Cheap First Class Fares and Award Space on American’s New JFK-Los Angeles First Class Product

I’m a huge fan of American’s new Airbus A321 three-cabin service between New York JFK and Los Angeles, and expanding to New York JFK and San Francisco.

I crawled around the plane before it began service, while it was touring up in New York.

And I flew the inaugural commercial flight in January.

It’s an outstanding product, with a business class seat that matches or exceeds what Delta is offering (the seat is very similar to United’s, but brand new, and with better inflight entertainment).

And it’s the only true first class cabin on the route. That’s 1×1 seating, each seat is both an aisle and a window, they’ve taken a seat very similar to their new international business class seat that I think is the best seat across the Atlantic currently and are using it on the new plane serving these premium domestic routes.

Clearly it’s aimed at the Hollywood market, I expect that as the only carrier offering first class they should be able to fill some seats between Los Angeles and New York. I’m not sure they can fill 10 per flight, but they should sell some.

They’re rolling out the plane to San Francisco and I’d be surprised if it works there, they need a flat business class to be competitive there but I would be surprised if they can sell first class.

Their marketing campaign is that they really introduced non-stop coast-to-coast travel back in the glamour days of the 1950s, and now they’re bringing the glamour back to travel. Their initial spot, though, was more about the 1950s than about telling the story of their new product.

I think that’s a mistake. It’s a great product, and people need to know about it if it’s going to sell. If it doesn’t sell, they won’t keep it. I really do think this configuration on New York – San Francisco is especially iffy for the future.

They’ve extended their ad campaign. It’s still a retro theme, but with lots of black and white and splashes of color. But they’re showing more of the product itself.

Modern and retro at the same time, there’s an 8-page double placement in both Variety and Hollywood Reporter this week juxtaposing photos of Grace Kelly and Gregory Peck with Neil Patrick Harris and Julianna Margulies in black and white enjoying American’s new first class.

Here’s the thing. It’s a great product, the best, but it needs to sell and signs are that it isn’t. There’s just too much discounting out there.

There’s been good award availability and good paid fares on the route for awhile. For a ticket that can often go for as much as $5000 roundtrip, we’re seeing one-way JFK – Los Angeles in first class (not business) for as low as a smidge uner $500.. for the 6am departure.

But it’s still a clue that they might not be selling these seats, or as many of these seats on all flights, as they need to.

Another clue is award availability. Here’s mid April-May for one person (awards for 2 are tougher to come by) in first class flying JFK-LAX non-stop.

There really is glamour in the skies domestically. When I flew the inaugural it was in business class. I’d love to fly it in first class. In black and white. Alongside Julianna Margulies.

My advice? Grab it now. Before American’s President Scott Kirby gets his hands on the revenue spreadsheets.


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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. The sub-500 P fares are mistake fares. Th7e fare rule should have been filed to exclude all JFK LAX direct service but they forgot the 6am flight number AA 171. It’s currently not used on JFK and LAX. Please take this down or it’d be gone in no time.

  2. I’ve had probably a dozen people email me about this fare over the past MONTH. I’ve read about it on blogs and forums, I think The Points Guy did a standalone post on it and I know it was on TravelingBetter. It’s hardly been a secret, but I didn’t read closely or investigate fare details — actually didn’t realize it was meant as a connecting fare.

  3. I am not as taken by this aircraft as you are.

    Personally I prefer widebodies, I actually like the 763 in business more because there are two aisles. If FA’s are up, you can go down the alternate aisle. Also it just feels more spacious. There are fewer bathrooms on the 321 as well, and I noticed that there were more line-ups to use the facilities.

    But after my complaints, it sure is nice having this aircraft on the transcons as it is a huge step up from traditional single aisle aircraft.

    Do you think that if this doesn’t do well, we could possibly see SFO-JFK on a 737 or something?

  4. Having flown on the ns in F and C – I can honestly say I prefer the C seat. The F seats are too close together and your leg closest to the aisleis seriously constrained below the armrest of the seat in front. This F seat is not close to the C seat on the 777W from which it was modeled. To make the F seat a comfortable place – they’d likely need to pull down F to 8 seats from 10 and increase the pitch a few inches.

  5. I live in Los Angeles and have been absolutely baffled at the lack of marketing and advertising here. No billboards, no “get to know our new product” events in Hollywood. Being the only First Class product on such a lucrative route, one would think American would have been building momentum for this brand from day one. If they can build an aura about it, the Hollywood crowd will flock to it.

  6. This is a mistake fare, not intentional discounting. The fare rules have a clear error. Thanks for blowing it up.

  7. (A) The assertion that they mustn’t be selling many seats on the JFK-LAS flights is flawed. I’ve tried to buy paid F seats on several occasions in the last month (2 to 3 days prior to departure) and had had no luck – F0! I’ve looked at the full day availability close-in and see a few, but not many, seats. AA is smart enough not to give all the seats away for low-miles award pax – these are nearly certainly revenue pax filling the significant majority of the seats.

    (B) I disagree with your forecast about SFO utilization. While demand will be lower than from LAX, that will be offset with lower frequencies. Booking a paid flight from SFO to JFK the other day on a couple of days notice, I found typically two or three seats available in AA’s 762 F cabins. SFO is a boom-town again with all the technology hoopla.

    (C) AA is not intentionally selling their flagship product at $500.

  8. OMG, that’s some post to tell people there are some cheap F transcon fares. Holy…moly. I see you are back to your old ways…. 🙂

  9. @Mike it’s been around for a full month, I think plenty of people have been able to get in on it. And I am not the one to break it publicly in any case, it’s been written about all over the internet. But thanks for sharing your opinion!

  10. Wow. Great fares. Could one pay cash for first class, credit the miles to us and get the 50% additional miles toward status on us as you can when you fly paid first on us? That looks to be about 7300 pqm which is just south of flying to Europe in coach.

  11. @Mark – actually, the point of the post to me was the status of the product, how it’s doing overall, and subdidiarily that there are cheap fares and award seats both. It was the advertising that prompted me to write the post, believe it or not, rather than the fare which I’ve known about for a month. I kinda dig the Doogie Howser shots.

  12. Honestly don’t recall. Probably not. But I’m sure you know how tough it can be for a new blog, so the HT meant a lot, regardless. Definitely wasn’t asking for one from you. Have the utmost respect you for your content, by the way. Really.

  13. @Steve and by no means trying to diminish, just to suss out — I’d happily give you credit if you were the very first, but I didn’t want to slight someone else (since I didn’t actually pick up on this from you directly). Sorry if I seemed at all dismissive, that wasn’t my intention. As I say, I don’t know the provenance of the deal. Best, Gary

  14. Seems intentional pricing as the discount ends on May 31st with higher pricing starting June 1st.

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