Should I Upgrade to First Class on a Transcon Flight?

Jun 19, 2016

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TPG reader Lucas sent me a message on Facebook to ask about upgrades:

“Is it worth paying 15,000 AAdvantage miles and a $175 copay to move from business to first on American’s A321T transcontinental service? Alternately, I could pay a $515 fare difference.”

Domestic first-class service can be pretty lackluster, especially in comparison to the impressive premium cabins available internationally. However, there are a handful of transcontinental routes that offer a genuine first-class experience, including lie-flat seats, private suites and other amenities that can make the extra cost worthwhile.

American’s first class on the A321T is one example, and the difference between first and economy is huge. However, the business-class service on those three-cabin flights is also pretty impressive — certainly better than first class on most two-cabin domestic flights. Upgrading from business to first might be worthwhile depending on your itinerary, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

The first class seat is a few inches longer and wider than the one in business class, but you’ll get a lie-flat seat in either case. The biggest difference between the two is the amount of privacy. Business class on the A321T actually does give you a fair amount of privacy, since the seats in each row are slightly offset from one another and there’s a small divider between them. However, you’ll still be sharing a row with another passenger. If you really want space to yourself, first class is the way to go, since those seats are in a 1-1 reverse-herringbone configuration.

You’ll get Admirals Club access in both cabins, but you’ll only get Flagship Lounge access in first class. There are a few other small perks you won’t get in business class (like an amenity kit and access to the onboard cappuccino machine), but I don’t think any of them justify the upgrade. If you’d be content with the business-class seat, then save your money and miles for another time.

Business class on the A31T is
Business class on the A31T isn’t a big step down from first.

If you opt for first class, I would definitely choose to upgrade with miles (assuming that $515 fare difference was for a one-way flight only). You’d essentially be spending 15,000 miles to save $340, which works out to nearly 2.3 cents per mile. That’s about 50% higher than my current valuation for AAdvantage miles, so you’d be getting a very good return.

For more on American’s transcon service, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, the 50,000 miles are worth $700. In addition, you can earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) toward elite status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. As of July 23, 2017 this is the only card that offers Admirals Club lounge access so if you are an AA flyer this card might make sense for you.  Aside from lounge access the primary cardholder will receive a Global Entry application fee credit every 5 years, first checked bag free for up to 8 travel companions on domestic itineraries and a 25% discount on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights.

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  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for guests traveling with you
  • Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge access for authorized users
  • Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation
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