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Review: American First Class Columbia to San Diego (for $5.60)

I love free travel! If you’ve been reading the site lately, it’s becoming more and more obvious. For a long time, I was naively stockpiling American AAdvantage miles. Between a 30,000 offer from Citi, a 40k offer from Barclaycard, 7.5k awarded after an AA rep threatened to ‘lose’ my luggage on purpose, and 5k after a debacle that left me stuck in Philadelphia and on the hook for $400, I had a ton of miles.

 

I say ‘naive,’ however, because all of the mile-gaining efforts were for transatlantic travel. But American books most transatlantic travel on British Airways metal. BA charges upwards of $700 in ‘fuel surcharges.’ You can get round-trip itineraries for that price, so what’s the point in booking award travel? Anyway, having too many AA miles coincided with a big, 9-state, 4-day summer adventure, so I put the points to work with domestic travel. Interestingly, economy award seats were more expensive (in miles) than first-class seats. Go figure.

 

My final gripe is that American has some stupid rules about lounge access. As you’ll see in the other reviews here and here, I ended up in 4 different lounges during my layover in Dallas. But none of those were with American: all with Priority Pass (and one I snuck into). Even though I was flying from east coast to west coast, quite literally, American doesn’t consider me to be traveling ‘transcontinentally.’ So, the first-class itinerary didn’t include lounge access. That seems pretty dumb to me but, hey, I only paid $5.60 for this trip (and got fed for free all day).

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wonder learn invest american airlines first class review free travel hack

A pretty new plane: Embraer 170. While there was no in-flight entertainment, the seat was roomy, the space was efficient, and everything felt new.

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Getting up at 4:00am meant no breakfast, but meals are free in first class. Everything tasted alright, though it would be hard to mess this up.

wonder learn invest american airlines first class review free travel hack

View from the wing 😉

wonder learn invest american airlines first class review free travel hack

The second flight (post-layover in Dallas, see reviews here and here). Tons of room again- feet barely reached beneath the seat in front of me. Plenty of space between me and an old grumpy stranger. Lots of clever little tray tables that came out of seemingly every part of the seat.

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A little pocket for a magazine? A blanket? Drugs? Do whatever you want with it, you’re in first class now.

wonder learn invest american airlines first class review free travel hack

Definitely the biggest TV I’ve had on a flight in the US. Norweigan might be the only competition to this. My hands, unlike Donald Trump’s, are normal sized. Thus, the TV has been proven to be big. The screen was responsive. Praise the Lord! It was more iPad and less, well, the last decade-plus of aircraft technology.

wonder learn invest american airlines first class review free travel hack

I briefly thought this was an old plane with the remote control left over. But I’ll be damned, they’re still making remote controls on planes. And it worked well. Hot dog!

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This is a cautionary tale, children. Two very different offers in the same seatback pocket. 50k is more than 40k. Just a reminder to comparison shop when churning cards and booking travel. Even the airlines get it wrong (or mislead you!).

wonder learn invest american airlines first class review free travel hack

Aux, USB, useless port, multi-nationality power port. Always useful, and nice not to have the aux jack on the screen, where it hangs on the tray table and tends to get yanked out.

wonder learn invest american airlines first class review free travel hack

AA is finally catching up to Delta. This seems like the future of in-flight to me. Much cheaper than trying to compete against iPads with poorly constructed, expensive, installed seatback screens.

wonder learn invest american airlines first class review free travel hack

Water, wine, mixed nuts. The wine had strong overtones of gross, gas-station wine, so it didn’t get finished.

wonder learn invest american airlines first class review free travel hack

All of this tasted great!

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Beautiful view over… Arizona? New Mexico? We came close to a lot of mountains, it was great.

 

All in all, I would never pay real money for this experience. The food felt awesome because I’m comparing it to years of even-worse economy food. The seat was big, but not big enough to spend extra hundreds of dollars. The lack of a lounge seemed silly. But, this is a fun, novelty experience made all the more wonderful by its utter cheapness. Happy traveling!

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