Business Class vs. First Class on American Airlines

Available destinations and access to Admirals Club lounges are key differentiators between these premium classes.
Aug 29, 2022

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Is business class "first class" on American? No, these two distinct fare classes offer two different experiences for passengers. That said, because first class isn't always available for certain flights, business class stands in as its most premium offering. Throw in American's Flagship classes, and you can see how this all can get confusing really quick.

When comparing premium flight classes on American Airlines, the options ultimately depend on where you are flying.

  • Business class is the highest level of service on shorter international flights.

  • First class offers a premium domestic travel experience on flights between the 50 U.S. states.

  • Meanwhile, Flagship Business and Flagship First Class are available for long-distance flights, either transcontinentally or internationally. They are not included in this comparison.

Here's what the main differences are between American’s business and first fare classes, what to expect when you book each type of ticket, and how to get access to even more benefits when flying on the airline.

The main differences

While both fare types are upgrades from standard economy flights, there are distinct differences between business class and first class on American Airlines. These are the biggest ones that you should know about before booking your next flight:

  • Destinations available. Business class flights on American are available on shorter international flights between the U.S. and Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, Puerto Rico and select South American cities. American Airlines first class can be booked on flights between all 50 states within the U.S.

  • Airport lounge access. On qualifying flights, business class travelers have complimentary access to premium lounges and Admirals Club lounges. Domestic first class passengers don't have access to these lounges unless they have a separate membership.

  • In-flight comfort. While both fare types offer wider seats and more legroom, only business class tickets include complimentary pillows and blankets.

Here's a closer look at each offering.

American Airlines business class

Fare flexibility/ticket changes

Business class tickets allow for same-day flight changes and standby for an earlier flight. If you need to change your flight, change fees are eliminated for all domestic and short-haul international flights for business class passengers when your flight originates in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Change fees are also eliminated for most business class long-haul international flights originating in North or South America.

Baggage and boarding

Business class international passengers board with Group 1 on flights with two classes and with Group 2 when there are three classes of service.

As a business class passenger, the first two checked bags are complimentary. American Airlines normally charges $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second on flights within the U.S. and to short-haul destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean. This benefit offers savings of up to $70 per person in each direction.

Seat selection

You'll enjoy wider seats and more legroom when flying business class. All American Airlines business class seats are 180-degree lie-flat seats with direct aisle access, except for the Boeing 757 and Airbus A321 aircraft. Actual seat dimensions and capabilities vary based on the aircraft that you are flying on.

Earnings rates

With American Airlines' simplified award program, you'll earn Loyalty Points based on your ticket price and elite status. All members earn 5 base points per dollar, with bonuses of 40% to 120% based on your status level. The type of fare class no longer factors into how many miles you'll receive for your flight.

🤓Nerdy Tip

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® provides complimentary access to Admirals Club lounges when flying on American.

Upgradability

Passengers can upgrade their business class seats to first class using systemwide upgrades, AAdvantage miles, or a combination of miles and cash. Miles or miles and cash upgrades start at 15,000 miles based on where you're flying to and from and the type of ticket that you originally purchased.

American Airlines first class

Fare flexibility/ticket changes

Like business class seats, American Airlines also eliminated change fees for first class passengers when flying within the U.S. or between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. While there are no change fees, you do have to pay the difference in fare.

Additionally, you can fly standby on earlier flights to the same destination for free.

Baggage and boarding

First class passengers board with Group 1, so they are among the first people on the plane. The first two checked bags are complimentary for domestic first class travelers.

Seat selection

While first class domestic seats are wider and offer more legroom, they are generally not lie-flat.

🤓Nerdy Tip

To get access to lie-flat seating, you must book a seat on one of the Flagship First transcontinental flights. Your seat dimensions and other features depend on which plane you booked a flight on.

Earnings rates

American Airlines doesn't factor the class of tickets in the number of miles or Loyalty Points that you earn. Instead, it's based on the price you pay and your elite status. With first class tickets among some of the most expensive fares available, your opportunity to earn miles is higher.

Upgradability

Because you are booked in the highest fare available, there are no upgrade options available when flying domestic first class with American Airlines.

How to fly in even more comfort

Regardless of ticket class, passengers can improve their American Airlines flight experience by earning elite status or having one of the airline's credit cards.

Elite status benefits

When you have elite status, you may receive some or all of the following benefits depending on your status level:

  • Complimentary upgrades on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines.

  • Free checked bags.

  • Mileage bonuses of up to 120% on paid flights on American Airlines or select partners.

  • Priority check-in, security clearance, boarding and bag delivery (where available).

Credit card benefits

Having an American Airlines credit card can unlock additional savings and benefits when flying with the airline. Perks and features vary by card, but they may include:

  • Earning Loyalty Points toward elite status.

  • Complimentary first checked bag for you and your companions on domestic flights.

  • Priority boarding, check-in and security screening (where available).

  • Admirals Club airport lounge access.

  • A 25% discount on in-flight food, beverages and Wi-Fi.

  • Bonus Loyalty Points or annual flight discount based on your total annual spending.

  • Annual companion certificate based on your total annual spending.

The bottom line

The check-in and in-flight experiences are similar when booking business class versus first class on American Airlines. However, the main differences revolve around airport lounge access and destination options.

Business class flights are available on short-haul international flights between the U.S. and Mexico, the Caribbean and other destinations, while first class flights are domestic fares between U.S. cities.

As well, business class passengers have complimentary admission to Admirals Club lounges on select flight tickets while domestic first class passengers don't.


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