s a look at the differences between Main Cabin Extra and Preferred seating, the best ones on each type of aircraft, and the perks that come with where you sit.

American Airlines — Classes of Service

No one loves sitting in economy, but if you’ve got to be in the rear part of the plane, you can definitely be a savvy traveler and pick seats that improve your onboard experience.

Here’s a look at all of American’s different seat types, as a brief reference, before diving into your economy options:

Flagship First

Flagship First is American’s top class of service and is only available on 3-class aircraft, including the 777-300ER and the A321T, which flies transcontinental from coast to coast. Flagship First includes access to the Flagship First Dining area at select airports and the Flagship Lounge. Onboard, you’ll find personal “pods” for every passenger without being near others.

AA Flagship First
American’s Flagship First product is one of the only true 3-class first class products available on a U.S.-based carrier. Image Credit: American Airlines

Flagship Business

Available on wide-body international flights or transcontinental A321T flights, Flagship Business is American’s standard business class offering, complete with upgraded dining, Flagship Lounge access, and additional amenities on select routes. On wide-body aircraft, seats are staggered in a 1-2-1 configuration, or a 2-2 arrangement on cross-country planes.

Premium Economy

Premium Economy is the middle ground between Main Cabin and business class. Here, you’ll find seats similar to first class on domestic flights, which are larger leather recliners. With seats in a 2-3-2 or 2-4-2 configuration, this cabin provides more legroom, recline space, and amenities than the economy cabin. Customers will receive premium style meals and inflight entertainment on larger seatback screens.

Domestic First Class

On 2-class narrow-body planes, first class is situated at the front of the aircraft and arranged in a 2-2 seating style. With additional recline and pitch over Main Cabin in the rear, first class is certainly a more comfortable area to sit. Amenities include pre-departure beverages, coat hanging, and meals depending on flight length.

Hot Tip: Fly American often? See our in-depth article on the best credit cards for frequent AA flyers to help you maximize your points as well as benefits such as lounge access, priority boarding, and more!

Main Cabin Extra 

Located in prime areas of the main cabin, Main Cabin Extra seats receive 3-6 inches of additional legroom. These seats are in the bulkhead, the first few rows of the plane, or in exit rows. In addition to extra legroom, Main Cabin Extra customers receive free alcoholic beverages.

Preferred Seats

Preferred seats don’t receive any extra legroom, but they are in better locations of the Main Cabin that are closer to the front of the plane, allowing you to access your seat quicker when boarding and exit more quickly when getting off.

Standard Seats

Standard Main Cabin seats are located throughout the Main Cabin but are mostly concentrated in the rear. These seats have no additional amenities and only standard pitch and recline.

For reference, here’s a chart that summarizes the difference between your coach options:

 Differences Between Standard Seats, Preferred Seats, and Main Cabin Extra Seats
 Standard SeatsPreferred SeatsMain Cabin Extra Seats
Space/Location
  • No extra legroom or recline
  • Mostly in rear of cabin
  • No extra legroom or recline
  • Closer to front of Main Cabin
  • 3-6 inches of extra legroom
  • Bulkhead, first rows, exit rows
Assignment
  • Assigned seat in advance (no fee) unless you purchase a Basic Economy ticket (your seat is assigned at random at check-in)
  • AAdvantage elites can select these seats for free
  • Pay to select
  • AAdvantage elites can select for free
  • Pay to select
  • AAdvantage elites can select for free
Beverages
  • Complimentary non-alcoholic beverage service
  • Complimentary non-alcoholic beverage service
  • Complimentary beverage service, including alcoholic beverages
  • No limit to the number of beverages, but flight attendants use discretion based on flight length
Food
  • Complimentary cookies or pretzels as a small snack
  • Complimentary cookies or pretzels as a small snack
  • Complimentary cookies or pretzels as a small snack
Storage
  • Access to overhead bins and under-seat storage
  • Access to overhead bins and under-seat storage
  • Access to dedicated overhead bins and under-seat storage
Boarding
  • Groups 6-9
  • Groups 6-9
  • Group 5 boarding
AA Main Cabin Extra
American’s Main Cabin Extra seating is located in desirable areas of the cabin and comes with extra legroom and complimentary beverages. Image Credit: American Airlines

Main Cabin Extra Benefits in Detail

Preferred Boarding

American has 9 boarding groups, so it’s important to understand where you fit in the boarding picture. If you’re not an elite and you purchase a Main Cabin Extra seat, you will board with Group 5.

Here’s what that will look like:

  • Pre-Boarding: ConciergeKey (invite-only) members
  • Group 1: Uniformed military plus first class (on a domestic 2-class plane, transcontinental, or international 3-class plane) or business class (on an international 2-class plane)
  • Group 2: Business class on a 3-class plane, Executive Platinum members, and Oneworld Emerald customers
  • Group 3: Platinum Pro members, Platinum members, and Oneworld Sapphire customers
  • Group 4: Premium economy (international-equipped flights), AAdvantage Gold members, Oneworld Ruby customers, Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® cardmembers, travelers who purchased Priority boarding outright, and AirPass members
  • Group 5: Other qualifying American Airlines cardholders and Main Cabin Extra
  • Group 6-7: Main Cabin customers in no particular order
  • Group 8: Basic Economy to and from Europe
  • Group 9: Basic Economy customers on U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico, and Caribbean flights

If you’re seated in Main Cabin Extra but are an elite passenger, you’ll board ahead with your elite boarding group. So, for example, an Executive Platinum seated in Main Cabin Extra will board with the higher Group 2.

Hot Tip: If you’re an elite member, make sure you board with your dedicated boarding group and don’t wait until Group 5! There will be fewer people boarding with you and more room for your luggage if you board earlier.

Keep in mind that Group 5 is a fairly large boarding group — you’ll be boarding with a sizable chunk of the Main Cabin, including American cardholders. Be aware that there can be quite a few on a hub-to-hub route.

AA Boarding
Main Cabin Extra customers receive Group 5 boarding, but those with elite status can board with their elite status group. Image Credit: American Airlines

Complimentary Snacks and Alcoholic Beverages

Along with receiving a small snack of either Biscoff cookies or packaged pretzels, those in Main Cabin Extra will receive unlimited complimentary beverages, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic.

Note that the snack is offered to all customers, not just those in Main Cabin Extra. Unlike Delta Air Lines, which offers a dedicated snack basket to its extra legroom seat customers, American only offers the complimentary alcoholic beverage as an extra onboard amenity.

This said, you can certainly purchase any of the snacks on the onboard menu. If you’re an Executive Platinum or ConciergeKey, you can choose your fresh meal on select longer flights.

If your flight features a full beverage service, you can select from any of American’s onboard alcoholic drink selection. You’ll be able to have as many of these drinks as you wish, within reason — this is subject to flight length and flight attendant discretion depending on how many you‘ve had.

Your selections may include:

  • Madame de Saints Helene Merlot, France
  • Les Papillons Grenache Rose, Pays d’Oc, France
  • Madison Robert Olivier Chardonnay Pays d’Oc, France
  • Case Gheller Brut Prosecco Treviso, Italy (only available on transcontinental flights between New York JFK and Los Angeles or San Francisco, Miami to Los Angeles, and all Hawaii services)
  • Bacardi Rum
  • Baileys Irish Cream
  • Bombay Sapphire Gin
  • Canadian Club White Label
  • Dewar’s White Label
  • Disaronno Amaretto
  • Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
  • Tito’s Handmade Vodka
  • Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Bud Light
  • Dos Equis
  • Fat Tire Belgian White
  • Goose Island IPA
  • Heineken
  • Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Hard Cider

Hot Tip: Most flight attendants on longer flights will make a second pass for drinks, at which time you may be able to select another; otherwise, feel free to ring your call button to request another.

If you’re an AAdvantage Executive Platinum or ConciergeKey member, you will still be able to select your complimentary alcoholic beverage as well as a snack or fresh food item, so there’s no difference if you’re sitting in a Main Cabin Extra seat.

AA Main Cabin Extra Drink
When you’re seated in Main Cabin Extra, you’ll get a complimentary alcoholic beverage. Image Credit: American Airlines

Seat Location

Main Cabin Extra seats truly are the best places you can sit if you have to sit in the rear of the plane. Sure, everyone likes those fancy flatbeds or recliner first class seats up front, but reality says that at least some flights will probably be in economy.

In economy, Main Cabin Extra seats have the advantage of being located in the most prime spots, including:

  • Bulkheads — you may be seated directly behind a wall or other divider between classes
  • Emergency Exit Rows — on some planes, there may be more than 1 Emergency Exit row
  • First Few Rows of Main Cabin — additional legroom and a better location to put you among the first few coach passengers to exit the airplane

Hot Tip: SeatGuru is an excellent tool to use for figuring out seat maps, aircrafts, and more. Check out our guide on how to use SeatGuru to make travel better.

Depending on your aircraft, Main Cabin Extra seating can look slightly different. Keep in mind that there can be aircraft swaps at any time throughout your journey, as well, so even if you book your ticket on 1 plane, it can be substituted with another at the last minute.

Main Cabin Extra Seat Measurements
 Number of Main Cabin Extra SeatsSeat PitchSeat Width
A3192434’’17.7’’
A32018N/A — all located at bulkhead and exit rows with no seat in front16.5’’
A321 (legacy American Airlines version)3634-35’’17.7’’
A321 (legacy US Airways version)15N/A — all located at bulkhead and exit rows with no seat in front17-18.1’’
A321 (transcontinental)3635’’17.3-17.7’’
A321neo4733-39″16.6-18.4″
A330-20054N/A — all located at bulkhead with no seat in front17.8’’
A330-30016N/A — all located at bulkhead with no seat in front17.8’’
Boeing 737 MAX3033’’ (some bulkhead and exit rows)16.6-17.8’’
Boeing 737-800 (non-Oasis)3034’’15.9-17.3’’
Boeing 737-800 (Oasis)3033’’ pitch at the bulkhead (rows 8-10) and 38’’ pitch at the exit rows16.6-17.8’’
Boeing 757-200 (Legacy American)5236’’16.6’’
Boeing 757-299 (Legacy US Airways)3835’’17-17.1’’
Boeing 767-3002135-36’’17.8’’
Boeing 777-2006635-36’’17.1-18.1’’
Boeing 777-300 ER2836’’17.1-18.1’’
Boeing 787-8 (retrofitted)4835-36’’17.2’’
Boeing 787-8 (original)5535-36’’17.2’’
Boeing 787-93435’’17.2’’
CRJ-200Between 0-4N/A — all located at bulkhead with no seat in front16.75-17.2″
CRJ-700Between 8-16N/A — all located at bulkhead and exit rows with no seat in front16.75-17.25″
CRJ-900Between 11-2434-35’’16.55-17.33″
ERJ-1403N/A — all located at exit row with no seat in front17″
ERJ-1453N/A — all located at exit row with no seat in front17″
ERJ-1752034’’18.2-19.3’’
ERJ-1908N/A — all located at bulkhead and exit rows with no seat in front16.5″

As you can see, most planes in American’s fleet have Main Cabin Extra seating and a decent number of those seats to choose from. Depending on the route and time of day, however, these Main Cabin Extra seats may be consumed by elite passengers who can select them for free. Even if you’re willing to pay for them, there may be fewer to choose from.

AA Main Cabin Extra Tray Table
Main Cabin Extra includes more space for you to work or eat on the tray table in front of you. Being able to extend your laptop without it being crushed is a huge benefit of being in these extra legroom seats. Image Credit: American Airlines

The chart below is the list of all Main Cabin Extra seats on specific aircraft. Keep in mind that some different seating arrangements may be available on different models of planes, so you may notice some slight variations.

Occasionally, American also updates what it classifies as a Main Cabin Extra seat, so you may find that some seats are labeled as extra legroom on 1 plane whereas the same seats on a similar aircraft may not be. This is most often the case on smaller regional aircraft.

Main Cabin Extra Seats on American Airlines by Aircraft
Airbus A330-200 (332)Rows 23-26A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H
Airbus A330-300 (333)Row 8, 25A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H
Airbus A319 (319)Rows 8-10, 14A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A320 (320)Row 4, 10-11A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A321 (321) Layout 1Rows 8-12A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A321 (321) Layout 2Row 5A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A321 (32B) Layout 3Rows 11-16A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A321neoRows 8-11, 17-21, 27A, B, C, D, E, F
Boeing 767-300 (763)Rows 12-13A, B, C, E, G, H, J
Boeing 777-200 (777) Layout 1Rows 13-17, 26A, B, C, D, E, H, J, K, L
Boeing 777-200 (777) Layout 2Rows 17-20, 26-29A, B, D, E, G, H, K, L
Boeing 777-300ER (77W)Row 20A, B, D, E, G, H, K, L
Rows 31-32A, C, J, L
Boeing 787-8 (788) Layout 1Rows 8-13, 19A, B, C, D, E, H, J, K, L
Boeing 787-8 (788) Layout 2Rows 10-17, 20A, B, C, D, E, H, J, K, L
Row 19A, B, K, L
Boeing 787-9 (789)Rows 12-14A, B, C, D, E, H, J, K, L
Boeing 737 MAX 8 (7M8)Rows 8-10, 16-17A, B, C, D, E, F
Boeing 737-800 (738) Layout 1Rows 7-9, 14-15A, B, C, D, E, F
Boeing 737-800 (738) Layout 2Rows 8-10A, B, C, D, E, F
Boeing 757-200 (752) DomesticRows 8-16A, B, C, D, E, F
Boeing 757-200 (752) InternationalRow 9B, C, D, E
Rows 10, 13-18A, B, C, D, E, F
Row 11D, E, F
Row 12D, E
Embraer ERJ-175 (E75) Layout 1Rows 8-12A, C, D, F
Bombardier CRJ-200 (CR2)No Main Cabin Extra seats
Bombardier CRJ-700 (CR7) Layout 1Rows 5, 13A, B, C, D
Bombardier CRJ-700 (CR7) Layout 2Rows 8-10, 18A, B, C, D
Bombardier CRJ-900 (CR9) Layout 3Row 4A, D, F
Rows 5-8, 12-13A, C, D, F
Embraer ERJ-175 (E75) Layout 2Row 4A, C, D, F
Embraer ERJ-190 (E90)Rows 5, 12A, C, D, F
Embraer ERJ-140 (ERD)Row 11A, B, C
Embraer ERJ-145 (ER4)Row 12A, B, C

Dedicated Overhead Bin Access

On all planes with dedicated Main Cabin Extra sections, you’ll be able to stow your bags in overhead bins marked “For Main Cabin Extra customers” only, which reduces the amount of non-Main Cabin Extra bags that get stowed there.

Still, as the plane begins to fill up, customers tend to put their bags in any open bin they find. And sometimes, customers elect to put their bags farther forward even though they are seated in the back so that they can access their bags quickly as they exit the plane.

The designated placards will help prevent this, but they aren’t necessarily a guarantee — there’s not a ton of policing, though savvy flight attendants will close the bins over these seats to help preserve space. 

Bottom Line: Main Cabin Extra seats come with dedicated storage, which gives you a place to stow your bags without having to fight for overhead bin space.

How to Access Main Cabin Extra Seats

There are a few ways to access Main Cabin Extra seats — some at a cost, and some for free.

American Airlines Elite Status

Platinum, Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum, and ConciergeKey members on American Airlines can select Main Cabin Extra for free at the time of booking (for themselves and up to 8 companions on the same reservation).

This can be phenomenal savings: Main Cabin Extra on transcontinental flights can cost $100+ and can be double that on international flights. Gold members can select these seats for free 24 hours before departure.

Oneworld Frequent Flyer Status

If you’re a Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald flying on a Oneworld airline, you also get to select Main Cabin Extra and Preferred seats for free.

Seat Coupons

As part of a trial program, AAdvantage is issuing seat coupons as travelers complete certain benchmarks (completing a round-trip flight within a certain amount of time, spending within a certain timeframe, or flying to a certain destination within a designated period).

Upon completion of a benchmark, a Main Cabin Extra seat coupon will be deposited in the member’s account. Keep in mind this trial program is targeted, so not everyone will see such an offer available.

Wait Until the Last Minute

On some flights, fewer people are willing to purchase Main Cabin Extra seats, or there aren’t enough elites to grab them for free. If you can’t select a seat in the rear, are on a Basic Economy ticket, or don’t have a seat assignment, wait until you get to the airport before checking in.

At the counter or the gate, you may be assigned a Main Cabin Extra seat for free, simply because it is one of the only remaining seats on the plane. This actually happens quite a bit — certain routes aren’t elite-heavy and the regular seats fill up.

If no one is willing to purchase Main Cabin Extra, AA still has to assign those seats to accommodate everyone — so by waiting until the last minute, you may get lucky. It’s worth noting that even if you receive a Main Cabin Extra seat for free, you still receive all of the perks that come with it (namely the alcoholic beverages). 

Buy It

It’s the most expensive option, but for those without elite status or who aren’t targeted for some sort of reward, it’s one of the only ways. When you purchase a seat assignment in Main Cabin Extra, the cost depends on the seat you want — even in Main Cabin Extra, middle seats cost less than their aisle or window counterparts in the same area.

As mentioned above, these seats can come at a hefty price tag, so you’ll want to grab a really good seat if you have to pay up. The bulkhead and exit rows will usually get you the most bang for your buck since they have the most legroom.

Consider using the Capital One® Venture® Rewards card to pay for your Main Cabin Extra upgrade. After payment, you can one of the Venture card’s benefits, the Purchase Eraser tool, to wipe away the Main Cabin Extra charge using your points.

Monitor Upgrades

This a trick that not many people know about. On all of American’s domestic, Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean flights, American offers complimentary or earned upgrades to elites. On the vast majority of these flights, there will be some sort of upgrade list at the gate. While some passengers may have been upgraded before this point, inevitably there will be some passengers who haven’t cleared yet and are waitlisted at the gate.

If there are still seats open in first class, ask the gate agent which seats the first few people on the upgrade list are in. If the gate agent is willing to tell you, you may be able to ask to swap into their seat (which is usually a Main Cabin Extra seat) as soon as their upgrade is processed. This isn’t a sure-fire way but can be useful in last-minute situations.

AA Gate Agent
One way you can try to secure a Main Cabin Extra seat is by speaking with the gate agent. You may be able to move to an unassigned seat if no one else wants it or the person sitting there gets upgraded. Image Credit: American Airlines

A Word About Upgrades

To upgrade on American (whether complimentary, using instruments like systemwide upgrades, or miles/co-pay), American considers Main Cabin Extra to be in the same cabin as Main Cabin. This is important because when upgrading, you are moving from 1 cabin to the next.

Here are some examples of how this can look on a domestic/Canada/Mexico/Caribbean flight if you’re using some sort of instrument, such as a systemwide upgrade:

  • Main Cabin to Business/First
  • Main Cabin Extra to Business/First
  • Premium Economy to Business/First

And if you’re on an international 3-class plane, it will look like this:

  • Main Cabin to Business
  • Main Cabin Extra to Business
  • Premium Economy to Business
  • Business to First

There are some airlines, such as Delta, that consider an extra-legroom economy seat to be a true upgrade, and its elite program solidifies this with requests to be able to be upgraded to such a seat.

American doesn’t have this type of system — so, regardless of where you’re sitting in the economy cabin, your next upgrade will truly be to business/first.

Bottom Line: Main Cabin Extra is considered part of the economy class cabin, and it’s not a separate area for the purposes of using miles or instruments to upgrade.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Main Cabin Extra seats really are some of the best economy class seats on the plane — there’s no doubt about it. If you can’t secure one of these seats, Preferred seats still have a great location, too, but without the additional legroom.

When you’re flying American, try to find ways of sitting in Main Cabin Extra — whether using elite status or a buy-up. If not, be selective about where you sit in the Main Cabin, grabbing a Preferred seat if you can.


Frequently asked questions

What does Main Cabin Extra mean?

Main Cabin Extra is the extra-legroom economy class seating product on American Airlines, and it is available on most aircraft. Seats include up to 6 inches of additional legroom and also feature complimentary alcoholic beverages. Main Cabin Extra seats are located in the forward part of the economy class cabin and at exit rows.

Are drinks free in Main Cabin Extra?

Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are free in Main Cabin Extra. Customers receive an unlimited amount of these drinks (at the flight attendants’ discretion).

Is Premium Economy the same as Main Cabin Extra?

Main Cabin Extra is not the same as Premium Economy. Premium Economy is only available on widebody aircraft on major international long-haul routes, while Main Cabin Extra is available on every aircraft, regardless of route. Main Cabin Extra seats are regular economy seats with extra legroom, and Premium Economy seats are wider seats that are similar to those found in domestic first class.

James Larounis

About James Larounis

Jamie first got his hook on miles and points during a high school choir trip to Europe, where he flew in Lufthansa First Class (thanks to his dad’s then US Airways miles) because economy was sold out.

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4 comments

  1. When you’re choosing a seat to buy, the Main Cabin Extra, which promises for extra legroom, is in the exact same row as the preferred seats, which don’t have extra legroom. So I don’t understand how the Main Cabin Extra gives you extra leg room?

    Reply

    • Hi June,

      Could you let us know what type of plane you’re referencing with this seating chart layout? That will allow us to help figure out the issue.

      Reply

  2. Do the front rows of the main cabin for the main cabin extra seats have the individual tv/game screens, if that is a plane that has them that is. What about the exit rows that have a large gap between them and the seat in front?

    Reply

    • Catherine Luther February 11, 2020

      Hi Cara,

      Where an aircraft has personal entertainment screens, these would be included with all seats. For front row seats or seats with lots of space between them, these screens are usually inside the arm rest.

      Reply

Any thoughts or questions? Comment below!

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