How to fly American Airlines Flagship First Class in 2020

3d ago

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With the phaseout of United’s Polaris First product, American Airlines stands alone among U.S. airlines with a true international first-class product, which it calls “Flagship First.” While it doesn’t compete among the best international first-class products — certainly falling short of Emirates, Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines — it’s one of the best products that a North American-based airline has to offer.

If you want to experience Flagship First for yourself, here’s everything you’ll need to know.

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In This Post

Aircraft with Flagship First Class

While you can fly “first class” on many American Airlines planes, most of these are domestic first-class product, with simple recliner seats. There are only two aircraft in AA’s fleet that have a true first-class product — dubbed “Flagship First” by the airline: 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 in the aircraft.

Image by JT Genter / TPG.
(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)

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.

(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)

Related: Every American Airlines premium seat ranked from best to worst

Flagship First Class routes

The A321T is assigned to just two premium transcontinental routes:

  • New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX)
  • New York-JFK to San Francisco (SFO)

Note that this aircraft also operates between New York-JFK and Boston (BOS), but this is a repositioning route that doesn’t offer Flagship First service. The A321T has also been previously run between Boston and Los Angeles and between Miami (MIA) and Los Angeles — but it’s no longer serving either route.

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’ current schedule, the aircraft is operating regularly on the following routes:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) — São Paulo (GRU)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth— Hong Kong (HKG)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth — London-Heathrow (LHR)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth — Tokyo Haneda (HND) — beginning March 29, 2020
  • New York-JFK — São Paulo
  • New York-JFK — London-Heathrow
  • Los Angeles — Hong Kong
  • Los Angeles — London-Heathrow
  • Miami (MIA) — Buenos Aires (EZE) — ending March 27, 2020
  • Miami — São Paulo
  • Miami — London-Heathrow

Also, you can sometimes find the 777-300ER flying domestically. However, unless it’s flying particular transcontinental routes — such as Los Angeles to New York — you won’t get the full Flagship First experience.

Ground experience

American Airlines has upped its ground game in the last few years, and the best way of describing it to you is by showing you what it was like for The Points Guy when he tried it in early 2019:

Unless you opt to take a helicopter ride to the airport, your Flagship First experience will start at the check-in counter. 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.

Related: What is American Airlines elite status worth?

You’ll find this Flagship First Check-In option in Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), London-Heathrow, Los Angeles, Miami and New York-JFK:

Photo of the New York JFK Flagship First Check-In by JT Genter / TPG.
New York-JFK Flagship First Check-In. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)

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 airports — Dallas/Fort Worth, New York-JFKMiamiChicago or Los Angeles — you’ll get to use the Flagship Lounge.

Image of the New York JFK Flagship Lounge courtesy of American Airlines.
(Photo courtesy of American Airlines.)

One of the biggest benefits of flying true Flagship First class is the sit-down, restaurant-style Flagship First Dining experience — which includes Krug Grande Cuvée at all locations as of June 2019:

Related: Consistently delicious: A review of AA’s Flagship First Dining at LAX

Unfortunately, you’ll only be able to experience this in four of the six U.S. airports that have Flagship First Class service: Dallas/Fort Worth, New York-JFK, Miami and Los Angeles. There are no plans to add Flagship First Dining — or even a Flagship Lounge — to Boston or San Francisco.

AA Flagship Dining at JFK. Image by Brian Kelly / TPG.
AA Flagship Dining at JFK. (Photo by Brian Kelly/The Points Guy.)

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 preclearance 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.

One of 30 shower suite at the American Airlines Arrivals Lounge in London Heathrow. Image by JT Genter / TPG
One of 30 shower suites at the American Airlines Arrivals Lounge in London Heathrow. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)

Onboard experience

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 on board that flight:

In Flagship First, you’ll get the full suite of Casper amenities — including pajamas, slippers, mattress pads, pillows and blankets.

(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

In February 2019, American Airlines released new Flagship First amenity kits. AA hasn’t released a new set of amenity kits for 2020 yet. The transcontinental Flagship First kits are by APL:

Image courtesy of American Airlines.
(Photo courtesy of American Airlines.)

The international Flagship First kits are by This Is Ground:

(Photo courtesy of American Airlines.)

Flagship First Class meals

Flagship First Class seats aren’t winning any awards; 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.

To take a look at what the meals were like on The Points Guy’s flight in 2019, let’s roll the tape:

Since then, American Airlines has rolled out new catering options. In December 2019, American Airlines introduced new dishes on Flagship First Class like the artichoke ravioli and spinach and ricotta rotolo:

American Airlines
American Airlines’ new spinach and ricotta rotolo dish. (Photo courtesy of American Airlines.)

AA first class price

Booking American Airlines’ true Flagship First Class product for yourself isn’t going to come cheap. Here are the cheapest prices for nonstop flights on all of the Flagship First Class routes:

Route One-way Round-trip
New Yor-JFK to Los Angeles $859 $1,717
New York to San Francisco (SFO) $859 $1,717
Los Angeles to New York $859 $1,717
San Francisco to New York $859 $1,717
New York to London-Heathrow $7,654 $3,648
Miami to São Paulo $4,849 $4,784
Miami to Buenos Aires $4,659 $3,913
Miami to London-Heathrow $8,682 $4,548
New York to São Paulo $6,074 $6,233
Dallas/Fort Worth to London-Heathrow $10,825 $4,504
Dallas/Fort Worth to São Paulo $6,194 $7,234
Los Angeles to London-Heathrow $9,926 $5,248
Dallas/Fort Worth to Tokyo Haneda $13,504 $11,628
Los Angeles to Hong Kong $13,797 $10,332
Dallas/Forth Worth to Hong Kong $6,720 $10,317

And yes, oftentimes American Airlines will sell one-way international flights for more than the cost of a round-trip flight. 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.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

American Airlines AAdvantage

In December 2019, American Airlines expanded its dynamically-pricing Web Special award pricing to first-class awards. While AA maintains an award chart, the chart has practically lost its relevance. Now, the pricing for Flagship First Class awards is going to vary widely depending on demand.

Since launching these Web Specials, we have seen incredible deals — such as 61,000-mile Flagship First Class awards to Hong Kong — 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:

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select 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.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

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 very hard to find.

There are times where 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. To avoid digging through Web Special award prices, I recommend using AA’s old award search tool. Start your search here and make sure to click “redeem miles” at the top of the page before entering your route:

After searching, select the “First MileSAAver” tab at the top to highlight dates that have saver first-class availability. To avoid connecting itineraries on inferior products, I recommend choosing the “nonstop only” filter to limit results to dates that are actually available in first class:

Using this old award search engine is the easiest way of telling when there’s saver availability. If you use the new award search engine, you’ll only be able to tell which dates have saver award availability by knowing the MileSAAver award prices. That means that — ironically — the only time that American Airlines’ award chart really matters now is for searching for saver award availability to book awards through partners.

For reference, here are the prices for first-class MileSAAver awards on the current routes that 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 have to check for award space manually, you can set up an award alert on ExpertFlyer to be notified when an award seat opens up.

Etihad Guest

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 points (1:1), Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1), Capital One (2:1.5) and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 with 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points).

Also, Etihad Guest sells its miles for no more than two cents per mile — with the cost dropping even lower during promotions. Once you’ve accumulated Etihad Guest miles, here’s the process you’ll want to go through to book the award flight.

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 São Paulo: 135,000 miles round-trip
  • Miami to Buenos Aires/São Paulo/London: 135,000 miles round-trip
  • Dallas/Fort Worth to São Paulo: 145,000 miles round-trip
  • Los Angeles to London-Heathrow: 145,000 miles round-trip
  • Dallas/Fort Worth-Tokyo Henada: 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 only a transfer partner of 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.

Related: The best ways to earn points with the Marriott Bonvoy program

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-based, 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/São Paulo: 87,000 miles each way
  • New York-JFK to São Paulo: 87,000 miles each way
  • Los Angeles to London-Heathrow: 120,000 miles each way
  • Dallas/Fort Worth to São 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 also easy to earn Asia Miles, as the program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards points (1:1), Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1), Capital One (2:1.5) and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 with 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points).

Related: Choosing the best American Express card for you

Comparison chart

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
JFK LAX 2,475 25,000 45,000 50,000 65,000
JFK SFO 2,586 25,000 45,000 50,000 65,000
JFK LHR 3,451 50,000 87,000 85,000 65,000
MIA GRU 4,072 50,000 87,000 85,000 90,000
MIA EZE 4,406 50,000 87,000 85,000 90,000
MIA LHR 4,425 50,000 87,000 85,000 90,000
JFK GRU 4,745 50,000 87,000 85,000 90,000
DFW LHR 4,750 50,000 87,000 85,000 90,000
DFW GRU 5,111 50,000 120,000 85,000 90,000
LAX LHR 5,456 50,000 120,000 85,000 90,000
DFW HND 6,462 50,000 120,000 80,000 120,000
LAX HKG 7,260 55,000 120,000 110,000 120,000
DFW HKG 8,123 55,000 135,000 110,000 120,000

And for round-trip awards:

From To Flight miles Etihad Guest Mileage Bank Asia Miles AAdvantage (MileSAAver)
JFK LAX 4,950 50,000 90,000 90,000 100,000
JFK SFO 5,172 50,000 90,000 90,000 100,000
JFK LHR 6,902 100,000 120,000 174,000 170,000
MIA GRU 8,144 100,000 135,000 174,000 170,000
MIA EZE 8,812 100,000 135,000 174,000 170,000
MIA LHR 8,850 100,000 135,000 174,000 170,000
JFK GRU 9,490 100,000 135,000 174,000 170,000
DFW LHR 9,500 100,000 135,000 174,000 170,000
DFW GRU 10,222 100,000 145,000 240,000 170,000
LAX LHR 10,912 100,000 145,000 240,000 170,000
DFW HND 12,923 100,000 165,000 240,000 160,000
LAX HKG 14,520 110,000 190,000 240,000 220,000
DFW HKG 16,246 110,000 190,000 270,000 220,000

Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.

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