Is It Now Worth Redeeming Avios For American First Class?

Filed Under: American, Awards

A bit over a month ago I wrote about how American was realigning their fare codes for first class on domestic flights. With this recent adjustment we saw the following changes:

  • The “F” booking class (full fare first class) changed to the “J” booking class
  • The “A” booking class (discounted and upgraded first class) changed to the “D” booking class
  • The “P” booking class (discounted first class) changed to the “I” booking class


In practice this doesn’t mean much for American AAdvantage members. This was a logical change, since previously there was no differentiation between first class on a three cabin plane and first class on a two cabin plane in terms of the fare codes. It makes a lot more sense for two cabin first class to be aligned with three cabin business class, since the pricing of those products is more similar.

What American’s fare class changes mean

Perhaps the biggest implications are for those earning and redeeming partner miles for travel on American. For example, British Airways Executive Club awarded Avios based on first class, though they also charged first class prices for domestic first class awards on American. So this change is good news for those redeeming Avios for domestic American flights, while it’s bad news for those who largely earned British Airways status based on domestic American flights (where mileage earning is decreasing from 150% to 125%).


Anyway, now that British Airways has reduced the number of Avios required for domestic American flights I thought it would be worth looking at whether it’s worth it to redeem Avios for domestic first class, which previously represented a horrible value.

Is it now worth redeeming Avios for American domestic first class?

Here’s how many Avios are now required for domestic economy and first class on American, based on the distance flown:

Distance FlownNumber Of Avios Required
1-1,151 miles7,500 Avios Economy / 15,000 Avios First
1,152-2,000 miles10,000 Avios Economy / 20,000 Avios First
2,001-3,000 miles12,500 Avios Economy / 37,500 Avios First

In other words:

  • For flights of up to 1,151 miles, you pay a 7,500 Avios premium for first class
  • For flights of 1,152-2,000 miles, you pay a 10,000 Avios premium for first class
  • For flights of 2,001-3,000 miles, you pay a 25,000 Avios premium for first class, which is the point at which it’s not worth it for a domestic flight, in my opinion

Still, for flights of less than 2,000 miles the cost of domestic first class is now double the cost of economy, which I consider to be a reasonable deal. I guess it all comes down to how much you value domestic first class over economy.

Personally I value domestic first class over economy at ~$40 per 500 miles (or roughly per hour), since I can actually be productive in first class, while I can’t really be in economy. There’s no science to that number, but that’s the closest I can get to providing an estimate.

That means there are now some circumstances where I find it worthwhile to redeem Avios for first class.

For example, between Chicago and Portland you’d pay 10,000 Avios for economy or 20,000 Avios for first class. I value Avios at ~1.3 cents each, so to me it’s worth paying an extra ~$130 to be upgraded on a roughly four hour flight.


Similarly, a Tampa to Chicago flight costs 7,500 Avios in economy or 15,000 Avios in first class. That flight is almost three hours gate to gate, so I’d pay ~$100 for that upgrade.


Everyone’s numbers will be different, though, based on how much they value Avios, how they’re acquiring them, and how much of a premium they’re willing to pay for first class.

Perhaps the bigger barrier to this redemption is that American’s domestic award availability is pretty terrible nowadays, especially in first class. So even though the value of redeeming for first class might be decent, the availability is still tough to come by.


Keep in mind that you can also redeem British Airways Avios for travel on Alaska, and they often have better award availability than American. However, their first class award fare class hasn’t been changed, so first class redemptions on Alaska through British Airways are still prohibitively expensive.

Bottom line

While this hasn’t opened up some amazing opportunity for redeeming Avios for American first class, it’s at least worth being aware of the improved value proposition here. In the past I would have almost never considered redeeming Avios for American’s domestic first class, while now it can represent a good deal.

Ultimately it comes down to how much of a premium you’d be willing to pay for first class. Personally I’m happy paying ~7,500 Avios to upgrade an ~1,100 mile flight, or paying 10,000 Avios to upgrade a ~1,900 mile flight, especially if for a loved one.

Would you consider redeeming Avios for American’s domestic first class with the improved redemption rates?

  1. You briefly touched on it at the end, but for me the biggest problem now – whether redeeming via BA or AA miles is the near impossibility of finding saver award seats. When they ARE available, it’s often a very inconvenient routing, such as double connections or very long layovers.

  2. If travelling with hold luggage it is also worth taking in to account that first class includes a hold bag whereas economy doesn’t.

    We needed to pay for a bag last year at Orlando as we had booked with Avios and the staff were mighty confused as the check in machine had not given us any option to do this. There was a lot of humphing and sighing as they had to process the payment …..

  3. Not good news at all from a tier point standpoint. One was getting 60 tier points for every flight. That is greatly reduced now. Lousy

  4. I am British. Our credit cards come with far fewer perks I.e. none ! I have the BA Amex which earns me Avios but no other perks

  5. I think this is big for last minute flights too. With BA not charging a close in booking fee it opens up a lot more options to book a flight right before you fly (if there is a lot of domestic first inventory) without having to spend an arm and a leg to do so.

    Also great for Hawaii flights from the west coast

  6. Another way to look at it is a RT first class ticket under 1150 miles is only 30K avios, compared to the industry benchmark 25K miles for economy roundtrip.

    And as always a big upside to avios is the $5.60 cancellation/redeposit fee.

  7. Being in the middle of the country (Texas) I’m pretty indifferent to domestic first class. At least on UA, premium economy works just fine for flights of less than 4 hours (which are what we use domestic for… to get to either coast). I don’t need the domestics crappy food or slightly bigger seats, and if I want to drink, I’ll visit the lounge before the flight.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *