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What’s the best US airline business class? Comparing American, Delta and United

Aug. 23, 2022
4 min read
business class comparison
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U.S. legacy carriers Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines occasionally get a bad rap, but their size, route networks and robust frequent flyer programs make them hard to ignore. These three aviation behemoths are the product of several large stateside mergers and are arguably the most globally recognizable of all U.S. airlines. We wanted to put each of them to the test in business class on the most lucrative route in the world: London to New York City.

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We set out to assess the ground experience at London's Heathrow Airport (LHR), the cabin and seat on board, the inflight food and drinks, and the level of service. Alongside the now infamous call bell challenge, we added another test: the Champagne challenge. This measures the time it takes each airline to serve the first glass of Champagne after boarding.

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For this challenge, I flew on the Delta 767-400 and Liam took an American Airlines 777-200, both from Heathrow's Terminal 3 to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). Ben hopped on United’s 767-300 at Heathrow's Terminal 2 and flew to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR).

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American Airlines — Liam Spencer

Seat: 7A.
We paid: 65,500 AAdvantage miles plus $301.38 in tax.

The food served during the flight was a real highlight. Fresh prawns with an array of dips made for the perfect starter, and the ice cream sundae was the best dessert I’ve ever had on a plane.

The seat itself was spacious and comfortable, with no shortage of storage options. Even in a lie-flat position, I had plenty of room to spread out and stretch my legs without feeling cramped. The bedding and pillows provided were incredibly soft.

I did think that the crew could have been a little friendlier. Also, the winged headrest provided some privacy, but a fully closing sliding door would have elevated this business-class product to the next level. Plus, the seat was showing a few signs of aging.

United Airlines — Ben Smithson

Seat: 8L.
We paid: $2,501.84 (inclusive of a business-class flight from Brussels to London and a return economy flight).

The United Club lounge at Heathrow was lovely, with amazing views and a huge cocktail bar. On board, the Polaris business-class seats are very well designed with high-quality materials. They are holding up well despite heavy use. The Saks Fifth Avenue bedding is amongst the best in the industry, and the gel pillow was great for staying cool while sleeping.

It wasn’t all brilliant though. There were some bizarre food combinations for both meal services that I would not want to eat again. I was also disappointed that the inflight entertainment screen doesn’t tilt, making it difficult to watch movies in bed.

Delta Air Lines — Nicky Kelvin

Seat: 8D.
We paid: $1,332.18.

The ground experience — which is essentially the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class service, including the Upper Class Wing and Clubhouse — is exceptional for a business-class offering. It felt both private and exclusive and there was no crowding at any point.

On board, the food was plentiful and delicious. The snack that came with the first drinks service was a twist on the usual bowl of nuts, and it included chunks of cheese and dried fruit. The service was top-notch. The crew was attentive, efficient and hilarious. I received my first glass of Champagne minutes after boarding.

The aircraft I flew on did not feature Delta’s newest seat, the Delta One Suite, which was disappointing on this premium route. The seat didn’t provide much space when in the fully flat position, but this would have been more of an issue on a night flight if I was trying to sleep.

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Featured image by Photo by 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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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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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.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases