Ask any traveler what their bucket list of air travel experiences is, and most will say that traveling in business or first class is high up on that list. And who can blame them? Who wouldn’t want the experience of comfortable leather seats that recline or even lay flat, lots of leg and elbow room, and hot meal service with real silverware? That’s like having your own personal chef and wait staff at 35,000 feet. Plus, you get to board first and actually have enough room for your carry-on luggage!
But beyond all these amenities there is just something special about traveling first or even business class, especially on long-haul flights. So, is a first-class ticket worth it?
First things first though, a note on terminology: While business class has increasingly become the norm on long-haul international flights, on domestic flights it’s generally still called first class. And while business class on long-haul flights typically means lie-flat seats and private pod seating, that’s not the case on most domestic flights, with some exceptions for coast-to-coast flights.
Okay, now that’s out of the way. Here is a look at some of the best airlines for domestic first and business class travel based on several factors including but not limited to amenities, quality of service, cost, upgrade options, and others. You can also check out our list of the best international business class options here.
The American Airlines first-class experience starts right at check-in. With dedicated lines for check-in, priority security and priority boarding, the first-class treatment starts on the ground and continues well into the cabin.
American has two first class experiences—Flagship First/Business Transcontinental, which is typically for domestic transcontinental flights (such as Los Angeles to New York or Miami) and First, which is for shorter domestic trips.
Seats in Flagship First/Business Transcontinental vary by aircraft but you can typically expect lie-flat seats—some with an 82.5 inch bed length and 21 inch width—noise canceling headphones, an amenity kit, and upgraded dining service. In First class on shorter domestic flights, rows are typically in a 2-2 configuration with recliner seats with pitch of 36 inches and 21 inch width.
United’s first-class experience is like that of American in that United has a domestic first class product that operates from most airports, then a premium international and transcontinental product which is called Polaris Business Class.
Domestic first class seats have a pitch of 38 inches, 20.4 inch width and recline to about 7 inches. They are arranged in a 2-2 configuration.
The Polaris business class seat arrangement is in a 1-2-1 configuration or a staggered 2-2-2 configuration and all seats have fully lie-flat options with 76 inch bed length and 21 inch width. With amenity kits by Cowshed, bedding by Saks Fifth Avenue, premier headphones and large monitors, the experience of flying in Polaris Business is quite different.
Delta Air Lines
Like United and American, Delta has two different versions of domestic first/business class. For shorter domestic flights, there’s first class, which has recliner seats typically laid out in a 2-2 configuration with 37 inches seat pitch and 19.6 inch width. The seats recline about 5 inches.
Delta’s even swankier business class product is called Delta One, and it generally operates on popular transcontinental routes like New York to LA. These Delta One seats are lie-flat seats in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration that have a pitch of 80 inches and width of 21 inches. One of the main things that differentiate the domestic first class seats from economy seats on Delta is the recline of up to five inches. Delta’s first class experience also includes priority check-in, priority boarding, dedicated flight attendant, and elevated in-flight dining.
With Delta’s newest A220 aircrafts that are used for regional flights, the in-flight entertainment systems and in-flight monitors have also been upgraded. With a luxury amenity kit, noise-canceling headphones, and bedding provided by Westin Heavenly, Delta One is a good option for travelers who want to experience the highest of comfort.
For travelers looking to upgrade to Delta One, the cost ranges based on destination and fare class of original booking. A first-class upgrade (not Delta One) will cost either 15,000 miles or 25,000 miles along with a dollar anywhere between $75-$550, depending on class and destination.
Alaska Airlines operates a first-class cabin in a 2-2 configuration on about 70% of their fleet. The seats are not lie-flats but recliner seats that generally have a 41 inch seat pitch, 21 inch width and about 3 inch recline. Alaska operates some of the longer domestic routes, including from the state of Alaska to the lower 48 and between LAX and JFK. And while they don’t offer the same lie-flat seats and elevated service that American, United, and Delta do on these transcontinental routes, they’re often much cheaper than their competitors.
Expedited check in, priority boarding, free checked bags, access to first class lounges, and a good in-flight entertainment system round up this carrier’s first-class product. Paid upgrades may be available within 24 hours of flight departure through online check-in for as little as $29 depending on routes.
Hawaiian Airlines also has two different versions, depending on the aircraft type. The Premium cabin on Hawaiian’s wide body jets are fully lie-flat whereas those on the narrow body jets are recliner seats. One key differentiator is that the first-class seats don’t have an in-flight monitor. Instead, passengers are provided iPad Pros for their entertainment needs. If the flight is more than eight hours, first class passengers get premium bedding for their lie-flat seats. Each seat also comes with two USB charging ports and an AC power port.
Hawaiian Airlines also does not offer in-flight Wi-Fi going with the premise that island vacations should start right from the time travelers take off emphasizing the unplugging mindset. With an excellent food and dining service, priority check-in, boarding and lounge access it is easy to see why this first-class product is a hot favorite among many travelers to the islands.
Paid upgrades are available within 24 hours of travel and can range from as little as $150 to as much as $819.
Many people assume JetBlue to be a low-cost carrier, but they are a customer favorite for being one of the best domestic business class carriers in the aviation market. The business class is called JetBlue Mint and is available on JetBlue’s biggest aircraft that fly long distance routes. JetBlue has also just unveiled a new design, Mint Studios, that is even more impressive.
The existing design has business class seats arranged in a 2-2 or a 1-1 configuration. The 1-1 seats are called throne seats among passengers as they are spacious like a throne and have sliding doors that enclose the seats like a suite. The lie-flat seats are 80 inches long with a width of 20.5-22 inches and come with additional amenities like a toiletries kit, free Wi-Fi pass, and extra bedding.
Coming in 2021, the new Mint Studios will be located in the bulkhead row, with two windows each, an additional seat for guests, a larger 22-inch display, and a whole lot more space and privacy.
Upgrading to JetBlue Mint can be done via points or cash but the amount is usually dependent on flight route and class of original fare. These can be done ahead of time or at the time of check-in. One thing to note is that JetBlue upgrades can only be done the same method that was used to purchase the ticket originally—either cash or points/awards.