Analysis: The true cost of flying first class

First class seating on Delta Air Lines A220.
Photo Credit: Delta News Hub, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A new data analysis from the travel experts at Upgraded Points gives travelers an insightful look into the price variations in first-class tickets across four major U.S. airlines and twelve of the busiest domestic flight routes.

The study analyzed data from Google Flights, considering one-way ticket costs for economy and first-class seats across Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines.

“While some may view flying first-class as a financial stretch, the undeniable benefits of extra legroom, preflight service, and complimentary beverages make it a tempting choice,” said Alex Miller, founder of Upgraded Points.

“With an average premium of just $262.97 per one-way flight, this luxury may be more affordable than travelers think.”

Study Methodology


The study gathered ticket price data from Google Flights, focusing on the 12 busiest domestic flight routes within the U.S. For each of the 12 routes, the study collected data on the cheapest available one-way ticket for both economy and first-class seating across four U.S. airlines for seven days.

The data considered both peak and non-peak departure dates, ensuring a full representation of pricing trends. The costs were then averaged to get a one-way ticket price for both economy and first-class seating.

The study excluded U.S. airlines that do not offer first-class or did not have sufficient data on the analyzed routes.

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The U.S. airlines with the highest first-class ticket premiums.

Major Study Takeaways


Delta Air Lines leads the pack with the highest premiums, charging $284.55 more for a one-way, first class ticket compared to economy.

Alaska Airlines boasts high first-class ticket price differences among those studied ($281.25) but makes up for it with unique amenities like serving food for flights as short as 550 miles.

United Airlines travelers can upgrade to first-class without breaking the bank at a price difference of around $250.23 between economy and first-class.

American Airlines stands out as the most affordable deal, with a much smaller difference between first-class and economy tickets ($235.85).

“According to our data, American Airlines is the most cost-effective choice for travelers looking to upgrade their flight experience.”

“In addition to typical first-class benefits, American Airlines travelers may get to experience a refreshed Admirals Club lounge, as the airline started upgrading their lounges to feel more modern and homey in select airports in 2022,” said Alex Miller.

The cheapest airlines to fly first class on America’s busiest flight routes.

Below is a look into the price differences by specific route:

New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX): A one-way economy ticket is $188.29, while the first-class ticket averaged $846.00, resulting in a difference of $657.71.

Los Angeles (LAX) to Maui (OGG): A one-way economy ticket costs $194.29, while the equivalent first-class ticket is $745.29 – a difference of $551.

Los Angeles (LAX) to San Francisco (SFO): A one-way economy ticket costs $94.73 and a first-class ticket at $187.45 – a comparatively smaller difference of $92.71.

Las Vegas (LAS) to Los Angeles (LAX): A one-way economy ticket is $74.48 compared to a first-class ticket at $197.04, for a narrow difference of $122.55.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
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