The 6 Best Domestic Business & First Class Flights

Filed Under: American, Delta

On this blog I often provide airline rankings based on international flight experiences. However, sometimes it’s fun to look at some of the best offerings that are closer to home, including the best domestic first class and best domestic business class products.

So while I’ve shared my thoughts on the best first class airlines, best first class lounges, and best business class seats, in this post I wanted to share what I consider to be the best domestic first & business class experiences.

What is the difference between business class and first class on domestic flights?

Often the difference between first and business class could simply be branding. Most domestic flights have just two cabins, and those cabins are typically branded as first class and economy.

However, on international flights the forward cabin is typically branded as business class instead.

The one exception is when there is a plane with three cabins. Within the US there’s only one airline offering flights with three cabins, and that’s on American’s A321Ts. Those planes feature first class, business class, and economy.

So at times there is a real distinction, while at other times it just comes down to marketing.

What makes a good first or business class airline?

For the purposes of this post — and of ranking the best products — I’ll be focusing on a few aspects of the airline experience:

  • The comfort of the seat
  • The food & beverage offering
  • The service
  • The quality of wifi
  • The ground experience (including any lounge access)

One last note — I’ll only be including one “cabin” per airline. In other words, if an airline has multiple business class configurations, I won’t be ranking them separately, but will only be ranking the best one.

1. American Airlines First Class A321

American Airlines is unique in offering three cabin service within the US. Their A321Ts feature just 102 seats, including 10 first class seats, 20 business class seats, and 72 economy seats.

There are 10 reverse herringbone first class seats, which are typically seats you’d find in international business class. They’re private and all feature direct aisle access, which is rare on a domestic flight.

American A321 first class

While American’s food is nothing special, I do appreciate that they have Viasat high speed wifi.

The reason I rank American number one is because of the lounge access they offer. When flying American’s A321T you have access to American’s Flagship First Dining, which offers a sit down dining experience and a great wine selection, including Krug.

American Flagship First Dining LAX


American Flagship First Dining LAX

Without the ground experience I wouldn’t rank this number one.

Eligible routes

American consistently flies their A321Ts from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and on select flights between Los Angeles and Boston.

How to redeem miles

Historically American has made some saver level first class award seats on these flights available, and you could book those for 50,000 AAdvantage miles one-way, or 51,500 British Airways Avios. Unfortunately at the moment they’re incredibly stingy with availability.

The best way to score a first class seat is to book a business class ticket and then use a BXP1 to upgrade. Or just be an American employee and fly it for free. 😉

Learn more: the best credit cards for earning American miles, the best credit cards for earning British Airways Avios

2. JetBlue Mint Business Class A321

Purely in terms of the onboard experience, JetBlue Mint is my favorite way to fly domestically. For years JetBlue didn’t have any sort of business class, but Mint changed that.

The Mint cabin is available on select A321s, and features 16 seats. In three rows seats are in a 2-2 configuration, while in two rows they have “Mint Suites,” in a 1-1 configuration. These suites even have doors.

JetBlue A321 Mint


JetBlue Mint catering

JetBlue’s onboard product is simply spectacular. They have fast and free wifi, friendly flight attendants, and excellent and simple food.

The only reason I don’t rank JetBlue Mint number one is because they don’t offer any sort of lounge access, so the ground experience is lacking.

Eligible routes

JetBlue offers Mint primarily on transcontinental premium routes, including many flights out of Boston, Fort Lauderdale, and New York JFK, and to Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle. Exact routes vary by date/season.

How to redeem miles

JetBlue has a revenue based frequent flyer program, so you can redeem JetBlue TrueBlue points towards the cost of a ticket. Alternatively, just find a discounted Mint ticket, and then you can redeem transferrable points currencies towards the cost of a ticket.

Learn more: the best credit cards for earning Capital One miles, the best credit cards for earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points, the best credit cards for earning Citi ThankYou points

3. United Polaris Business Class 787-10

While United has long offered premium configured aircraft on their flights from Newark to Los Angeles and San Francisco, they upped their game earlier this year when they started deploying the 787-10 on select frequencies.

United Polaris business class

The 787-10 features United’s new Polaris business class seats, which are excellent. In many ways this might be better than American’s A321T first class.

However, passengers “only” receive access to the United Club, which in no way compares to Flagship First Dining. Furthermore, United has slow wifi.

United Club LAX

Eligible routes

United only flies their 787-10 on limited frequencies from Newark to both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

How to redeem miles

Unfortunately United makes virtually no saver level award seats available on these premium transcontinental routes. So your best bet is to find a discounted business class ticket, and then redeem transferrable points towards the cost of a ticket.

Learn more: the best credit cards for earning Capital One miles, the best credit cards for earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points, the best credit cards for earning Citi ThankYou points

4. American Airlines Business Class A321T

Above I wrote about American’s A321T first class, though their A321T business class is pretty good as well. Seats are in a 2-2 configuration and are fully flat. The bedding is solid and wifi is fast.

American A321 business class

The reason I still rank this pretty high is because business class passengers on these flights get access to American’s Flagship Lounges. Those lounges are better than anything that passengers on any of the other airlines on this list get access to.

American Flagship Lounge LAX

Eligible routes

American consistently flies their A321Ts from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and on select flights between Los Angeles and Boston.

How to redeem miles

American makes some — though not much — business class saver level award space available on these routes. If you can find availability, you can book these seats for the following number of points one-way:

  • 25,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles
  • 32,500 AAdvantage miles
  • 38,750 British Airways Avios

Learn more: the best credit cards for earning Alaska miles, the best credit cards for earning American miles, the best credit cards for earning British Airways Avios

5. Delta One Business Class A330

Currently Delta flies a mix of A330s, 757s, and 767s on their premium transcontinental routes. While all of those planes feature fully flat beds, the A330 has by far the best business class product. That’s because Delta has reverse herringbone seats that all feature direct aisle access.

Delta A330 business class

In general Delta has good food and drinks as well in business class, as well as Gogo 2Ku wifi.

Passengers on premium transcontinental routes also get access to Delta SkyClubs, which are excellent for domestic flights, but not exactly globally competitive otherwise.

Delta SkyClub JFK

If you’re stuck on a 767 or 757 you won’t have a bad flight either, though I do prefer the A330.

Eligible routes

Delta currently flies the A330 on select frequencies between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco. Unfortunately as of later this year, Delta will be introducing all 767 service on these routes, though we still may see this planes occasionally flying to & from Hawaii.

How to redeem miles

Delta doesn’t make many of their lowest level award seats available on these premium routes, so your best bet is to find a discounted business class ticket, and redeem points towards the cost of that.

Learn more: the best credit cards for earning Capital One miles, the best credit cards for earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points, the best credit cards for earning Citi ThankYou points

6. Hawaiian Airlines First Class A330

Many of Hawaiian Airlines’ A330s feature fully flat beds, including 18 seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. I’ll be honest — these seats aren’t the most comfortable out there, as I find them to be really hard. But they’re still good seats.

Hawaiian A330 first class

Hawaiian A330 first class

Unfortunately Hawaiian doesn’t offer lounge access on their domestic flights, and also doesn’t offer wifi. The good news is that they have friendly service and I’ve enjoyed their food & drinks. After all, there’s always something exciting about going to Hawaii.

Eligible routes

Hawaiian flies their A330s from Boston and New York to Honolulu, as well as on select flights from the West Coast of the US to Hawaii. So when you book check the seatmap to be sure you have a plane that matches this configuration.

How to redeem miles

You can redeem miles for travel on Hawaiian Airlines directly through the HawaiianMiles program. Those awards start at 40,000 miles one-way. Alternatively, they often have reasonably priced first class fares.

Bonus: 7. Cathay Pacific First Class 777

I’m adding this as a bonus because it’s not actually a domestic flight, but it’s pretty darn close, and is otherwise remarkable. Cathay Pacific has one of my favorite first class products in the world, and they operate a daily flight between New York and Vancouver.

Cathay Pacific 777 first class

So while it might not be domestic, it sure is an excellent experience, and Vancouver isn’t that far from the US.

Lounge access on this route is also excellent — in Vancouver you can use Cathay Pacific’s excellent lounge, while in New York you can use American’s Flagship First Dining.

American Flagship First Dining JFK

Eligible routes

The only route within North America that Cathay Pacific flies is between New York and Vancouver.

How to redeem miles

Cathay Pacific makes a first bit of award space available on this route, especially last minute. You can book these seats for the following number of points one-way:

  • 35,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles
  • 50,000 AAdvantage miles
  • 51,500 British Airways Avios

Learn more: the best credit cards for earning Alaska miles, the best credit cards for earning American miles, the best credit cards for earning British Airways Avios

Bonus: 8. Qantas Business Class 787-9

I have a second bonus flight, though it comes with a major caveat. Qantas flies their 787-9s between Los Angeles and New York (it’s a continuation of their flight from Brisbane). The catch is that you can’t book this flight independently, but rather can only book it as part of an itinerary to & from Australia.

Qantas 787 business class

So this is of limited use if you’re looking to travel domestically, though I figure it’s a cool route worth mentioning nonetheless.

Qantas business class catering

Eligible routes

Qantas’ only route within the US is between Los Angeles and New York.

How to redeem miles

As mentioned above, there’s not really a way to book a seat on this plane independently, either with miles or cash. This needs to be booked as a larger itinerary to & from Australia.

Bottom line

Those are my rankings for the best domestic first and business class experiences in the US. I’d love to hear how you guys rank these experiences, so please let me know in the comments, because I’m sure many will disagree.

Let me lastly acknowledge that there’s no “one size fits all” answer. For example, if I’m just leaving home and getting to the airport an hour before departure I’d choose JetBlue Mint over all else. Meanwhile if I have a long layover or want to eat before my flight, the Flagship First Dining access is a huge value-add.

So I tried to balance those interests in these airline rankings, though realize that there’s no perfect way to do so.

What do you think the best domestic first and business class airlines are? 

Comments
  1. Given you include a JFK to YVR route I find it surprising you neglect AC LAX and SFO to YYZ, many frequencies operate 777 787 aircraft.

  2. You know, you can book that CX F YVR-JFK/JFK-YVR flight for 35,000 AS miles… did you outsource this one to the intern?

    😉

  3. @ Brian — Agree that’s a great option as well. The point was that the Cathay route was a bonus, and it truly is *the* best product within North America. If I did a post about the best products in North America all around I would have included Air Canada.

  4. I’m curious of the history of Qantas LAX to NYC route. If say half the passengers from Oz get off in LAX, how is it worth flying a half empty plane on to New York and back? I can’t think of another airline that operates such a long ‘tag’ flight, presumably as it is not economical to do so. Or am I missing something?

  5. @ Niko_jas — At LAX they “consolidate” passengers from the various Qantas flights, so it’s not just passengers coming from BNE, but also from SYD and MEL. Still, it does surprise me they continue to operate this flight, especially since a delay on that flight can cause delays on the transpacific flights. You’d think they’d just partner with American for those flights.

    I imagine this route will be toast when Qantas is able to operate nonstop flights to NYC with their Project Sunrise planes.

  6. May I add?

    If Vancouver is “not far” from the United States of America, neither is Toronto, from which Air Canada offers 2 daily widebodies (777/787) to LAX and 2 to SFO, with reverse-herringbone lie-flat Business Class and access to Maple Leaf Lounge at both ends. 25,000 Aeroplan Miles each way. Had Ben included this service, I’d guess he’d rank it about halfway down the rankings, or better. Onboard experience okay, lounge good, WiFi pretty good (Original GoGo), seat comfort kinda bad (stupid electric-inflatable built-in pad, bumps and humps everywhere, OMG), food pretty good except redeye.

  7. @ Tom — Seems to very much be a case of “your mileage may vary.” My understanding is that you have to connect within 24 hours, though I’ve taken that flight with a roughly 23 hour layover. Some suggest you can have a longer layover, and some even suggest you can book it in conjunction with another international flight (like HKG-LAX on Cathay, and LAX-JFK on Qantas). However, that hasn’t been my experience.

  8. The old VX had a great recliner F domestic product, especially when traveling with some one. Alaska flys many of these still, but the A319s and A320s that haven’t been converted are pretty rough nowadays. The few A321neos that are still in VX configuration are a great ride, and Alaska does pretty good food. You still can get one of these once in a while (Alaska has been slow on the conversions). The soft product can be lacking compared to some of the competition. They are all slated to be changed out during the next year or so.

  9. @ Steve — I would, but I’m intentionally left it off the list because it’s temporary. We don’t know if it will return in future years. However, if I were to include it, it would probably be at the top of the list.

  10. I got lucky earlier this year and upgraded to business on the SFO -> JFK AA 321T using 500-mile upgrades as a Platinum elite.

    Everything was 5-star: bed, food, service, all top notch.

  11. AA has LAX-PHL on the A333 plane don’t forget the AA Dreamliner DFW-LAX, also Delta flies their 777-200 LR with Delta One Suites daily flight ATL-LAX.

  12. If you included the HA you should probably includes longer Hawaii flights on major carriers since they offers a modified international product on these flight therefore they should be on the list too.

  13. DL flies a 777 daily from LAX-ATL, which with the refurbished cabins, wouldn’t be too bad. Service wise, it’s sold as a domestic F and not D1, but it sure beats anything else on that route.

  14. I had a bunch of AAdvantage miles, and searched for months for JFK-LAX/SFO and almost never found anything available in F, except a 6AM occasional flight (and I am based in YUL). Then i realized that instead of spending 50K miles on a 5-6 hour journey, thanks to Lucky, I could fly for 40K miles in Asia.
    I have since redeemed TPE-HKG-AKL (2+11 hours) on Cathay Pacific in J, and SYD-PVG (10.5 hours) on QANTAS in J, each for 40K points. A far better use of AA points than hunting for award seats that basically don’t exist. Also, they don’t serve a meal in F after 8 PM ??? What time do they think people show up to the airport? Not everyone has time to eat on the ground…

    I’d also add that flying AC on the 788/789/77W in North America (YUL/YYZ – YVR, SFO, LAX) is one of the best premium products in North America.

  15. Hey you wrote that flying CX F from JFK to YVR you get access to First Dining.
    I thought First Dining was only for AA operated flights

  16. @ SB — There are a few airports where American has special arrangement with passengers on other airlines to use the facility, but otherwise it’s only for AA operated flights. The exceptions are CX at JFK, and BA at MIA and DFW.

  17. AA will (or has) dropped the A321T from LAX-BOS and it was a single frequency. The A321T is exclusively operated between JFK and LAX/SFO and an occasional JFK-BOS rotation.

  18. @Ben- you absolutely cannot use the QF jfk-lax to connect to anything other than QF operated flights. The DOT fined QF a few years ago- heavily- when it was discovered they sold seats on jfk-lax to connect to air Tahiti Nui.
    QF doesn’t partner with AA because QF has too many people from its 3 flights that want to go to New York. AA can fill up their own lax-jfk flights with higher yielding local customers- AA doesn’t need or want QF’s passengers.

  19. You can book Qantas’s JFK flight with a stopover in LA using money. Using miles, some people report running into trouble, though I’ve done it several times.

    The JFK tag flight has always been controversial within Qantas. They reduced its frequency to several times a week, then back to daily, and a few voices repeatedly debate ditching it. But “flying daily to New York City” has a certain marketing je ne sais quoi, so there’s a cohort of Qantas execs who are passionate about keeping it as a prestige thing.

  20. I’m actually not certain the “all 767” service on Delta One for the NY-LA/SF market implies that the A330 is out of commission on that route, so much as the 757 (which does not have all-aisle access) will be phased out. I think Delta will still shuttle the A330 around the transcon routes on at least a daily frequency, but I could be wrong.

    I’m still puzzled that you would rank American’s business class in a 2-2 configuration as higher than Delta’s, with 1-2-1. Flagship lounge or not, the American business class experience just doesn’t compare to Delta One in the air.

    Don’t forget that Delta One travelers also get access to a special check-in lounge, which is an additional perk on top of the SkyClub.

  21. There is a similar setup in Australia between the east coast and Perth. International grade service and product on 4-5 hour flights

  22. On United, I have recently been on both 777s and a 787 with Polaris from SFO to IAD and vice versa

  23. @Anthony-
    Yep! UA291/UA340 for the daily 777. I happily take them every other week back and forth Monday morning and Friday night.

    The 78x on the route are normally the 787-8 or 787-9 with the old 2-2-2 config and they are seasonal. I haven’t see a 787-10 on the route yet.

  24. Another good NA domestic is Westjet YYZ-YYC in their new J. Gonna be my 3rd time flying it in two weeks. Last time was back in Feb prior to TATL flights being launched.

  25. There’s a surcharge for lie-flat seats, so it’ll be 57.5K AA miles for booking CX F JFK-YVR.

  26. I had thought United Polaris was expanding to include all widebody aircraft, so that increasing numbers of domestic routes would be covered. Is it still just EWR to LAX and SFO?

  27. For what it is worth, Hawaiian does offer bare bones first class lounges at its Hawaiian airports. Basically drinks and minimal snacks. But it is a quiet space with wi-if so it is better than nothing.

  28. No flagship lounge in SFO but heard when flying first class on SFO-JFK (as I am next month) you can use the flagship first dinning on landing in JFK is this true ?

    Anyone have an experience doing this if so?

  29. Any nice 1st class or business class flights out of any of the DC area airports (BWI, IAD, DCA)?

  30. How are AA’s meh 2-2 premium lie-flat business seats (on 321T) better than Delta’s 330 reverse herringbone? And how is it then that only AA makes the cut, while UA and DL which fly the same seats on their premium transcons don’t?

  31. @Nick – yes you can. I’ve done just that upon arrival at JFK. You also get Admirals Club access before departure in SFO.

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