Main Cabin Extra on American Airlines: A Guide - NerdWallet (2022)

What used to be simply seating with extra legroom has received an upgrade, and it even has a new name — American Airlines Main Cabin Extra. Yes, you'll still get extra legroom, and that's why many travelers will book it. However, American Airlines has differentiated Main Cabin Extra from standard economy with perks like early boarding and a complimentary alcoholic drink.

Here are all the details of Main Cabin Extra on American Airlines — including how to book it for free.

What to expect flying American Airlines Main Cabin Extra

So, what is Main Cabin Extra on American Airlines, and how has it changed?

American Airlines launched Main Cabin Extra in 2012 with just two perks: extra legroom and earlier boarding. Then in 2018, it sweetened Main Cabin Extra with two additional perks.

Main Cabin Extra on American Airlines: A Guide - NerdWallet (1)

First, Main Cabin Extra passengers get a complimentary alcoholic drink. Plus, American Airlines added new placards to the overhead bins to identify them as reserved for Main Cabin Extra passengers.

Between extra legroom, preferred boarding and reserved overhead bin space, Main Cabin Extra removes some of the key pain points of flying American Airlines economy. And the free alcoholic drink is just a (boozy) cherry on top of that.

» Learn more: How to save money flying on American Airlines

How to book Main Cabin Extra

Any American Airlines economy passenger can book Main Cabin Extra — including basic economy passengers. All you need to do is select a Main Cabin Extra seat at booking, anytime before your flight or during check-in. Prices for the boost to Main Cabin Extra start at just $20 each way.

Main Cabin Extra prices vary based on the length of the flight and the type of seat. Window and aisle seats often cost more than middle seats, and seats in the front of the cabin can cost more than those further back.

Main Cabin Extra on American Airlines: A Guide - NerdWallet (2)

For example, a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to London offered Main Cabin Extra seats that varied in price from an extra $89 for further-back, middle seats to $132 for window and aisle seats near the front of the cabin.

Meanwhile, Main Cabin Extra seats on a short flight from Charlotte to Columbia, South Carolina, can cost just $22 for the bulkhead and emergency exit rows and $27 for other Main Cabin Extra rows.

If you book an American Airlines basic economy fare, you can still select Main Cabin Extra seats. However, the prices are generally slightly higher. For example, the same seats from Charlotte to Columbia cost $25 instead of $22 and $30 instead of $27.

» Learn more: American Airlines main cabin versus basic economy

American Airlines premium economy vs. Main Cabin Extra

Main Cabin Extra was previously the highest level of service offered on American Airlines shy of business class. However, in 2017, American was the first U.S. airline to introduce a true premium economy product. Now, you can fly American Airlines premium economy on all long-haul international and select domestic routes.

Both premium economy and Main Cabin Extra offer more legroom and complimentary alcoholic drinks. However, premium economy offers a larger seat, even more legroom, more perks — like noise-canceling headphones, a Casper sleep set and an amenity kit — plus better catering.

Of course, these premium economy perks come at a much higher price. If you're just looking for extra legroom and a free drink, Main Cabin Extra might be all that you need.

» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now

How American Airlines Main Plus works

On certain routes, American Airlines "Main Plus" upgrades are available. The Main Plus package of perks includes complimentary access to Main Cabin Extra or preferred seats, an additional checked bag and Group 5 preferred boarding.

If the other perks of a Main Plus ticket are worth the upgrade fee, you can see this as a way to book Main Cabin Extra seats for nothing additional out-of-pocket.

It's important to note that you won't automatically get the perks of Main Cabin Extra — such as dedicated overhead bin access and a free alcoholic beverage — just by upgrading to Main Plus. Instead, you'll need to select a Main Cabin Extra seat to get these perks. So, make sure to check the seat map to see if Main Cabin Extra seats are available before upgrading to Main Plus.

» Learn more: American Airlines bag fees — how they work, how to avoid them

Ways to get American Airlines Main Cabin Extra for free

Good news if you want to book Main Cabin Extra but the price makes you balk. American Airlines passengers can leverage elite status, pay with miles or purchase a Main Plus package to get Main Cabin Extra for no additional cost.

Leverage elite status

All AAdvantage elite members and Oneworld elite status members can select American Airlines Main Cabin Extra seats for free. However, this perk is offered at different times depending on your elite status level.

AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elite members get to select Main Cabin Extra seats for free at any time. However, AAdvantage Gold elites need to wait until 24 hours prior to departure before getting complimentary access.

Similarly, Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald elite status members through Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Finnair, Qatar Airways or Japan Airlines can select Main Cabin Extra seats for free at any time. However, Oneworld Ruby elite members of these programs will need to wait until 24 hours before departure to select Main Cabin Extra seats for free.

» Learn more: What to know about American Airlines elite status

Consider paying with miles

AAdvantage members can redeem miles to pay for Main Cabin Extra. The mileage cost is typically the cash cost times 100. That means a Main Cabin Extra seat that would cost $30 would require 3,000 AAdvantage miles to select.

This means you're only getting 1 cent per mile from this redemption. That's well below NerdWallet's baseline valuation of 1.5 cents per AAdvantage mile. However, redeeming American Airlines miles for a Main Cabin Extra seat can make sense if your mileage balance is too low to book a more valuable award flight.

» Learn more: The best American Airlines credit card offers

Upgrading to Main Plus

The Main Plus package automatically includes the seating and preferred boarding perks of a Main Cabin Extra ticket, plus the additional benefit of a checked bag for free. While not without its costs, you can scoop up some of the Main Cabin Extra benefits without paying extra.

» Learn more: Easiest ways to redeem American Airlines miles

Is Main Cabin Extra worth it on American Airlines?

American Airlines Main Cabin Extra is far from the most luxurious seat that the airline offers. However, perks like extra legroom, earlier boarding, guaranteed overhead bin space and an alcoholic drink will likely make your overall economy experience more pleasant.

But if you're looking for an even higher level of service and can't afford business class, American Airlines premium economy or the Main Plus package might be a better choice.

If you're seriously considering Main Cabin Extra, see if you can leverage elite status or AAdvantage miles to select it for no additional cost. Otherwise, check to see if it's worth upgrading to a Main Plus package — you’ll get a free checked bag and the opportunity to choose a Main Cabin Extra seat.

(Top photo courtesy of American Airlines)

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