This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Imagine preparing yourself — mentally and physically — for an almost-seven-hour flight in a standard, cramped economy seat, when suddenly you hear your name being called over the loudspeaker to alert you that your upgrade cleared. You’re still on the same flight, but now you get to travel in a lie-flat business class seat with international business class-style meals, amenities and service — without paying an additional penny.

This happens to elites daily on American Airlines’ flights between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO), making it the best upgrade that any American Airlines AAdvantage elite can get using AA’s 500-mile upgrade system. Even the lowest-tier (Gold) elites sometimes score an upgrade on these routes. On my JFK-LAX flight Saturday night, at least one Gold got the upgrade. When I was sharing my experience on Twitter, @iflyplaces notes he too had gotten the upgrade as a “lowly Gold:”

This upgrade is completely free for Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro elites, as a perk of those tiers. Gold and Platinum elites have to shell out just five 500-mile upgrade coupons for the one-way upgrade between JFK-LAX or six for JFK-SFO. But, if your Gold/Platinum experience is normal, you’re earning these coupons far faster than you’re using them. However, if you’re short, you can buy coupons from AA for $40 each.

Image of AA’s A321T business-class cabin by Kevin Song.

In addition to being one of the longest flights available to upgrade using 500-mile certificates, the cabin configuration of these specific aircraft make these flights special. While you’ll find A321s with no in-flight entertainment or power in first class flying on long domestic routes like Philadelphia (PHL) to Las Vegas (LAS), this specially configured “A321T” aircraft is a whole different story. The carrier developed a sub-fleet of these “A321T” aircraft for the sole purpose of serving the highly-competitive transcontinental routes between JFK and LAX/SFO.

The three-class aircraft feature 10 lie-flat first-class seats and 20 lie-flat business-class seats. AA often gives these seats to VIPs (Ansel Elgort was in business class on my flight Saturday night). However, on off-peak days/times, lots of these seats can go unsold — leading to upgrades for AA elites. Sadly though, we can only get the bump from economy to business class with 500-mile upgrades. You have to use a systemwide upgrade to go from business to first class on these routes.

The
The stylish “terrace” of the Flagship Lounge at JFK.

While the A321T upgrade has been excellent in the air since its launch in 2014, the experience is even better now if your upgrade clears in advance. Business-class passengers — whether paid or upgraded — get access to AA’s Flagship Lounges. If you’re departing New York, you can check out the excellent Flagship Lounge at JFK, and a Flagship Lounge at LAX should be open by the end of 2017.

For a while, you could catch the 777-300ER on transcontinental routes between MIA-LAX.

There is a third route that provides similarly excellent upgrades: AA’s three-class 777-300ER (77W) between Miami (MIA) and Los Angeles (LAX). However, this aircraft is currently suspended on this route, and until the 77W returns to MIA-LAX, JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO are the best routes for these top-notch upgrades.

Have you gotten upgraded into AA’s A321T business class? Share the details in the comments below.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Up to $200 for Uber rides annually. Credit and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • As a Platinum Card Member, you can enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.