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

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James Larounis
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James Larounis

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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...
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Keri Stooksbury

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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

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 First is American’s top class of service and is only available on 3-class aircraft, including the 777-300ER and the A321T, that fly 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.

It’s worth noting that Flagship First is being retired and will slowly be phased out over the next few years.

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.

You can pay to upgrade to Flagship Business Plus to receive additional free checked bags, Flagship check-in, and Flagship First Dining on select itineraries.

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 miles, 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 to 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.

Differences Between Standard Seats, Preferred Seats, and Main Cabin Extra Seats

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

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 Standard SeatsPreferred SeatsMain Cabin Extra Seats
Space/Location
  • No extra legroom or recline
  • Mostly in the rear of cabin
  • No extra legroom or recline
  • Closer to the front of Main Cabin
  • 3 to 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
Beverages

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

Storage

Access to overhead bins and under-seat storage

Access to dedicated overhead bins and under-seat storage
Boarding

Groups 6 to 9

Group 5 boarding

Main Cabin Extra Benefits in Detail

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

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), Executive Platinum members
  • Group 2: Platinum Pro members, business class on a 3-class plane, and Oneworld Emerald customers
  • Group 3: 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 to 7: Main Cabin customers in no particular order; all AAdvantage members, at a minimum (including Basic Economy)
  • 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 credit 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 snacks are 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 selections. 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:

  • Aviation American Gin
  • Ayrum Granacha Rose
  • BACARDI Rum
  • Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • Barone Montalto Vino Spumante
  • Bottega Millesimato Brut Spumante
  • DISARRONNO Amaretto
  • Dewar’s White Label
  • Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
  • Les Marins Merlot
  • Mini Cellar Airen-Verdejo
  • Tito’s Handmade Vodka
  • Vina Albali Red Blend
  • Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

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 are the best places to sit if you have to be in or near the rear of the plane. Sure, everyone likes those fancy lie-flat 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 and Expert Flyer are excellent tools to use for figuring out what type of plane you’re flying on, seat maps, and more. 

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.

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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’’
A3214733” to 39”16.6” to 18.4”
A321 (transcontinental)3635’’17.3″ to 17.7’’
A321neo4733″ to 39″16.6″ to 18.4″
Boeing 737 MAX3033’’ (some bulkhead and exit rows)16.6″ to 17.8’’
Boeing 737-800 (Oasis)3033’’ pitch at the bulkhead (rows 8 to 10) and 38’’ pitch at the exit rows16.6″ to 17.8’’
Boeing 777-2006635″ to 36’’17.1″ to 18.1’’
Boeing 777-300 ER2836’’17.1″ to 18.1’’
Boeing 787-8 (retrofitted)4835″ to 36’’17.2’’
Boeing 787-8 (original)5535″ to 36’’17.2’’
Boeing 787-93435’’17.2’’
CRJ-700Between 8 to 16N/A — all located at bulkhead and exit rows with no seat in front16.75″ to 17.25″
CRJ-900Between 11 to 2434″ to 35’’16.55″ to 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″ to 19.3’’

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 one plane whereas the same seats on a similar aircraft may not be. This is most often the case on smaller regional aircraft.

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Main Cabin Extra Seats on American Airlines by Aircraft
Airbus A319 (319)Rows 8 to 10, 14A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A320 (320)Row 4, 10 to 11A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A321 (321) Layout 1Rows 8 to 12A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A321 (321) Layout 2Row 5A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A321 (32B) Layout 3Rows 11 to 16A, B, C, D, E, F
Airbus A321neoRows 8 to 11, 17 to 21, 27A, B, C, D, E, F
Boeing 777-200 (777) Layout 1Rows 13 to 17, 26A, B, C, D, E, H, J, K, L
Boeing 777-200 (777) Layout 2Rows 17 to 20, 26 to 29A, B, D, E, G, H, K, L
Boeing 777-300ER (77W)Row 20A, B, D, E, G, H, K, L
Rows 31 to 32A, C, J, L
Boeing 787-8 (788) Layout 1Rows 8 to 13, 19A, B, C, D, E, H, J, K, L
Boeing 787-8 (788) Layout 2Rows 10 to 17, 20A, B, C, D, E, H, J, K, L
Row 19A, B, K, L
Boeing 787-9 (789)Rows 12 to 14A, B, C, D, E, H, J, K, L
Boeing 737 MAX 8 (7M8)Rows 8 to 10, 16 to 17A, B, C, D, E, F
Boeing 737-800 (738) Layout 1Rows 7 to 9, 14 to 15A, B, C, D, E, F
Boeing 737-800 (738) Layout 2Rows 8 to 10A, B, C, D, E, F
Embraer ERJ-175 (E75) Layout 1Rows 8 to 12A, C, D, F
Bombardier CRJ-700 (CR7) Layout 1Rows 5, 13A, B, C, D
Bombardier CRJ-700 (CR7) Layout 2Rows 8 to 10, 18A, B, C, D
Bombardier CRJ-900 (CR9) Layout 3Row 4A, D, F
Rows 5 to 8, 12 to 13A, C, D, F
Embraer ERJ-175 (E75) Layout 2Row 4A, 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). Gold members can select these seats for free 24 hours before departure.

This can be phenomenal savings: Main Cabin Extra on transcontinental flights can cost $100+ and can be double that on international flights.

Oneworld Frequent Flyer Status

If you’re a Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald member and have status with British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, or Japan Airlines, you can select Main Cabin Extra and Preferred seats for free at the time of booking for yourself and up to 8 travel companions on the same reservation. Oneworld Ruby members of the previously mentioned airlines also have access to book these seats within 24 hours of departure.

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, American 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.

Monitor Upgrades

Here’s a trick that not many people know about. On all of American’s domestic routes, including 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/copay), 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:

  • Basic Economy to business/first
  • 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:

  • Basic Economy to business
  • 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 could 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 American Airlines flights — there’s no doubt about it. If you can’t secure one of these seats, Preferred seats offer a great location on the plane, 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.

Is Main Cabin Extra worth it on American Airlines?

For longer flights, Main Cabin Extra is definitely worth it so you can have extra legroom and complimentary drinks. Having more legroom means you can get up without disturbing your seatmate on long-haul flights.

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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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