Best options for domestic first class awards

A newer version of this post is now available here:

Best options for domestic first class awards

The original post follows…


Domestic first class is nicer than coach, but, in most cases, it’s hardly something to write home about.  Usually you’ll simply get a bigger seat and a few snacks and drinks, or a meal if you’re lucky.  If you’re really lucky, you might find yourself on an internationally configured aircraft flying a domestic route.  On these you’ll generally find large business class seats with electronic controls to adjust the recline all the way to flat if you’d like.  Additionally, the big three airlines (AA, Delta, United) have rolled out premium business class seating on a number of their transcontinental routes (LAX to JFK, for example).  Of course, they have also rolled out higher award prices for those transcon business class seats.

If you’d like to fly first class (who wouldn’t?), it is often possible to pay fewer miles by booking with foreign carrier miles.  Below you’ll find domestic business/first class award prices for each of the big three, along with the best options for using foreign miles, and quick tips for how to get those miles.

Keep in mind that in all cases you’ll have to find saver level award space on the airline you want to fly before you can book that flight with a partner airline’s miles.

Fly AA Domestic Business or First Class

AA premium transcon

American Airlines charges 25K one-way for 2-cabin first class, or 32.5K one-way business class.  Here are the best alternatives:

  • JAL (Japan Airlines Mileage Bank): 32K to 42K round-trip (or one-way) for flights totaling 4,000 miles or less.
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: 30K to 50K round-trip depending upon the length of the flight (use this online calculator to find the price).
  • Etihad Guest: 25K one-way for business / first class. 32.5K one-way for “Premium” (note: I’m not sure if premium in this case means transcon business class or 3 cabin first class. My guess is the latter). Etihad’s award chart for flying AA can be found here.
  • British Airways Avios: 15K one-way for short (up to 1,150 miles) direct flights.

My take: For round trip travel, JAL and Cathay Pacific offer great award prices. JAL allows booking AA awards directly online. Cathay allows making an award request online, but the award is confirmed offline.  Overall, Cathay may be the best choice despite the more cumbersome award booking procedure because their miles are easy to get.

How to get the miles:

See also: Top 10 shortcuts to earning SPG points; Amassing Membership Rewards; Amassing Ultimate Rewards.

Booking Tip for booking AA with JAL miles:

JAL’s Mileage Bank program has a distance based award chart.  With most domestic flights, JAL requires only 32,000 to 42,000 miles to fly business class or two-cabin first class on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines.  Longer flights such as LAX to JFK roundtrip exceed the 4,000 mile sweetspot, but you could fly LAX to JFK then return as far as Dallas (for example) in first or business class for as few as 42,000 miles. You can search for award availability online through JAL’s site, but you must sign up for a free account first.

Fly Delta Domestic Business or First Class

Delta premium transcon

Delta no longer publishes an award chart, so the best you can do to find their award pricing is use Delta’s award calendar to try to find the best rates.   At the time of this writing I’ve found that Delta domestic first class and business class awards range from 17.5K to 53K one-way.  Here are the best alternatives:

My take: For round trip travel Korean Air has terrific prices, but their online booking tool is a challenge to use.  They also have rules against booking awards for anyone but family members and you have to prove that they’re really in your family.  Virgin Atlantic’s website is a bit buggy, but it’s much easier to use than Korean’s and it includes a useful award calendar.  Plus, Virgin Atlantic miles are much easier to collect than Korean Air miles.  And, best of all, Virgin Atlantic sometimes finds award space on Delta that other Delta partners cannot see.  If you’re planning to fly direct, the slight premium Virgin Atlantic charges over Korean Air is, in my opinion, completely worth it.

How to get the miles:

See also: Top 10 shortcuts to earning SPG points; Amassing Membership Rewards; Amassing Ultimate Rewards.

Tip for booking Delta awards with Virgin Atlantic miles:

Virgin Atlantic’s website award booking tool auto-completes your typing in the leftmost box titled “I’m flying From”, but not the one on the right titled “To” except for select Virgin Atlantic airport destinations.  An easy workaround is to click the little map pin icon to search by country or alphabetically.  Another workaround is to type your destination into the “from” box and copy and paste the result into the “To” box.  Most, if not all, US airports can be found this way, but many international destinations that Delta serves are not available online.  For these, you have to call Virgin Atlantic to find and book awards.

Fly United Domestic Business or First Class

United premium transcon

United charges 25K one-way 2-cabin first class, or 35K one-way premium transcon business class.  Here are the best alternatives:

  • Lufthansa Miles & More: 17K one-way
  • Singapore: 20K one-way
  • Aeroplan (Air Canada): 25K one-way

My take: Both Lufthansa and Singapore require calling to book award flights on United.  I’ve never booked with Lufthansa miles, but I’ve done so a number of times with Singapore.  For me, they’ve always answered quickly and were a pleasure to deal with.  Since Singapore miles are much easier to get than Lufthansa miles, I think that Singapore is worth the slight premium in award costs.

How to get the miles:

See also: Top 10 shortcuts to earning SPG points; Amassing Membership Rewards; Amassing Ultimate Rewards.

United Booking Tip:

Before trying to book with a foreign carrier’s miles (especially when they don’t let you book United flights online), look for business/first class award space on United.com without logging in.  Look for First Saver Award space (or Business Saver Award space on a 3 cabin flight) that looks like this:

Fly Alaska First Class

This section is coming soon.  For now note that you can book Alaska flights with partners such as AA, Cathay Pacific, and Korean Air.

 

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Greg The Frequent MilerDiamond VargasWide open transcon business & first availability - Frequent MilerCarterMark D Edwards Recent comment authors

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adam
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adam

I realize that this is a completely different category of program, but since Jetblue Mint is considered by some to be the best domestic business class, perhaps it is worth a mention.

Russ
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Russ

Mint is nice, but Jetblue doesn’t have foreign partners that enable you to save on mint flights. And mint is only available on a small subset of their flights.

Carter
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Carter

How is JetBlue Mint not on this list?

David
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David

You also didnt mention the Virgin America First class which is bookable a number of ways with miles and is a great first class.

Mark D Edwards
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Mark D Edwards

Maybe I’m missing something, but BA offers AA awards on AA metal for 7500 coach or 15000 “Biz” class in AA First class to places like Puerto Vallarta, Miami, Chicago, etc. which I consider to be quite a good deal. I think the cutoff is around 1150 miles. Worth a mention in my opinion.

Mark D Edwards
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Mark D Edwards

My bad. Just looked again and saw the BA mention. Cheers!
Mark

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Diamond Vargas
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Diamond Vargas

This is a broader issue than what’s being discussed here, but I think it’s worth mentioning that the non-native programs sometimes have minimum connection time policies that differ from the native program and / or from one another. I’ve seen a domestic United itinerary that showed as bookable on the United site, but was not bookable with Lufthansa because of their MCT rule. Singapore was able to book though. Most readers are probably more likely to be seeking and / or be comfortable with shorter connection times on domestic awards.