Simultaneously My Favorite & Least Favorite American Flight

We all have different preferences when it comes to what time of day we like to fly. Over the years I’ve become a morning person, so in general:

  • I love a 5-6AM flight, as it allows me to avoid traffic heading to the airport, and allows me to avoid the crowds once I get there
  • If I can’t do that, I prefer to take a flight leaving between 11AM and 2PM, give or take; I like to avoid the “morning rush” (around 7AM to 10AM) and “evening rush” (around 4PM to 8PM), and also don’t like to fly too late since I tend to go to bed early

Those are my general preferences. Of course this is more of an issue in some markets than others, as there’s more traffic to account for in New York City than in Paro, for example.

However, I have one flight I just took (and that I’ve taken a couple of times in the past) that I simultaneously love and loathe.

American’s A321 transcon service

American operates specially configured three cabin A321 aircraft between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco. As an Executive Platinum member you receive complimentary upgrades on this route from economy to business class, though I’ve been finding that these upgrades are getting progressively tougher to clear.

American-A321-1
American’s A321 business class seat

To me it’s worth doing everything I can to be in a premium cabin on a transcon flight that’s blocked at almost seven hours:

  • On American I’ll try to apply a Business Extra upgrade certificate if I don’t think my upgrade will clear otherwise, but unfortunately confirmable upgrade space is very tough to come by
  • If I don’t think I’ll clear, I’d rather connect somewhere to split up the flight time and maybe have a better shot at an upgrade on at least one of the segments
  • If JetBlue Mint or another business class is reasonably priced, I think it’s worth just outright paying for a premium cabin to avoid being in a situation where my upgrade doesn’t clear

JFK-LAX
Airshow from New York to Los Angeles

American’s one A321 flight that’s a (near) guaranteed upgrade

Of all the transcon A321 flights, I’ve found that there’s one that’s a near guaranteed upgrade. Specifically, the 10:30PM flight from New York to Los Angeles, that is scheduled to land after 2AM. It’s more or less a reverse redeye.

American-Upgrade
No one on the upgrade list to LAX!

When I first saw this flight I said “no way in hell I’m taking that.” I usually go to bed by 8PM or so, and I prefer avoiding flights past my bedtime unless it’s a longhaul flight. But there are many things to love about this flight:

  • This has to be the easiest transcon upgrade in the system, as there’s regularly no one on the upgrade list, and lots of non-revs get on in first and business class.
  • As much as I hate leaving so late, it allows you to leave after the peak rush hour in New York, and to land in LA at a time where there’s virtually no traffic (which is exceedingly rare)
  • The way I see it, the flight is a great opportunity to get a solid 4-5 five hours of sleep; sometimes that’s enough sleep for me, and then I’m happy just staying up and being productive, and then then just go to bed super early the next night, or sometimes I nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon
  • The flight is often priced lower than other JFK-LAX flights, given how undesirable it is

LAX
LAX is only this empty in the middle of the night

Bottom line

Perhaps it’s largely a reflection of how far out of my way I have to go to get value out of my status anymore. However, ultimately there’s value in a transcon upgrade (especially westbound, given the flight time), and as much as I’d rather fly earlier I find that it’s better to just not sweat the upgrade, sleep most of the time, and take what I consider to be a pretty efficient flight.

Am I crazy for loving the late night American A321 flight from New York to Los Angeles? How far out of your way will you go to secure an upgrade?

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. I just landed from a 7am flight from JFK to SFO on the 321 Transcon Flight and as a Platinum I was upgraded to business class. I was confirmed the night before when I checked and even had the seat open next to me! So that time slot might be something to consider on weekends, when it’s less busy.

  2. Personally I would never split a Trans-con flight into two segments just to get an upgrade on one of those legs. The extra hassle of a change at, say, Chicago, Atlanta or Dallas would tire me more than the upgrade on one of the legs. And the extra time and risk are factors as well.

    I have done that on international flights where I wanted a particular airline or aircraft type.

  3. If you sleep through the entire flight, that’s 10:30pm to 5am eastern time which is basically my sleep schedule. The only question is what to do in LA when you land after everything is closed 😛

  4. I think that if you’re flexible, by all means, take the flight where you think you can get an upgrade. I try to do the same – although lately I just try to go for the flight that has the cheapest business class seats and outright pay for it. For instance, SFO to JFK, usually Saturday afternoons have good availability for sub $600 business class fares. I prefer doing that than betting on an upgrade that probably won’t happen.
    On a different note, it’s funny because I have the exact opposite predicament as you Ben: I HATE early morning flights and will do anything I can to avoid flight before 9 or 10 am. I’m always so worried that my alarm won’t go off or that I won’t hear it and miss my flight that I end up not being able to sleep the night before, lol.

  5. Was dreading the day this would pop up on the blog thought it’s my go to flight for this exact reason

  6. Any savvy LAX/NYC AA flyer has known this little secret for quite awhile now.
    Thank you for now tuning in the masses.

  7. @Chandan Bhat,
    Its not hard to find an Uber/Lyft in the slightest. I’ve come in at 1:30am with checked baggage so by the time I’m out it can be nearly 2:30am. I’ve never had to wait more than 10 mins, usually more like 5 or less. The great thing is either traffic so light you get home in 1/3 to 1/4 the time and there’s no surge pricing.

  8. Lucky is your travel about getting between point A and B or is it to fly in F or J? When you arrive in LAX at -226am what are you suppose to be doing until everybody else wakes up? I think it’s foolish to travel regarding if a J seats is easy to upgrade to.

  9. I’m not a fan of killing time at airports and I sure wouldn’t do it for an upgrade on a late reverse redeye nor would I switch a nonstop for a segment upgrade but I might consider it for both segments.

  10. @ Tony — Well it’s a bit of both. When I get to LA at 2:30AM I start working. That’s 5:30AM eastern time, which isn’t that far off from when I’d ideally start my day.

    The point is, it’s about maximizing my overall efficiency. I can’t work efficiently in economy (there’s not enough privacy and shoulder space), so for me spending seven hours of block time in economy means that time is largely wasted. Meanwhile if I have a late night flight in business class I can sleep on the plane, and then work efficiently on the ground.

    For me it’s about finding a balance…

  11. Tony – Have a nap, watch TV, play a game, do some work, do some exercise, read a book, do some shopping, among many other things. Can you REALLY not imagine a way to occupy yourself for 4 hours or so on yourself!?

  12. @ Chandan Bhat — At LAX it’s super easy. While there aren’t as many Ubers around, ultimately there’s not as much demand either. Ubers also arrive much more quickly, given that there isn’t as much congestion around the terminal.

  13. “upgrades are getting progressively tougher to clear” – I have flown JFK-SFO and JFK-LAX over 25 times and never once been cleared. Half of those I tried using a SWU to prioritize higher and still never cleared. Very dependent on what day you are flying

  14. Do Americans really sleep at 8am and wake at 5am? Is 10.45pm way past their bedtime?
    I usually sleep at 2am and wake at 9am. That’s pretty normal in Southern Europe and the Gulf too. Where I live (UK) I think most people probably sleep an hour before and wake an hour before me.
    I’d sleep a couple of hours into this flight, and sleep a few more hours when I reach LA.
    8pm-5am sleep seems a bit strange to me, I’m really keen to know if this is the norm in the US?

  15. I’ve taken the 930 pm flight and cleared, just barely, as a lowly Gold. Love these late flights. Just hard to get anyone to pick you up. Easy to get a cab, though.

  16. Looks like that flight was discontinued today – it affected a booking I had, and was moved to the 9pm flight.

    Nothing running after June 2 over the summer. It picks back up in the fall, but could easily be cancelled.

    Nothing AA hates more than confirmable upgrades on nice routes with nice planes.

  17. I’ve found American is much more crowded for upgrades than say united. However, with both airlines taking a pre-6am flight or post 10pm flight increases my chances of an upgrade exponentially! Also, Id rather fly 7 hours with an upgrade, even with one leg, than 5 hours in economy… maybe that’s just me.

  18. I’ve booked this flight many times as a last resort since a lie-flat seat upgrade is usually my #1 priority on this route… However, I’ve maybe taken the flight once out of the dozen or so times I’ve booked it… What ends up happening is that C opens up on an earlier flight (typically the 7 or 8pm) and so I SDC to wherever C is available and then pay the $75 and 15,000 miles.

    For a few months late last year, AA had virtually eliminated C space in advance on JFKLAX but I understand that to have been due to an IT error now fixed, and now C is usually back to where it was. During the time of no advanced C upgrades, I would find flights that were J7 and that fit my schedule, and I would hope for the best (and I always lucked out in those cases with a complimentary upgrade.) If nothing was available with a bed, I would connect and fly into SNA instead.

  19. @Ben I’m 6’6″ and standard economy seats are my mortal enemy. That said, I’ll only fly transcon in an exit row (or better), which offers puh-lenty of legroom for me (the biggest factor for my flying decision).

    Since you likely can get an exit row on any flight you plan for (perhaps last minute flights where you have no choice, you take what you can get), why would you add so much extra time just to get up front for such a longer total journey time? No criticism – just curious what is it about a premium cabin that drives your preference to increase overall journey time? (for example, if you can only catch any sleep, or have enough room to work with the additional recline/width, that makes sense).

    As you say, westbound flights just drag on forever, but any connections would force either an earlier departure or later arrival, and add an extra 2-3 hours of total travel time.

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