A Theory on Why American Airlines Offers Flagship Dining

Delta has Westin bedding. United has Saks Fifth Avenue bedding. American brings out Casper bedding but limits whether business class passengers will get mattress pads to certain routes.

American Airlines Casper Bedding

Delta and United offer coach passengers snacks, so American introduces snacks. Delta offers free inflight messaging so American says it will too.

Delta offers free meals in coach on a variety of longer routes. So American does too but only on New York – Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Doug Parker says an airline can’t win by offering a better product, other airlines will just copy it. American Airlines copies competitor products — but just enough to claim to be doing so.

United introduced the Polaris business class lounge (but these costly lounges have been slow walked) and American pushed forward with their long-planned Flagship Lounges. Polaris offers menu service dining to every business class passenger accessing the lounge.

So American has their premium business class lounge too. And they also have sit down dining. But it is for only a handful of people.

Ed Pizzarello of Pizza in Motion, Ben Schlappig of One Mile at a Time and I were having lunch together on Tuesday in the American Airlines Flagship Lounge in Miami.

We were debating whether Flagship Dining could last at least in a city like Miami with only 3 eligible originating flights that have 3-cabin first class. Sure there are passengers connecting to other eligible flights but the 3 that originate will have non-revs, too, and upgrades clearing at the gate. Flagship Dining in Miami must be for a couple dozen people a day at most.

  • Miami – Buenos Aires, AA931, 10:45pm
  • Miami – Sao Paulo, AA995, 11:00pm [Note that AA233, 10:45am has 3 cabins but departs before Flagship Dining opens at 2pm]
  • Miami – London Heathrow, AA56, 7:10pm

American Airlines Flagship Dining Miami

Ben argued that American will have to either kill it or expand it. And I know there have been discussions around expanding access. Ed felt that since the space was built out anyway, it is something they’ll use to either expand the main lounge or maintain dining, there’s not really meaningful cost savings to be had shutting it down.

However an alternative explanation for Flagship Dining is that they are investing in it to say they offer it while intentionally only having to serve a couple dozen people a day.

American Airlines Flagship Dining Miami

In some measure Flagship lounges themselves are an elaborate scheme to avoid spending money on food for customers who buy lounge access. This becomes clear when you notice that most of the Admirals Club in Los Angeles was taken over for the Flagship lounge when they flipped which one went where. And when they did something similar in Miami (the D30 Admirals Club has not yet re-opened).

The New York JFK Flagship lounge is packed, while the main Admirals Club is relatively quiet. Everyone besides lounge members and those on day passes now get Flagship access. Why even maintain separate lounges, when the only difference is the food you’re providing? You could combine them and better manage space.

American Airlines Admirals Club New York JFK

American seems no stranger to the idea of elaborate schemes to simultaneously present a premium product on the one hand while limiting investment in it on the other. So I say Flagship Dining lasts as long as the United Polaris lounge concept grows and continues to offer sit down dining — something that appears by no means assured.

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. The cynic in me also thinks that they can use it cut back on onboard catering even further. Especially since with just a little bit of IT (it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out if the person ate in the lounge or not) and some better use of order ahead (add an option that says “I’ll eat in the lounge and just want a snack”) they can cut back on onboard catering and recoup *some* of the costs.

  2. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t at this point. If they didn’t have Flagship Dining you would be writing a post “Why does AA still bother with FC anymore?”

    In many ways I think that may still be the fairer post. They obviously have a large opportunity cost to keep the cabin there between the space it takes up on the planes and the amenities they have to offer on the ground, all while their competitors are creating J cabins with amenities US carriers did not dream to have in F for years (like PJs and seated dining at a club a la Polaris). American is now in a no mans land of trying to create a special project for folks they believe are willing to pay a substantial premium to get the F experience all while trying to cater to folks who expect an elevated service level in J as well.

    With that said, my guess is the MIA Flagship Dining room, along with others in the system, will regularly get filled with VIPs/celebs to give them some additional privacy before their flight and the rooms will not be as empty as the number of available seats may suggest.

  3. UA is doing same at ORD. Expanding Polaris by taking space from the regular lounge. Can’t blame them. Makes sense to look after where the money comes from

  4. It will be there as long as idiots are running American.

    These are people who installed the best J seat on the 77Ws only to totally screw up the rest of the way.

  5. My main question is why in all H*ll does DFW TD not have a Flagship Lounge (yet)? The FC dining room is joke, frequently full with a menu that hasn’t changed since I’ve been using it, which is years. The main advantage the DFW TD Admirals’ Club has is that one does not have to queue seven deep to pee, which is situation normal at the Amex lounge. The latter is nice but hopelessly overcrowded.

  6. Expanding it to Executive Platinums travelling in Paid Business seems like a natural next step. Right now, they don’t offer up much more to the paid international business traveler. Flagship check-in is one, if you originate in one of the few locations. Flagship lounge access you get with a paid business ticket. Opportunities to use systemwide upgrade from business to first becomes more limited. For these high value flyers – offering up a better lounge seems to make good use of something where most of the costs are already fixed.

    AA could limit it. Say only specific fare classes (similar to ANA’s car service in close to full fare business class). Or offer it up based on projected loads – similar to how United surprised 1Ks with access to their Global First lounges on occasion.

  7. Looking forward to trying Flagship First dining in MIA; F on AA 78 on 19-December. My aim is to be able to sleep more on the flight with already having a decent dinner.

  8. Gary, What is the equipment on the routes you mention? Over time, the number of AA first class passengers will also decline. About one year ago I flew an AA 777-200 in first class from Santiago, Chile to Miami. That flight has no first class now.

    I’ll add a contrary data point to the contention that the JFK Flagship lounge is over crowded. On Friday, December 1, I spent four hours there after arriving at 06:00 on the Cathay Pacific flight from HKG and YVR. Given the new rules for admission, I expected a crowd. In fact, the lounge was pretty empty the whole time. The dinning room was closed b/t/w. I think it opened at 10:30. The breakfast buffet was outstanding. I miss not having a bartender in Flagship lounges although there is a new self-serve bloody Mary station located near the champagne bar.

    How do you think AA’s overly restrictive access rules for First Class Dining might affect the ability of EXPs to continue to access similar dining on other OneWorld carriers like Cathay Pacific and Qantas?

  9. @john the only remaining aircraft with 3 cabin first class is the Boeing 777-300ER (77W)

    I don’t see American’s approach as a oneworld issue uniquely as such, British Airways Concorde Room takes a similar approach and so does Qatar’s al Safwa lounge in Doha. Actually I’m surprised Qantas and Cathay remain as generous, perhaps they value the partner revenue.

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