I recently flew first class on American Airlines from Philadelphia to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. I used most of my American miles on an Etihad Apartment first class flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney. This left me with a little over 30,000 American Airline miles for this trip.
With only a limited number of vacation days, I wanted to make the most of my time off. I only have gold status with American Airlines, so my chances of a first class upgrade were close to 0%. My next best option was to purchase an economy ticket and use miles to upgrade into first class.
Since I only had 30,000 miles available, purchasing a first class award ticket wasn’t possible. Assuming I could find two saver award tickets on the right dates, the cheapest round trip would cost 50,000 miles.
Booking the Flight
If I had the luxury of planning in advance, I would have purchased these tickets at least one month in advance. Unfortunately my schedule can be chaotic and sometimes I don’t know if I can schedule vacations until closer to the planned time off.
So I purchased the domestic economy tickets online about 2 days prior to departure. Prices for round trip tickets to Cabo surprisingly declined to to the $400 range. I called in to American to request the upgrade to first class with miles.
My flight included one stop over on each leg of trip. Luckily, upgrades were immediately available for the longer legs of the trip. I was placed on the wait list for the shorter flights to and from Cabo.
The option to upgrade required 15,000 miles and $75 each direction. Two of the 4 segments cleared immediately. The other two segments were pending. In the event the shorter two segments cleared, the price to upgrade with miles stayed the same. Luckily, the two remaining segments cleared around a half a day after I called to request the upgrades.
Domestic vs. International
Domestic first class is nothing like international business or first class. Most international business class flights, excluding my Hifly Airlines business class flight, offer seats that convert into flat beds for sleeping, dedicated entertainment consoles in each seat, and extensive dining and drink options.
Domestic first class still offers a far better experience than economy class. The major benefits include larger, more comfortable seats, dining and drink service, more room between customers, and early boarding / exiting from the flight. When flying for more than 3 hours, domestic first class makes a big difference compared to economy.
I flew on the first leg of my trip to Phoenix on a 5 hour flight. American offers free inflight entertainment to all customers through GoGo inflight WiFi. The free movie options were pretty extensive. For full internet access, American charged the following rates:
- $2.95 for a messaging pass.
- $7.50 for a 30 minute pass.
- $26.95 for a full flight pass.
- $36.95 for an all day pass.
- $49.95 for a monthly pass.
- Tmobile customers could access one hour of free WiFi.
I tested the free WiFi service. The speed test registered at around 1.69Mbps. Not great for movies, but passable for email and limited web use.
First class customers receive the standard pre-flight drink prior to take-off. It was still early in the morning so I opted for water. I was hoping for breakfast, but American stops serving breakfast after 10am in first class.
The lunch menu included two options: salmon or a vegetarian dish. By the time it was my turn, salmon had run out. The vegetarian meal was ok, but not really my thing either. Domestic first class meals really aren’t on the same level as international business and first class. However, the cold shrimp was very pretty decent and the cheesecake was good.
The first class drink menu includes soft drinks and a limited beer and wine menu. Economy class gets charged the prices on the menu, but first class receives unlimited free drinks from the choices above.
For me, the most enjoyable part of domestic first class is more comfortable seating and much more space in between each seat. The overall experience doesn’t compare to international business or first class, but it does make for a far more enjoyable domestic flight.
Was it a good use of 30,000 points? In my case, the answer is yes. I don’t plan on accumulating enough American Airlines points in the near term to use them on a better option like international business class or first class. So without any better use of those miles, flying domestic first class on a 7 hour flight made for a nice trip.