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While JetBlue initially lagged behind much of the competition when it came to launching lie-flat business-class cabins on regional flights, since then the airline’s been leading the way on new premium routes, most recently rolling out its fantastic Mint biz product to a handful of new markets. Delta’s following close behind, after announcing a bunch of new Delta One routes, and now it looks like United’s playing catch-up, too, slating in lie-flat 757s on several top transcons.

What’s notable about these lie-flat United flights is that tickets are being sold as domestic first class instead of business, which means you’ll receive a flat-bed seat but regular domestic first-class service. I’ve found international-configured 757s with 16 lie-flat seats on three Newark routes: Las Vegas (LAS), San Diego (SAN) and Seattle (SEA). Some dates have multiple 757s scheduled, while others don’t have any at all.

The easiest way to tell which plane you’re booking is to look at the seat map — on the San Diego-Newark flight below, the first is operated by a 737 with standard recliner seats, while the second is operated by a 757 with lie-flat seats. If you’re flying up front, you definitely want the latter.

These “first class” flights don’t offer the full transcon service, however — you’ll need to fly one of the airline’s premium routes to get the full experience, including flights between Newark (EWR) and Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO), and flights between Boston (BOS) and SFO.

There is a significant benefit to having these flights sold as first class, though — elite members are eligible for complimentary upgrades, and the fares are substantially lower than what you’ll pay on most premium flights. For example, you can book a lie-flat redeye from Las Vegas to Newark for just $426 each way — the cheapest flights from Los Angeles will run you $559, but most are much more expensive than that. First-class flights are also cheaper when it comes time to redeem miles — saver awards will run you 25,000 miles each way, compared to 35,000 for the premium flights.

Personally, I’d prefer to see these particular lie-flat routes remain as first class, rather than business — I’d much rather have a shot at a complimentary upgrade than a multi-course meal and a Saks pillow and blanket, which you’re only guaranteed to receive on the premium routes.

I’m not surprised that United hasn’t announced this new service, given that it isn’t being marketed as a premium offering, though an airline representative did provide the following explanation:

We are upgauging some trans-Atlantic routes and redeploying 757s on select transcontinental flights. These 757 aircraft are being used for additional trips on existing premium transcontinental routes, or on one-off trips in non lie-flat markets.

As the statement explains, the lie-flat flights are offered inconsistently, and as of now I’m only seeing them scheduled through January, though I do expect some of the future 737 flights to be replaced with 757s a few weeks out. While substitutions are always possible, these 757s are likely to remain on specific flights once scheduled, since 757 pilots can’t fly 737s, and crew assignments are often made weeks in advance. Still, I’d wait to book until a few days before departure if you want to be sure you’ll get one of the upgraded planes.

Know before you go.

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