Is American Replacing First Class With Business Plus?

Is American Replacing First Class With Business Plus?

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Update: An American Airlines spokesperson has now issued the following statement: “We are not getting rid of our first class product. An error due to testing caused the temporary removal of our Flagship First fare product. We have resolved the issue, and the fare is once again available for booking on our A321T and 777.” You can find the original post below.

All we can do as of now is speculate, though it seems to me like this could spell the slow death of American’s proper(ish) first class product…

American replaces first class with Business Plus?

First for some context, American Airlines is the only US airlines to have a three cabin (or in some cases four cabin) first class product. Specifically, American has first class on Airbus A321Ts that operate premium transcontinental routes, plus on Boeing 777-300ERs that operate long haul flights. Okay, it’s not necessarily an amazing product, but American has it, and it sets the carrier apart.

Yesterday afternoon, travelers started to notice something interesting. If you were looking at fares between New York and Los Angeles, you’d typically see fares marketed as Main Cabin (including Basic Economy), Business, and First.

However, for several hours yesterday, these flights no longer showed “First.” Rather they showed a new “Premier” class, marketed as “Flagship Business Plus.”

Those tickets still booked into the “F” fare class, meaning that those booking Flagship Business Plus would still receive the typical first class seats. It’s worth noting that the pricing for Flagship Business Plus was significantly lower than the typical first class pricing.

This was initially only spotted on A321T routes, and not on 777-300ER routes. I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into that, though.

American Airlines Airbus A321T first class

What should we make of American’s Business Plus?

Before I speculate, a few things to note upfront:

  • Clearly this is a situation where something was rolled out prematurely, given that it was quickly removed
  • That being said, this didn’t just come out of thin air; this is something that American must be working on, and probably has the intent to implement in the not too distant future
  • American hasn’t issued a statement about this yet, which suggests to me that the airline wasn’t quite ready to roll this out
  • There have been discussions among very senior people at American for years now about possibly eliminating premium first class
American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER first class

Now, here’s some speculation on my part:

  • It’s possible that Flagship Business Plus is just a bundled product, and isn’t actually intended to replace first class, but rather will offer extra services at a fee for business class passengers (like Flagship First Check-In, etc.)
  • It’s possible that American is rebranding its first class as Business Plus to simply be more realistic; American doesn’t do much to differentiate its first class soft product in the sky, and American wouldn’t be the first airline to make this change (Asiana rebranded its first class as “Business Suite,” and Malaysia also rebranded its first class as “Business Suite”)
  • If first class is rebranded as Business Plus, maybe we’ll simply see exactly the same service offered in the two cabins, and the only difference will be the types of seats people get
  • I can’t help but wonder if one motivation might be so that business travelers who are allowed to book business class per company policy could book Business Plus, while they couldn’t book first class
  • It’s possible that American maintains the standard first class branding on 777-300ERs, given that the airline has a joint venture with British Airways and there’s quite a bit of premium demand on transatlantic flights

The truth is, American’s A321T first class essentially offers a better seat and access to Flagship First Dining. Aside from that, the onboard soft product is nearly identical, and for that matter first class is more or less “employee class,” as unsold seats are typically filled by employees traveling on standby.

American Airlines Flagship First Dining

Maybe American would make more money selling those seats at a more reasonable cost with some extra services, so that there’s demand for them? I’m curious to see how this plays out…

Bottom line

For several hours yesterday, American’s routes operated by A321Ts no longer showed first class, but rather showed a new “Business Plus” product. It remains to be seen what exactly this product is intended to be, though I’m sure we’ll find out soon.

I think it’s most likely that American will replace first class with Business Plus, at least on A321Ts. The question would be what services are included with this. The other most likely explanation is that Business Plus is just a bundled business class fare product offering extra services. However, based on how this was briefly implemented, that seems unlikely.

What’s your guess as to what American Flagship Business Plus is?

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  1. Trey Guest

    “Employee Class”
    As a nonrev, this made me laugh. It’s also very, very true

  2. Michael Guest

    Is it possible that AA and B6 could be coordinating a new product alignment on their transcon routes? Maybe AA will make the soft product in the F (1-1) and J (2-2) cabins the same (since there is already very little to differentiate them), but with an up-charge for the F (1-1) seats (Business Plus).

    Similarly, B6 might treat the throne seats (which are essentially a 1-1 configuration) on their older Mint planes used...

    Is it possible that AA and B6 could be coordinating a new product alignment on their transcon routes? Maybe AA will make the soft product in the F (1-1) and J (2-2) cabins the same (since there is already very little to differentiate them), but with an up-charge for the F (1-1) seats (Business Plus).

    Similarly, B6 might treat the throne seats (which are essentially a 1-1 configuration) on their older Mint planes used for transcons as a new Mint Plus product for which they can create a separate (higher) fare class for the better seat, but keep the same soft product.

    This way, both airlines could offer one fare for seats that are in a 2-2 (Flagship Business / Mint) configuration, and a higher fare for seats that are 1-1 (Flagship Business Plus / Mint Plus), since both airlines already have planes that have both types of seats. AA could just standardize the onboard soft product for the two cabins. (Maybe AA would continue to offer enhanced ground experiences for Business Plus, like Flagship "First" check-in and Flagship Dining).

  3. Joseph Guest

    My assumption is it just has to do with the current reduced service in "First."

    I was on DFW > LHR in First and was surprised to learn they catered and served the flight identical to business. They had pajamas "on request" but didn't proactively offer them. Food and wine was identical to business. Flight attendant told the couple behind me, "We're only offering business class service at this time," to which the woman replied,...

    My assumption is it just has to do with the current reduced service in "First."

    I was on DFW > LHR in First and was surprised to learn they catered and served the flight identical to business. They had pajamas "on request" but didn't proactively offer them. Food and wine was identical to business. Flight attendant told the couple behind me, "We're only offering business class service at this time," to which the woman replied, "Then what the hell did we pay $3,000 extra for?!"

    I'd guess it's to simply differentiate the service product being reduced.

  4. Brandon Guest

    The comments about how "bad" Flagship First is just crack me up. It's proof the internet is just full of clowns and trolls that complain at every opportunity. Clearly most of the commenters here have never flown F on the A321t or 773.

    First off, these cabins are not flying Charlotte to Cincinnati. American offers Flagship First on only two aircraft types - 16 A321T narrowbodies and 20 773s. 36 out of 865 aircraft...

    The comments about how "bad" Flagship First is just crack me up. It's proof the internet is just full of clowns and trolls that complain at every opportunity. Clearly most of the commenters here have never flown F on the A321t or 773.

    First off, these cabins are not flying Charlotte to Cincinnati. American offers Flagship First on only two aircraft types - 16 A321T narrowbodies and 20 773s. 36 out of 865 aircraft on the mainline fleet. The cabin and ground service in both examples are superior to many European and Asian carriers' international business class - including British Airways' "Club World" and Emirates' older J cabin using the 2-2 layout as they do on 80%+ of their fleet. You will not find any carrier offering a better hard product on US domestic routes, or European short-haul.

    Anyways, my guess is that AA will keep the F code and hard product as required for premium contracts, but market the cabin as "Business Plus" for corporate travelers whose travel guidelines prohibit booking First Class. Admittedly, there's a narrowing gap in the soft product and I assume they'll eventually bring the trimmings in F down to J level.

    Looking forward to flying in both cabins next week on the A321T (SFO-JFK in J, then JFK-LAX in F), as well as accessing the FF check-in lounge and recently reopened FF dining room at JFK. While wrapping up my day's work and sipping Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, I'll be sure to ponder what F product CJ, FedUP, and John here think they're talking about.

  5. CJ Guest

    I'm confused? What is "f/c" about their f/c product?

  6. Jr Guest

    Yet again, bloggers ruin a deal for their own gain. And you wonder why AA has increased the price of miles? Simply Miles anyone?

  7. Robert J Fahr Guest

    Undoubtedly this is the plan. AA believes if you stick the word "Flagship" on any product or service, it is the best. Best for AA.

  8. GS Guest

    Not sure if this is still true, but it used to be a requirement to offer a differentiated first class on a 3-class aircraft in order to compete for certain lucrative corporate accounts, especially for entertainment companies on the west coast and, to a lesser extent, investment banking clients on the east coast.

    1. Sam Guest

      Yes, I was wondering about that too. I think that used to give AA an edge over UA and DL for those accounts, regardless of the actual quality of the product.

  9. Jon Wilson Guest

    I booked a Flagship Business Plus ticket yesterday, today AA had the audacity to call me and try to tell me that their system booked me incorrectly and that I would have to pay more to keep my already-purchased ticket. Incredible.

  10. Fed UP Guest

    This is no first class, on any US based airline, except maybe for Mint on Jet Blue

  11. Tim Campbell Guest

    30 years ago Continental Airlines and Northwest did the same moving from First to what they called Business First. Combining First and business made sense to lower prices and get more customers in. There weren't enough First class passengers to warrant the expense, like today. Business will always take priority over First for revenue.

  12. crosscourt Guest

    I laughed when I read this line ... "it’s not necessarily an amazing product". Talk about an understatement. What US carriers call First Class is false advertising. Try premium economy because that's as good as it gets.

  13. George Romey Guest

    The question is-what's the paid demand for a first class product on the routes we've seen 3 class cabins. With the fall of business travel and that type of customer possibly migrating more towards private air travel (in part to get away from the endless COVID hysteria) maybe demand isn't what it was pre 2020. And then why have a first product for non revers and SWUs upgrading from business to first?

  14. avgeekagent New Member

    The fares are still loaded in the system as Business Class Restricted fares, with a $400 surcharge over seating in business cabin for the "plus" amenity.

    Only the headers on aa.com have reverted back to "flaghsip first" so far.

  15. Eskimo Guest

    Reading between the lines. No denial just excuses.

    We are not getting rid of our first class product.
    - We are just going to rename it to Business Plus and enhance (devalue) it.

    An error due to testing caused the temporary removal of our Flagship First fare product.
    - The error is the public saw it. We are testing our renamed Business Plus.

    We have resolved the issue, and the fare is once...

    Reading between the lines. No denial just excuses.

    We are not getting rid of our first class product.
    - We are just going to rename it to Business Plus and enhance (devalue) it.

    An error due to testing caused the temporary removal of our Flagship First fare product.
    - The error is the public saw it. We are testing our renamed Business Plus.

    We have resolved the issue, and the fare is once again available for booking on our A321T and 777
    - We successfully cover up this incident.

    Get ready for Flagship Business Plus???

  16. John Guest

    As a Brit who spends a lot of time in the US, I’ve never understood why anyone would fly a premium product on American Airlines unless they’re a) captive at a hub b) forced to under a corporate contract c) feel “trapped” in the frequent flyer program d) its the cheapest option e) only option

    All my experiences of American has been awful compared to the domestic and international alternatives.

    Am I missing something?

    1. Ed Member

      My understanding is that the premium routes are heavily tied to the entertainment industry, but that could be incorrect or stale information. I avoid AA whenever possible, not necessarily because the hard product is bad, but because AA employees seem cranky at least half the time I fly them. Maybe closer to 75% when I fly back to PHL!

    2. Santos Guest

      I used to fly LAX-JFK and vice versa a lot for work on the 321T back in the mid 2010s. Definitely lots of music industry notables in F and J on those flights, so I suspect you are correct and there are contracts in place with the big entertainment companies.

      (And yeah, the AA crews are cranky even when you try to go easy on them. I once got rudely chided for declining any food or beverage on a red eye back to NYC.)

    3. Joseph Guest

      That is very much correct. AA still has big contracts with NBC Universal, etc.

      Many speculate the A321T First cabin was literally made for those entertainment contracts, as a lot of A-list and bigger time celebrities and entertainers have "First class" travel stipulations in their contracts, so AA delivered them a "first class" product in name to win those contracts.

  17. Give AA the Bird...Strike Guest

    No matter the name, expect the surly unvaccinated FAs to further reduce cabin service. After all, that Candy isn't going to Crush itself.

  18. Reno Joe Guest

    I fly the LAX - JFK - LAX route in F a few times a year and just booked a trip yesterday. Didn't see Flagship Business Plus. I'd be curious if this new Flagship Business Plus books as A in addition to F. Separately, for seemingly no *real* reason, FF Dining remains closed at two of four locations.

  19. DLPTATL Guest

    The other option is that by creating this "Flagship" nomenclature the airline can apply it to products that currently don't qualify as First Class on AA. It would be like DeltaOne branding with Delta that they apply it to all manner of products (suite with door, suite without door, even domestic business class seat flying on a route like JFK:KEF (though I think they fixed this as people were getting angry)).

    1. Pierre Guest

      Domestic First seating on JFK-KEF is probably nothing compared to La Paz-Santa Cruz-Miami and Lima-Miami on the 757. I thought this had gone away with the 757s and the A300s, though.

    2. Levi Member

      The Delta routes outside NA/Caribbean with the domestic F recliners are now sold as Premium Select, which fits the product and also means no lounge access

  20. Endre Guest

    Maybe the name change is intended to meet stricter corporate travel policies.

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Trey Guest

“Employee Class” As a nonrev, this made me laugh. It’s also very, very true

0
Michael Guest

Is it possible that AA and B6 could be coordinating a new product alignment on their transcon routes? Maybe AA will make the soft product in the F (1-1) and J (2-2) cabins the same (since there is already very little to differentiate them), but with an up-charge for the F (1-1) seats (Business Plus). Similarly, B6 might treat the throne seats (which are essentially a 1-1 configuration) on their older Mint planes used for transcons as a new Mint Plus product for which they can create a separate (higher) fare class for the better seat, but keep the same soft product. This way, both airlines could offer one fare for seats that are in a 2-2 (Flagship Business / Mint) configuration, and a higher fare for seats that are 1-1 (Flagship Business Plus / Mint Plus), since both airlines already have planes that have both types of seats. AA could just standardize the onboard soft product for the two cabins. (Maybe AA would continue to offer enhanced ground experiences for Business Plus, like Flagship "First" check-in and Flagship Dining).

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Joseph Guest

That is very much correct. AA still has big contracts with NBC Universal, etc. Many speculate the A321T First cabin was literally made for those entertainment contracts, as a lot of A-list and bigger time celebrities and entertainers have "First class" travel stipulations in their contracts, so AA delivered them a "first class" product in name to win those contracts.

0
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