RUMOR: American Premium Economy Announcement VERY Shortly

While US airlines have offered extra legroom seating for years (American, Delta, and United have offered Main Cabin Extra, Comfort+, and Economy Plus, respectively), none have offered a formal premium economy cabin.

American-Main-Cabin-Extra
American Main Cabin Extra

It’s very popular on foreign carriers, as it’s a nice middle ground between business class (which keeps getting more spacious) and economy class (which keeps getting less spacious). The major distinction between extra legroom economy and premium economy is that seats in premium economy are usually a bit wider. Often they also come with improved amenities and service.

Cathay-Pacific-777-Business-Class-10
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy

American was considering adding premium economy

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the possibility of American introducing a premium economy cabin. This was based on an interview AusBT had with American’s CEO, where he said the following about a premium economy cabin:

“We’re looking at it,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told Australian Business Traveller earlier this month, after a pause to carefully choose his words. “We think there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

At the time I was skeptical of American introducing a premium economy product. As I outlined, there are pros and cons to such a cabin.

From American’s perspective, why should they introduce premium economy?

  • American has joint ventures with British Airways, Japan Airlines, and Qantas, all of which offer premium economy products. In order to streamline product offerings as much as possible, it could certainly make sense to offer the cabin as well, especially due to the revenue sharing arrangements in place.
  • Premium economy has big revenue potential, as it can cost considerably more than economy.
  • It could be a further way to limit upgrade potential, as they could have a policy whereby you can only upgrade one class of service, meaning you’d have to book premium economy in order to upgrade to business class, for example.

Why shouldn’t American introduce premium economy?

  • It would mean the death of Main Cabin Extra, as they can’t feasibly have both premium economy and extra legroom seating. American is earning some revenue from Main Cabin Extra and is also appeasing elites by offering it.
  • Delta and United don’t offer a premium economy product. If Delta isn’t doing something, surely American wouldn’t take a risk and do it either. Delta doesn’t seem like they’re at all considering getting rid of it, as they keep investing in the product.
  • It would be tough for American to offer the product consistently. As it stands, American has Main Cabin Extra throughout most of their fleet, both domestic and international. Premium economy would presumably only be offered throughout their longhaul fleet, so it would be tough to maintain product consistency (not that this has been a huge focus for American).

Big premium economy announcement coming shortly

Rumor has it American will announce the introduction of a premium economy cabin shortly, as early as tomorrow. This would be available on most of American’s longhaul fleet (777s, 787s, and A330s), though not on their domestic planes.

Like I said, this is a RUMOR, though I have reason to believe it’s accurate. I’d be willing to bet with near certainty that premium economy on American will be a reality soon, though I can’t guarantee the timing (though I’ve heard pretty reliably that it could be tomorrow).

I’ll certainly be watching closely for this announcement.

Bottom line

It would be interesting to see American leading the way for once among the US carriers, rather than Delta. What I care more about than premium economy as such are the implications of this in two regards:

  • Upgrades. Will it only be possible to upgrade one class of service? In other words, will it only be possible to use a systemwide upgrade to go from economy to premium economy, or from premium economy to business class? As if cutting systemwide upgrades in half for Executive Platinum members wasn’t bad enough
  • Main Cabin Extra. Will American have both Main Cabin Extra and premium economy seating? If so, will the premium economy seating come at the expense of business class seats, Main Cabin Extra seats, or regular economy seats?

Stay tuned, this should get interesting!

How do you feel about the potential of American adding premium economy to their longhaul fleet?

Comments

  1. I feel as if the airlines keep creating new revenue streams for themselves and take away from loyal fliers by reducing the benefits and mileage earning except for those paying the highest fares. Gee I wonder why.

    That would suck if they introduced premium economy before we got to use the last of our 8 system wide EXP upgrades for 16′ from coach to business.

  2. I’ve heard of product segmentation, but this is getting ridiculous. If they put this on the 77Ws that already have first, you’d have

    – First
    – Business
    – Premium Economy
    – Main Cabin Extra
    – Main Cabin

    That’s insane.

  3. Just a good excuse to win more money giving you a extra choco chip cookie.
    North American Airlines need give more service to have this kind of product in first place.

  4. An admittedly small silver lining is that preco on AA could mean AAdvantage redemptions in CX (and other) preco.

  5. @Jonathan

    I can’t imagine that American would have both Main Cabin Extra and Premium Economy on the same internationally configured plane. While they’re in the process of updating the cabin to have Premium Economy my guess is Main Cabin Extra is removed (if the rumor proves true).

  6. The best prem Y is arguably just under what int’l C was less than two decades ago, product wise (ie a wide chushy seat with a foot rest). As companies phase out paying for F and F goes away, there is very real money and economic reasons for airlines to offer a much more compact alternative to fliers than everyone getting their own bed in the sky.

    Yes, it sucks in the points and loyalty scheme but I am surprised it hasn’t caught on in the States more quickly.

  7. @Jeff +1

    Creating another cabin level on top of the existing ones would be as nuts as a major US airline switching to five award levels. Oh, wait…

  8. I would argue that Delta is effectively more than half way towards that from a ticketing point of view. Sure, Golds can take their chances to get a Comfort+ seat at T-72 hours but who in their right mind would on a long haul?

    I paid for two of those seats on a recent transpacific flight and it was totally worth it. There’s no way I could afford business class though so I can definitely see a market for a more differentiated premium economy experience.

  9. more of a process comment, but I’d really appreciate it if you sourced rumors like this. at present, I have absolutely no clue where this ‘rumor’ came from.

    what does “I’ve heard pretty reliably” mean? do you have an AA source? is this a Flyertalk rumor?

    I know you’re not operating under the Associated Press guidebook, but more info about where you’re hearing this from (even if you just say ‘an anonymous source’) would be welcomed.

  10. I think this sucks. On other airlines, PE is usually much more expensive than Y, whereas MCE, E+ or C+ are usually a more reasonable premium. For me it is all about the leg room. I could care less about a wider seat or better food. I’ll stick with Delta if AA does this.

  11. Other than that AusBT interview with Parker, what credible info would lead you to think AA is releasing a Premium Eco product tomorrow? Last time I checked, tomorrow’s the big QR announcement at JFK. I would assume AA reps will be there with QR execs being that AA/QR are oneworld partners.

    I honestly don’t see what merits a rumor article like this.

    Also, what’s the chance that tomorrow’s QR announcement will be a JV between AA/QR?

    -Max

  12. They will have Premium Economy on their long-haul fleet and they will keep the Main Cabin Extra on domestic flights. It’s also likely that they will let you upgrade only one class since this would results a lots of additional revenue for them because those who wanna fly business will be forced to buy Premium Economy tickets which are only 25-35% cheaper than Business class tickets thus they won’t loose that much on those who are traveling on Business class with award tickets.

    This is just my opinion because this seem to be logical.

  13. So going a bit further on Aquarius opinions directly above mine, if AA did change long haul from MCE to PE do you think they would just rename MCE seats and they would become PE seats or would new PE style seats be installed?

    That would stink if you had to buy a PE seat to upgrade to Biz using SWU’s.

  14. I believe Virgin Atlantic has both Premium Economy and Economy with extra legroom on some of their aircrafts, if not all of them.

  15. @rusty: Good question, I don’t know because both options are viable. For instance they can keep MCE on their long-haul flights and introduce PE at the same time because PE costs at least twice as much as economy so those people who wanna have some extra legroom and extra perks might not be able to pay 2-2.5x the price of an economy ticket but they might decide to pay an extra $100 or so for a few additional inches.

    In my opinion they can keep both. Although the fact that it’s called Premium ECONOMY is confusing because most people thinks that it’s just slightly more expansive than the regular economy but in fact it’s 2-2.5x more expensive so PE is a totally different product between Economy and Business class for a different segment. I think it can work with PE and MCE at the same time.

    We’ll see 🙂

  16. @aquarius, ugh thanks. Your theory does sound reasonable and is being echoed by JonNYC over on FT. He is being highly speculative though.

  17. I think having premium economy is good for international and transcon route like JFK-LAX/SFO…. Not sure how many passenger would pay for premium economy for short haul flight.

  18. I’m ok with this. Prem Econ is like low rent domestic first (and my employer will pay for it). Yes, it screws up uSWU, but it will hopefully be a nice BA alternative*.

    *Not a BA hater. Certainly not CX F but I have enjoyed flying with them in First and WTP. Their stews have way more personality.

  19. I also don’t see how Main Cabin Extra on domestic/shorthaul flights and Premium Economy on longhaul/international flights is an issue…since it’s pretty comparable to the difference between First Class on domestic/shorthaul flights and international First Class on longhaul/international flights, after all. Presumably, domestic flights will offer Main Cabin Extra and longhaul international flights will offer Premium Economy. Not exactly rocket science, nor difficult to implement.

    Now you’ll see the bloggers searching for the occasional repositioning flight that offers Premium Economy instead of Main Cabin Extra–like on the LAX-MIA route with the 77W!

    I expect that UA will consider longhaul Premium Economy, too–especially since it is definitely seems to be giving up on Global First. Changing out the equipment with GF in the future (and that may be quite a while in the future, based on UA comments up to date) might be more cost-effective if it simultaneously added Premium Economy. Either way, UA would have pressure to compete with AA with a Premium Economy. Wouldn’t it be funny to see AA and UA putting pressure on DL to do something for a change?

  20. I very well may be in the minority for AA EXPs on this, but I am very excited by the possibility. I do a few Australia runs a year and have typically flown CX or QF premium economy. Now that AA will become an option for that trip, I would hate life if my SWU didn’t clear and I was stuck 14 hours each way in Y. I would much rather have to pay for premium economy to use an SWU and at least know I’d be happy and comfortable for the trip if it didn’t clear. I am stoked for this (hopeful) announcement.

  21. Who’s to say that AA isn’t just planning to rebrand 3-3-3 on the 777 as Premium Econ and finding a way to transition to 3-4-3 ahead of the mid-cabin door?

    Right now they have a hodgepodge on the refitted 772s, where all MCE and a few Y- seats are 3-3-3 and then aft of door three it’s the dreaded 3-4-3. So that makes the old 3-3-3 seats “extra wide!”

  22. It feels like in the future they will divide economy based on the legroom, so you will have different class for every inch more. It starts to be ridiculous. And US carriers are leading this game. Sad thing is that EU carriers also follow this game.

  23. @preston

    It’s from flyertalker – it’s just like when lucky says he’s ‘reached out’ to an airline (he mailed/tweets their support desk). He likes to big himself up

  24. @Thomas: I think it’s the opposite. EU carriers started this crazy thing when they put 10 economy seats per row in their long-haul planes. Then they realized that it’s too tight so they introduced premium economy which costs 2.5x more than the economy seats so now they can say that if economy is too tight then get a premium economy ticket. I say this because US carriers doesn’t even have Premium Economy seats so they just follow the crowd.

    I don’t know what’s the case today with economy seats but the last time I flew two segments I was shocked how tight the BA’s economy seats are while Air China’s seats were WAY bigger. It was years ago so Air China might have changed their seats since then.

    It was a flight from PEK to PVG (772) and I even got a Haagen-Dazs ice-cream and complimentary wine. The service was unbelievably good compared to BA.

  25. As respects MCE (EC, E+, whatever) to this day I still have no idea who is actually buying these tickets? Primarly a Delta flyer myself i’ve gotten a free EC on 98% of my flights this year and i’m sure most other elites are too. But who is actually buying them on shorter flights? I paid for it going to Seoul and had a great bulkhead allowing me a halfway decent night’s sleep. But are people really shelling out an extra $40 for a free cocktail and 3-4″ of extra legroom on a LGA->ORD length flight?

    Maybe they’ve realized theyre not actually making any money on MCE so they’d be better off with a pricier premium product people might actualy want to pay for.

  26. I gave up on loyalty with last year’s overnight AA devaluation, and while I used to fly AA to Germany, now I actually buy the premium economy product on LH and it’s incredible. New planes, great service, comfortable seat from which I can work, wifi across the water, modern and expansive options on the IFE. MCE has none of that. [I guess AA doesn’t have the strikes that LH has, but so far, I’ve been unaffected]

    If AA introduces a similar product, I would consider it, but that would be alot of ground to cover, and that would be years away.

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