Fly Transcontinental First Class For $5!

Tips & Tricks Mar 21, 2021

Have you ever boarded a domestic U.S. flight, walked past the first few rows and thought to yourself - "I wish I could sit up front...must be nice not being crammed like sardines in the back of a 6-hour transcontinental flight."?

Today, I will share exactly how I spent only $5 in taxes to fly in American Airlines Domestic First Class, and how you can easily do the same!


Benefits of Flying First Class

  • Priority check-in
  • Expedited security
  • Priority boarding
  • Wider seats & more legroom
  • Premium dining
  • Extra bag allowance
  • Lounge access (only on certain transcon routes)

Note that not all benefits are available for all routes. I'll be publishing a separate post in the coming weeks detailing my specific experience. Stay tuned!

In addition, keep in mind that with the pandemic, equipment (plane) swaps are not uncommon and that your experience may vary. For my flight, I got the older US Airways A321 seats (pictured below).

Certain transcontinental routes also feature 3-class configuration with full lie-flat First Class seats. The 2-class configuration seats I got are more comparable to international long-haul premium economy seats.

Finally, I was lucky to at least get a full meal (albeit not the full dining experience pre-pandemic), as AA recently removed hot food service and replaced them with snack boxes.


How I Booked

I had a lot of AA miles to burn and in my experience I've found that AA usually gives the best redemption values on premium cabin flights within the US. However, if you want to fly with another US carrier, a similar method can be used. Keep in mind this was a booking for summer 2020 for two passengers.

1. Search on aa.com

Run a search for your flight (make sure "Redeem miles" is checked)

aa.com Flight Search Tool

2. Compare points vs. cash prices

I found that in general, one-way domestic first were around $500 per person when paying in cash. In comparison, it only cost around 20,000 AA miles. This gives it a value of 2.5 cents-per-point (cpp), which is an incredible value! Especially considering the fact that AA points can be easily earned (covered later in article) through credit card signup bonuses, this was a terrific deal. During pre-covid times, I remember award prices for transcontinental flights were going for about 55k one-way.

Award Redemption for PHL-SFO (one-way)
Cash Prices for PHL-SFO (one-way)

3. Book and select seats

I ended up booking 2 First Class tickets for my girlfriend and I with 42k miles + $11.20 in taxes total.

Booking Confirmed

It is also good to check seatguru.com when picking your seat (although with the pandemic, sometimes aircraft swaps could happen). Check out how I used the website to pick my EVA Air seats here.

Prices fluctuate week by week, including a brief moment where some first class lie-flat seats were going as low as 20k miles! Also be aware that seats can get booked up very quickly. Only one seat was booked in First when I made my reservation. That quickly changed as all remaining seats were booked a few days later! Major US airlines have also largely eliminated change fees and increased rescheduling flexibility in light of COVID-19, so I recommend checking the airline's website for most updated policy and booking early if free change / cancellation is allowed.

American Airlines Domestic First Class Meal

How to Earn AAdvantage Miles

The easiest way to earn lots of AA miles isn't by flying, but by taking advantage of the many AAdvantage credit card sign up offers!

Here are the cards where you can earn AAdvantage miles. The bolded are ones I've signed up for and recommend. Note that offers can change, so do your own research before proceeding.

Personal Cards

  • Citi AAdvantage MileUp ($0 AF, 10k bonus)
  • Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select ($99 AF, 50-65k bonus)
  • Citi AAdvantage Executive ($450 AF, 50k bonus)
  • Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red ($99 AF, 60k bonus)

Business Cards

  • CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select ($99 AF, 65-75k bonus)
  • Barclays Business AAdvantage Aviator ($95 AF, 75k bonus)
AAdvantage Credit Cards

Specifically, the Barclays Aviator Red card had a minimum purchase requirement of only one purchase(!!!) to earn the 60k miles bonus! I essentially bought one boba and earned enough miles to fly domestic first three times! By holding these cards, you can also get perks such as priority boarding, free checked bags, Wi-Fi credits, etc... - even when flying basic economy!

Alternatively, you can also earn decent amounts of points via the AAdvantage shopping portal. Check out my previous post on this here.

Lastly, when flying One World carriers (e.g. Cathay Pacific, Alaska, British Airways, etc.), you can choose to accrue your miles with AAdvantage too!


Conclusion

Overall, 21k AA miles + $5.60 in taxes for a one-way transcontinental first class flight was an absolute steal, especially when cash fares were going for $500+!

This is especially true during this pandemic where having a bit more personal space makes the entire experience so much better for those essential trips you absolutely must take. Furthermore, these points cost me next to nothing to acquire (as described in detail above).

Even though we're still nowhere close to full recovery, this is a great time to start earning points, so that when it is time to fly again, you'll be prepared to snag those deals!

Coming Soon: American Airlines First Class (PHL-SFO)


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