American Airlines Premium Economy Vs Coach: Is It Worth Paying For?


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Is it worth paying to upgrade to Premium Economy from Coach seats on long-haul flights on American Airlines? Is it worth spending hundreds of dollars on upgrading?

There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on so many factors, including how large you are, how easily you get to sleep, how long your flight is, and how large your wallet is!

As a rule of thumb, if you are of average size and weight, in reasonable health, if it is a day flight, and if your flight is at the shorter end of long-haul, like New York JFK to London, you will probably survive in Economy or coach.

Conversely, if you are larger than average (in weight or height), in bad health, are due to fly overnight, and if you are taking the longer of long-haul, like LAX to London, you should probably splurge on Premium Economy, to avoid feeling close to death when you land.

Of course, budgets only stretch so far. If you want to travel around the world, you may occasionally have to sacrifice comfort for the experience when you land. Only you can decide what you are prepared to tolerate, but we make a comparison below, which will hopefully help with your decision-making process.

Coach Vs. Premium Economy: Price

Premium Economy cash fares vary in price according to the route. They may be a few hundred dollars more round-trips. They may be a thousand more dollars than a coach seat.

Premium Economy award redemptions can only be found via American’s new award booking tool. The cost of Premium Economy award redemptions using AAdvantage miles on American is very upfront with their award redemption rates shown in a chart.

If the price is your biggest factor when making the decision on which class to fly in, you should probably choose to fly Economy. After all, the entire plane will get to its destination, whichever class you are sitting in.

Having said that, particularly for overnight flights, having next-to-no space to move and next-to-no recline means that sleep is difficult. Certainly, when I have flown in Coach, if I do manage to nod off, the fact that my head then drops to one side because of the lack of seat recline means that I almost always wake myself up.

The result is that you can feel pretty grotty after a Coach class flight when you get to your destination. This means that you are potentially ruining the first day of your trip because you have not spent the extra on upgrading your flight.

So even if the price IS your biggest factor, Premium Economy can mean that you avoid wasting a day of your holiday, which may ultimately be worth more than the price difference.

Can I Upgrade Using Miles?

No! At the moment, only cash upgrades are available. You will eventually be able to upgrade to Premium Economy on AAdvantage miles, but for now, you can only upgrade if you pay with cash.

Should I Upgrade Online

If you can find the button to upgrade online using cash, you probably won’t get the best deal. Take a look at the offer, but usually, it isn’t worth it, and instead, you should try to upgrade at check-in. If there is availability when you check-in, this is likely to be a much better deal.

Upgrading on departure at the ticketing kiosk or counters but you risk missing out as the Premium Economy cabin is not that large.

Coach Vs. Premium Economy: Check-in

Priority gives you the fastest route through most airport-congested areas, so you do get benefits from booking Premium Economy, even before you board.

American Airlines says: “Look for “priority” signs when you check-in at the American Airlines counter, go through security, and at the gate. For faster boarding, proceed when “Priority” is called” as you will have “Priority Access” on your boarding pass. It is worth noting that not all airlines offer priority check-in and boarding with Premium Economy, but currently, American Airlines does.

Unless you’re flying on a Basic Economy fare, you can also buy Priority for your trip on American marketed and operated flights at check-in on or at the check-in at an airport kiosk or through Reservations before departure.

Economy Vs. Premium Economy: Baggage

You get 2 hold suitcases when traveling in Premium Economy, which is a big bonus.

Economy Vs. Premium Economy: Lounges

When flying in Premium Economy, you do not get access to any lounges (unless you have premium airline status).

Economy Vs. Premium Economy: Space

While you’ll find varying Business Class products on American Airlines’ aircraft, but the carrier is pretty consistent with its Premium Economy seating.

When flying in the Premium Economy seat, you get a wider seat (19 inches compared to 17 inches in Coach) with additional pitch (38 inches). For me, the extra elbow room in the Premium Economy seats enables me to work more comfortably on my laptop. The legroom gives you more space to move about, and the extendable foot and headrests make the journey more pleasant.

There is also a useful universal power outlet and USB between the seats.

The extra recline also enables me to sleep for a short period, a crucial reason to choose to fly Premium Economy, although the recline is not amazing and could not be compared to a flatbed seat.

Economy Vs. Premium Economy: Alcoholic Drinks

A big bonus traveling on AA in Premium Economy is that you get a “Chef-inspired meal with free beer, wine, and spirits”. Yep, that includes free spirits, wine, and beer in Premium Economy?

But, you also get free spirits, wine, and beer also in International Economy. Premium Economy is only offered on international flights, flights to Hawaii, and eventually flights from Dallas to Alaska.

Economy passengers on longer international flights and flights from Dallas to Hawaii already get complimentary wine and beer. Economy passengers on American’s flights to places like New Zealand and Australia also receive free spirits.

So this can be a benefit depending on the route as when you fly in Premium Economy, you are guaranteed complimentary beer, wine, and spirits, whereas, if you are flying in economy, the complimentary alcohol depends on the route you’re flying.

In Premium Economy, you’ll also usually get a welcome drink and snack along with another round of drinks with the meal. Economy class doesn’t usually include a welcome snack and drink.

Economy Vs. Premium Economy: Food

The onboard service will vary depending on the time of departure and flight duration. Some Premium Economy entrees might be very similar to the options offered in Business Class, although this is not always the case. You can, however, be sure that the Premium meal will be an improvement on the Economy meal. The food is better than that in Coach and is served on actual china and not in plastic containers, although the drinks are still usually served in plastic cups!

Depending on the length of the flight, if it is overnight, you will probably get breakfast served. On shorter flights, you just get a drink and something like a panini sandwich (or similar).

The food is an improvement on Coach, but nothing spectacular.

You will also get a complimentary amenity kit and a pillow and blanket created alongside sleep technology company Casper exclusively for AA.

Economy Vs. Premium Economy: Toilets

The toilets that are available to Premium Economy passengers will almost always be available to Business Class passengers too. Passengers flying in standard economy class don’t get access to the shared Premium Economy/Business Class lavatory.

Sadly, there aren’t enhanced amenities in the lavatories on American Airlines, unlike the Middle Eastern airlines, which usually offer up sweet-smelling soaps and lotions and even, sometimes, perfumes and aftershave. On American, the Business toilets are very similar to the economy toilets with the same amenities.

Best Seats In Premium Economy

Bulkheads seats are some of the best seats in the cabin with a real leg rest instead of a footrest and slightly more room.

Seat recline is only a few inches greater than what’s offered in Main Cabin Extra, American’s extra legroom product in standard economy. This means that if the passenger in front of you reclines, you will still be able to use your laptop, and you will not feel claustrophobic like you might in Economy.

It’s worth noting that the same Premium Economy product is used on every American Airlines aircraft, so pick a bulkhead seat if you want the best seat in the cabin regardless of what aircraft you are flying.

It is also worth checking out the seat map and avoiding seats close to the toilets due to passing traffic.

Economy Vs. Premium Economy: Conclusion

I would say that the American Airlines Premium Economy is a good product and worth paying the extra if you can afford it and particularly if you are big or tall, which makes the equivalent Coach experience pretty miserable. On overnight flights, it is pretty essential for me, but on day flights under 8 hours, I can do without if I am booking with budget constraints.

Premium Economy is a great improvement over Economy, but it isn’t trying to be Business, so it isn’t a luxury experience. As a rule of thumb, I prefer to travel less and travel in more style (Business). Or fly coach and splurge on a decent hotel at the other end. Find out which has the best Premium Economy; American, Delta or United Airlines.

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