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Which American Airlines Cabin Class of Service Is Right for Me?

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James Larounis
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James Larounis

Senior Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 30U.S. States Visited: 35

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in...
Edited by: Jessica Merritt
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Jessica Merritt

Editor & Content Contributor

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A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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American Airlines operates several service classes on its planes, each offering unique amenities designed for different types of travelers. Sometimes, there isn’t much variation between classes, so it’s important to discern between them to see which suits your next flight.

We’ll dive into the details of each fare class and which may be best for your travels.

Main Cabin

Family flying American Airlines economy
Main Cabin is great for families traveling together. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

By far, the most significant number of seats on American’s planes are in the Main Cabin, or what most people think of as economy class. These seats are traditionally located in the back of the aircraft and include the least legroom. On many planes, you’ll find aisle seats, window seats, and middle seats.

Here’s what you can expect in Main Cabin:

  • A seat on the aircraft with limited legroom
  • A limited meal service on longer international routes
  • A built-in inflight entertainment screen on wide-body aircraft
  • Access to overhead bin space
  • Groups 5 to 9 boarding
  • Power at select seats

Main Cabin Extra

American Airlines Main Cabin Extra row 10 on Boeing 787
Main Cabin Extra on a 787. Image Credit: Katie Seemann

It’s worth noting that all American Airlines aircraft have Main Cabin Extra seats onboard, which is not a separate class of service. These seats usually include bulkhead seats, seats at emergency exits, and also the first few rows of the Main Cabin section. Main Cabin Extra seats have extra legroom and include a complimentary alcoholic beverage, but are still part of the larger economy class cabin.

Basic Economy

While Basic Economy ticket holders still sit in normal Main Cabin seats, it’s worth noting that these tickets come with restrictions, including a no refunds/no changes policy and last group boarding (where you may find that overhead bin space is full for your carry-on bags). Basic Economy tickets are great for those on a budget with fixed plans but not for travelers who might need to change their ticket.

Who Should Choose Main Cabin?

Main Cabin is primarily designed for the following travelers:

  • For those who are budget-minded, Main Cabin tickets are usually the cheapest on the plane.
  • If you’re traveling with a family, Main Cabin has more options for you to sit together, thanks to the closeness of the seats.
  • If you’re traveling for work, your employer will likely only pay for Main Cabin. However, some employers have policies allowing premium cabins for managers or those flying over a certain distance.

Our Take

Main Cabin is a perfectly acceptable cabin for a shorter domestic flight or on shorter wide-body international flights. It makes a huge difference to pay the additional money or use AAdvantage elite status to sit in Main Cabin Extra. These seats have far more legroom than standard Main Cabin seats, though the service is the same no matter which economy seat you sit in. You’ll likely have trouble sleeping for red-eye flights no matter the seat, so if you can upgrade to premium economy, that upgrade will probably be well worth it.

Premium Economy

American Airlines Premium Economy
Premium economy offers more legroom than Main Cabin. Image Credit: Katie Seemann

American Airlines has a premium economy cabin on its wide-body aircraft only. This includes all variants of the Boeing 787 and Boeing 777. These seats are directly behind the business class cabin and feature a separate partition from the premium cabins up front and the Main Cabin in the rear.

Premium economy class seats are laid out in a 2-3-2 formation, so most passengers have an aisle or window.

Here is what you can expect in premium economy:

  • A wider seat, similar to a domestic first class seat
  • Built-in inflight entertainment screen
  • An elevated dining experience, including chef-inspired meals served on real tableware
  • Complimentary bar
  • Amenity kit, usually including socks, eyeshades, a dental kit, and a pen
  • Casper sleep set, including pillow and blanket
  • Power at each seat
  • Complimentary checked baggage

Who Should Choose Premium Economy?

Premium economy is primarily designed for the following travelers:

  • The premium economy is perfect if you’re looking for a cheaper ticket but prefer more comfort than Main Cabin.
  • If you need room to work, premium economy offers a roomier seat where you can easily use your laptop.

American’s upgrade program is somewhat unique in that you cannot upgrade using miles or a systemwide upgrade from Main Cabin to premium economy. You can only upgrade to business class. Depending on how you’d like to upgrade or which cabin you’d ultimately like to sit in, this may be worth noting.

Our Take

Premium economy balances the cost of economy class with the comforts of a premium cabin. It can definitely make sense on a longer flight where rest is more important, but you still need to be mindful of budget. Keep in mind that premium economy seats don’t lie flat, so you may still have trouble sleeping, though it’s a far more rosier experience than Main Cabin.

Business Class on Short-Haul International Flights

American Airlines standard business
Image Credit: American Airlines

American markets its short-haul international flights with a normal domestic configured first class seat and similar amenities. While you may see “business class” during the booking process, it’s essentially a domestic first class seat and amenities.

You’ll find this business class terminology on flights to Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and select South American cities.

Similar to the domestic first class product, you get:

  • A wider seat but no built-in inflight entertainment screen (and, unlike Flagship Business, no lie-flat seat)
  • On flights over 900 miles, an onboard dining experience, including chef-inspired meals served on real dishes
  • Complimentary bar
  • Power at each seat
  • Complimentary checked baggage

Unlike domestic first class, you get Admirals Club access on flights to Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America. You do not get Flagship Lounge access, however.

Who Should Choose Short-Haul International Business Class?

Short-haul business class is primarily designed for the following travelers:

  • Those who value a little extra legroom and space between their neighbor
  • Those who may value lounge access who don’t already have that access
  • Onboard meals are provided, so if it’s a longer flight or you have a tighter connection where purchasing a meal isn’t feasible, short-haul international business class can be worth it

Our Take

Short-haul international business class is the same exact seat as the domestic first class configuration, so you won’t find any additional comfort, but it is nice to have a little more room to stretch out between you and the person next to you. For longer flights, upgrading to business class can certainly be worth it.

Flagship Business on Transcontinental Flights

American Airlines A321 business class BOS LAX
Flagship Business on the A321T. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

American has announced the retirement of its A321T (transcontinental) aircraft but will continue to fly them for the next few years until a suitable replacement is implemented. This aircraft has business class laid out in a 2-2 configuration.

These transcontinental aircraft serve the following markets:

American flies its Boeing 777-300ER on some flights from Miami (MIA) to LAX, also considered a transcontinental route. These aircraft are laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration, so all seats have direct aisle access.

Hot Tip:

You can use the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® to earn extra AAdvantage miles on your everyday purchases, such as gas stations and restaurants, and then use those miles to upgrade your seat from Main Cabin to business class on select flights.

Here’s what you can expect in American’s transcontinental business class:

  • Access to the Greenwich Lounge at JFK, the Flagship Lounge in Los Angeles and Miami, and Admirals Club locations in Boston, Orange County, and San Francisco
  • An elevated dining experience onboard, including multiple courses and printed menus; transcontinental routes include 1 meal service and a pre-arrival snack
  • Complimentary bar
  • A fully flat seat with an inflight entertainment screen
  • At-seat power for all seats
  • Casper sleep set, including pillow and blanket
  • Amenity kit
  • Complimentary checked baggage

Who Should Choose Transcontinental Business Class?

Transcontinental business class is primarily designed for the following travelers:

  • If you’re on a red-eye flight from the West Coast, you’ll get a chance for some limited sleep, but since your seat may not be direct aisle access, you risk having to jump over the person next to you.
  • Business class provides an extensive meal service, so if you like to dine in the air this product may be for you.
  • While the seats aren’t direct all aisle access, there’s still room to spread out and get work done, including using your laptop and plugging into at-seat power and charging ports.

Our Take

On the transcontinental aircraft, you may not have direct aisle access if you’re assigned a window seat in business class. If aisle access is important, select an aisle or upgrade to Flagship First, where all seats have direct aisle access. If you’re in business class, the person at the window will still need to hop over you if they wish to get up, which could disturb some passengers.

Hot Tip:

The lowest price for a transcontinental flight on American’s A321T is around $800 one-way. You can usually snag a flight for around $400 to 500 for a non-lie-flat seat with a connection.

Flagship Business on Long-Haul International Flights

Business Class features flat bed seats. Image Credit: Chris Hassan
Flagship Business on the 777-200ER. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

On the Boeing 777 and Boeing 787, American operates its Flagship Business product in a 1-2-1 configuration, with aisle access for all seats. While these aircraft sometimes fly shorter flights, for the purposes of this description, we are referring to long-haul flights such as New York (JFK) to London (LHR) or Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD). American also operates these seats on all Dallas (DFW) to Honolulu (HNL), Maui (OGG), and Kona (KOA) flights.

Here is what you can expect on a long-haul international flight in business class:

  • Access to the Greenwich Lounge at JFK or the Flagship Lounge, where available; if there is no Flagship Lounge, you have access to the Admirals Club or any Oneworld Sapphire-level lounge
  • An elevated dining experience onboard, including multiple courses and printed menus; most international long-haul routes include 2 meal services, and sometimes a third, depending on the length of the flight
  • Complimentary bar
  • A fully flat seat with an inflight entertainment screen
  • At-seat power for all seats
  • Casper sleep set, including pillow and blanket
  • Amenity kit
  • Complimentary checked baggage

If you aren’t in business class, and don’t otherwise have lounge access, having the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® is a good alternative. It comes with an Admirals Club lounge membership, allowing you to access all American Airlines Admirals Club lounges systemwide.

Hot Tip:

Not all business class seats are created equal. On some of American’s Boeing 787 planes, there are rear-facing business class seats, which may be less desirable for some travelers.

Flagship Business Plus

You may see during your booking process a product called Flagship Business Plus. To be clear, this is the same exact business class seat you’d receive by booking Flagship Business, though there are a few extra perks thrown in, including access to Flagship Check-In (in select airports), a third checked bag free (normally reserved for first class and top-tier elite members) and Flagship First Dining, where available. In the end, the hard product on board is the same, though you may find the extra expense worth it to experience a fancier check-in process and lounge access.

Who Should Choose International Long-Haul Business Class?

Business class is primarily designed for the following travelers:

  • If you’re on a red-eye or overnight flight, business class will provide the most comfort and the best opportunity for a restful night of sleep.
  • Business class provides more room than premium economy to get work done, so if you have multiple devices or files you’re working on, there’s plenty of room to spread out.
  • If you value the inflight experience with food and beverage, the business class cabin will provide many more options than premium economy.
  • Employers may pay for business class if your flight covers a certain distance.

Our Take

Business class is the ideal way to travel if you need to arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to go or need to work along the way. Because the seats go fully flat, you can get a full night of sleep fairly easily. Business class can cost substantially more than premium economy, though on some fares, you can find a reasonable upgrade cost that makes it worth it.

Hot Tip:

American is planning to introduce all-new Flagship Suite cabins on all Airbus A321XLR and Boeing 787-9 aircraft that it takes delivery of starting in 2024.

Flagship First

American Airlines Boeing 777 300 Flagship First view from seat 1A
Flagship First features a much more roomier seat than Flagship Business. Image Credit: Daniel Ross

Flagship First is being phased out but will continue to operate for the next few years. This is the highest possible class of service on American Airlines and is set in a 1-1 seat configuration on American’s A321T aircraft or a 1-2-1 configuration on American’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. All seats have direct aisle access.

Here is what you can expect in Flagship First:

  • Access to the Chelsea Lounge at JFK or Flagship First Dining, where available; if there is no Flagship First Dining, you have access to the Flagship Lounge, Admirals Club, or any Oneworld Emerald-level lounge
  • An elevated dining experience onboard, including multiple courses and printed menus
    • Flagship First offers extra courses, such as a soup course served on china
    • Most international long-haul routes include 2 meal services and sometimes a third, depending on the length of the flight
  • Complimentary bar
  • A fully flat seat with an inflight entertainment screen
  • At-seat power for all seats
  • Casper sleep set, including pillow and blanket
  • A premium amenity kit
  • Complimentary checked baggage

You’re probably wondering why someone would upgrade to Flagship First over business class. These are the main differences:

  • A more private seat, either with more room to work or rest
  • Additional courses and options during meal-time
  • Access to first class-level lounges on departure or arrival

As American slowly phases out Flagship First seats on the A321T or Boeing 777-300ER, it’s worth noting that the difference between Flagship First and business class is often not enough to command a higher price point. While you’ll receive an upgraded lounge experience, the product onboard the plane is quite similar to business class, and both classes offer lie-flat seats.

Hot Tip:

On some routes, such as Boston to Los Angeles, Flagship First is often only $200 more than business class. You may find this difference worth it for a more private seat.

Who Should Choose Flagship First?

Flagship First is primarily designed for the following travelers:

  • Passengers get the best sleeping experience with a mattress pad and a wider seat.
  • If you prefer personalization, flight attendants often provide much better service.
  • With a much more private seat than business class, you can get work done interrupted.
  • On the Boeing 777-300ER, your seat swivels into a desk, allowing you a large workspace to stay productive.

Our Take

Flagship First is usually unnecessary unless there’s only a small difference in the cash cost or using miles. Flagship First includes most of the amenities as Flagship Business, but if a more exclusive lounge is worth it to you, you may find the cost difference worth it. All Flagship First products include direct aisle access. Keep in mind this product is slowly retiring from American’s fleet and won’t be available on aircraft sometime within the next few years.

Narrow-Body First Class

American Airlines domestic first
Image Credit: American Airlines

American operates a first class cabin on all regional jets, the Boeing 737, and Airbus A319, 320, and 321 aircraft. This is typically branded as “first class” and operates on all domestic routes. On regional jets, first class is laid out in a 1-2 configuration, while all other aircraft have a 2-2 configuration.

Here’s what you can expect with a typical first class seat:

  • A wider seat but no built-in inflight entertainment screen
  • On flights over 900 miles, an onboard dining experience, including chef-inspired meals served on real dishes
  • Complimentary bar
  • Power at each seat
  • Complimentary checked baggage

Who Should Choose Narrow-Body First Class?

First class is primarily designed for the following travelers:

  • If you’re tall or like to stretch out, the first class seats will provide more room for you.
  • If you have multiple bags to check, you may find the charge to sit in first class worth it over paying for your baggage.
  • If you have a tight connection or are coming from work, you may find the first class meal service valuable so you don’t have to pick up a meal before your flight.

Our Take

American’s domestic first class product is underwhelming. The legroom is not substantial, and many passengers report thin padding in the seats. While it’s certainly better than being crammed into Main Cabin, many passengers report it more comfortable to be in an exit row or similar where legroom exceeds that of the seats in first class.

Final Thoughts

American has several onboard products you can choose from, each with a different price point and varying amenities. The higher the class of service, the more money you’ll pay. However, many passengers will find those better seats or services worth the additional expenditure. No matter which class of service you choose, American’s goal is to get you to your destination safely and on time!

The information regarding the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the levels of seating on American Airlines?

The main levels of seating on American Airlines are Main Cabin, Main Cabin Extra, Premium Economy, Flagship Business Class, Flagship First Class, and First Class. Each fare offers different amenities and services.

What is the difference between American Airlines first class and business class?

Flagship First Class includes access to Flagship First Dining and a more extensive meal service in-flight. Business Class includes Flagship Lounge access, and may feature seats that don’t have direct aisle access, depending on the plane. Both Flagship Business and Flagship First feature lie-flat seats.

What is the difference between American Airlines economy and premium economy?

Premium Economy has a larger seat, less seats per row, a larger inflight entertainment screen, complimentary checked bags, as well as an upgraded meal service. Economy Class has more seats per row, smaller inflight entertainment screens, no complimentary checked bags depending on the route, and the least extensive meal service onboard.

Why is American Airlines getting rid of first class?

In general, consumers and businesses aren’t willing to pay the premium difference between business class and first class. First class generally costs more money, but doesn’t offer much difference in amenities, so it’s tough to justify the additional expense. Because of this, American is removing First Class from the Boeing 777-300ER and retiring the Airbus A321T.

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About James Larounis

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in dozens of travel publications.

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