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Sweet Spot Sunday: Fly lie-flat domestic business class for the price of coach

July 04, 2021
9 min read
American new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner Zach Griff - 3
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Most domestic first-class seats aren't all that different from coach. You'll usually get a recliner seat with just a few extra inches of legroom and oftentimes no seatback entertainment screen. However, if you pick your flights wisely, you may be able to fly on wide-body aircraft with lie-flat seats.

American Airlines in particular is known for frequently flying long-haul international aircraft on shorter domestic routes. You'll find this most often on flights between major hub cities and on transcontinental flights.

Whiles American sometimes charges extra for domestic awards with lie-flat seats, like most things in the points and miles world, there's a workaround. In fact, you might even be able to book these flights for the price of an economy award.

The trick is to book through British Airways' or Iberia's Avios program. Specifically, you can book short- and medium-haul domestic lie-flat business-class flights for just 16,500 Avios each way. As you're going to see, even if you don't currently have Avios, you can easily obtain them by transferring points from most flexible points currencies.

Let's take a closer look at this sweet spot, including what routes offer lie-flat seats, how to book and how to earn Avios.

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Why it’s special

American Airlines often flies wide-body aircraft with lie-flat seats on domestic routes between major hub cities. Although the service on board is the same, you'll enjoy a much more comfortable and private seat.

When booking these flights with American miles, you'll usually be subject to a 7,500-mile surcharge (unless you're booking a Web Special). While that might be justifiable for cross-country flights, that's a hefty premium for shorter flights with lie-flat seats, such as the hourlong A321T hop from New York-JFK to Boston (BOS). To put this in perspective, you'll need to pay 22,500 American miles to fly lie-flat on routes under 500 miles and at least 32,500 miles for most other domestic routes.

Luckily, you can get around this surcharge and save miles by booking through British Airways' or Iberia's Avios program. The two airlines follow a virtually identical award chart for American Airlines flights, with one key difference. Both programs charge just 16,500 Avios for nonstop business-class awards on flights less than 1,151 miles, regardless of whether the flight offers lie-flat seats.

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However, for flights under 651 miles, the rates drop to 15,000 Avios with British Airways and just 12,500 Avios with Iberia — 12,500 miles is what American charges for most domestic economy tickets.

Related: Maximizing the British Airways distance-based award chart

Business class on an American Airlines 787-9. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

British Airways and Iberia are transfer partners of most flexible points programs, including American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy. So, it's very easy to earn enough Avios to book these awards. You can also freely transfer your miles between British Airways and Iberia so long as long as each of your accounts is "active."

Here's the real kicker: American Express and Chase sometimes offer bonuses for transferring points to Avios, so you can potentially book these awards for even fewer miles. For instance, when Amex offers a 40% bonus on transfers to Avios, you only have to transfer 12,000 points to book these awards (or less for flights under 651 miles).

Related: A guide to earning transferable points and why they’re so valuable

Routes

The 16,500-mile award rate is available for all nonstop business-class flights between 651 and 1,151 miles in distance. However, if you want to fly in a lie-flat seat, you'll need to pick a flight operated by a wide-body plane or American's three-class A321T. American's wide-body fleet consists of a mix of Boeing 787-8s, 787-9s, 777-200s and 777-300ERs (sometimes abbreviated as 77W).

Here are some routes under 1,151 miles that usually offer wide-body flights:

  • New York-JFK to Miami (MIA).
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Miami.
  • Dallas-Fort Worth to Phoenix (PHX).
  • Charlotte (CLT) to Miami.
  • Miami to Philadelphia (PHL).
  • Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU).

You can even book some short-haul international flights with lie-flat seats, such as Dallas-Fort Worth to Cancun, Mexico (CUN).

But, it gets sweeter: These shorter domestic flights operated by the four-class 777-300 are sold as two-cabin flights. So, if you book a business-class seat, you may be able to select a Flagship First seat for no extra fee. Similarly, premium economy seats on these flights are sold as Main Cabin Extra (extra-legroom coach).

Related: The best premium cabin seats in the US and how to book them

Flagship First on American's 77W. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

How to book this award

The beauty of booking American Airlines flights with Avios is that it can be done online. You can book them through either the British Airways or Iberia website, though I personally prefer British Airways since Iberia's website can be temperamental at times.

Step 1: Log in to your account

Log in to your account and then head to the “Book a flight with Avios” page via the "Book" tab on the top menu.

(Screenshot courtesy of britishairways.com)

Step 2: Enter your trip information

You'll then be prompted to enter your origin, destination, travel dates and number of travelers. Keep in mind that this low rate is for nonstop flights — if your itinerary has layovers, every segment will be charged individually.

(Screenshot courtesy of britishairways.com)

Step 3: Pick your flights

If you’ve already confirmed saver availability on another site, the same award availability should appear for the date you search. If not, you can check availability on surrounding dates at the top of the results page.

If you still can’t find any award availability, you can use ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) to set alerts to be notified when award space opens up. Luckily, since the wide-body aircraft are very premium-heavy, you'll usually have an easier time finding award availability than on domestic aircraft.

Related: The best websites for searching Oneworld award availability

(Screenshot courtesy of britishairways.com)

After selecting "Business Class," the flight details and cost will be shown at the bottom of the page. As expected, this sample search from Miami (MIA) to New York-JFK priced out at 16,500 miles plus $5.60. If everything checks out, click “Continue” to make your booking.

(Screenshot courtesy of britishairways.com)

Step 4: Confirm and pay

The final step to complete your booking is to enter the passenger information and payment information. While the taxes and fees on these awards are minimal, it’s still important to pay using the right card, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express or Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Aside from earning bonus points on airfare, these cards provide trip delay reimbursement and trip cancellation and interruption protection, which can be incredibly valuable when things go wrong.

Related: The best credit cards for paying taxes and fees on award tickets

You'll want to note that British Airways bookings don't follow the same change and cancellation rules as those made directly with American. Specifically, remember that changes and cancellations can only be made up to 24 hours before departure. Additionally, there may be a service fee of $55 per person per ticket (currently being waived due to COVID-19).

(Screenshot courtesy of britishairways.com)

How to earn Avios for this award

As mentioned previously, British Airways and Iberia Avios are some of the easiest miles to earn. You can transfer the following currencies to Avios:

If you're short on these types of rewards, you can quickly earn a large chunk with a welcome bonus from a new travel rewards credit card. Here are some of the top offers currently available:

Another option is to sign up for the British Airways Visa Signature Card or Iberia Visa Signature Card to earn Avios directly. Both cards are currently offering new cardholders earn up to 100,000 Avios. Earn 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening and earn an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 in the the first 12 months of account opening.

Related: The best ways to earn British Airways Avios

Bottom line

Booking domestic American Airlines business-class flights is one of the best uses of British Airways and Iberia Avios. Not only do the programs often charge fewer miles than American itself but the miles are also extremely easy to earn. The real kicker is that if you pick your flights strategically, you'll get to fly internationally configured wide-body planes with lie-flat seats.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

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  • Steep $550 annual fee
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  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
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Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more