American offers a pretty solid product in first & business class on their transcon flights. At least the hard product is great, while the service and food are just okay. American is the only airline still offering three classes of service from New York to both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
These specially configured A321 have 10 reverse herringbone seats in first class. Having direct aisle access from every seat in a cabin on a domestic flight is pretty awesome, though do keep in mind these are the same seats that American uses in business class on their 777-300ERs.
Meanwhile in business class American has fully flat seats in a 2-2 configuration. So the product is more in line with the hard products offered by Delta and United.
Personally I’m perfectly happy in American’s A321 business class, and I just book cheap economy tickets on the flights where upgrades are most likely to clear, even if the flight timings aren’t ideal. While A321 first class is a special treat, it’s not really worth the premium, in my opinion.
However, starting later this spring, American will be opening their new Flagship Lounge at JFK, which will include Flagship Dining. This is a sit down restaurant concept, which will be open to international first class passengers, as well as those traveling in A321 first class. Other passengers, including Executive Platinum members, won’t have access to this area.
I figured the best way to experience this is to try American’s A321 first class product again from New York to Los Angeles, so I figured I’d write an updated post about the best way to book an A321 transcon first class ticket nowadays.
Getting into American’s A321 first class isn’t as easy as it used to be
It used to be quite easy to snag an award ticket in American’s A321 first class, both in terms of the number of miles required and in terms of availability.
First of all, American’s A321 first class award availability is virtually non-existent nowadays. It’s ridiculous. In looking at availability from New York to Los Angeles/San Francisco over the next 11 months, I see a handful of dates with availability. Given that the cabin rarely sells out, this strikes me as incredibly cheap on their part.
On top of that, last year American raised award costs for this route from 32,500 miles to 50,000 miles one-way in first class. So when you combine a 50%+ increase in price with virtually no availability, it’s a bad combo.
Another good way to book American’s A321 first class used to be redeeming Alaska miles, as they charged 32,500 miles for a one-way ticket. However, nowadays that only gets you a business class seat.
If I were to redeem miles for this route, I’d probably book this as part of a larger American AAdvantage award, though that’s not especially helpful if you want to travel just domestically. For example you could redeem 80,000 miles for a one-way first class ticket from Tokyo to Los Angeles in Japan Airlines first class, and then include a connection from Los Angeles to New York.
The best value for flying American’s A321 first class
I’m not saying this is necessarily an amazing value, but given the lack of award availability combined with increased award prices, the best way to book an American A321 first class ticket is to pay for business class and then upgrade. At the moment the cheapest business class fare from New York to Los Angeles or San Francisco seems to be $659 one-way (though in the past I’ve seen them be about $100 cheaper):
But how do you upgrade these flights to first class?
Paying for business class is one thing, but how do you then upgrade to first class?
You could in theory use an American systemwide upgrade, which Executive Platinum members get four of per year. However, those could be used for any international flight, so this wouldn’t be my choice for how to use them.
You could also use miles to upgrade. However, from the “I” fare class that would cost 15,000 miles plus $175, which is a steep price to pay for an upgrade.
Which leaves my preferred way to upgrade these types of flights. There’s the American Business Extra program, which we’ve covered on this blog. It’s American’s small business rewards program, and it’s a great way to rack up additional points in a separate currency, which allows you to double dip. You can earn both Business Extra points and AAdvantage miles for a ticket.
You can redeem 650 points for a domestic upgrade, and that includes an upgrade from business to first class on American’s A321s. While first class award space is horrible, first class upgrade space is quite good.
Business Extra even has a promotion at the moment. If you register by March 31 and take a flight within 30 days of registering, you’ll receive 650 bonus Business Extra points.
JetBlue Mint is pretty awesome as well
The other big question is whether this is even worth it. American’s A321 first class isn’t that great, and it’s worth noting that JetBlue’s Mint product is arguably as good, if not better, than American’s A321 first class. That’s especially true if you manage to snag one of the Mint Suites with the door (which are available on a first come, first serve basis).
Given American’s increased award prices and virtually non-existent A321 transcon first class award availability, nowadays I think the best way to book their A321 first class is to get a discounted business class ticket and then use a Business Extra upgrade certificate to snag first class. You’ll end up paying $659 for a one-way ticket in first class, and confirmable upgrade space is excellent.
While I won’t be doing this all the time, I do want to try American’s new Flagship Dining facility, so this is how I plan to do so, once the facility is up and running later this spring.
Again, this isn’t for everyone, but for those who like American’s A321 first class, I tend to think this is the best way to book it nowadays.