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Domestic Routes with International Business and First Class

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You might not be thrilled about flying domestic business or first class, but some airlines operate aircraft with their international premium cabins on domestic routes, and those seats are up for grabs. I asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to take a look at some routes where flyers can take advantage of these opportunities.

Apart from the transcontinental routes on which American, Delta, United and even JetBlue have updated their business class cabins with the latest lie-flats, domestic first class cabins tend to be pretty lackluster.

You will no longer be able to SDC from a non-stop to a connecting flight.
You don’t have to fly international to experience international first or business class.

However, several airlines operate internationally configured planes on domestic routes. That happens when an airline either needs to position a plane domestically before its international route (as a continuing tag flight from its international gateway in the US or Canada to its final destination), or when a newly reconfigured plane is used on a short-haul route.

Unfortunately, some flights are out of contention, like Qantas’s 747 route from Sydney to New York JFK via LAX, since you have to already be aboard in order to take the transcontinental portion. However, many others are available to flyers just hoping to hop on a domestic short-haul (or even longer flights like Los Angeles to Miami). What’s more, your chances of upgrades might be even better because of the increased cabin capacity!

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Here’s a list of routes (by airline) where you can get the international treatment at the domestic price.

american-airlines-logo
American offers international business and first on several domestic routes.

AMERICAN AIRLINES

American doesn’t operate many of these flights. If we’re speaking strictly of widebody planes, American does fly its aging 767s on several domestic routes, but the business class on those planes is older than the average college student.

What you want to look for are domestic routes where American operates a 777-200 (it does not fly its flagship 777-300ER planes domestically at this time) and a handful of 757s that have been reconfigured with international business class.

The 777-200 doesn’t have the best business and first class cabins (those are aboard the 777-300), but first class is fully lie-flat in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration, and business class is 2 x 3 x 2 with angled lie-flat seats.

FlyerTalk has a handy thread where you can find updates on the routes served by the airline’s widebodies, but it doesn’t seem completely up to date, so you might have to do some sleuthing on your own. However, there are a few choice flights to look out for.

To access those premium cabins, the following routes are good uses of your miles, since you’re getting one of the airline’s best seats for the price of a domestic award (for about 6 hours in the case of the LA-Miami flight). You can also try your luck with an AAdvantage upgrade or by using 500-mile certificates. The increased capacity on the 777-200 in particular might give you a better shot, though the flight is between two of the airline’s hubs.

777-200: Miami to Los Angeles

This is probably the best-known route (and pretty much the only one at this point) where AA operates its 777-200 within the US. The 777-200 is used on flight 295 from Miami to Los Angeles, and flight 28 on the return. When you search AA.com, just look for the one daily non-stop flight in each direction that actually offers a business class ticket, since that will be the 3-class 777-200.

American's international business class isn't much, but it's better than domestic first class!
American’s international business class isn’t much, but it’s better than domestic first class!

While business class tickets on this route are often more expensive than first class tickets, consider just buying an economy ticket and taking your chances on an upgrade, since there are 37 business class seats aboard compared to just 22 on domestic 757s and a paltry 16 first class seats aboard a 738.

This route used to have two daily flights in each direction serviced by a 777-200, but it appears one has been temporarily replaced with a smaller aircraft while the 777 is being refurbished. It should return to service with the airline’s new business class aboard.

757-200 international: Miami-JFK

American has just 18 internationally configured 757s with the same angled lie-flat business seats you’ll find aboard non-refurbished 777-200s. While most of these operate on transatlantic flights from New York to Europe, the airline does sometimes throw one into service on the MIA-JFK route.

You can tell if your flight uses one of these aircraft by looking at the business class cabin seat map. The internationally configured 757s will have just four rows in business class, while non-international 757s have 5-6.

This 757 from JFK-MIA will have American's international business class on board.
This 757 from JFK-MIA has American Airlines’ international business class on board.

The current flight number on this route with the 757 is 2262 from Miami to New York departing at 6:40 pm. The flight in the opposite direction is 2351 departing JFK at 5:00 pm.

You can also catch the A321T running between Los Angeles and Las Vegas on occasion.

DELTA

Delta enthusiasts on FlyerTalk have put together this comprehensive thread on the airline’s domestic widebody operations. However, due to aircraft scheduling shifts, much of this information changes frequently, so you should check twice before booking your flights. Sometimes Delta adds widebody flights on specific routes for just a single day (like two upcoming 747 flights between MSP-ATL on November 30). This often has to do with increased capacity around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but more routes and information should be available as the holidays come and go.

Round-the-World Award Tickets will not be issued on or after January 1, 2015
You could fly this Delta 747 from MSP-ATL on November 30.

As you’ll see on the list, there are tons of options, including on 747s, 777s, A330s and 767s. Delta does have a domestic version of its 767-300, which could get confusing for some folks. However, there are a few ways to separate these from the pack. First, the cabin layout on domestic aircraft will have recliners in a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration rather than the 1 x 2 x 1 configuration in the current BusinessElite cabin. Second, Delta has a handy icon system to explain flight amenities, so look for the bed under “flight details”, which will let you know your plane has lie-flat seating.

The other thing to note is that Delta recently ended complimentary Medallion upgrades on its basic E economy fares, so be sure to buy your economy ticket in an upgradable fare class if you want a shot at the premium cabin.

747-400: Minneapolis to Atlanta

How much fun would it be to fly a 747 domestically? Apparently you can end your Thanksgiving weekend doing just that if you need to get from Atlanta to Minneapolis, or vice versa. That day, the airline will operate two flights in each direction aboard one of its jumbo jets.

Here is flight #1 from MSP-ATL:

Delta 747

And here is the return from ATL-MSP:

Delta 747 2

You’ll notice the tickets aren’t cheap, but you might luck out with award availability or a Medallion upgrade, or you could use a regional upgrade if you want to confirm your seat.

If you plan on flying this route around the winter holidays, the airline plans to operate a 777-200LR from December 20-23 and 26- 30, of this year and January 2-4, 2015.

767-300ER: Multiple Routes

Beyond date-restricted flights, your other best bet is to snag a BusinessElite seat on the airline’s 767-300ERs, since some routes operate with those planes for months at a time. The Seattle-Atlanta route is using a few of these planes (up to 3x daily), as is the Portland-Atlanta route.

Delta's 767 BusinessElite seats.
It’s easier than you think to fly Delta’s BusinessElite domestically.

You’ll also find the 767-300 on the Atlanta-LAX flight scheme through the end of the current schedule. As I noted earlier, this is a busy route and Delta operates a number of aircraft on it, including other 767-300’s, so make sure that yours has the BusinessElite cabin by looking for the lie-flat icon. The LAX-ATL flight is #1354 and is a red-eye, while the return is #1655.

UNITED

United is a mishmash of old and new planes, domestic and international business and first class products, and an ongoing refurbishment schedule that can make it tough to figure out whether your routes are likely to be serviced by aircraft with the latest premium cabins.

United-BusinessFirst3
If you have the chance, fly United’s BusinessFirst instead of regular old domestic first class.

However, there are a few good bets. First, United has an extensive roster of hubs that includes Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Denver, Chicago, Newark and Boston, so if you’re flying between hubs, there’s a good chance that your route will have at least one aircraft per day with the latest BusinessFirst cabin on it.

Case in point: this flight (below) from Houston to Chicago in November is aboard a 767-300 with lie-flat BusinessFirst seats in a 2 x 1 x 2 configuration. Almost every other flight that day is on a 737 or A319/320, so this one is easy to find.

United IAH ORD

This FlyerTalk thread devoted to finding domestic BusinessFirst space is a bit sparse, but it does offer some other likely city pairings, including Newark to Orlando aboard a refurbished 757-200 with lie-flat BusinessFirst seats.

LAX-ORD also usually flies at least one 757-200 per day with the new BusinessFirst seats. Beware though, since there’s more than one flight on a 757-200 each day.

There are some LAX-ORD flights with BusinessFirst - just beware which 757-200 you book.
There are some LAX-ORD flights with BusinessFirst – just make sure you book the right 757-200.

That means you need to double check the seat map to make sure the seats are BusinessFirst; if so, they’ll look like the diagram below.

This is what a plane seat map with BusinessFirst seats will look like.
Here’s a plane seat map with BusinessFirst available.

Some other non-transcontinental routes where you’re likely to find BusinessFirst seats include:

  • EWR-DEN aboard a 757-200
  • EWR-ORD aboard a 757-200
  • IAH-DEN aboard a 757-200 and a 787-8 Dreamliner
  • IAH-LAX aboard a 757-200
  • IAH-SFO aboard a 787-8 Dreamliner and a 767-300
  • LAX-ORD aboard a 757-200
  • ORD-IAD aboard a 757-200

US AIRWAYS

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.17.03 PM
Catch the A330 Phoenix-Philadelphia on US Airways around Christmas.

US Airways operates its flagship Envoy international business class aboard its A330 aircraft, but apart from randomly scheduled airline maintenance flights between Charlotte and Philadelphia, it seems that the airline doesn’t typically operate these aircraft domestically. It looks like over Christmas this year, US Airways will have a few A330’s running between Phoenix and Philadelphia. 

INTERNATIONAL AIRLINES

It’s not just US airlines that you might be able to fly within North America aboard internationally configured planes. Two other great examples come to mind.

Air Canada Vancouver to Toronto

Although this is a standard domestic route for Air Canada, on which it operates several aircraft types (including an A320 and A321), Vancouver is also the international gateway to many of the airline’s transpacific flights. As such, you can find a few of its 777-300ER widebodies operating on this route as certain flights continue from Australia and Asia on to Toronto.

These aircraft are outfitted with international lie-flat business class in either a herringbone layout or staggered “Studio Pods” like Swiss Airlines’ business configuration.

Try out Air Canada's "Studio Pods" on a 777-300ER from Toronto to Vancouver.
Try out Air Canada’s “Studio Pods” on a 777-300ER from Toronto to Vancouver.

United will charge you 25,000 miles each way for these flights (like flying its own domestic business class), as will Aeroplan.

Cathay Pacific Vancouver to New York JFK

One of the world’s best tag flights has to be this transcontinental courtesy of Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific. Cathay offers a flight from HKG-YVR that then continues on to JFK, so even if you’re not crossing the Pacific, if you need to get between the East Coast and Vancouver, this could be a great option to try out one of the world’s premier carriers.

Cathay operates a YVR-JFK tag that you can fly by itself without having to continue on to Hong Kong.
Cathay operates a YVR-JFK tag that you can fly by itself without having to continue on to Hong Kong.

The airline uses a 777-300ER on this flight, and the business class cabin is in a 1 x 2 x 1 reverse herringbone configuration with spacious lie-flat seats. The first class cabin has just 6 enormous, double-wide, open suite-style seats that are among the most comfortable in the sky.

Cathay Pacific first class seats are a better redemption than ever with a new award fare policy from US Airways
This is a great chance to try out Cathay’s stellar First Class.

Cathay is a Oneworld airline, so you can use your American, US Airways or British Airways miles to book it. American and US Airways will charge you 25,000 or 32,500 miles each way in business/first respectively. British Airways will charge you 25,000/37,500.

Do you have any other good examples of international business/first service that you can fly domestically? Please share them in the comments below!
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