What to Know Before Flying American Airlines

Here's everything you need to know before you fly the largest airline in the world.

With nearly 6,700 daily flights serving destinations in over 50 countries around the world, American Airlines (and its regional partner, American Eagle) is the nation's largest passenger airline. Whether you're a dedicated American Airlines credit card holder or simply fly with whichever carrier has the best flights for you, you're likely to find yourself aboard an American Airlines flight at some point in your travels.

American Airlines
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With a range of fare classes, forgiving flight change policies, and a variety of seat styles and configurations, there's a lot to consider before booking your next flight with American Airlines.

American Airlines Fare Classes

American Airlines offers eight fare classes with select amenities at a wide range of price points. Note that the amenities and services offered can change depending on the plane type and the destination.

Flagship First

Flagship First is the airline's most premium experience (only available on long-distance flights with Boeing 777-300 aircraft), with a private check-in process, priority privileges (for quickly getting through check-in, security, and boarding), lounges, and five-star service. During the flight, passengers can sleep in lie-flat seats, indulge in chef-inspired dining, and stay pampered with Shinola and D.S. & Durga amenity kits and Casper sleep sets. In 2024, American Airlines is expected to launch an even more premium experience with Flagship Suites.

Flagship Business

This class offers many of the same perks as Flagship First, including priority privileges and lounge access at the airport, as well as spacious lie-flat seats, elevated dining, and the aforementioned amenity kits. However, the seats are not as large. You can also upgrade to Flagship Business Plus, which will include up to three checked bags and access to pre-flight Flagship Dining.

First Class

This is the highest level of service on flights across the United States, and passengers can expect priority privileges at the airport. During the flight, they'll enjoy premium dining and comfortable seats with more space than the typical economy seats. First-class and Flagship customers will board the plane in Group 1. Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews about first class show a wide range of experiences: While some customers appreciate the more spacious seats, others criticize the service and lack of decent snacks or meals.


Business is the highest level of service on shorter international flights to destinations like Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, and more. Before the flight, passengers can enjoy priority privileges, lounge access (for some flights), and more, plus wider seats with more legroom and premium dining (including alcoholic beverages). Business-class travelers board the plane with Group 1 or 2.

Premium Economy

This class is a step up from a Main Cabin fare, with priority privileges at the airport and more spacious seats, free entertainment, chef-inspired dining, and amenity kits (for select flights) on board. These passengers board the plane in Group 4, ahead of the Main Cabin passengers.

Main Cabin Extra

Main Cabin Extra offers the same advantages as a Main Cabin fare plus perks like early boarding, extra legroom, and complimentary snacks and drinks (including alcoholic beverages). These travelers can board the aircraft in Group 5 ahead of other Main Cabin passengers.

The Main Cabin

This is a standard economy class that includes seat selection and free snacks. Your ticket also includes one personal item and one carry-on bag, but no checked bags. If you're on a long-haul flight, you can expect in-flight meals.

Basic Economy

The lowest-cost fare has the most restrictions. While passengers can still enjoy free snacks, soft drinks, and entertainment, they can't choose their seats without paying a fee. (If you choose to skip the fee to select your seat, members of your party may be separated.) This group typically boards the aircraft last.

American Airlines agents help passengers to check in their flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport May 25, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

American Airlines Flight Change and Cancellation Policies

If you need to make a change to your ticket, you have a 24-hour window from the time of booking to do so without being charged a fee. Basic economy fares can't be changed, so if you can't make the flight you will lose what you paid for the ticket.

Excluding basic economy tickets, which are completely nonrefundable, American Airlines has a forgiving policy when it comes to making changes and canceling flights. If you change your flight to a more expensive option, you will have to pay the difference, but if your new flight is less expensive, you will receive a travel credit for the difference. If you cancel a non-refundable ticket, you will receive a flight credit for future travel.

Baggage Policies and Fees

All fares include one free carry-on bag (that does not exceed 22 x 14 x 9 inches) and one free personal item that can fit under the seat in front of you. Customers in first class can bring two to three complimentary checked bags that weigh up to 70 pounds (depending on the aircraft), business-class passengers can check two complimentary bags that weigh up to 70 pounds, Premium Economy passengers can carry two complimentary bags that weigh up to 50 pounds, and Main Cabin passengers can bring up to two 50-pound bags (but they will likely have to pay a fee, typically around $30 for the first checked bag).

While some online reviewers criticize the baggage fees or say they were unaware that they had to pay, the headache of a surprise cost can be avoided if you do your research before your flight. Exact policies and fees can vary depending on your fare class, destination, military status, credit card or airline status, and number and weight of the bags. You can find more details on the American Airlines website.

Seats and Legroom

Thanks to a range of fare classes and different airplane configurations, exact legroom and seat design can vary from flight to flight. Flagship fares include lie-flat seats for the most spacious and comfortable experience, while first and business class still provide wider seats and more legroom than typical Main Cabin seats. To find the exact seat pitch and width for your flight, look up your plane type on the American Airlines website. You can also use sites like SeatGuru to research your exact plane layout ahead of time to find the most desirable seats. American Airlines received 3.5 stars for legroom on TripAdvisor, which has over 70,000 reviews of the airline.

An interior view of an American Airlines B737 MAX airplane is seen at Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas on December 2, 2020.
COOPER NEILL/AFP via Getty Images

Amenities and Entertainment

Passengers in all classes can enjoy free entertainment on most flights and purchase Wi-Fi on select planes. They can stream movies, music, TV shows, and more (including Apple Music and Apple TV+) from their personal phones, tablets, laptops, or their seat-back entertainment system on select flights. Passengers can also learn new skills or even a new language, thanks to Skillshare and Rosetta Stone, available on the Lifestyle channel. Yelp reviewer Greg T. commended the airline's planes but pointed out the need to use personal devices to stream, saying, "The planes I have flown on with American usually seem to be in good repair, clean, and as comfortable as an airplane can be. My only complaint would be the trend to make you use your own electronics to access the entertainment — I prefer the seat back screens!"

Depending on the destination and flight length, Main Cabin tickets could include soft drinks and a snack, a meal, and even an alcoholic beverage (on some long-haul international flights). Additional snacks and beverages — wine, beer, and spirits — can be purchased on flights over 250 miles. First-class fares include snacks and alcoholic beverages, with larger meals on longer flights. TripAdvisor reviewer Anthony H. described the food, saying, "AA has improved their in-flight food and beverage for the main meals, although, frankly, it's still airplane food."

American Airlines Credit Cards

Frequent American Airlines fliers might want to take advantage of the perks offered by the airline's credit cards. There are four Citi/American Airlines credit cards.

  • AAdvantage MileUp Mastercard: This card has no annual fee and offers 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after $500 in purchases within the first three months.
  • Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard: You'll earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months, and the $99 annual fee is waived for the first year. This card also gets holders their first checked bag free on domestic American Airlines flights and preferred boarding.
  • Citi/AAdvantage Executive Mastercard: This card has an annual fee of $450 and offers 50,000 bonus miles plus 10,000 elite qualifying miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months, plus it includes an Admirals Club membership.
  • CitiBusiness/AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard: You'll earn 65,000 bonus miles after $4,000 in purchases in the first four months, and its annual fee of $99 is waived for the first year.

You can find full details about these cards' perks and mileage benefits on the American Airlines website.

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