Airlines & Airports

The Complete Guide to American Airlines First Class and Flagship First

By
JT Genter
|
Freelance Writer
first class seat on American Airlines
November 19, 2021
|
9 min read

Years ago, many US airlines offered both a business class cabin and an even-better first class cabin. However, as airlines like Delta and United rolled out new and improved business class seats, they dropped first class from international aircraft. Now, international first class is mostly found on international carriers. American Airlines stands alone as the last major US airline to offer a true international first class product.

On routes where you find it, American Airlines Flagship First is hard to beat. Thanks to incredible lounges and spacious seats, you'll likely have an excellent experience both on the ground and in the air.

However, there's a huge difference between American Airlines "first class" products. Read on for all of the details of American Airlines first class, and the difference between them.

What to know about American Airlines first class

American Airlines offers two very different types of first class. On domestic and short-haul international routes, American Airlines sells a domestic first class product. Generally, this means a seat that's just a bit nicer than economy, although you might luck out and get a lie-flat seat on some routes and aircraft (generally on coast-to-coast flights). Depending on the length of the flight, you may get a full meal. But, you'll only get lounge access on international routes.

On premium coast-to-coast flights and long-haul international routes, American Airlines offers "Flagship First" class. Flagship First class is a true first class product that's always offered in addition to Flagship Business class. This sets American Airlines apart from Delta and United—both of which no longer offer a true international first class product.

Flagship First vs. Flagship Business class

On its ultra-premium aircraft, American Airlines offers two types of premium cabins with lie-flat seats: Flagship Business class and Flagship First class. Flagship Business class gets you a lie-flat seat, chef-inspired meal, premium lounge access, an amenity kit, and more premium perks. Flagship First class takes all of these up a notch with even better seats, meals, and a special dining area in certain lounges.

Flagship First vs. domestic first class

While they share the same name, there's a huge difference between Flagship First class and domestic first class. Flagship First class always provides a lie-flat seat, multi-course meals, premium lounge access (including Flagship First Dining), an amenity kit, etc.

Meanwhile, domestic first class generally is the slightly nicer seats you may be used to walking past on domestic flights. Booking these seats, which are certainly more roomy than economy, provides free booze and perhaps a meal, but it doesn't come with all of the incredible perks of Flagship First class.

Flagship First routes

Which domestic routes have American Airlines Flagship First class?

American Airlines currently offers Flagship First class on just five premium transcontinental routes:

  • New York (JFK) – Los Angeles (LAX)
  • New York (JFK) – San Francisco (SFO)
  • New York (JFK) – Orange County (SNA)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Boston (BOS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Miami (MIA)

However, not all flights on these routes have Flagship First. You'll need to be flying in first class on a Boeing 777-300ER or Airbus A321T aircraft to be in Flagship First class.

Which planes have Flagship First? 

Just two aircraft in American Airlines' fleet have both a business and a first class cabin: Boeing 777-300ER and the specialized Airbus A321 Transcon (A321T). As the name might imply, the A321T operates transcontinental routes. Meanwhile, the 777-300ER operates both premium domestic routes and long-haul international routes.

On both aircraft, all first class seats have direct aisle access. And on the A321T, all first class passengers also get a window.

The American Airlines first class experience at the airport 

American Airlines first class lounges

When flying domestically, you don't get lounge access when booking American Airlines first class. That's true no matter how far you're going. You could be flying from Fort Lauderdale all the way to Hawaii in first class. But, unless your ticket has the magic word "Flagship" on it, you won't get lounge access unless you have a lounge membership, qualifying credit card, or pay for a day pass.

First class on short-haul international flights typically doesn't grant lounge access. However, "for a limited time," American Airlines is giving access to first class passengers traveling between the US and Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico. That means you're sure to get Admirals Club lounge access whenever you fly internationally in American Airlines first class.

Flagship First class passengers get an entirely different experience. When flying in Flagship First, you'll have access to the best-available lounge (Admirals Club or the nicer Flagship Lounge).

Flagship Lounges are American Airlines' premium lounges which offer buffet dining, self-serve alcohol, a variety of seating options—from desks to loungers—and even shower suites.

amenities in the AA Flagship Lounge

Flagship Lounges are found in the following AA hubs:

  • Chicago O'Hare (ORD)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • New York (JFK)

But, you'll want to skip the Flagship Lounge buffet when flying in Flagship First. At four Flagship Lounge locations, American Airlines offers a sit-down dining experience called Flagship First Dining. This restaurant-style dining option is exclusively for Flagship First passengers—and sometimes AA will invite its invitation-only Concierge Key elite members.

dining in the AA Flagship First loune.

These meals are designed for luxury more than speed. So, you'll want to get to the airport early enough to be able to enjoy the full sit-down dining experience. You'll enjoy multi-course meals designed by local chefs using locally-sourced ingredients. Each location also has a bartender available to make cocktails or serve wine, beer, or champagne.

Flagship First Dining is located in four Flagship Lounge locations:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • New York (JFK)

American Airlines first class check-in

Whenever you're flying in American Airlines first class, you'll get access to the Priority check-in line. That means you can skip the check-in kiosks and check in with a real desk agent.

AA priority checkin.

In addition, Flagship First passengers can utilize American Airlines Flagship First Check-in at five airports: Chicago O'Hare (ORD), London Heathrow (LHR), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), and New York (JFK). This is a special generally-walled-off check-in area only for Flagship First passengers, qualifying elite customers, and passengers that paid for Five Star Service.

Flagship First checkin.

The American Airlines first class experience in the air

Domestic first class benefits

Booking American Airlines first class gets you a lot more than just a nicer seat than economy. Benefits of flying in American Airlines domestic first class include priority airport check-in, priority boarding, extra baggage allowance, a better seat, free drinks, snacks on shorter routes, and meals on longer routes.

International first class benefits

The perks of Flagship First Class are even better. In the airport, you'll have access to the exclusive Flagship First Check-in area. Then, you can speed through security to the best-available lounge—including Flagship First Dining in some locations.

Onboard, all Flagship First class seats lay flat and have direct access to the aisle. You'll get multi-course meals, an amenity kit, and a Casper-branded sleep set.

American Airlines first class seats

  • 777 First Class: American Airlines uses its flagship Boeing 777-300ER aircraft on its most-premium routes. The first class cabin is arranged in two rows of 1-2-1 seating. That means that tere's a window seat on either side of the aisle with two seats in the middle. All seats have aisle access. Couples wanting to sit together will want to opt for the two seats in the middle.
first class seating on American Airlines.
  • A321T First Class: American Airlines uses specially configured A321 aircraft on its premium transcontinental routes. On these so-called "A321T" aircraft, first class consists of five rows of 1-1 seating. That means all seats have both a window and aisle access. Couples traveling together have the choice of sitting across the aisle from each other or one in front of the other.
lie flat bed on American Airlines
  • 737 First Class: American Airlines recently completed a "Project Oasis" retrofit to "harmonize" the onboard experience across all 737 aircraft. Now, you'll find four rows of premium economy-like recliner seats in first class on all 737 aircraft. American Airlines removed all inflight entertainment screens as part of the retrofit, so make sure to bring your own tablet to watch the streaming entertainment options. The positive side of the retrofit: all seats have power outlets, the overhead bins are larger, and all aircraft have high-speed Wi-Fi available for purchase.
  • A321 First Class: Not to be confused with the A321T, the A321 is a workhorse of American Airlines' domestic fleet. American is almost done with its retrofit of these aircraft. Soon, all A321 aircraft will have five rows of 2-2 seating. Like on the 737, you won't have an inflight entertainment screen. But, at least American Airlines is adding power outlets and larger overhead bins to its woefully out of date A321 aircraft.

American Airlines domestic first class baggage

First class passengers can check two bags free of charge when flying on domestic and short-haul international routes. Even better, you don't have to worry about packing light. You can pack up to 70 pounds of stuff in each free bag before having to worry about overweight charges.

You can get a third free checked bag if you're flying on a Flagship First class ticket, have AAdvantage Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum elite status, Oneworld Emerald elite status, or are an active US military member.

American Airlines international first class baggage

When flying in Flagship First class, you can check up to three free checked bags of up to 70 pounds each. Just keep in mind that the third free checked bag only applies to Flagship First class tickets. If you're flying in "first class" on short-haul international routes, you'll only get two free checked bags (up to 70 pounds each).

Domestic first class meals on AA

American Airlines first class meal service depends on the route and the time of day. During meal times on flights between 500 and 899 miles, you'll get a choice of snacks from a snack basket.

snacks in AA domestic first lass.

On flights over 900 miles in distance, you'll get a full meal service during meal times. Meal details can vary based on the origin airport, flight distance, and type of aircraft operating the flight. However, meals are generally served on a tray and are generally pre-plated and cold.

meal service in Flagship First

What are meal times? Unfortunately, American Airlines doesn't publish that on its website. However, you won't be left wondering. In the flight details when booking flights, AA provides what type of meal service will be provided. For example, American Airlines serves a full breakfast on this 8am flight from New York to Miami:

choosing your meals on AA

When flying on transcontinental routes, Flagship First class passengers get full multi-course hot meals. Rather than eating on the airline's schedule, American Airlines now lets Flagship First class passengers decide when they want to be served their meals. You can even order your preferred meal choice ahead of your flight between 30 days and 24 hours before your flight.

International first class meals on AA

On international flights, Flagship First passengers are served multi-course hot meals designed by James Beard Foundation chefs. As with transcon flights, you can choose when you want to have meals and you can pre-order your meal before your flight to make sure you get your choice onboard.


Meals are tailored to the individual destination. So, you'll enjoy Japanese specialties on flights to or from Japan and local seasonal ingredients when departing Sydney or Auckland.

Domestic first class alcohol on AA

American Airlines first class flights are stocked with beers, wines and spirits. However, the drink service is going to depend on the length of your flight and your flight attendant. On some short flights, you may need to proactively request a drink. On other flights, flight attendants may perform multiple drink services and offer to replenish your drink.

drink on a domestic AA first class flight

International first class alcohol on AA

Drink service should be a bit more standardized on international Flagship First flights. Flight attendants will generally offer a "pre-departure" beverage before the flight and should proactively check back to see if you want more drinks. However, American Airlines service is notoriously inconsistent. So, don't be afraid to ask for a drink if you're left waiting.

How to book American Airlines first class

How much does it cost for a first class ticket on American?

American Airlines prices for first class tickets depend on the route, the demand for the flight, seasonality, and how close to departure you're booking. To get the best deals on American Airlines first class, become a Scott's Cheap Flights Elite member. We will be sure to alert you when the price of American Airlines first class drops to enticing rates.

How to upgrade to first class on American for free

American Airlines AAdvantage elites can get upgraded to domestic first class for free through AA's 500-mile upgrade program. However, these complimentary upgrades are limited to routes within North and Central America.

In addition, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elites and Million Milers can use systemwide upgrades to upgrade from a paid business class ticket to Flagship First class. While you can use systemwide upgrades to upgrade from economy to domestic first class, these highly valuable upgrade certificates are better used on international trips.

How much does it cost to upgrade to first class on American? 

American Airlines often offers paid upgrades to domestic first class. These upgrade offers depend on the demand of the flight and how much American thinks it can charge for an upgrade. If you're interested in paying for an upgrade, check your trips in the American Airlines app or website in the weeks and days before your flight.

How many miles to upgrade to American first?

You can use 15,000 AAdvantage miles plus a $75 cash co-pay each way to upgrade from economy to domestic first class on routes within North America (excluding Hawaii). For Hawaii routes, you'll need to pay 15,000 miles plus a $175 co-pay each way to move from economy to domestic first class—or Flagship Business class where offered.

To upgrade to Flagship First class with miles, you will need to book an American Airlines business class ticket originally. It costs 15,000 AAdvantage miles plus $175 to upgrade from Flagship Business class to Flagship First class on transcontinental routes. On international routes, you can use 25,000 miles plus a $550 co-pay to upgrade from Flagship Business to Flagship First class.

Note that the cash co-pay is waived if you originally booked a full-fare ticket. However, full-fare tickets are the most expensive kind of ticket and are extremely expensive, so this rarely applies.

What are the best credit cards to get free upgrades to American first? 

Unfortunately, no credit cards will directly get you free upgrades to American Airlines first class. However, you can use credit cards to earn AAdvantage elite status, and elite status is the best way to get free upgrades on American Airlines.

Starting in 2022, you can earn AAdvantage elite status just by spending on a credit card. You'll generally earn 1 Loyalty Point per dollar spent on an eligible AAdvantage credit card. So, if you spend $125,000 on an eligible card during the elite qualifying period, you'll get AAdvantage Platinum Pro elite status. And Platinum Pro elite members get unlimited, auto-requested upgrades to American Airlines domestic first class on all paid tickets.

Frequently asked questions about American Airlines first class and Flagship First

What does American first class include?

American Airlines first class includes free drinks, priority check-in, extra checked baggage allowance, and a seat in the front cabin of the aircraft. That's about all you get in domestic first class. However, American Airlines Flagship First class also grants access to excellent lounges, lie-flat seats, premium bedding, an amenity kit, multi-course meals, and more.

Do you get lounge access with American first class?

American Airlines first class passengers only get lounge access when on "Flagship First" class tickets or when flying internationally. Unfortunately, domestic first class doesn't come with lounge access.

Is food served in first class on American?

American Airlines serves snacks in first class on flights between 500 and 899 miles in distance. On flights over 900 miles, first class passengers will get a full meal service during meal times. On long-haul international and premium coast-to-coast flights, American Airlines serves Flagship First class passengers multi-course meals.

How many checked bags do you get in American first?

In American Airlines domestic first class, you'll get two free checked bags of up to 70 pounds each. Passengers booked in Flagship First class get a third free checked bag up to 70 pounds.

How can you cancel or reschedule your American first flight?

As long as your ticket originates in North or South America, American Airlines first class passengers can change their flight with no fees. Just note that you may have to pay a price difference if the price of the new flight is higher.

What are the best seats in American first class?

The best American Airlines first class seats are found on the Boeing 777-300ER. The seats lay flat into a bed or you can swivel the seat to work at the seat's dedicated desk.

Keep in mind that American Airlines only has true first class seats on its Boeing 777-300ER and its specialized Airbus A321 Transcon aircraft. However, American Airlines will sometimes sell its business class seats as domestic first class on some routes.

To get the full details on your chosen seat for your particular aircraft, check SeatGuru. 

Do seats in American first class lie flat?

American Airlines first class seats lie flat on long-haul international and premium coast-to-coast flights. You'll be sure to get a lie-flat seat if your ticket says "Flagship First". On other domestic routes, you can score a lie-flat seat by booking first class on a flight operated by a Boeing 777 or 787 aircraft.

Summary

As you see, American Airlines first class varies wildly between domestic first class and Flagship First class. In both cases, you'll get priority check-in, extra baggage allowance, early boarding, and free drinks. However, that's where the similarities end. Domestic first class generally only consists of a nicer seat than economy. But Flagship First class is a whole different level.

American Airlines Flagship First class wins the best first class product of any US airline by default, as Delta and United no longer offer international first class products. While the Flagship First seats aren't the newest or best around, American Airlines provides an excellent experience on the ground with Flagship Check-in, Flagship Lounges, and its exclusive Flagship First Dining.

Read more about flying business and first class

The best deals we've found on American Airlines first class

Join Scott's Cheap Flights to save up to$2,000 on international first class tickets.

Last Updated 
November 19, 2021
The Complete Guide to American Airlines First Class and Flagship First
JT Genter
Freelance Writer

JT has written about credit cards and points & miles since 2015. He published over 2,000 articles on The Points Guy and can now be found regularly writing for NerdWallet, Forbes Advisor, AwardWallet, and CNBC Select. Since June 2017, JT and his wife have traveled full-time as digital nomads—using points, miles, and credit card benefits to reduce the cost of living on the road.

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