How to Book Premium Economy Awards on American and Its Partners

Ramsey QubeinJuly 28, 2020
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American Airlines has been improving its award search engine, offering the ability to search for premium economy awards online. This requires using the new version of search functionality. Sometimes the AA.com homepage defaults to the original version, which does not list premium economy as an award option. That’s why it is important to use this link to access the new search function.

Otherwise, if you prefer to log in from AA.com without going through the special link, be sure to click on “Advanced/Multi-City Search” to take you to a second page.

There, be sure to tick the box for “Redeem miles” near the top, which will reveal a second link that serves as an option to use the new search tool. Click on that statement: “Try our new award booking search, including Premium Economy.” It’s a bit of a clunky and roundabout way to search for award flights, but at least the option is now available without having to call a reservation agent. We’re all for greater efficiency and multitasking.

Since premium economy is relatively new to American over the past few years, it has created a special award chart to list prices for these awards. Awards are categorized from the lowest MileSAAver option to the highest AAnytime Level 2 awards.

Premium economy cabins are only available on American’s widebody aircraft on long-haul international flights (with the exception of Hawaii and some Alaska flights). If you are flying a widebody flight within the United States on other routes, elite members can select premium economy seats (since there is no premium economy service sold), and other travelers can pay an extra fee — although the in-flight service remains similar to the main cabin.

In addition, AAdvantage members can also redeem miles for premium economy awards on Oneworld partners British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, Japan Airlines and Qantas using the same search tool on aa.com. American has created a separate award chart to display award pricing for premium economy on partners. This partner chart shows how AAdvantage has only one price (not variable pricing with AAnytime awards) for partners.

How to search for award availability?

When doing a search for premium economy using the designated link, you will notice that there is no specific drop-down selection for it at the beginning of the search. Select “Show all” so that all cabins appear in the search. Later, when the first round of search results appear, there will be another opportunity to sort flights by cabin in the calendar search. We will show you that shortly.

Once your search results appear, you can select various dates from the top to show availability. One annoying feature is that if you choose to sort by price “low to high,” the website sorts by economy class.

Another important point to consider is to remain attentive to all of the search options on the page. It is easy to focus on the one cabin you want, but take note that premium economy awards may be close to the price of a business class award in some cases.

Like the rest of American’s award pricing, premium economy operates in a somewhat dynamic way. In the example above, the premium economy price from the award chart should be 40,000 miles one-way between New York and London, but we see it pricing slightly less at 36,000 miles. Business, as well, is priced 3,500 miles lower than the usual 57,500-mile award in the same search. In this example, both premium economy and business awards are lower than usual, but that won’t always be the case.

In another search for different dates, the prices were much higher in both cabins. Consider the destination, too, because the award chart pricing can differ and be more similar to business class (or vice versa and closer to economy class pricing). This might affect your decision of whether or not to purchase it. When introducing the new charts, American did not raise the pricing of other cabins; it simply (and fairly) priced premium economy in between economy and business class awards.

Now, here’s how to search for premium economy awards via calendar search, which appears in the top right of the initial award result screen. You can choose from the drop down menu the cabin you want to search. This helps to sort the lowest award prices among premium economy flights, as in the example above.

Another important note is that if you are booking a multi-segment itinerary including one flight where premium economy is not offered, you are assigned a seat in the main cabin. The indication that one flight is in a lower cabin comes in the red alert saying “the class of service you searched may not be available on one or more flights.” In the example above, the first flight is operated on a 737, which does not feature premium economy, so a main cabin seat is provided. The Iberia flight does feature premium economy, and this award provides premium economy seating for that segment.

What are American’s routing rules?

One thing that can be quite restrictive with American’s award tickets is the set of routing rules. American lays this out in cryptic detail at the bottom of its award chart. The goal is to encourage travelers to take the most direct routing between two points, which can be difficult when searching for award space or flying from airports with less frequent service.

For example, the asterisk next to Africa means that travel between the United States and Africa can only transit via transatlantic travel. This means you must travel British Airways or Iberia if trying to redeem a premium economy award to Africa. You cannot take Cathay Pacific, for example, and fly on a transpacific flight to reach Johannesburg.

There’s another symbol next to Asia and Australia travel indicating that, between the United States and these regions, only transpacific flights are permitted. You cannot travel via South America or across the Atlantic to go “the long way,” even if you find award space available.

A third notation for travel to the Indian subcontinent explains that award travel can be either transatlantic or transpacific. If the latter, it is only permitted via Hong Kong as a connection point. You cannot travel on Japan Airlines via Tokyo, for example, when booking a premium economy award from the United States to India. If going across the Atlantic, awards can be booked with a combination of partners. For premium economy, that would include American, British Airways and Iberia.

There are some exceptions to these rules, but American does not publish these publicly, so they’re not a sure bet.

What does premium economy include?

On American, the seats are similar to what one might find on domestic first class aircraft with more space to work or relax. Onboard amenities include free alcoholic drinks, upgraded in-flight meals, priority boarding, two free checked bags, and larger pillow and blanket from Casper. Noise-reducing headphones and an amenity kit are provided on international flights.

Each airline will provide a slightly different experience and seat design. For example, British Airways World Traveller Plus cabin (its name for premium economy) will certainly differ from Iberia’s. Luckily, all will be superior to what you might find at the back of the plane, and every additional inch counts when it comes to a long flight.

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