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Is American Airlines Premium Economy Worth It?

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Katie Seemann
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Katie Seemann

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Katie has been in the points and miles game since 2015 and started her own blog in 2016. She’s been freelance writing since then and her work has been featured in publications like Travel + Leisure, F...
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I recently took a trip to Europe (Germany and Switzerland to be exact) and I flew on American Airlines both there and back. On my flight to Europe, I flew American Airlines economy and on my flight from Europe to the U.S. I flew American Airlines premium economy.

There are some definite differences between American Airlines economy and premium economy and it was great to be able to compare these 2 options so I could really understand whether or not premium economy is worth the extra cost.

In this post, I’ll take you on a quick tour of both of my flights to help you determine if American Airlines premium economy is worth it for you.

Price Difference Between AA Economy and Premium Economy

The first and most obvious difference between economy and premium economy on American Airlines is, of course, the price. Since I used American Airlines AAdvantage miles to pay for both flights, that’s what I’ll focus on here.

I flew from John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH) to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) to Zurich International Airport (ZHR) for 30,000 miles and $5.60 each in economy.

For my return, I flew from Munich International Airport (MUC) to London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Philadelphia to Columbus for 40,000 miles and $277.37 each (the taxes were higher since I was departing Europe and flying through London).

The taxes returning to the U.S. would have been higher on an economy ticket, too, so I will simplify things and look at the price difference between economy and premium economy on this itinerary as 10,000 American Airlines miles.

Price difference between American Airlines economy and premium economy
The taxes are generally the same on economy vs. premium economy tickets so we can look at the price difference between AA economy and premium economy as simply 10,000 miles. Image Credit: American Airlines

While American Airlines doesn’t have any major transfer partners, there are plenty of ways to earn AAdvantage miles quickly to make up that 10,000-mile difference between premium economy and economy.

Hot Tip:

The price difference in miles between American Airlines economy and premium economy for flights between the U.S. and Europe is usually around 10,000 miles (30,000 vs. 40,000). However, during off-peak times (during the winter), economy prices drop to as low as 22,500 miles, making the difference in price 17,500 miles.

How To Upgrade to Premium Economy on American Airlines

If you pay cash for an economy flight between North America and Europe you can use miles to upgrade to premium economy, excluding basic economy fares.

The cost of the upgrade will depend on the type of fare that was originally booked.

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Type of Fare

Fare Code

Cost To Upgrade From Economy to Premium Economy

Discount Economy

H, K, M, L, V, G, Q, N, O, S or military/ government Y fares

25,000 miles + $350

Full Fare Economy

Y

15,000 miles

The Difference Between AA Economy and Premium Economy

I initially intended to fly business class for this trip. Unfortunately due to terrible availability, almost no flexibility in travel dates, and a desire to get a direct route (on the outbound flight, at least), I ended up booking my flight to Europe in economy and my flight home in premium economy.

While I wasn’t thrilled to be flying economy, I was actually excited to try premium economy. So, as any travel writer would do, I decided this would be a perfect opportunity to write an article comparing these 2 products to see if premium economy was actually worth it.

American Airlines Economy Experience

Let’s start with a brief overview of my economy class flight from Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) to Zurich International Airport (ZRH).

For this flight, I used some of the airline incidental fee credit from The Platinum Card® from American Express to purchase an upgrade to Main Cabin Extra seats. This allowed me to book the bulkhead row, which offers significantly more legroom than other economy seats.

AAdvantage Gold members can book Main Cabin Extra seats free of charge at check-in while AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro, and Executive Platinum members can secure these seats free of charge at the time of booking.

While a long-haul economy flight isn’t my first choice, booking the bulkhead row made the flight significantly more comfortable.

American Airlines bulkhead economy seat
The bulkhead seats in economy had tons of legroom but were still narrow and had limited recline.

I sat in seat 10A on a Boeing 787-8 for this flight. My husband was in seat 10C and we were lucky enough to have the middle seat between us empty (this is key to making these economy seats much more bearable for a long-haul flight).

The 787-8 economy cabin has a 3-3-3 configuration with 48 Main Cabin Extra seats and 138 Main Cabin seats across 22 rows.

Hot Tip:

Here’s a great flight hack to give yourself the best chance at an empty middle seat when flying with a companion — book the aisle and window seats. If the flight isn’t fully booked there’s a good chance that the middle seat will remain empty.

We were in the first row of economy, directly behind the premium economy cabin. The great thing about this row was the extra legroom and the ability to store bags under the seat in front of you (a feature that is usually missing in bulkhead seats).

American Airlines Main Cabin Extra row 10 on Boeing 787
We had plenty of legroom in the bulkhead seats.

In fact, this row actually had more legroom than premium economy! To get a sense of the amount of space we had, keep in mind when looking at the photo above that my husband is 6 feet 6 inches tall and he had room to spare.

Main Cabin Extra seats on this aircraft have 35 to 36 inches of pitch and a width of 17.2 inches. That’s a slight improvement over the regular economy seats which offer 31 inches of pitch and a seat that’s 16.2 to 18.1 inches wide.

The big problem with my seat was that the armrests were fixed so I couldn’t raise them to stretch out into the empty seat next to me.

We got 1 meal and 1 snack on this flight. When we got our snack, premium economy passengers got a second full meal.

American Airlines economy meal
Despite not being very photogenic, this meal wasn’t bad.

Overall, if you have to or want to fly economy on American Airlines, the bulkhead row will provide the most legroom and the best experience for many travelers. However, these seats are still narrow and have limited recline.

Bottom Line:

When flying American Airlines economy on a Boeing 787-8, the bulkhead row, which is considered part of Main Cabin Extra, provides the most legroom. These seats are available for an extra charge or are complimentary for AAdvantage elite members.

American Airlines Premium Economy Experience

Let’s leave regular economy behind and explore the American Airlines premium economy experience on a Boeing 787-9 from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL).

The premium economy cabin had 3 rows in a 2-3-2 configuration. With only 21 seats, this cabin had a much more private feel than the economy cabin. Upon boarding the plane I was very happy to stop here instead of continuing to economy.

American Airlines Boeing 787 Premium Economy Cabin
The premium economy cabin had 4 rows of seats in a 2-3-2 configuration.

I had originally selected the bulkhead row seats because they have a leg rest that operates like a recliner chair instead of the footrest that’s attached to the seat in front of you (a more desirable option for my short legs). However, my flights got changed and AA put me on a flight that only had 2 available seats — 11A and 11C in the back row.

American Airlines Boeing 787 Premium Economy 11A and 11C
Seats 11A and 11C were our home for the 7.5-hour flight.

The first thing I noticed after getting to our seats was the upgraded pillow and blanket from Casper. These were not only larger than the ones I had received in economy on my flight to Europe, but they were definitely of higher quality, too. There was also a set of headphones and an amenity kit waiting for me.

AA Premium Economy amenity kit headphones pillow and blanket
Having a nice pillow and blanket as well as headphones and an amenity kit goes a long way in making the premium economy cabin feel like an upgrade from economy.

The Shinola amenity kit included flight socks, an eye mask, ear plugs, a dental kit, lotion, lip balm, and a tiny pen.

American Airlines Shinola amenity kit
There was a Shinola amenity kit in AA premium economy.
Hot Tip:

The premium economy amenity kit is only available on international flights.

American Airlines Premium Economy Seat

The seat itself had a 38-inch pitch and was 19 inches wide. That’s a significant improvement from the regular economy seats on this plane which only have a 31-inch pitch and 16.2 to 17.2 inches of width.

AA Boeing 787 9 Premium Economy 11C
Seat 11C on an American Airlines Boeing 787-9.

Each seat also had an adjustable headrest, which moved up in addition to having movable sides.

AA Premium Economy adjustable headrest
Each seat had an adjustable headrest.

The central armrest had space to store a book or an iPad as well as plugs and controls for the light, a flight attendant call button, and inflight entertainment buttons.

AA Premium Economy seat controls and plugs
There was storage and plugs in the central armrest.

There was an 8.9-inch touchscreen seat-back monitor with lots of entertainment options, including TV shows and movies.

American Airlines premium economy in flight entertainment
There was a large selection of movies, including new releases available to watch.
Hot Tip:

On this plane, the seat-back entertainment screen is identical in premium economy and economy. Only the business class cabin has a larger 15.4-inch screen.

One of the best perks of premium economy is the footrest. It’s attached to the seat in front of you and is adjustable. The bulkhead seats have a leg rest that extends from the seat La-Z-Boy style. It makes a huge difference in a flight’s comfort level, especially if you’re on the shorter side like me.

If you’re very tall, the footrest is probably useless.

American Airlines premium economy footrest

The footrest takes up a lot of space under the seat in front of you, so your bag may not fit. I had to store my backpack in the overhead bin for this reason.

American Airlines Premium Economy Food

I didn’t go hungry on this daytime flight. Lunch was served shortly after takeoff and a second meal was served shortly before landing.

Our meal options were prawns or pasta. Since I don’t eat any seafood, I opted for the pasta which turned out to be macaroni and cheese. It was served with a salad, cheese and crackers, bread, and a dessert bar that tasted like a homemade Twix. It was all pretty tasty, plus the food was served on actual dishes instead of the disposable containers used in economy.

American Airlines premium economy meal
The mac and cheese was much better than it looked.

A couple of hours after lunch, more drinks and ice cream were offered. I was napping so I missed out on this. Closer to the end of the flight, another meal was served. This one was smaller than the first but still included more than just a snack. There was a vegetable pasta salad with a cheese spread, fruit, breadsticks, and a chocolate mousse for dessert.

American Airlines premium economy meal 2
The second meal was served near the end of the flight.

This second meal that was served in premium economy wasn’t served in economy. Instead of this, economy passengers got a packaged sandwich. I also noticed this difference when I was flying in economy and just got just a snack while premium economy passengers got a hot breakfast.

Bottom Line:

On both of my flights, premium economy passengers got 2 meals while economy passengers got 1 meal and 1 snack.

AA Premium Economy Service

Overall, I didn’t really notice a difference in the inflight service between economy and premium economy. Neither flight had spectacular service but neither flight had bad service. It was all pretty middle-of-the-road.

On the ground, premium economy customers are eligible for priority check-in and group 4 boarding. I already have this through American Airlines elite status, so the experience wasn’t any different than flying economy for me.

Hot Tip:

You can check out a video review of this premium economy flight on Instagram.

Is American Airlines Premium Economy Worth It?

Whether or not American Airlines premium economy is worth it for you will be a subjective decision. For me, it was absolutely worth the extra 10,000 miles I paid.

Let me be clear — business class (and of course, first class) is still much better than premium economy. However, I am realistic and I understand that not everyone can or wants to pay a premium for business class. In those instances, premium economy is a nice balance between the affordability of economy and the comfort of business class.

If you want to think about it logically, you’ll generally pay an extra 10,000 miles for a premium economy flight. Since we value American Airlines miles at ~1.4 cents each, you can look at that as paying ~$140 to upgrade from economy to premium economy. For a flight between the U.S. and Europe, like the one I took, that’s a pretty reasonable cost when you consider the increased comfort of the premium economy cabin.

If you’re planning to check more than 1 bag, it makes even more sense to pay extra for premium economy. Premium economy customers get 2 free checked bags on transatlantic flights while economy passengers only get 1 free bag and basic economy customers have to pay $75 for the first checked bag. A second bag costs $100 to check for all economy passengers.

While I will never turn down a lie-flat business class seat, I would be happy to fly premium economy again under the right circumstances. For this 7.5-hour daytime flight, it was a very comfortable way to fly from Europe to the U.S. without blowing through my stash of miles.

Final Thoughts

American Airlines premium economy is worth it in my book. It felt like a definite upgrade from economy class and even an upgrade from AA’s Main Cabin Extra seats. Each seat is more spacious, with more recline and a footrest. When booking flights between the U.S. and Europe with miles, premium economy seats are often available for just 10,000 more miles than economy, which is a small price to pay for increased comfort on a long flight.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between economy and premium economy on American Airlines?

The biggest difference between economy and premium economy on American Airlines (other than the price) is the seat size. Seats in premium economy are wider and have a greater pitch (the distance between seats) that allows for more recline. Premium economy seats also have a footrest and get an upgraded pillow and blanket as well as an amenity kit (on international flights).

What boarding group is premium economy on American Airlines?

Premium economy passengers will be assigned group 4 boarding. If a premium economy passenger has AAdvantage elite status that makes them eligible for a better boarding group, they’ll be able to board with the better group.

Does American Airlines serve alcohol in premium economy?

Yes, complimentary alcoholic beverages are available in American Airlines premium economy.

Does American Airlines premium economy get lounge access?

No, American Airlines premium economy passengers don’t get any lounge access. However, you can get access to select lounges with the right card. Check out our guide to the best credit cards for lounge access for more information.

Can you choose your seat for premium economy on American Airlines?

Yes, you can select your seat before your flight when flying on premium economy on American Airlines.

What do you get in American Airlines premium economy on an international flight?

When flying American Airlines premium economy on an international flight, passengers will get a Shinola amenity kit, a Casper lumbar pillow and blanket, headphones, upgraded meal service, priority boarding, and 2 free checked bags.

Does American Airlines serve food in economy?

Whether or not you’ll get a meal when flying in American Airlines economy depends on the route. For a transatlantic flight, like the one I took from the U.S. to Europe, we were served both a full meal and a snack in economy class.

Katie Seemann's image

About Katie Seemann

Katie has been in the points and miles game since 2015 and started her own blog in 2016. She’s been freelance writing since then and her work has been featured in publications like Travel + Leisure, Forbes Advisor, and Fortune Recommends.

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