Booking the Domestic Holy Grail Award Seats: Premium Cabin Transcons on United, Delta, American and JetBlue

The only domestic market that’s truly premium is New York to key business markets on the West Coast, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Los Angeles has Hollywood and studio contracts, San Francisco banking.

Of course New York is one of the most important and lucrative (and competitive) aviation markets in the world, and connecting all of these three cities with London and Tokyo completes the business holy grail.

The New York domestic routes, as a result, compete not just on price but also product. I went to see American’s new premium product back in December before it launched. And I flew the inaugural commercial flight for the aircraft, Los Angeles – New York.

Business class on board the aircraft is extremely similar to what United offers on the routes. Of course, American has first class too and is the only airline with a separate first class cabin now. They’ve gone all A321Ts not just to Los Angeles but now also San Francisco. Personally skeptical about first class on the San Francisco route, but they desperately needed to update their business product.

But now that they – and pretty much everyone else – have done so, they need a revenue premium for the product. And that means award seats are tougher and tougher to get. (Not to mention in some cases more points)

The seats do exist, though. Here’s when.

Just How Tough to Get Are Premium Transcon Award Seats?

I searched business class award availability for two passengers between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco on non-stop transcon flights six months from now (specifically for December 1-29).

This is what came up for non-stop business class availability on Delta: Only 3 dates where there is space to either city.

Here’s United’s New York (Newark and JFK) – Los Angeles non-stop availability in December. Yellow is economy only, green and blue indicate there’s business available.

And here’s United New York (Newark and JFK) – San Francisco, a ‘little’ bit better with 6 out of 31 days available.

Now let’s have a look at American. While there’s plenty of connecting premium cabin space for two passengers between New York JFK and Los Angeles..

… there is no non-stop space at all, on the ‘new’ A321T business class product that American is clearly trying to protect for paid passengers.

New York JFK – San Francisco on American – now newly all operated by American’s great A321T transcon product – has better availability.

The truth is, to experience a premium transcon product many people would be better off just buying an award seat with JetBlue and their new ‘mint’ cabin. The product just debuted and at a lower paid price than competitors, and in JetBlue’s revenue-based program that means it’s also still accessible with points.

But award space gets better really close-in…

Airlines are selling these premium cross country products, or at least trying to, and don’t want points redemptions to siphon off seats or make it possible for passengers to redeem instead of buy.

When they see the cabins are still wide open, well, they do let some award seats open up as well.

American New York – San Francisco is wide open for this current business week:

And American New York – Los Angeles is as well:

United’s Los Angeles flights show a similar pattern:

And their San Francisco flights have space for the first part of this week, and the middle of next:

The general rule with Delta has long been that award space opens up late and isn’t bad close-in. But for New York JFK to San Francisco and Los Angeles over the next week there’s not a single flight on any day in which 2 business class award seats are available.

The advice, then, is to book what you can and lock in your worst case scenario even if that means connections or coach, and then consider whether it’s worth switching your itinerary within days of departure to premium cabin non-stop flights. Of course depending on your status and the mileage program you’re using that may incur a change fee and even close-in booking fees.

(Thanks to Delvind for suggesting the post idea.)


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Generally a very good post. Would just add that with UA if you look only at JFK the picture is even worse, there is literally nothing except for 5 days out.

    I would also add that this really hurts the alliance concept in all cases as it basically blocks the route to people redeeming their miles from partner programs as its only open at the standard level. With UA also harshly restricting the number of segments on awards direct flights are more important then ever so this also bites in that respect.

  2. What a coincidence. I just booked one of these late yesterday.: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/british-airways-executive-club/1585750-i-feel-like-i-won-lottery-sfo-jfk-aa-s-new-lie-flat-first-37500-avios-2-50-a.html

    I have one word of advice: Avios. And two more words: First Class (for 37500 points).

    As you say, availability improves late in the game. With BA’s Avios, you don’t have to pay a $75 late booking fee. The fees are just $2.50, increasing to $5.60 on July 1.

    Somehow I doubt these flights will continue to have great last-minute availability as the word gets out. Again, that word is Avios.

  3. @Chas it has both, though Silicon Valley also has SJC, and a ton of short and medium hall, and a lot of the SFO->New York tech is headed to New York for banking. But I absolutely should have included tech, though my falsifiable impression is that tech outside of the giants will tend to book economy on domestic flights rather than paid premium cabins.

  4. With the way fares are going on this route, AA anytime awards are not a bad use of miles, especially if you’re date is a lower level anytime date.

  5. Good thought on Avios. I thought RT DCA-JFK-lax-JFK-DCA in First via 45k USAirways lies for long weekend in August was good deal. 🙂

  6. Just flew AA’s LAX-JFK in A321T First last week (after flying the reverse inaugural route). I booked a month in advance, but I lucked out that the exact day I needed was available. Originally had the 6am, but the 8am opened up 4 days out.

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