The best premium cabin seats in the U.S. and how to book them
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Business- and first-class seats differ not only from airline to airline. But they also can be incredibly diverse within an individual airline’s own fleet. Even more, some airlines operate different products within the same aircraft type.
When traveling domestically, you could fly in a lie-flat seat, a recliner seat with seatback entertainment screens or a dated seat that doesn’t even have power outlets. Although you might expect newly-delivered planes to have airlines’ latest and greatest products, you’ll sometimes have a better experience on an older plane.
Today, we’re going to take a look at the best premium cabin seats available domestically on each of the major U.S. airlines and how you can book them. For American, Delta and United, we’re going to include the best options on both single-aisle planes and wide-bodies. The larger planes were designed to operate long-haul international flights but can often be found on domestic routes.
Just remember that aircraft types aren’t guaranteed. You may end up in an inferior seat type in some situations, and there could be little you could do about it.
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First class on the A321
Alaska’s first-class seats are fairly similar across its fleet. They’re all standard recliner seats, all offer in-seat power outlets and none of them have built-in entertainment screens. However, if you have a choice in aircraft, you’ll likely want to pick the Airbus A321neo.
The A321’s are outfitted with Alaska’s latest first-class seats, designed in collaboration with BMW. They’re arranged in a 2-2 configuration, offer 40 inches of legroom and are 21 inches wide. Although they have slightly less padding than the older seats found on the Boeing 737s, their memory foam cushioning makes up for it. Other features include a six-way adjustable headrest, footrest and tablet holder.
How to book
Alaska’s A321’s fly a mix of short-haul flights like Seattle (SEA) to Los Angeles (LAX) and cross-country flights like Los Angeles and San Francisco (SFO) to New York-JFK. You can often find short-haul first-class flights for around $100 each way or transcontinental flights from about $250 each way.
When booking with points, domestic first-class flights can cost anywhere from 15,000 to 70,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles each way. However, not being a transfer partner of any major transferable points programs makes Alaska miles hard to earn. An easier way to book awards on Alaska would be through American Airlines AAdvantage or British Airways Executive Club. American charges a flat 25,000 miles for domestic first-class awards operated by Alaska, regardless of the distance.
Single-aisle: Legacy AA first class on the A321
Excluding the fancy three-cabin A321T, as that aircraft only flies between New York-JFK, Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Boston (BOS), the best traditional domestic first-class seats are on non-retrofitted legacy American Airlines A321s. These seats are well-padded, have in-seat power outlets and, best of all, feature built-in entertainment screens. They are 21 inches wide and offer 38 inches of legroom.
Now, American is in the process of retrofitting its A321s and B737s and replacing these seats with less-padded seats without inflight entertainment screens. However, while it plans to complete work on the 737s by March 2021, American won’t finish with the A321s until spring 2022. Unlike with the 737s, where you can’t always tell what cabin type you’ll get, you can ensure you get an A321 with the legacy interior by looking at the seat map. Specifically, you’ll want to pick a flight that has four rows of first-class and a total of 36 rows in the entire plane.
Wide-body: Business class on the 777-300ER
American’s Boeing 777-300ER (abbreviated on schedules as 77W) features the airline’s best seats and is among the few planes to still offer a true first-class cabin (often sold as business class on domestic routes). That said, many AA flyers prefer the business class seats on this jet to the first-class seat.
Business-class seats on the 77W are fully lie-flat, are all forward-facing and provide a decent amount of privacy despite not having doors. The cabin is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, so every seat offers direct aisle access.
How to book
While the A321s are found on a wide variety of domestic flights, the 77W typically only flies between select hubs, such as between Miami (MIA) and Los Angeles (LAX), as well as shorter hops between Miami (MIA) and New York-JFK, Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and Dallas and Orlando (MCO).
Paid first-class tickets start at around $200 each way on many domestic routes, including those operated by planes with lie-flat seats upfront. There are also many ways to book American Airlines first class with miles.
Thanks to American’s ‘Web Special’ awards, you could score first-class awards from 15,000 AAdvantage miles each way, including on cross-country flights. For short- and medium-haul flights, you might be better off booking through British Airways Executive Club. It’s a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points and often charges fewer miles for American Airlines flights than the AAdvantage program. For instance, on flights up to 1,151 miles, such as New York-JFK to Miami or Chicago (ORD) to Dallas-Fort Worth, business-class seats cost just 16,500 Avios each way.
Single-aisle: First class on the 757-200 (75S)
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Delta has a fairly consistent first-class product across its narrow-body fleet. No matter the plane’s age, you’ll usually have an in-seat power outlet and seatback entertainment screen when flying Delta first class domestically. However, the best domestic first-class seats are probably on Delta’s 757-200s. Delta has several different types of configurations for its 757s, but one of them offers lie-flat seats in first class (denoted at 75S on the airline’s fleet page).
These 757s are equipped with 16 lie-flat seats arranged in a slightly-staggered 2-2 layout. Each is 20.2 inches wide and reclines to a bed that’s 76 inches long. The non-middle armrest can be raised or lowered for another two inches of space. Each seat also offers a power outlet, a USB port and built-in entertainment.
Related: Review of Delta One on the 757-200
Wide-body: Delta One on the A350
Delta made headlines as the first airline in the world to unveil an all-suites business-class cabin, where each seat had its own door. However, Qatar Airways beat Delta to the punch with its own all-suites business class product, which began flying a few months before. While several other airlines have since introduced similar fully-enclosed business class products, Delta is still the only U.S. legacy carrier to offer this.
The seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, are exceptionally spacious, and are very private, thanks to a sliding door. Although they’re available on Delta’s A350s and A330-900neos, the A350 gets the nod here as the seats are slightly wider and more spacious on that aircraft.
Related: Review of Delta One on the A350
Bonus: First class on the A220
If you’re flying on a shorter route that doesn’t offer any planes with lie-flat seats, your top pick would be first class on the A220. These snazzy textured leather seats offer 37 inches of pitch and are 21 inches wide — half an inch wider than those found on similar jets like Delta’s Boeing 717, CRJ900 and Embraer E-175.
Each seat has its own power outlet, USB port and crisp 13.3-inch touchscreen entertainment system. Unlike most other planes, the aisle armrests could be lowered to be entirely flush with the bottom seat cushion. As a bonus, the windows on this plane are extra big and there’s even a window in one of the bathrooms.
How to book
Delta’s 757s are used for many cross-country flights, while the A220s operate various short and medium-haul domestic flights, including many out of Salt Lake City (SLC). The A350s, on the other hand, are a bit harder to find domestically, but sometimes fly between cities like Atlanta (ATL) and Seattle (SEA), Atlanta and Los Angeles (LAX) and Detroit (DTW) and Los Angeles.
Domestic routes operated by these planes start around $250 each way over the next few months. Delta is an instant 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, so you can easily boost your SkyMiles balance to book your flight with points if you have a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card. Just remember that Delta prices awards dynamically, meaning the points price varies depending on the ticket’s cash price. Alternatively, you could book your awards through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, which uses a distance-based award chart for Delta flights, though the rates are steep and can top 50,000 points on some domestic flights.
First class on the A330
The A330-200 is Hawaiian’s long-haul workhorse, operating flights from Honolulu to the mainland U.S., Australia and East Asia, and is outfitted with the airline’s best first-class cabin. The seats themselves aren’t very special and are arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration, but they are fully lie-flat and there are privacy dividers.
Each seat has 76 inches of pitch and is 21 inches wide. They don’t have built-in entertainment screens, but Hawaiian provides pre-loaded iPads and built-in stands. Other features include built-in power outlets and a USB port at each seat.
How to book
Hawaiian first-class flights start around $570 each way from the West Coast and around $1,500 each way from the East Coast. Fortunately, despite Hawaiian not being a part of a major airline alliance, there are several ways to book Hawaiian flights using points.
First, flights can be booked via the carrier’s own HawaiianMiles program. The program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, so it’s easy to get miles that way. However, the program uses dynamic pricing, so you can expect to pay anywhere from 40,000 to 130,000 miles each way in first class. Luckily, you can also redeem miles with partner airlines like Korean Air SkyPass, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and JetBlue TrueBlue and often pay much less. For instance, JetBlue caps Hawaiian first-class awards from the East Coast at 70,000 TrueBlue points. You can boost your TrueBlue balance by transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards.
Mint Suite on the A321
Although the carrier is planning to launch a new business class product when it takes delivery of the A321LR, JetBlue currently offers just one business class seat type. It’s available only on select A321s and the configuration is consistent across all planes.
There are 16 Mint seats spread across five rows, with each row alternating between a 2-2 configuration (odd-numbered rows) and 1-1 configuration (even-numbered rows). The even-numbered suite-style seats have two large tables, as well as a sliding door. Regardless of which row you end up in, your seat will have a massage function, built-in power outlet, USB port and seatback entertainment.
How to book
JetBlue offers its Mint product on a growing number of transcontinental routes and some to the Caribbean and Central America. With paid fares sometimes available for as low as $300 each way, paying cash is typically your best bet. However, booking your flight using points is still a possibility. JetBlue’s TrueBlue program prices award tickets dynamically and you’ll usually get around 1 cent in value per point.
As previously mentioned, JetBlue is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards, making it easy to use your points from cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Citi Premier® Card or The Platinum Card from American Express.
Single-aisle: Business class on the 757-200
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Like Delta, United operates several variants of the 757-200, but all of them offer lie-flat seats up in business class. The main difference between the planes is that some offer more business class seats and some were recently refreshed with new upholstery and other cabin finishes.
Regardless of which variant you end up on, business class will be arranged in a 2-2 configuration with seats being 21 inches wide and offering 75 to 76 inches of pitch. The seats offer seatback entertainment and built-in power outlets.
Note, United also operates many 757-300s. These planes don’t have lie-flat seats, so be sure to check your aircraft type and the seating configuration of your specific flight before booking. These planes have standard recliner seats with no built-in TVs.
Wide-body: Polaris on the 787-10
United’s 787-10s are all equipped with the airline’s latest in-flight products, including the airline’s best Polaris business class seats.
These planes have 44 Polaris seats, spread between 11 rows in one large business-class cabin. The seats themselves are incredibly comfortable, with 21 inches of width and 76 inches of pitch. Each seat is fully lie-flat, offers direct aisle access and is quite private, despite not having closing doors. Everyone gets all of the necessities, such as built-in power outlets, USB ports and seatback entertainment. There are also some classy elements like a lamp, a marble-like side table and a cabinet with a mirror.
How to book
United’s 757-200s are used for a wide variety of domestic flights, including cross-country flights, Hawaii flights, as well as some shorter flights like Newark (EWR) to Houston (IAH) and Orlando (MCO). The 787-10s, on the other hand, consistently operate daily flights between Newark and Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). Paid first-class fares on medium-haul domestic flights often start around $300 each way, whereas transcontinental flights start around $530. Fortunately, there are lots of options for booking these flights using points and miles.
With United no longer publishing award charts, MileagePlus award rates can fluctuate dramatically with the season. That said, you can typically expect to pay at least 25,000 miles each way for a standard domestic first-class flight and 35,000 miles for a premium transcontinental flight. Although there’s technically no close-in booking fee, you can expect to pay a couple extra thousand miles for awards booked within 30 days. You can transfer miles to United at a 1:1 ratio from Chase Ultimate Rewards.
If there’s saver availability for your dates, you could be better off booking through one of United’s partners like Avianca LifeMiles or Air Canada Aeroplan. Both programs cap first-class awards within the contiguous United States at 25,000 miles and neither penalize you for booking last minute. Additionally, they’re both partners of several transferable points programs. Avianca partners with all the major transferable points programs, except for Chase Ultimate Rewards, while Aeroplan partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One and Marriott Bonvoy.
The major U.S. airlines fly a wide range of premium cabin seats. It’s important to pick your flights wisely as you can have a wildly different in-flight experience from one plane to another — even on the same airline. As you saw, it’s also important to be strategic about how you book your flight as an airline’s own loyalty program isn’t always the cheapest option.
Featured image by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.
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