American Airlines has said it is not eliminating its first class product onboard the Airbus A321 and Boeing 777-300ER, calling the brief replacement of first class with “Flagship Business Plus” an error.
Will American Airlines “Flagship Business Plus” Replace First Class?
Yesterday, those searching for first class fares between New York and Los Angeles may have noticed that first class tickets were briefly no longer offered for sale. In their place was a new “Flagship Business Plus” product. The price was cheaper, but the fare still booked into “F” class, the traditional fare bucket for first class. The fare was listed under a new “Premier” column.
This also hit AA’s worldwide websites as well:
Speculation began as to whether American Airlines, the last U.S. carrier to maintain a true international first class cabin, would finally eliminate it. Frequent AA flyers refer to first class as “employee class” because few people are willing to pay for it, meaning it it often is filled with employee standby travelers.
But hours later, the new “Flagship Business Plus” designation disappeared and first class returned (along with higher pricing):
An American Airlines spokesperson later confirmed:
“We are not getting rid of our first class product. An error due to testing caused the temporary removal of our Flagship First fare product. We have resolved the issue, and the fare is once again available for booking on our A321T and 777.”
While the 777 has a true first class seat, the first class seat on the A323T is the same reverse herringbone seat as business class on the 777. First class on the A321T is 1-1 while business class, featuring the B/E Diamond seat, is 2-2.
So what was American Airlines experimenting with? Obviously, something…that new fare product did not simply magically appear.
The real question is whether AA eventually intends to replace first class with a “premium” business class (other airlines have done the same thing like Malaysia Airlines and Asiana) or whether this will be an additional fare type.
I can see either scenario playing out. Not only the seat, but the onboard service in first and business class is nearly identical, particularly on the A321T. The big difference is the ground product, with first class passengers offered “Flagship” check-in and access to Flagship lounges and dining facilities.
But as companies tighten travel policies, it could be that by strategically re-classifying first class and business class, AA might get more corporate buy-ups. If AA sells 10 seats at $1,000 each or two seats at $4,000 each and the rest go empty or to employees, which is the wiser course of action? From a revenue perspective, a strong case can be made for re-classifying first class as business class.
On the other hand, at Award Expert we do have clients who swear by first class on American Airlines flights between New York and the West Coast and do pay a premium. It isn’t clear if re-classifying the product to business class will change that buying behavior.
The elimination of first class on American Airlines is presently a false alarm. That said, it is clear that American Airlines is at least considering changes to its most premium product. My guess is that we might eventually see the elimination of “first class” on the A321T but it will remain, for the time being, on the 777-300ER.
Will you miss first class on American Airlines?