How to fly American Airlines Flagship First class in 2021
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American Airlines stands alone among U.S. airlines with a true international first-class product called “Flagship First.” While it doesn’t compete among the best international first-class products — certainly falling short of airlines like Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines — it’s one of the best products a U.S.-based airline offers.
If you want to experience Flagship First for yourself, here’s everything you’ll need to know.
Aircraft with Flagship First class
While you can fly “first class” on many American Airlines planes, most domestic first-class products have simple recliner seats. Only two aircraft in AA’s fleet have a true first-class product, dubbed “Flagship First” by the airline: the Airbus A321T and Boeing 777-300ER.
The A321T is a special configuration of American Airlines’ Airbus A321-200 aircraft designated for U.S. coast-to-coast flights. These aircraft are configured with 10 first-class seats arranged in five rows of 1-1 seating. That’s a surprisingly large first-class cabin considering this premium-heavy arrangement of the A321 has just 102 seats onboard.
Comparatively, the 777-300ER first-class cabin is small. There are just eight first-class seats in two rows of 1-2-1 seating on an aircraft that holds more than 300 passengers.
Flagship First-class routes
The A321T is assigned to the following transcontinental routes:
- New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX).
- New York-JFK to San Francisco (SFO).
- New York-JFK to Santa Ana, Calif. (SNA)
- Boston (BOS) to Los Angeles (LAX), starting Aug. 17.
While the A321T routes are fixed, the 777-300ER is a bit more flexible, being moved around to different routes seasonally based on demand. Based on American Airlines’ schedule as of June, the aircraft is regularly operating on the following routes:
- Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG).
- Dallas-Fort Worth to Honolulu (HNL).
- Dallas-Fort Worth to Los Angeles (LAX).
- Dallas-Fort Worth to London Heathrow (LHR).
- Dallas-Fort Worth to Miami (MIA).
- Dallas-Fort Worth to Sao Paulo (GRU).
- Los Angeles (LAX) to London Heathrow.
- Miami (MIA) to Buenos Aires (EZE).
- Miami to London Heathrow.
- Miami to Los Angeles.
- Miami to New York-JFK.
- Miami to Sao Paulo.
- New York-JFK London Heathrow.
- New York-JFK to Sao Paulo.
As you can see above, you can sometimes find the 777-300ER flying domestically. However, unless it’s flying particular transcontinental routes — such as Los Angeles to New York or Miami to Los Angeles — you won’t get the full Flagship First experience. On select domestic routes, you may even find business class and first class sold as the same cabin, letting you select a first-class seat for the same price as biz.
If you’re originating from one of five airports with a Flagship First Check-In, you’ll get to use the private check-in area designed only for passengers flying Flagship First and top-tier elites flying on qualifying routes.
You’ll find this Flagship First Check-In option at Chicago O’Hare (ORD), London Heathrow, Los Angeles, Miami and New York-JFK.
At the exit of Flagship First Check-In, you’ll be escorted to the front of the security line — which hopefully will be TSA PreCheck. After clearing security, it’s time for the lounge experience. If you’re originating or connecting in five select airports — Dallas-Fort Worth, New York-JFK, Miami, Chicago or Los Angeles — you’ll get to use the Flagship Lounge.
One of the biggest benefits of flying true Flagship First class is the sit-down, restaurant-style Flagship First Dining experience. Unfortunately, you’ll only be able to experience this in four U.S. airports that have Flagship First-class service: Dallas-Fort Worth, New York-JFK, Miami and Los Angeles. However, all of these locations have remained temporarily closed since the start of the pandemic.
The experience doesn’t have to end once you’ve arrived at your destination. If you don’t have to clear immigration upon landing — whether flying domestically or having gone through pre-clearance before an international flight — you have the option of going to Flagship First Dining upon arrival.
For those arriving in London Heathrow on Flagship First, you can head to the American Airlines Arrivals Lounge for a bite to eat from the buffet or a la carte menu. You also can grab a shower or even get your clothes pressed.
In a 2017 review of American Airlines Flagship First class on the 777-300ER, The Points Guy wasn’t very impressed. However, American Airlines took steps to improve its onboard experience, and The Points Guy gave it his stamp of approval after flying it again in 2019. Here’s a look at his experience onboard that flight:
In Flagship First, you’ll get the full suite of Casper amenities — including pajamas, slippers, mattress pads, pillows and blankets.
The Flagship First amenity kits are by Shinola and D.S. & Durga and were first made available on international first class, yet they’re gradually being added to long-haul international and transcontinental routes throughout this summer.
Flagship First-class meals
Flagship First-class seats aren’t winning any awards; in fact, the 777-300ER first-class product doesn’t even land first place in TPG’s ranking of American Airlines’ best premium seats. That leaves food and drink as one of the primary ways Flagship First class separates itself from business class.
Just before the pandemic, American Airlines rolled out new catering options and is now the official airline partner of the James Beard Foundation. At the time of writing, certain dishes are “exclusive creations developed by Top Chef alum Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio.”
AA first-class fares
Booking American Airlines’ true Flagship First-class product for yourself isn’t going to come cheap. We sampled a few routes in the upcoming months to gauge prices for Flagship First-class routes:
|New York-JFK to Los Angeles||$1,659||$2,556|
|New York to San Francisco||$1,689||$2,837|
|Miami to Buenos Aires||$4,087||$7,343|
|Miami to London Heathrow||$3,828||$8,181|
|Dallas-Fort Worth to London Heathrow||$5,533||$5,031|
|Los Angeles to London Heathrow||$6,510||$7,081|
Also, AA typically prices nonstop flights at a premium, so you may be able to save a significant amount of money by starting in another airport and connecting to one of these first-class routes.
Booking Flagship First class with miles
Rather than paying those extraordinary cash prices, the much better way to book Flagship First class is by using miles. The most obvious way of booking American Airlines’ first class is to redeem AAdvantage miles. However, depending on award availability, you might save a significant amount of miles by booking through a partner.
American Airlines AAdvantage
A couple of years ago, American Airlines expanded its dynamic Web Special award pricing to first-class awards. While AA maintains an award chart, the chart has practically lost its relevance. That means the pricing for Flagship First-class awards is going to vary widely depending on demand.
Since launching these Web Specials, we have seen both incredible deals — such as a 60,500-mile Flagship First-class award to Sao Paulo through Miami and New York-JFK — and incredibly high-priced awards. The more prestigious the route, date and flight time, the higher the award price will be. Also, remember that American Airlines will sometimes price round-trip awards cheaper than two one-way awards.
If you’re short on AAdvantage miles, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points at a ratio of 3:1 with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points. While it’s not as quick as transferring points, you can earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles through the following credit card sign-up bonuses:
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $2,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening.
- American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card: Earn 10,000 miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Bilt is a New York City-based startup that paves the way for paying rent with a credit card — and earning points while you’re at it.
(Editor’s note: TPG founder Brian Kelly is a Bilt advisor and investor.)
There are two ways to earn points on rent with Bilt. First, you can apply for the Bilt Mastercard (there’s no annual fee) and earn up to 2 points per dollar on rent and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Alternatively, you can pay for rent with the Bilt app — without owning the Bilt Mastercard — and earn a minimum of 250 points per month.
Regardless of which method you choose, you can then transfer your Bilt points to eight loyalty programs at a 1:1 transfer ratio, including American Airlines AAdvantage (with transfer times up to 24 hours). This is a unique way to earn AAdvantage miles on such a costly monthly expense like rent.
And for a limited time only, Citi has added American Airlines as a transfer partner to its ThankYou Rewards program. This is great news if you need to top off your balances to book Flagship First on AAdvantage miles. Transfer minimums start at 1,000 ThankYou points and you have until Nov. 13 to leverage American Airlines as a transfer partner with the following cards:
- Citi Prestige® Card (no longer available to new applicants): 1:1 ratio.
- Citi Premier® Card: 1:1 ratio.
- Citi ThankYou Preferred Card (no longer available to new applicants): 2:1 ratio.
- Citi Rewards+® Card: 2:1 ratio.
The information for the Citi Prestige and Citi Preferred cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Best of all, there’s an all-time-high sign-up bonus with the Citi Premier: Earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. That could potentially mean 80,000 AAdvantage miles if you transfer your ThankYou points before Nov. 13.
Searching for saver award availability
To book American Airlines Flagship First-class awards through partners, there needs to be MileSAAver award availability for the flight, and first-class saver award availability can be tough to find.
There are times when I can’t find a single nonstop first-class award seat on a Flagship First route for months. At other times, I’ve found at least one seat available most days in a month on a transcontinental route. Also, the more prestigious the route, date and flight time, the harder it’s going to be to find award availability — as AA would understandably rather sell these seats at high cash rates or mileage rates through AAdvantage.
The easiest way of searching for American Airlines’ first-class awards is right on AA’s website. Make sure to click “Redeem miles” at the top of the page before entering your route:
For reference, here are the prices for first-class MileSAAver awards on the current routes where AA operates Flagship First:
- Domestic transcontinental (JFK/BOS-LAX/SFO): 50,000 miles each way.
- U.S. to Europe (DFW/JFK/LAX/MIA-LHR): 85,000 miles each way.
- U.S. to South America Region 2 (DFW/JFK/MIA-GRU/EZE): 85,000 miles each way.
- U.S. to Asia Region 1 (DFW-HND): 80,000 miles each way.
- U.S. to Asia Region 2 (DFW/LAX-HKG): 110,000 miles each way.
While you can also search through ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures), you’ll need a paid subscription to do so and you won’t be able to see a calendar view of the availability. While it’s not the best option for searching, if you’re set on flying a particular date and don’t want to check for award space manually, you can set up an award alert on ExpertFlyer to be notified when an award seat opens up.
Just because AAdvantage is the most obvious choice doesn’t mean it’s the best way to book AA first class. Indeed, a much cheaper way to do so is through the Etihad Guest program.
- Domestic transcontinental (JFK/BOS-LAX/SFO): 25,000 miles each way.
- U.S. to Europe (DFW/JFK/LAX/MIA-LHR): 50,000 miles each way.
- U.S. to South America Region 2 (DFW/JFK/MIA-GRU/EZE): 50,000 miles each way.
- U.S. to Asia Region 1 (DFW-HND): 50,000 miles each way.
- U.S. to Asia Region 2 (DFW/LAX-HKG): 55,000 miles each way.
The other advantage of using the Etihad Guest program is that there are more ways of accumulating points. Etihad is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards (1:1), Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1), Capital One (1:1) and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1, with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points).
Also, Etihad Guest sells its miles for no more than 2 cents per mile — with the cost dropping even lower during promotions.
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
Another program to consider when booking American Airlines’ first-class awards is Japan Airlines Mileage Bank — especially when you have enough miles and there’s enough award availability that you can book a round-trip in first class.
Mileage Bank uses a distance-based award redemption scheme where a round-trip will cost less than two one-way awards. Here’s the nonstop round-trip pricing for Flagship First routes:
- Domestic transcontinental (JFK/BOS-LAX/SFO): 90,000 miles round-trip.
- New York-JFK to London Heathrow: 120,000 miles round-trip.
- Dallas-Fort Worth to London Heathrow: 135,000 miles round-trip.
- New York-JFK to Sao Paulo: 135,000 miles round-trip.
- Miami to Buenos Aires/Sao Paulo/London: 135,000 miles round-trip.
- Dallas-Fort Worth to Sao Paulo: 145,000 miles round-trip.
- Los Angeles to London Heathrow: 145,000 miles round-trip.
- Dallas-Fort Worth to Tokyo Haneda: 165,000 miles round-trip.
- Dallas-Fort Worth to Hong Kong: 190,000 miles round-trip.
- Los Angeles to Hong Kong: 190,000 miles round-trip.
Unfortunately, Japan Airlines miles are harder to accumulate than other options. Mileage Bank is a transfer partner of only Marriott Bonvoy (3:1, with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points). Also, transfers typically take 48 hours — which makes it even less appealing when you need to jump on rarely open award availability.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
A final program to consider when looking to book American Airlines first-class awards is Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program. The catch here is that Asia Miles charges award prices based on distance flown rather than region, so it doesn’t have as straightforward pricing, especially when you want to add a connection.
There are plenty of opportunities once you know how to maximize stopovers and open jaws, but here are the nonstop Flagship First routes for simplicity:
- Domestic transcontinental (JFK/BOS-LAX/SFO): 45,000 miles each way.
- Dallas/NYC/Miami to London Heathrow: 87,000 miles each way.
- Miami to Buenos Aires/Sao Paulo: 87,000 miles each way.
- New York-JFK to Sao Paulo: 87,000 miles each way.
- Los Angeles to London Heathrow: 120,000 miles each way.
- Dallas-Fort Worth to Sao Paulo: 120,000 miles each way.
- Dallas-Fort Worth to Tokyo Haneda: 120,000 miles each way.
- Los Angeles to Hong Kong: 120,000 miles each way.
- Dallas-Fort Worth to Hong Kong: 135,000 miles each way.
It’s easy to earn Asia Miles, as the program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards (1:1), Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1), Capital One (1:1) and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1, with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points).
Putting those four options together, here’s a recap of your options for one-way awards:
|From||To||Flight miles||Etihad Guest||Asia Miles||AAdvantage (MileSAAver)||Mileage Bank|
And for round-trip awards:
|From||To||Flight miles||Etihad Guest||Mileage Bank||Asia Miles||AAdvantage (MileSAAver)|
Flagship First is an iconic product that can actually be found on many domestic routes in 2021. Sure, all of the Flagship First amenities may not be back to pre-pandemic levels, but it’s definitely an experience worth trying — especially if you can snag a great deal using your points and miles.
Additional reporting by Stella Shon.
Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.
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