American Airlines Premium Economy
Premium Economy - Photo Credit: American Airlines

One of the most popular topics revolves around discussing how to upgrade to business class for long-haul flights. I wish it were super easy to upgrade to Flagship Business on American Airlines, but there are a few things you should consider in your quest for a seat closer to the pointy end of the plane.

The Consolation Prize – Premium Economy

Everyone wants to sit in business or first class, but not everything in life works out exactly as people desire. The true “game-changer” for long-haul flights is the class of service between business class and economy class, premium economy.

On American Airlines, the premium economy cabin is an excellent product, especially for shorter long-haul flights. American Airlines offers Premium Economy on most of its long-haul fleet, which includes 777s, 787s, and A330-200s. The seats are a step up from a US Domestic First Class seat and include inflight service and priority privileges on the ground, such as priority security and boarding.

American Airlines - Premium Economy Meal Transatlantic
It is a “dining experience,” just not certain how upgraded it truly is. – AA Transatlantic Premium Economy Meal Service

In addition to wider seats with more legroom, you will also get an upgraded dining experience with complimentary beer, wine, and spirits. The service also includes a Casper sleep set and a small amenity kit by Shinola and D.S. & Durga. A checked bag will also be part of the premium economy seat.

Why focus so much on Premium Economy when the ultimate goal is Business Class? Because sometimes, an upgrade won’t work out (“clear”), and the last thing you want is to be stuck in a middle economy seat on a packed flight. Unfortunately, when upgrades do not clear, the flights tend to be crowded, so sitting in premium economy is truly a “consolation prize.”

Buy Premium Economy and Fly Business Class

American Airlines has a great sweet spot for upgrades from Premium Economy to Business Class, which is the 15,000-mile upgrade from specific Premium Economy Fare Classes. You want to look out for the “W fare class” when booking premium economy.

While AA will call this fare class full fare premium economy, it is often not that wildly expensive. The lowest Premium Economy transatlantic seats to or from Europe on American Airlines will range from $800 to $1500 roundtrip. The more expensive Premium Economy fare-class that can upgrade for 15,000 miles will trend from $1200 to $3000 roundtrip.

Remember, you can also mix and match the lower Premium Economy fare with the higher fare or even choose to fly economy class one way. This is especially relevant when flying eastbound on the overnight redeye to Europe.

American Airlines Premium Economy - London
Always be “on the hunt” for Premium Economy Deals. Even more so, if “W” fare class.

“Inexpensive” Premium Economy Is Also Upgradeable

If you can only find an inexpensive premium economy seat, you can upgrade with a $350 co-pay and 25k miles. Definitely not as good of a deal, but something to keep in mind. This also becomes a strong consideration when you can find an amazing Premium Economy fare deal. Just this morning, I found a roundtrip Premium Economy fare from London to New York roundtrip for $874.77 (£762) roundtrip in January.

upgrade business american airlines
Your Upgrade Request Will Appear In “Your Trip”

How Do I Upgrade?

Upgrading is a somewhat manual process. You call American Airlines and have them process the upgrade or put you on the waitlist for an upgrade. You must also have the American Airlines Advantage Miles in your account. Bilt Rewards is a great currency to use to transfer to American Airlines.

If upgraded when requesting AA will re-ticket, and you will be able to choose business class seats and meals. If you are waitlisted, you will be able to see the request on your AA Account; just scroll down when viewing “Your Trip” on the AA website.

upgrade business american airlines - upgrade cleared
Once space becomes available, American Airlines will clear the upgrade and re-issue your ticket in Flagship Business Class

Do The Waitlists Really Clear?

Yes, they actually do. For example, a friend shared an upgrade that cleared today for September 27th, from Charlotte to London Heathrow. Considering that this is a Charlotte Hub flight, there is definitely truth in the fact that AA does clear the waitlist automatically.

For some insight with regard to upgrade space (before booking tickets), you can view and set alerts in ExpertFlyer. The AA Twitter Team (via Direct Message) is excellent at providing support for checking on upgrades and inquiries about upgrades.

Side note: The Twitter Team (via Twitter Direct Message) at American Airlines is excellent. Responses are usually within a few hours, and they are happy to answer questions about upgrade availability. Unfortunately, you still have to call to process or waitlist an upgrade.

If your upgrade does not clear, it will move to the gate, which becomes a bit dicier since the upgrade priority will be sorted by American Airlines Status.

You “Usually” Cannot Upgrade To Premium Economy

At this time, one can only upgrade to Premium Economy using cash or in-app offers, as there is not an award upgrade to Premium Economy at this time.

Another great tip is to always keep track of your American Airlines Reservation in the AA App. In-App upgrade offers are very hard to predict, and the app will offer them at unpredictable times. Believe it or not, you can sometimes get an offer for below $200 for an upgrade from economy class to Premium Economy even when purchasing the lowest priced basic economy fares.

Is any of this a guarantee of sitting in AA Flagship Business Class and dining on American Airlines’ rendition of artichoke ravioli? Absolutely not. American Airlines definitely provides a path to upgrading without a huge amount of friction. The upgrades are legitimately listed, and AA does clear them when the space opens up. Something to consider when shopping for your next transatlantic fare.

American Airlines - Flagship Business Meal Transatlantic
Menu writing is an “art form.” — American Airlines Flagship Business Transatlantic Meal Service

Join the Conversation


  1. Thank you very much for a super good article. If you could provide how to confirm upgrade space availability using ExpertFlyer, prior to booking, it would help a lot and if you could confirm the 24 hour cancellation policy applies, if worse case, the availability is not there.

  2. Obviously, Systemwide Upgrades are preferred when you have them. I always choose these as my “loyalty rewards”. We now book exclusively in PE and try to upgrade on all Eastbound flights. The upgrade will clear and you’ll see it on Your Trips on AA app. Your coach seat disappears- you know then you’ve been upgraded. Often this occurs outside your Priority window. No notice is given.

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