Arbitrage Opportunity: Use the Least Miles Possible to Fly Cross-Country in True First Class

After my post about really good award availability flying American’s JFK-Los Angeles flight, MJ On Travel went about making a booking and he shares a really useful tip.

  • American AAdvantage charges 65,000 miles roundtrip for JFK – Los Angeles (or San Francisco) in three-cabin first class, a premium over the 50,000 miles they’d charge for roundtrip business class.
  • British Airways would charge 75,000 Avios for that same itinerary, since they charge 2x the economy price for business class and 3x the economy price for first class.
  • On the other hand, US Airways Dividend Miles charges just 50,000 miles roundtrip for three-cabin first class on these routes — the same price that they charge for roundtrip business class.

I’ve been using this to great effect for years. I have several Hollywood-types among the clients of my award booking practice. They’ve been known to buy US Airways miles when there’s a 100% bonus offer (buying 100,000 miles for $1881 gets them 2 roundtrip tickets that would cost in excess of $5000 apiece at retail). They get to fly first class like the big celebrities in town!

We used to do this with United’s p.s. first class product between New York and Los Angeles. United has replaced three-cabin service with a business class that’s actually better than their old three-cabin first… but they no longer offer first class.

But American does. And American and US Airways are already partners, even though US Airways won’t join oneworld until March 31.

MJ and I actually e-mailed back and forth — should we post this?

  • It’s hardly a secret, it’s been a feature of the US Airways award chart for at least four years (since the current chart rolled out) and I believe before that as well.
  • It’s certainly been written about elsewhere.
  • And it’s something that is going to go away on its own when the two airlines merge into one and the mileage programs combine. There’s no chance this will remain a part of the award chart.

There’s a short-lived opportunity, not likely to be made even shorter-lived by making some more readers aware of it.

If you want to fly roundtrip on American’s new first class transcon service, US Airways miles may be the best way to do it! Bear in mind, though, that availability is much much better for one person than two, and much better in the next few months than farther out in the calendar.

I’ve actually flown the product in business class, so this would be a good opportunity to do it in first, and I can include American’s Washington National – New York JFK flights as part of the award for no additional miles, to get myself to and from the start of the best parts of the trip.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @TheWeeklyFlyer except that nobody reads your blog….Gary’s blog is the real deal.

  2. This is very old news.

    Also, do you know what “arbitrage” means? Like, in English?

    Nothing you write is about arbitrage. It’s about purchasing US Airways points, and then using US Airways points (and this is where any chance of “arbitrage” ceases) for a redemption on American Airlines. That’s not arbitrage, that’s “Using US Airways points for American Airlines awards.”

  3. @FlakedSnow – totally agreed. Gary, you have my utmost respect and are the best blogger out there, but in this case you obviously don’t know what arbitrage means.

  4. Gary, I’m sure you know what arbitrage means, and therefore you know this is not an example.

    Sweet spot, yes. Arbitrage, no.

  5. @ Gary et al – this is not an accurate depiction of arbitrage unless an individual intends to sell the ticket to someone else who does not have access to us air miles but desires the first class booking.

  6. the practice of buying something (such as foreign money, gold, etc.) in one place and selling it almost immediately in another place where it is worth more

  7. I thought I had read that the US system puts you in business if it is available and only in F if business is not available. Would you have to call to override that?

  8. Why do you feel like you have to explain yourself? You’ve been doing this a long time and have a great blog with a loyal following. Just do what you think is right. No need to explain yourself.

  9. FWIW, it booked into Z class, which is AA F. I didn’t have to call. Just went over to and chose my seats after making the reservation on

  10. You cats go, but Thanks, Gary. I’ve got my rides down. if I could convince hubby to come along, Business would be fine. Don’t mind climbing over him to work the beverage cycle. ITMT how about a cappuccino.

  11. @Flaked Snow @Hobo13 @Flyguy – It seems you don’t understand how this price difference is valuable to arbitrageurs.

  12. I can’t take the best of both worlds and use AA miles to book on for an AA flight, right? I just emptied my Diners Club account into AA since I was leaving my company (corporate card miles) so now I’m sitting on a stash of AA miles.

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