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Upgrades to American's domestic premium economy (Main Cabin Extra) foreshadow a better experience for elite travelers — but also the potential beginnings of an entirely new class of service.

Improvements to American’s domestic premium economy — branded as Main Cabin Extra — are officially coming down the line based on news leaked in an internal company memo.

The memo, which was leaked by the blog The Forward Cabin and picked up widely, reports domestic passengers in American’s Main Cabin Extra cabin will soon be given a free premium (i.e. alcoholic) beverage of choice as well as dedicated overhead bin space.

Most passengers currently traveling in American’s economy or premium economy sections are required to pay for alcohol.

American’s move is the latest among the U.S. carriers to better fortify and segment domestic premium economy cabins from the rest of the aircraft. In flights with Delta’s Comfort+ cabins, for example, travelers also get amenity kits, blankets and headphones.

In adding the new perks, airlines hope to better entice travelers to book the premium cabins and — more importantly — pay for the privilege to do so. It won’t be cheap, either. A typical round-trip flight on Delta from San Francisco to JFK could cost around $280 in economy, but Comfort+ costs nearly twice that at $478.

American’s Main Cabin Extra isn’t like Delta’s Comfort+ (yet). Main Cabin Extra seats are booked during seat selection and for elite members of the AAdvantage program, selection is free. But as Gary Leff at View From the Wing points out, as American’s premium economy becomes more segmented, it may soon end up being its own costlier class of service like Comfort+.

Despite the looming out-of-pocket costs, passengers also seem to be willing to absorb them — largely in an effort to escape the tightening confines of economy cabins. And airlines are responding. Last week, United rolled out plans to launch international premium economy cabins in short order behind American and Delta. As demand for the cabins grows, more routes will surely show up with premium economy seating.

As for American, the memo didn’t reveal a timeline for its Main Cabin Extra updates, but it did indicate that they would be in place by the end of the year.

— Grant Martin

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Tags: american airlines, loyalty, premium economy

Photo credit: Pictured is Main Cabin Extra seating on an American 777. American announced new benefits to its Main Cabin Extra seating. American Airlines

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