Main Cabin Extra is basically economy with some extra perks like more legroom, preferred boarding, and even free drinks (alcohol included). I’ve always wondered if American Airlines Main Cabin Extra was worth the extra cost and on a recent trip down to Mexico, I got to try it out two times to find out for myself.
So here’s my review of the experience and a look at things like fees, upgrade prices, boarding groups, leg room, and overhead storage space.
Table of Contents
We recently went on a little four day getaway down to Cabo to hang out with some friends at the Hyatt Ziva Cabo — a quality all-inclusive resort. We decided to fly Main Cabin Extra on the way down and business class/first class on the way back, since I always prefer the best cabin for the latter part of a trip.
- Houston (IAH) -> Dallas (DFW): American Airlines Main Cabin Extra
- Dallas (DFW) -> Cabo (SJD): American Airlines Main Cabin Extra
- Cabo (SJD) -> Dallas (DFW): American Airlines business class (domestic first class)
- Dallas (DFW) -> Houston (IAH): American Airlines first class
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- Route: Houston (IAH) -> Dallas/Ft.Worth (DFW)
- Flight No.: AA 2551
- Aircraft: 737-800
- Class: Main Cabin Extra (Economy)
- Seat: 9E
- Date: July 1, 2019
- Scheduled Departure Time: 6:16am | Actual Departure Time: 6:16 am
- Scheduled Arrival Time: 7:32am | Actual Arrival Time: 7:41am
- Flight Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
- Route: Dallas/Ft.Worth (DFW) -> Los Cabos (SJD)
- Flight No.: AA 1225
- Aircraft: 737-800
- Class: Main Cabin Extra (Economy)
- Seat: 7E
- Date: July 1, 2019
- Scheduled Departure Time: 9:18 am CDT | Actual Departure Time: 9:38 am CDT
- Scheduled Arrival Time: 11:05 MDT | Actual Arrival Time: 11:07 MDT
- Flight Time: 2 hours, 29 minutes
When it comes to domestic flights, I have flown almost exclusively with United Airlines and Southwest over the past several years. In fact, I had never flown American Airlines until this past month when we decided to book the trip from Houston to Cabo.
Award availability was surprisingly very good about 1.5 months out. We ended up booking Main Cabin flights for the flights to Cabo and business class for the flights coming back, and the tickets cost 15,000 miles plus $34.94 in fees per person. That was not bad at all considering that cash prices for this route can be $500+ per person.
Main Cabin Extra prices
Main Cabin Extra upgrade prices vary based on your route and specific seat chosen but you might be paying anywhere from $23 to $118+. Also, certain AA and oneworld elite members get upgraded to these seats for free.
We paid for the upgrade to Main Cabin Extra on both flights (IAH->DFW and DFW->SJD). The total fees for the Main Cabin Extra upgrade were $210 ($23 per person for IAH->DFW and $82 per person for DFW->SJD).
Normally, I may not have purchased Main Cabin Extra for the short flight to Dallas but I really wanted to try out two different types of Main Cabin Extra seats for the review.
We originally booked a flight departing at 5am but AA cancelled our flight the night before. Luckily, I was able to easily find the early departure we booked but that wasn’t a good start to my first ever AA experience.
We usually prefer the Centurion Lounge at IAH but since this was very early it wasn’t open. Since we were in Terminal A and flying American, we figured it was time to try our first Admirals Club.
Because we were flying Main Cabin Extra we were not given lounge access. In fact, even if we were flying business class out of Houston we would still not be given lounge access since Cabo is not an international destination that provides Admirals Club access.
Instead, I decided to use the $100 airline credit with my American Express Gold Card to purchase lounge access for the day. Day passes cost $59 per person and when you purchase a day pass you are given access for the entire day even if you are connecting at other airports.
So in this case we were essentially given lounge access at Houston and Dallas for only about $9 per person which I thought was pretty good.
The Admirals Club in Houston is a pretty small lounge but I was a big fan of the interior design. It felt very modern and fresh.
There wasn’t a whole lot to choose from for the breakfast buffet. They had a selection of fruits, hard-boiled eggs, cereals, bagels, and juices but what was about it but they do also offer hot items you can purchase.
You can read more in depth about the lounge experience here.
Boarding wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Since we were flying Main Cabin Extra, we were given what’s known as “Preferred Boarding” which is Group 5 Boarding. This is also where you’re allowed to board if you have Citi credit cards like the Platinum Select.
We simply waited for them to call up the different boarding groups and once they called for Group 5 boarding we made our way to the jet bridge. There was not any major rush to boarding so it was a pretty smooth process overall.
Main Cabin Extra cabin
The flights from IAH to DFW and DFW to SJD were both on a 737-800, so I’ll just show you one seat map below. You can also see the prices for the upgrades. The Main Cabin Extra prices are in orange while the “preferred” seats are in green. Preferred doesn’t offer better boarding groups or free alcohol — you’re just paying to not be in the back of the plane.
As you can see, there are three rows of Main Cabin Extra at the front and then another two rows of Main Cabin Extra at the emergency exit rows. Different aircraft will have different set-ups for Main Cabin Extra (more rows, etc.).
Main Cabin Extra vs premium economy
Tip: Don’t get premium economy mixed up with Main Cabin Extra. Premium economy is a different type of seat from economy/Main Cabin Extra. The seat is a little wider and offers more legroom. You also get free checked bags and priority security/boarding. You will often find premium economy on long-haul routes.
Main Cabin Extra seat
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of legroom. Depending on where you are sitting, you can get anywhere from 34 inches to 40 inches of pitch. Standard economy will have 31 inches of pitch. So that is a pretty big difference that could make a major difference on a long flight.
I am a little tall at 6’1″ and so I really appreciate having those extra few inches of leg room. You can check the photo below to see just how much legroom I had at my seat.
While you do have extra leg room the seat is still pretty much a Standard economy seat. It has a small tray table that you can put down and a pocket for literature/menus.
On the flight to Dallas, there were not any TV monitors built into the seats. Instead, there were only overhanging screens playing TV shows like the Ellen Game of Games show.
The seats come with a controller so that you can listen to the TV by switching to the right channel (they should tell you which one to use at the beginning of the flight).
Main Cabin menu availability varies based on departure time and flight length. Here’s what you can expect:
- Snacks – 5 a.m. – 8 p.m. on flights over 700 miles (about 2+ hours)
- Breakfast – 5 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. on flights over 1,100 miles (about 3+ hours)
- Light meals – 9:45 a.m. – 8 p.m. on flights over 1,100 miles (about 3+ hours)
Because this was such a short flight we were not offered much other than a bottle of water, but I still did check out the menu.
It felt like as soon as we got up in the air it was time to come back down and before I knew it we were preparing for the approach to DFW.
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Once we arrived at DFW it was time to find our connecting flight. We arrived at Terminal D and though my original itinerary had Terminal C has our connecting terminal, our flight to Cabo would be out of Terminal D, which was great since it would mean more time to relax in the Admirals Club.
So after arriving, we quickly made our way to the Admirals Club to hangout for about 40 minutes.
The Admirals Club at Terminal D is right next door to Montblanc and it was much larger than the one back in Houston as you would expect since this is an AA hub. It had tons more seating and beautiful open floor-to-ceiling windows with great views.
The bar area was also much longer.
But even though it was much larger it didn’t really offer that much more in terms of food, although they did have a small station for avocado toast with salmon which was actually very good. After hanging out for about 40 minutes we then were off to our gate at D18.
Once again, boarding went pretty smoothly and after a bit of a delay due to a broken seat we were soon off to Cabo.
This time however we had the bulkhead seats in Main Cabin Extra. These felt like they had less legroom and felt a little bit more cramped. Another issue was the overhead storage.
Since there are no seats to put your bags under the overhead storage bins tend to fill up quickly so we almost did not have room for our bags in an overhead storage bin near us which defeats the purpose of Preferred Boarding. For the reasons above, I wouldn’t ever pick the bulkhead Main Cabin Extra seats again.
On this flight they brought out the Biscoff cookies which I believe are complimentary for all passengers.
Brad was also able to order a Bloody Mary, which was complimentary for Main Cabin Extra. It’s served with a “do it yourself” kit unlike first class on AA, which serves it mixed up in glasses.
This flight would be much more enjoyable than the flight to DFW because this aircraft actually had TV monitors. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a good movie selection (all for free). This made the flight much more bearable even though this was a very short flight.
American will issue some ear buds that are branded with Avis. They’re not the highest quality but they did the trick considering I didn’t have any non-iPhone headphones with me.
I had never flown over this region of Mexico before and so it was pretty cool to check out the stunning scenery below, especially on such a clear day.
It was also a beautiful sight flying over the Gulf of California/Sea of Cortez. It is a very blue body of water and as we approached Baja California the contrast between the arid terrain and blue water was striking.
The approach into Cabo (SJD) is a very beautiful one. I will say that it was a little bit nerve-racking as we came in for landing due to the hill that the airport sits on but overall it’s definitely an approach that you want the windows open for. Here are some shots I got from the approach with the ole iPhone.
Once we landed, we quickly made our way to immigration not knowing what to expect given this was the week of July 4th. However, to my surprise, there were no other people waiting in immigration!
I’ve had some bad experiences with immigration in Mexico so this was amazing. Within a couple of minutes we were out of the airport and on our way to the Hyatt Ziva Cabo!
Overall, I enjoyed Main Cabin Extra. The additional leg room felt great and I liked that it came with other perks like Preferred Boarding and free drinks.
Yes, it can get a little pricey especially when you’re working with connections and you probably don’t really need it on short flights like these, but I like to be as comfortable as possible at all times and would gladly pay for Main Cabin Extra again (but would avoid the bulkhead).
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.