American’s New Competitive Advantage Between NYC and LA

The most competitive premium route within the US is between New York and Los Angeles, given the number of frequencies operated by premium configured aircraft. The route is operated by American, Delta, JetBlue, United, and Virgin America.

Each of these airlines takes a different approach to this premium market:


JetBlue’s A321 Mint

Everyone will have their own preferences, though in terms of the entire onboard business class experience, I’d say that JetBlue ranks first, followed by Delta, followed by United, followed by American, followed by Virgin America.


American’s A321 business class

JetBlue has a great hard product, consistently top notch service, free wifi, and tasty food. Unfortunately it all sort of goes downhill from there. 😉


JetBlue’s Mint catering

While nothing has changed in regards to the onboard product, it seems like the overall ground experience quality has shifted significantly recently.

Delta used to have a special check-in facility for Delta One passengers, and a nice lounge at LAX. However, they recently moved terminals, and it’s going to be several years before they have anything resembling a decent ground experience at LAX. I’d say previously their ground experience in LA was better than what’s offered by United and American, while now it’s worse.


The former Delta One check-in facility LAX

Meanwhile let’s keep in mind that JetBlue doesn’t really offer much in the way of a ground experience. That’s the one downside to JetBlue Mint — they don’t have any lounges. There is the Airspace Lounge at JFK that you can access with an Amex Platinum Card, but that’s hardly nicer than the terminal.


The Airspace Lounge JFK Terminal 5

This is where American has improved significantly recently. American just opened their Flagship Lounge at JFK, which A321 transcon first & business class customers have access to. Furthermore, later this year they’ll be opening their Flagship Lounge at LAX, meaning that passengers will have access to this improved offerings on both ends of their journey.


The new American Flagship Lounge JFK

The new lounge is significantly nicer than the old Flagship Lounge, with a menu off of which you can order, and a much improved buffet. Furthermore, if you’re flying in first class, you get a proper sit down dining experience.


The new American Flagship First Dining facility JFK

Now, in fairness, the lounge at JFK is likely to be very crowded in the late afternoons and evenings, but during the day it shouldn’t be more than comfortably full.

Obviously everyone prioritizes the ground vs. inflight experience differently. However, I do think it’s worth pointing out that for those flying between NY and LA, the ground experience has recently changed drastically — Delta has gotten much worse, and American has gotten a lot better.

Delta and United probably still have better onboard catering than American has, though everyone can decide for themselves which aspect of the experience is the most important. Would you rather have slightly better onboard catering and a worse experience on the ground, or worse onboard catering and a better experience on the ground?

It’s great that American is giving A321 transcon business class passengers Flagship Lounge access, and it certainly creates an incentive to make sure your upgrade clears before you show up at the airport. Given how little soft product differentiation there is between American’s A321 first and business class, the new dining facility also creates an incentive to upgrade to first class.

Personally I’d still choose JetBlue Mint over everything else in the market, but I do think this makes a difference when comparing American, Delta, and United.

What do you guys think — does American’s new Flagship Lounge at JFK (and soon LAX), change which airline offers an all around better experience between NY and LA?

Comments

  1. Though I’m a loyal jetBlue flyer and agree that Mint exceeds expectations, I snagged one of the Delta One LAX-JFK-SJU fares this summer to see how it compares. I specifically picked out an A330 which features the reverse herringbone config making it an insane value.

  2. The Flagship lounge is a cool offering, though as I and others have pointed out in other posts, I’m not sure how much NYC based passengers will get out of the JFK lounge. It already takes an hour+ to get to JFK from Manhattan, and you have to add another hour to access the lounge, so that means leaving work an hour or an hour and a half early just to use a lounge.

    One of American’s real competitive advantages is first class, and the ability to upgrade with 15,000 miles to First from paid business. American codes its corporate contract business class routes as “D” fares, which allow for upgrades to first with 15,000 miles and no copay. Elite members are getting 8,000 RDM or more on a one-way J flight anyway, so you are really just putting some of those miles back into the flight. I often fly business on the way out and first on the way back so I can get more work done on the return flight.

    I’ve flown JetBlue from JFK to SFO – onboard, the product is great, but mileage and other benefits really aren’t there. Plus American (and Delta and United for that matter) often match the price. So unless you are really into Mosaic or get really good price, it’s hard to justify it for me. I got 3,000 Mosaic miles on my recent paid JFK-SFO flight on Mint while I get 8,000 AA RDM and 5,000 EQM on a comparable American flight.

  3. So glad I don’t have to worry about this, since I basically never fly JFK-LAX, or reverse. Although I would love to see Delta turn SEA->JFK into a transcon route with Delta One.

  4. I think Delta is in for big trouble. Just flew Delta One JFK-LAX-JFK

    767 business class was comfy but VERY tired and worn. Ido like the wide-body option though.
    Lounge even at JFK was just an overcrowded Skyclub with rubber chicken and crudites.
    Food onboard was good quality but I did not care at all for the menu. I do not eat beet salads and Quinoa…do you? Nor do I eat Chicken legs and try to stay away from the heavy pastas. American usually has better protein options.
    Skymiles – lol. We all know thats the worse of the 4… by far. This will not be something to entice anyone!
    LAX – Delta is a complete mess. Not only was T3 3rd worldly but overcrowded with minimal facilities . Furthermore the terminal move did not even alleviate the tarmac holds. 45 minutes from touchdown to gate since there were no open Delta gates. Then we ended up at 36 which was a tow in gate so that took forever. Meanwhile my friend who landed 25 min after me from SEA beat me to the Hyatt LAX.

  5. @Ryan. I completely concur about the onboard food in premium cabin flights (not just Delta) shifting to stuff like quinoa and other frou frou items. Can’t these menu main courses offer something a bit more mainstream along with the quinoa-type stuff? Had a “lasagne” meal on AA F last week that was ketchup over slimy noodles stuffed with cottage cheese and mystery meat – horrible.

    More to the point, I agree that AA has a huge advantage in that market.

  6. @Lucky – slightly off topic but why would Delta make the terminal switch @ LAX now, rather than wait for the terminal 2/3 upgrades to be made? It just seems like such a mess (especially term 3) right now that I don’t understand why they wouldn’t wait. (Especially given the reports of gate Hold times not really improving all that much.)

  7. I can’t see much difference between the UA and AA biz seats or otherwise inflight experience. UA has just renamed this transcontinental service and I suspect when the Polaris lounges at LAX and EWR are opened (SFO too) they’ll give those business class customers access to lounges like AA’s. I’ve flown both and noticed little other difference.

  8. I fly the route at least six times a year in business class. Usually last minute and full fare (work stuff). Used to be loyal to American, but switched to United. Mostly because the AA mileage redemption options have been terrible and not serving my needs. Not that UA is fantastic, but I can still redeem for good flights to Asia and Europe. I almost always bring my own food.

    I’d fly JetBlue but no real useful options for their points.

    Can’t say I’ve been loving flying into Newark, but JFK is no picnic either.

  9. I think Delta still has a DeltaOne check in area at LAX. It is in the part of T2 closest to T1. Probably not as nice as the previous, but it didn’t go away altogether. I think you are being too hard on the move by commingling T2 and T3. T2 is nice and the sky club will probably be up and running in a few months, if not sooner. All of the transcon flights leave from T2 from what I understand. T3 is bad.

  10. Just saying… JBLU Mint Suites are sort of like F Class with J Class Catering and service, because the hard product is a fully enclosed suite.

  11. Flying out of JFK, Jetblue’s terminal is much nicer than American/Delta’s. There’s plenty of space to get work done, and for $30.00 you can have a really excellent meal.

    United flies out of Newark, so forget it.

  12. With all this I still don’t understand why you rate AA so poorly on your scale. United doesn’t even fly into JFK.

  13. Gotta agree with Ryan and Donna; Delta’s food has gotten down right bizarre lately. Between the off the wall soups (Cream of lettuce? Really) and their apparent long term contracts for quinoa and lamb chops there are few edible options available.
    I’m EXP on AA and will continue to fly them. Their food may be boring and uninspired, but it’s usually edible.

  14. I actually really appreciate the healthier meal options Delta caters (i.e. Quinoa and other “frou frou stuff”). It’s much better than getting some overly sugared, overly salted, overly fatty meal that might taste good but will leave you bloated and lethargic on landing. I had a really nice fresh carrot and pea salad a few months back in D1, and in Y I always get a nice, free, vegggie wrap that’s healthy and yummy.

  15. I routinely earn 20,000+ points for Mint flights, but that’s base points + Mosaic status + their Plus credit card. I just wish there were more interesting things I could do with the points. Like even the Hawaiian Airlines partner redemption is lame. I just think of it as 13% discount and move on. I fly with them because their JFK terminal is nice enough you don’t miss the lounge, and Mint is awesome.

    Regarding the “quinoa and beets” thing: I say bring it on! Why should picky eaters set the menu for everyone? I love Mint’s Saxon & Parole menu and how bold it is for airline food. People flying between America’s culinary capitols should have the option to eat interesting food if they want.

    (FYI: and for those who don’t like it, JetBlue has an alternative menu called “Plane Eats” that you can order from if you confirm 48+ hours before your flight)

  16. Only a minor quibble, but it would be great if AA shifted their LAX>JFK transcon flights to depart out of Concourse B, since that’s where the new lounge is located. It’s a good extra 10-15mins to get down from the lounge, cross through the tunnel and get over to Concourse C where the flights depart from.

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