Should You Upgrade From Business To First Class On American?

Reader Kevin asked the following question in the “Ask Lucky” forum:

So I know you’ve had a lot of experience on the American 77W. I’ve got a trip DFW-HKG booked later this year on the 77W in Business, and according to ExpertFlyer, a bunch of upgrade space just opened up to First. Should I use an SWU on that? Do you think it’s worth it?

It’s a great question! I’ve flown almost a dozen segments in American international first class this year, including the following:

I’ve also extensively reviewed American’s new business class, including on the following flights:

The flight Kevin is looking at is between Hong Kong and Dallas, which is operated by one of American’s 777-300ERs. That’s important to note, because American has a fantastic reverse herringbone business class product on the 777-300ER, which is arguably my favorite business class hard product in the world.

American-Business-Class

American-Business-Class-777-03

American also has eight first class seats on the 777-300ER. While the business class hard product is fantastic, the first class hard product is lackluster. That prompted me to write a post a while back entitled “Why Does American Bother With International First Class?” The first class product is still in a 1-2-1 configuration, and arguably the seats are even less private than the business class seats.

American-777-First-Class-01

American-First-Class-777-02

American-First-Class-777-03

With that in mind, let’s look at the pros and cons of upgrading.

Why I would upgrade to first class

  • This is the longest route in American’s system, so there’s no better bang for your buck in terms of time in an upgraded seat.
  • American does have better amenities in first class, including pajamas, an extra pillow, and a (very thin) mattress pad.
  • The wine selection will be better in first class than business class.
  • Service could be considerably better in first class. I find the senior DFW crews to be polarizing. Some of American’s best pursers are those based in Dallas with 40+ years seniority, and they literally do first class service like the “good old days,” even if they don’t have much to work with. So theoretically you have a better chance of having exceptional service. That being said, I find American also has some really bitter DFW based pursers, so that’s not a guarantee.

American-777-First-Class-06

Why I wouldn’t upgrade to first class

What’s not necessarily working in favor of upgrading?

  • As an Executive Platinum/oneworld Emerald member, you’ll get the same lounge access regardless of whether you’re an Emerald or first class passenger (for example, you can access Cathay Pacific’s The Wing First Class Lounge either way)
  • The food in first class is at best marginally better than in business class. It amazes me that American can’t do more to differentiate the soft product. But I wouldn’t book first class in hopes of having a better meal.

Cathay-Pacific-The-Wing-Lounge-06

How would I decide whether to upgrade or not?

While I’m generally a pretty conservative person, my approach is typically the opposite when it comes to upgrade instruments and miles. Generally I need a pretty compelling reason to not do everything in my power to fly the best cabin possible.

Why? Because miles devalue over time, and in the case of upgrade instruments, they typically expire at some point.

So in Kevin’s case, I’d be deciding whether or not to upgrade based on what I could otherwise use the systemwide upgrades for. Personally I’d prioritize an upgrade from:

  • Economy to business class on the 777-200 or 777-300ER
  • Business class to first class on the 777-200 (given that business class on that plane is angled, so there’s a bigger difference in terms of the quality of product)

But without all systemwide upgrades being accounted for from the above circumstances, I’d absolutely upgrade. This is a long flight, and even if the experience is only marginally better, I think it’s worth it.

I’m curious to hear from you guys — would you upgrade from business to first class between Dallas and Hong Kong on the American 777-300ER?

Comments

  1. Due to the length of the flight, I would go for it.
    Ben, just read that terrific article on you. Great piece and I love the background story. I know so much more about you now! Hats off to your parents!

  2. Hey Lucky,

    Thanks so much for not only answering my question, but answering it in a post on the blog! I confirmed the upgrade with an SWU. Looking forward to it!

  3. Pretty much agree with your analysis. However, I might also consider using an SWU from Y > J on the 763, as well as on the transcons where complimentary upgrades tend to be difficult, before upgrading J > F on the 77W.

  4. Kevin, using an EVIP is a no brainier on this flight. Seat is wider and you will ultimately be more comfortable. Don’t be afraid to use your FA call button to get the service you desire. Consider now that there will be very few J to F markets to use systemwide upgrades. If it is available grab it now.

  5. Our 8 waitlited upgrades from business to first DFW-HKG-DFW cleared last Friday. Now I dont feel as guilty for spending $15k on 6 r/ts US-HKG-US in 30 minutes. This will be the most comfy EXP re-qualification ever! 🙂

  6. @ Ben — You left off the most important reason for upgrading — FCQ avoiding the peasantry. 🙂

  7. @Gene – Please tell us you didn’t spend $15,000 just to re-qualify for ExP and that you have a reasons to go to HKG aside from 6 outrageously priced MRs.

  8. Reverse herringbone is definitely the best type of herringbone!

    I will say the service I received on AA DFW-SCL (old 777 config) in First was fantastic. Both flight attendants were very friendly and seemed to really enjoy their jobs. The only negative was AA pajamas run big if you’re a smaller person.

  9. Nope. Primarily spent the money for two people to requalify. I know it sounds outrageous, but it will be great fun and a huge timesaver vs adding domestic mile runs to our usual travel. Plus, it is in line with our usual spending at about 8-10 cpQM, so not as outrageous as it appears at first glance.

  10. @ Todd — Plus we will earn at least 270,000 miles, which is worth roughly $4500-$5000, depending on who you ask.

  11. Having just flown the DFW-HKG in First and HKG-DFW in Business (Mini cabin) about a week ago I have a few observations.
    I think the upgrade is worth it if it doesn’t cost you much value. This is a very long flight. I didn’t notice a big difference in food but the service and privacy was slightly better. The First seat is slightly better as far as comfort and padding I think. The First class Lav situation is better with only 8 people in First.
    The First middle seats are a little more private than the window seats in my opinion (I know weird but the way the window seats are set up they aren’t as private I don’t think).
    I think the window seats in business are more private than the middle business seats.
    The flights are so long you will likely sleep, eat and watch movies so the window view isn’t that important except on the climb out of HKG on the return. The return HKG-DFW flight is more of a day time flight but you will still sleep a lot I think.
    The Business and First gets you HKG lounge access on the return if you don’t already have AC membership. I liked the Hong Kong Airlines lounge a little better out of the choices I had available.

  12. Both AA and United should be ashamed to say they offer first class. The seats, beverage, food, service, etc… is a joke when compared to real first class from European/Asian/ME airlines. I would not spend 1 miles to upgrade from business to first on US airlines. Kudos to Delta for not even offering that lie to its customers.

  13. I’d say YES because you can upgrade with an instrument from any fare with no restrictions (vs UA where you must have the higher business class fares to use an instrument – sigh) . It would be nice (but wishful thinking on my part) if UA wasn’t so restrictive with these instruments… ENJOY!

  14. I don’t fly often but I did JFK-SFO recently and used certs to go from revenue Biz to FC………it’s the first First Class flight I have enjoyed domestically since the old Chocolate Sundae United FC days………..The food still six but the seat, privacy and entertainment were superb! No comparison to the old plane domestic FC…….

  15. If this was an unconverted 772, I would without question upgrade (in order to get into a lie-flat seat). In this case, I would only upgrade if I were certain that I was not going to run out of upgrades later in the year. It would be terrible to use a SU here only to find your self sitting in coach later this year because you were out of upgrades.

  16. I would if I have 4+ systemwides available for later. At least there is a bot so good turndown available, as compared that J doesn’t.

  17. I’m flying to London next month and one seat opened up in F for 62.5K. I figured this was a great use of miles, but now am having second thoughts and thinking I might just redeem for 50K in J if it opens up on day of flight.

    Ben, you want to weigh in?

  18. Why I wouldn’t upgrade to first class
    3. Save mile for better upgrade (like Ethiad/JAL/Cathay)

  19. In my opinion, Ben has nailed it as far as the positives and negatives. I have flown the DFW route in FC and it is worth the upgrade.

  20. @ Michael — Personally, for an extra 12,500 miles I think it’s well worth it. I’d go for it.

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