American Airlines is introducing premium economy on their Boeing 787-9 aircraft which will go into domestic service in October and will launch internationally in November.
The airline won’t actually sell tickets for premium economy right away, for the first few months of the service the seats will be treated like “Main Cabin Extra” — bookable by elite frequent flyers for free, and eligible for buy up by other passengers.
It’s pretty clear that upgrades will be offered one cabin only, meaning once they start selling premium economy as a separate cabin early next year that economy tickets will upgrade to premium economy on aircraft with that cabin — and not to business class.
I expected this to be something akin to what Delta has done with their extra legroom product. American offers Main Cabin Extra which is just extra legroom seating. Delta bundles their extra legroom with free drinks and snacks (depending on flight length).
Extra Legroom Main Cabin Extra Seats
Delta treats their Comfort+ seats as a separate fare class, with ‘upgrades’ from an exit row aisle seat in regular economy to a middle seat in Comfort+. With Delta looking to upsell over 70% of domestic first class seats, the fear is that Comfort+ becomes the new elite upgrade (Delta is trying to upsell those, too).
On this morning’s American Airlines earnings call Scott Kirby, in response to a question about an hour in, added some color to domestic premium economy.
Update: The call is now archived online. Here’s the quote from Scott Kirby 1:02:10 into the call.
Basic economy I think will start to have an impact in March of next year. Premium economy while we’ll roll it out at some point in ’17.. we’re going to treat premium economy like a separate cabin, essentially, so different than what other airlines might call premium economy today, more expansive, more what it looks like, more how it’s treated internationally or how we’re going to treat it internationally.. as a separate cabin, and because of that it will have an impact on the frequent flyer program so that will probably be for 2018 really because we’ll need to tell our frequent flyers in advance how it impacts the frequent flyer program.
- American plans to treat domestic premium economy as a separate cabin, which he contrasted with how competitors (read: Delta) handle it. He described domestic premium economy as being closer to what they envision for international.
- He explained that they won’t see a revenue impact from this until 2018 because of the impact it will have on the frequent flyer program and the need to tell AAdvantage members about it in advance.
The one good thing here is Scott Kirby’s internalizing the need to tell customers about changes to their benefits in advance. That’s a big swing from how US Airways used to make changes, and the approach first introduced after the merger (the April 8, 2014 massacre).
The bad news is that domestic premium economy will come with major changes to elite benefits. American hasn’t said what those are, but it seems likely that centers around upgrades.
American Airlines Domestic First Class
What do you expect the introduction of a new domestic cabin to mean for elite upgrades?