Review: American Airlines A321T Flagship First San Francisco to New York (SFO-JFK)
Considered one of the most luxurious way to fly domestic coast-to-coast commercially, the American Airlines Flagship First product on the A321T is the only remaining true "First Class" that is still offered within the US today*.
Earlier this year, I got the chance to experience this ultra-premium domestic flight from San Francisco to New York, fully paid with points! What made it even more insane was that I ended up being the ONLY passenger in the entire First Class cabin!
Read on to see my entire experience and also how you too can fly this completely free!
*Competing carriers have largely dropped "First Class" and instead branded their most premium domestic product as variations of Business Class, such as "JetBlue Mint", "United Polaris", and "Delta One" - all offer comparable level of service and seats to AA Flagship First. Check out my Delta One Review here!
Key Trip Info
- Flight #: American Airlines AA16
- Route: San Francisco (SFO) - New York (JFK)
- Departure (local time): 11:45am
- Arrival (local time): 8:27pm
- Duration: 5hr 42min
- Aircraft Type: Airbus A321T (Sharklets)
- Seat: 4A (Flagship First)
Here's a short video recap of my trip:
Now let's dive into the in-depth review...
I booked a one-way Flagship First Class cabin for 33,000 AAdvantage miles + $5.60 in taxes. This is an incredible deal since these seats usually cost 50,000+ miles!
I earned these miles from a recent signup bonus from the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red card, where I was able to earn 60,500 AAdvantage miles after just one purchase (with the annual fee waived too, be sure to get an invite code on your next AA flight)!
Alternatively, I could have also used significantly less miles to book the Flagship Business class seat, which would've gotten me just as much legroom, the same food, casper bedding, almost identical amenity kit and lounge access. If I was traveling with a companion, the 2-2 configuration would be more favorable.
Pro-tip: Keep looking around for good prices, as I found prices to fluctuate quite a bit even on a daily basis. Here's what AA charges for the same flight on a different date:
The same flight would have cost $2425 had I paid in cash!
This example below illustrates the value of points, especially when redeeming for more expensive premium cabin seats. Based on the market rate of my flight, here are the redemption values for each of the cabins (higher cents-per-point is better):
- Economy: $124 / 10,500pts = 1.1 cents-per-point
- Business: $700 / 20,500pts = 3.4 cents-per-point
- First: $2425 / 33,000pts = 7.3 cents-per-point (!!!)
I have a good amount of AAdvantage miles in my balance, and thus decided to experience what a $2000+ domestic flight was like!
Here's the seat chart from SeatGuru illustrating the 3 cabin classes on the A321T:
American Airlines is located in the newly constructed Harvey Milk Terminal 1 building at SFO.
When I arrived, there seemed to be more AA staff members than passengers in the terminal!
AA Flagship passengers are eligible to use the Priority check-in lane and check-in 2 luggages free of charge. But since I didn't have any checked bags and already had my electronic boarding pass, I skipped this process entirely. It was also at this time that I again checked the seat map and saw that no one else seemed to be flying in First Class on my flight that day, with no one on the upgrade waitlist either:
I had a good feeling I would be the only one in the cabin that day!
Immediately to the left of the check-in area is the security screening line. There are separate queues for TSA Pre passengers and also CLEAR.
I did end up using CLEAR + TSA Pre that day, but there was literally no one in line so it would've been fast either way. For more info on how to enhance your airport security experience, check out this post.
Lounge access is only available for select transcontinental flights, as I found out the hard way last time for my AA First Class trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco. Fortunately, today's Flagship First flight is eligible so I was able to check out the AA Admiral's Club for the first time!
A bit of a walk from the terminal headhouse...
Entering the lounge...
Overall, I found the relatively new lounge (opened Oct 2020) to be very pleasant - it was empty, quiet, spacious, and had everything I needed from small bites to comfortable seating to day beds to showers.
Check out my full lounge review below:
Additionally, as an Amex Platinum cardholder, I took the opportunity to check out the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at SFO International Terminal G, connected airside with American Airlines Terminal 1.
Check out my full Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse review here!
The whole process was very efficient, especially since the A321T is a premium-heavy plane configuration with only 102 passengers and it seemed like a super light load today overall.
Flagship First boarded in Group 1, so I was on my way in no time.
As soon as I got settled, my flight attendant Luis came over to offer me my pre-departure beverage (PDB). He mentioned I could have anything I want - I ended up going for some sparkling champagne to kick off the journey! I'm glad pre-departure beverages are back as the pandemic recovery is in progress, but I really hope they can bring back glassware for PDB too!
Getting settled in...
Cabin & Seats
I chose seat 4A - although seeing as I was the only passenger today, I could really sit anywhere I liked.
Here's a couple more pics of the cabin:
There's plenty of overhead bin space reserved for Flagship First passengers:
Here's a few more photos of the cabin later on in the flight:
Having my seat span 3 windows offers me great views of the outside. However, the seat was a bit far from the windows so made it hard to actually "peek" out at the scenery below:
Waiting for me at my seat was a bottle of water, a sanitizing wipe, the in-flight dining menu, and also the SHINOLA Amenity Kit, which is provided to American long-haul international business class and premium transcon first class passengers.
Included in the kit were earplugs, a hand & body lotion, dental kit, eye-mask, socks, and a pencil.
Of course this can't compare to the Ferragamo or RIMOWA kits provided on EVA's international business class, but for a domestic flight this is very impressive!
BANG & OLUFSEN noise-cancelling headphones were also provided. I thought they were of very good quality, comfortable to wear and effectively blocked out outside noise.
Due to this type of reverse herringbone seating, similar to the old EVA Air seats, the screens need to be stowed away during take-off and landing. This didn't really bother me and I can still watch my content (albeit at an angle) if I really wanted to.
This is the view after take-off:
I found the remote for controlling the IFE very hard to use. I thought it was broken at first, it was only after I applied more pressure to the screen did I realize it was functional. I recommend just using the main touch-screen instead.
American partnered with Casper for the bedding, which is a very nice touch. The blanket and pillow were very comfortable (to the point I wanted to take one home...). Sadly, my flight was too short to truly enjoy a true nap.
Here's a pic of the seat without the bedding:
And here's my setup with bedding (very comfy!):
I was able to a little shut-eye before we descended into New York. I honestly didn't want this flight to end:
Another vantage point:
If you prefer, you can actually pre-order your meal prior to the flight. However, I opted to order in-flight:
The Flagship First menu was waiting for me by my seat when I sat down. Here's what the menu contained:
I was told I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever. This might've been due to the fact I was the only passenger flying First today though.
Shortly after reaching cruising altitude, my flight attendant came by with warmed nuts, olives, as well as my drinks. More on the cappuccino below.
So when I was browsing drink options, I noticed the following:
Cappuccinos and espressos are offered on select aircraft. Please check
with your Flignt Attendant for avallability.
I inquired regarding the availability and was told that they were indeed recently loaded onto the aircraft once again. However, my flight attendant admitted he has never made it before, but was happy to try. Eventually, he came back with the cappuccino, and apologized for the presentation (I thought it was fine!). I have to admit it wasn't the best tasting coffee, but it did the job perfectly and I appreciated his candor and overall attitude more than anything.
Next came the appetizers, salad, and soup (good!). My flight attendant later came over with a basket of warmed bread - a luxury in domestic air travel.
And for the main course, I got the Miso Saba Roasted Seat Bass:
I thought the main course was very mediocre - American can definitely improve the presentation and quality for a "Flagship First" product.
Finally, I got the "Traditional Ice-Cream Sundae" to wrap things up:
At this point I was beyond stuffed...
My flight attendant actually came around with a fully laid out cheese board, and invited me to order from the wine list. I really appreciated his gesture and his constant effort to make sure I was cared for. However, I was too full at this point so politely declined. Need to save some room for the Flagship Dining experience at JFK (see the end)...
Near the end of the flight, I was also offered warmed cookies. Not sure why, but I always crave some warm chocolate cookies with milk near the end of my flights, so this was perfect.
Honestly with me as the only passenger in the First Class cabin today, my flight attendant Luis could've just served my meal quickly and then had his own time for the rest of the flight. But instead, he worked hard to offer the best experience and constantly offered to bring me anything that I wanted. American carriers usually get a lot of flak for bad service, and I definitely have experienced that many times (ahem, United especially). However, the service I experience on this flight blew away all my expectations, and is arguably even better than many Asian carriers I have flown on.
The Flagship First hard product was solid, but it was the service that made this flight one I will never forget!
Arrival & Flagship First Dining @ JFK
Last but not least, I had to stop by the Flagship Lounge at New York's JFK upon arrival to try out AA's Flagship Dining service. One of the biggest highlights is the exclusive, invite-only fine-dining experience offered at only several select AA hubs for eligible premium-class passengers. Here's a couple pics:
Check out full review of the Flagship Lounge here.
Overall, for a 6-hour domestic transcontinental flight, American Flagship First offered everything I needed to eat, relax, and sleep well. The hard product is very competitive, especially on a narrow-body plane. Furthermore, as mentioned in the above section, the service I experienced was unlike anything I've seen. I do have to note this may just be my luck, and may not be the consistent experience on every flight.
However, the steep cash price for this quick flight will make it hard to justify and recommend to others, even with the exceptional service. The flight is simply too short to truly enjoy everything it has to offer, and your cash will probably go further used on a nicer hotel room or fine-dining experience. That being said, if you ever see a points deal as good as the one I got, I would highly recommend going for it!
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