Comparing International Business and First Class on American
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As an AAdvantage Executive Platinum member, I’m generally a big fan of American Airlines. However, not all flights are equal, so today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen will examine the value of the airline’s various first and business class offerings on international flights.
When you’re deciding on an airline for an international trip, it’s important to account for the wide variety of equipment and in-flight amenities that different carriers offer. It’s no fun to pay double the miles or triple the cash for a first class ticket on an old plane with a sub-par product, especially when a little research could put you on a newer plane or in a more luxurious wide-body product.
TPG Contributor Richard Kerr previously compared domestic first and business class on United, American and Delta, but I want to shift gears with the series and begin examining the different first and business class products offered on international flights, starting with TPG's carrier of choice: American Airlines.
Note: If you're looking for a way to boost your AAdvantage account balance, the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard is currently offering an increased sign-up bonus of 75,000 miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months. This is enough for at least a one-way award ticket in first or business class on any American- or US Airways-operated flight.
The American Airlines Fleet
As with other US legacy carriers, trying to discern what you'll find in the premium-class cabin on your flight can be tricky given the number of different aircraft and configurations American offers. With the US Airways fleet currently integrating into American Airlines, things become even more complicated.
For this analysis, I'll focus entirely on the aircraft that American uses on long-haul international routes. Here's a quick breakdown of the seating on those planes:
Main Cabin Extra
Boeing 757-200 (AA)
Boeing 757-200 (US)
158 - 176
Boeing 767-200ER (US Airways)
Boeing 767-300 (old)
Boeing 767-300 (new)
Boeing 777-200 (old)
Boeing 777-200 (new)
Boeing 787 Dreamliner
As you can see, there's a wide variation among American's long-haul fleet. Let's take a closer look at what you'll find on these different planes when flying internationally.
American Airlines International First Class
Currently, only two of American's long-haul planes still include a separate first class cabin. The first is one of the newest additions to the fleet: the carrier's flagship 777-300ER. TPG flew this plane from New York to São Paulo back in 2013, and he found it to be a definite improvement over the older 777-200, which he flew from Buenos Aires to JFK back in 2011. While American has started a retrofit of the 777-200 aircraft, including the removal of first class in favor of larger business and economy cabins, you can still find it operating on several routes.
Here's an overview of what to expect if you find yourself in first class on one of these two planes:
When you're confirmed in first class on an international American flight, you can enjoy a variety of premium services before you even board the plane. For flights leaving from Chicago-O'Hare, London-Heathrow, Los Angeles, Miami and New York-JFK, you can take advantage of private Flagship Check-in and premium security. You can also access Flagship Lounges in Chicago, London, Los Angeles and New York — a more exclusive option than the standard Admirals Club, as it's only available to first class passengers (as well as Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers).
The first class cabin on both of these planes is in a 1-2-1 configuration, though the older 777 has four rows (for a total of 16 seats), while the newer 777-300ER has just two rows with 8 seats total. On both planes, seats convert to fully flat beds, and even TPG (who is 6' 7") was able to get some solid sleep on both of his flights. Unfortunately, even though both aircraft have personal TV screens in first class, the older version simply doesn't compare to the 17-inch touchscreen monitor on the 777-300ER.
Another noticeable difference is power. The 777-300ER provides both AC and USB outlets at every seat, while the older 777-200 doesn't have outlets for charging your electronic devices in-flight.
Though you'll have a significantly different seat experience on these two planes, the dining options should be relatively consistent. Service will begin with warm nuts and a pre-dinner drink, followed by a starter, soup and/or salad, entree and dessert (including the carrier's signature ice cream sundae). You can also reserve your entree in advance by visiting the My Trips section of your AAdvantage account, and this includes the option to order a traditional Japanese meal on flights to or from Japan. Just make sure to complete your selection at least 24 hours before your flight.
Wine selections vary depending on your destination, but the champagne will typically be something like Nicolas Feuillatte Brut or Gosset Grande Reserve. You'll have your choice of several red and white options to accompany your main dish, as well as a port and/or sherry to finish off the meal. And if you need an extra jolt and are flying on the 777-300ER, be sure to take advantage of the onboard espresso machine (one of the better in-flight coffee products out there).
Certain in-flight amenities are consistent on these two planes, like the complimentary pajamas, amenity kits, turndown service and Bose noise-canceling headphones. However, you'll find that the 777-300ER includes some additional creature comforts, including internationally accessible Wi-Fi and a walk-up bar (shared with business class) with complimentary snacks and refreshments throughout the flight.
The first class hard product on American is significantly different on the two planes that still have a three-class configuration, though the in-flight service should be relatively consistent. Unfortunately, it's not on par with top international carriers like Singapore, Korean and Emirates. Still, when you're able to enjoy a fully flat bed and a multi-course meal at 38,000 feet, it's hard to complain!
American Airlines International Business Class
Business is rapidly becoming American's highest premium class, with the vast majority of its fleet no longer offering first-class cabins. Once again, however, your in-flight experience will differ significantly depending on the aircraft you wind up flying. Here's an overview of what you'll find:
All business class passengers on American can utilize premium check-in and should be able to access priority security lanes. You'll also be able to access the Admirals Club or a partner lounge for a quick drink, bite to eat or one last e-mail prior to boarding your flight. Just remember that these clubs can get quite busy, especially during peak travel times. I recently visited the Chicago location in the mid-afternoon (courtesy of my Citi Prestige Card) and struggled to find an open seat.
This is the first area where you'll find some significant variation depending on the aircraft you fly. Generally speaking, there are two main categories of seats you'll encounter onboard American's planes (including ones inherited from US Airways): angled lie-flat seats and fully flat seats. Here's an overview of what you'll find on each type of plane:
- Airbus A330-200 and -300: Both these planes are from US Airways' legacy fleet, and they're equipped with the carrier's Envoy Suite. The seats are in a reverse herringbone 1-2-1 configuration with direct aisle access and seats that recline to a flat bed. Each one is equipped with a USB outlet and a 12.1-inch personal TV. TPG flew this plane from Philadelphia to Athens back in 2014 and had a very pleasant flight.
- Boeing 757-200: Both American and US Airways have internationally equipped 757 planes in their fleets, with 16 and 12 angled-flat seats, respectively. Unfortunately, only a select few of these have personal TVs, though business class passengers on flights with overhead monitors are provided tablets for in-flight entertainment. I flew this plane on a short hop from Miami to JFK back in 2012, and while the seat was comfortable for a few hours, I couldn't imagine getting much sleep on a long-haul international flight.
- Boeing 767-200ER: This is another relic from US Airways, with angled-flat seats. Just like on the 757s, business class passengers are provided with individual tablets for in-flight entertainment so they don't need to use the overhead TVs.
- Boeing 767-300: The 767 planes that were in American's fleet pre-merger are a mixed bag. Some have undergone a retrofit and now feature seats that recline to flat beds, as well as in-seat power; the older version still features angled-flat seats (you can tell the difference on the seat map, as the retrofit is in a 1-2-1 configuration, while the old plane still has the standard 2-2-2 layout). Unfortunately, neither the old nor the new planes have personal TVs, so again you'll need to rely on loaner tablets — or plan ahead — for in-flight entertainment.
- Boeing 777-200: You'll encounter similar variation on American's 777-200. The retrofitted planes don't have first class, and the fully flat seats in business class are in a 1-2-1 configuration. When selecting your seat, keep in mind that every other row faces backwards. Still, even a backwards-facing flat bed is a step above the angled-flat seats found on the older aircraft, though at least both versions of this plane have in-seat entertainment.
- Boeing 777-300ER: As one of the newest planes in American's fleet, the 777-300ER features flat bed seats in business class in a 1-2-1 configuration. You'll also have access to a 15.4-inch touchscreen and can stay powered up with a standard and USB outlet at your seat.
- Boeing 787 Dreamliner: Another recent addition to American's fleet, the 787 Dreamliner also provides lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration with in-seat power and a whopping 16-inch touchscreen monitor for watching on-demand entertainment.
While the actual hard product is far from standardized across the blended fleet of American and US Airways, your in-flight dining experience should be relatively consistent. Expect the standard multi-course business class meal with a few options for entrees. You should have a drinkable yet unmemorable champagne (Lanson Black Label Brut appears to be the current choice) along with at least two red and two white wine selections.
Just like with American's first class, here you'll see some noticeable differences depending on the aircraft. The amenity kits and noise-canceling headphones should be standard offerings, but the newest planes (777-300ER and 787 Dreamliner) are equipped with internationally capable Wi-Fi, and feature an onboard bar with snacks and drinks available throughout the flight.
Your level of comfort when traveling in American's international business class is largely dependent upon the aircraft you choose, though the soft product (food, drink, amenity kit, etc.) should be essentially the same across all flights. Just check the seat map ahead of time, and make sure that you didn't fall victim to a last-minute equipment swap!
For more details on specific planes listed above, check out the following flight reviews:
- American Airlines 777-300ER Business Class JFK-London
- American Airlines 777-300ER Business Class JFK-GRU
- American Airlines 757 Business Class Madrid-JFK
One of the most common questions we get when it comes to traveling in international premium cabins is whether it's worth paying the extra miles for first class over business class. At the end of the day, that's totally an individual preference. My personal opinion is that for a flight operated by American, you're better off sticking to business class, as you won't notice an appreciable difference between the two.
However, you may disagree, so here's a table that shows exactly how many additional miles you'll need to shell out for international first class (looking solely at one-way flights on American metal departing from or arriving into the US):
Asia 1 (Japan and Korea)
Asia 2 (China and Hong Kong)
As you can see, you'll need an additional 10,000 - 12,500 miles each way to book into first class (assuming you can find MileSAAver award inventory). Whether that makes sense is entirely up to you.
As you can see, American is a long way from offering a standardized in-flight product in its premium cabins, and is actually in the process of phasing out international first class on all aircraft other than its new flagship plane (the 777-300ER). However, as I always like to say, knowledge is power in the points and miles hobby, and knowing what to expect — and how to use an aircraft change to snag a better routing or product — can go a long way. Hopefully this post has given you an idea of what you'll find onboard your next American long-haul international flight!
What has been your experience in American Airlines international premium cabins?