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The Most and Least Affordable Airlines for Flying First Class [2023 Data Study]

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Alex Miller
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Alex Miller

Founder & CEO

290 Published Articles

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Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Extra legroom, preflight service, and complimentary beer and wine are just a few of the enticing reasons why travelers are willing to splurge on first class tickets. Although flying first class may initially appear to be a significant strain on your budget, the undeniable benefits of a more luxurious flight experience with added amenities cannot be overlooked. So whether you’re flying to Los Angeles or New York, first class may be worth it after all.

To find out, we found the average airfare for economy and first class seats across 4 major U.S. airlines and 12 of the busiest domestic flight routes. Keep reading to see if you should splurge on a first class ticket the next time you travel.

The Cost of First Class vs. Economy Seats by Airline

Infographic showing the average price difference between economy and first class seats by airline
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

When it comes to booking your flight, it can be challenging to determine which airline offers the best deal for your desired seat. Using Google Flights data, we analyzed average one-way ticket prices for both economy and first class seats across 4 major airlines that offer consistent first class seating options –– Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines –– to determine the airlines where you’ll pay the highest and lowest premiums flying first class. 

We found that on average, passengers traveling within the U.S. can expect to pay a premium of $262.97 per flight (one-way) or over $525 (round-trip) when opting for a first class ticket

While Alaska Airlines has the highest average first class ticket price, Delta Air Lines stands out as having the highest premiums for first class tickets. Passengers flying with Delta Air Lines can expect to pay an average of $419.62 for a one-way first class ticket and $135.07 for a one-way economy ticket. This translates to a significant price difference of $284.55. 

Luxury doesn’t come cheap, as Delta Air Lines recently unveiled new first class seats with privacy partitions, adjustable neck cushions, and additional storage space to compete with other legacy airlines. 

Alaska Airlines ($281.25) and United Airlines ($250.25) also demonstrate notable price differences between their first class and economy seats. 

Alaska Airlines is unique in that the airline serves food in its first class cabins on flights as short as 550 miles while most other legacy airlines serve food on flights longer than 900 miles.

On the opposite end, American Airlines is the airline with the lowest premiums for a first class ticket. On average, American Airlines passengers will pay $134.58 for a one-way economy ticket and $370.43 for a one-way first class ticket, resulting in a $235.85 price difference

The Cost of First Class vs. Economy Seats by Route

Table showing the average price difference between economy and first class seats by flight route
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

Whether you find yourself traveling frequently for work or embarking on the same vacation route annually, we wanted to provide you with a complete picture of ticket prices for the top 12 busiest domestic routes in the U.S. 

On the New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) route, the average one-way economy ticket is $188.29, while the one-way first class ticket averaged $846, resulting in a price difference of $657.71. For frequent flyers, this price discrepancy can accumulate rapidly over time and can go a long way toward a downpayment on a home, repayment on student loans, or other financial goals.

Similarly, the Los Angeles (LAX) to Maui (OGG) route exhibited a significant price discrepancy between economy and first class tickets. The average one-way economy ticket for this route is $194.29, while the average one-way first class ticket is $745.29, resulting in a price difference of $551. These price disparities align with the trend seen in LAX, which experienced a notable 42% increase in the average domestic airfare in 2022.

Several routes also had high price differences between first class and economy seats, such as Los Angeles (LAX) to Chicago (ORD) ($327.55) and Newark (EWR) to Orlando (MCO) ($252.83)

On the flipside, certain routes such as Los Angeles (LAX) to San Francisco (SFO) featured a comparatively smaller price difference between economy and first class tickets. With an average one-way economy ticket price of $94.73 and an average one-way first class ticket price of $187.45, the price difference amounts to only $92.71. While you may want to pocket $100 and skip the first class seat, there are other ways to upgrade to first class on your next flight. 

The Cheapest Airline To Fly First Class Across the Busiest Routes

Table showing the cheapest airline for first class tickets across the busiest U.S. routes
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

If you’re on the hunt for the cheapest first class airlines then look no further! We found the cheapest airlines for first class tickets across the busiest domestic flight routes. This way, you can filter your routes by the airline the next time you purchase plane tickets using Google Flights. 

Alaska Airlines stands out as the most economical option for popular routes such as Los Angeles (LAX) to San Francisco (SFO) and Las Vegas (LAS) to Los Angeles (LAX) with one-way first class tickets priced at $159 and $164.71, respectively. First class seating on Alaska Airlines allows you to check in 2 complimentary bags, enjoy free alcoholic drinks, and relax in seats with generous recline and outlets.

American Airlines offers the cheapest first class flights for routes like Los Angeles (LAX) to Maui (OGG) ($650), New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) ($684), New York (LGA) to Chicago (ORD) ($240.71), and Atlanta (ATL) to New York (LGA) ($210.57)

If you’re flying coast to coast, investing in a first class ticket can help you get cozy in your seat, recline, and maybe even fall asleep. Plus, who wouldn’t want to enjoy a glass of red wine 35,000 feet in the air?

If you’re a fan of United Airlines, enjoy some of the cheapest first class flights from Denver (DEN) to Las Vegas (LAS) ($246.50) or Phoenix (PHX) ($246.50), Los Angeles (LAX) to Chicago (ORD) ($483.21), and Newark (EWR) to Orlando (MCO) ($343.36). 

Hot Tip:

Methodology

To identify the cheapest first class airlines, we obtained ticket price data from Google Flights, focusing on the 12 busiest domestic flight routes within the U.S., according to OAG

For each of the 12 routes, we collected data on the cheapest available one-way ticket for both economy and first class seating across 4 U.S. airlines for 7 days. This data collection was conducted for both peak and non-peak departure dates, ensuring a comprehensive representation of pricing trends. The collected prices were then averaged together to get an average one-way ticket price for both economy and first class seating. We excluded certain U.S. airlines from our analysis for the following reasons:

  • Hawaiian Airlines: While Hawaiian Airlines does offer first class seating, its flights are primarily limited to travel in and out of Hawaii; therefore, we did not have enough price data for this airline across the 12 busiest domestic routes analyzed in the study.
  • JetBlue: While JetBlue does offer first class options with its Mint service, Mint fares are only available on select cross-country and international flights; therefore, we did not have enough price data for this airline across the 12 busiest domestic routes analyzed in the study.
  • Southwest: While Southwest does offer Business Select seat options, they are not equivalent to true first class accommodations offered by other airlines.
  • Spirit and Frontier: These budget airlines were not included as they do not offer first class seating options.

The data for this study was collected in June 2023.

Final Thoughts

Flying first class is a luxurious experience unlike any other, but it can come at a hefty price tag. On average, one-way first class tickets cost roughly $260. Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines charge some of the most expensive prices for first class tickets. On the other, hand, American Airlines is one of the cheapest first class airlines and is perfect for popular routes like New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX). Keep our list of the cheapest first class flights handy when you book your next work trip or domestic getaway!

Alex Miller's image

About Alex Miller

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business, The New York Times, and more.

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