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

Jul 4, 2021

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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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In This Post

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.

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 American Airlines 787-9
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 RewardsCapital OneChase 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

American Airlines 777-300 first class
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.

British Airways Avios award booking
(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.

BA award booking
(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

BA 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.

BA award price
(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).

BA award booking page
(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:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from opening your account.
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening. Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases made at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (on up to $25,000 in combined spending) during the first six months of card membership.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

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 100,000 bonus Avios after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Plus, new cardholders can earn extra Avios on select purchases within their first year 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 photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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