How American Airlines Fare Classes Work

American Airlines fare classes determine miles earned, available mileage upgrades and your boarding group.
JT Genter
By JT Genter 
Published

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Booking a flight used to be simple. Travelers had the option of booking a seat in either economy or first class. However, more recently, airlines like American Airlines have focused on "product segmentation" — adding in additional fare classes and cabins in an effort to maximize revenue.

Now, travelers have seemingly endless fare options when trying to book a flight. Should you book basic economy or "Main Cabin" — American Airlines' new term for a standard economy ticket? And what the heck is Main Plus? Let's dig into the American Airlines class codes, fare classes and more so you can make sense of it all.

American Airlines booking classes

American Airlines uses the following booking classes for revenue (non-award) fares:

  • Basic economy: B.

  • Main Cabin: O, Q, N, S, G, V, M, L, K, H, Y.

  • Premium economy: P, W.

  • Business class: I, R, D, C, J.

  • First class: A, F.

You'll notice that there aren't separate booking fare classes for Main Cabin Extra, Main Plus, Main Select or Flagship Business Plus as these are just add-on packages on top of the standard fare in that cabin.

American Airlines fare classes

At current count, American Airlines offers at least 11 different fare classes:

🤓Nerdy Tip

You can do a deeper dive into the fare classes in our full guide on American Airlines seat selection.

Not every flight is going to have every one of these classes. For example, a domestic U.S. flight will typically offer first class, Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin seating — with basic economy, Main Plus and maybe even Main Select fares sold on that flight.

Meanwhile, an international flight on American Airlines' flagship Boeing 777-300ER will offer Flagship first class, Flagship business class, premium economy, Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin seating — typically with basic economy, Main Plus, and sometimes Main Select fares sold in the Main Cabin and the option to buy Flagship Business Plus in business class.

American Airlines different classes of economy fares

Almost every American Airlines flight offers Main Cabin Extra, Main Cabin and basic economy fares. There are also two fare options — Main Plus and Main Select — that give you access to Main Cabin Extra seats and a few other perks.

So, let's break down the differences between these American Airlines economy fare classes:

Fare Class

Basic economy

Main Cabin

Main Cabin Extra

Main Plus

Main Select

Changes allowed

No.

Yes, with no fee.

Yes, with no fee.

Yes, with no fee.

Fully refundable.

Seat selection

For a fee.

Free for standard seats.

Complimentary for any extra-legroom seat.

Complimentary access to Main Cabin Extra and Preferred seats.

Complimentary access to Main Cabin Extra and Preferred seats.

Carry-on bag

1 personal item and 1 carry-on.

1 personal item and 1 carry-on.

1 personal item and 1 carry-on.

1 personal item and 1 carry-on.

1 personal item and 1 carry-on.

Boarding group (out of 9 groups)

Group 9 (Group 8 on certain international flights).

Group 7 and 8.

Group 5.

Group 5.

Group 4.

Alcoholic drinks

Available for purchase.

Available for purchase.

Complimentary beer, wine and spirits.

Complimentary beer, wine and spirits, when you select a Main Cabin Extra seat.

Complimentary beer, wine and spirits, when you select a Main Cabin Extra seat.

Eligible for upgrades

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

Base mileage earnings

2 miles per dollar.

5 miles per dollar.

5 miles per dollar.

5 miles per dollar.

5 miles per dollar.

Compared to other airlines — looking at you, United Airlines — American Airlines' basic economy isn't as punitive. Basic economy passengers still get a full-size carry-on bag, are able to purchase seats from the time of booking and AAdvantage elites are still eligible for upgrades to first class.

However, American Airlines passengers earn 60% fewer miles when booking a basic economy seat compared to a Main Cabin fare. Plus, you won't be able to change your booking.

Purchasing a Main Cabin fare gets you a higher mileage earning rate, free changes (though a fare difference may apply), free seat selection and a slightly earlier boarding group. However, your seat and in-flight experience will be the same — unless you purchase a Main Cabin Extra seat.

Main Cabin Extra technically isn't a different fare class. Instead, you score a couple of extra perks by purchasing a "Main Cabin Extra" extra-legroom seat — or selecting it for free if you have AAdvantage elite status. In addition to extra legroom, perks include an earlier boarding group and complimentary beer, wine and spirits. However, you still generally get the same seat type and service as Main Cabin.

Main Plus is essentially a fare class package that adds a free checked bag and Main Cabin Extra on top of a standard Main Cabin ticket.

Likewise, Main Select is a different type of fare package that makes your fare fully refundable, bumps you up to Group 4 priority boarding and lets you make confirmed flight changes the day of departure. However, you don't get a free checked bag with this option.

Why do American Airlines class codes matter?

If you're opting to earn AAdvantage miles on an American Airlines flight, your booking class generally doesn't matter. If you booked basic economy, you'll earn a base of 2 miles per eligible dollar spent. Otherwise, you'll earn a base of 5 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent. And AAdvantage elites earn a bonus on top of those base earning rates.

However, your booking class matters if you booked a special fare (e.g. as part of a package), plan to apply a mileage upgrade or plan to credit your flight to another mileage program. In these cases, your American Airlines class codes will determine how many miles you earn or how much your upgrade will cost.

For instance, let's take a flight from New York-John F. Kennedy to Los Angeles. Booking a $108 one-way basic economy fare will earn a base AAdvantage member 174 miles (2x the base fare of $87). If you book the flight as part of a package, it may code as a special fare and earn 248 miles (10% of the 2,475-mile distance). Or, you can credit this basic economy flight to British Airways to earn 619 Avios (25% of the 2,475-mile distance).

However, if you select the $153 Main Cabin fare instead, you'll earn 645 AAdvantage miles (619 if booked as a special fare) or 619 Avios. Plus, you gain the ability to upgrade this fare to business class for 15,000 miles plus $75 — if there's upgrade availability.

If you book at the last-minute or a flight is almost sold out, you'll likely book into a higher American Airlines fare class. AAdvantage mileage earnings would still be calculated based on the cost, but you'll earn additional miles when crediting to another mileage program.

How do I find my fare class on American Airlines?

When you’re shopping for a ticket on American, the fare classes are listed under "Details" under each departure time.

Click the "Details" button and a screen will pop up with class code info, broken out by ticket type.

For example, in the screenshot above, the flight from Chicago to Dallas has the following fare classes: B in basic economy, N in main cabin and I in first class.

How to earn AAdvantage miles quickly

You can stock up on miles for booking American flights by applying for one of the following cards and meeting the requirements for the welcome offer.

Cards for booking American flights
Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard Credit Card
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Citibank's application

Rates & Fees
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

Bilt World Elite Mastercard Credit Card
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Bilt's website

Rates & Fees
Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Bank of America's website

Annual fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $99
$95
None
$95
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If you're a loyalist, applying for an American Airlines credit card can be a smart money move. But if you value flexibility, consider other card options that allow you to transfer points to AAdvantage or book American flights without "chaining" you to a single brand.

  • AAdvantage is a partner of Marriott Bonvoy. You can transfer points to American from the hotel brand at a 3:1 ratio.

  • Bilt Rewards is a unique program that allows members to earn points on rent, then transfer to eligible programs for travel bookings. AAdvantage is an option for 1:1 transfers.

  • Because of a special partnership between Alaska Airlines and American, members in either program can use their miles to book flights with either brand.

Unfortunately, AAdvantage is not a transfer partner of any of the major bank / transferable points programs (Chase, American Express, Capital One or Citi).

American Airlines classes and fares recapped

American Airlines offers a large variety of fare classes and booking codes.

While the alphabet soup of booking fare codes has been a part of airlines for years, new American Airlines fare classes like Main Plus, Main Select and Flagship Business Plus add new complications when travelers are booking a flight.

However, knowing the differences between the fare classes and picking the right one can help you get the features you value most — whether that's an extra legroom seat or higher mileage earnings.

(Top photo courtesy of American Airlines)

The information related to Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

Cards for American Airlines from our Partners
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
Citibank Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® Credit Card

on Citibank's application

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
4.6
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x

Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases.

Miles

Intro offer

100,000

For a limited time, earn 100,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $10,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.

Miles
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
See more cards
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