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Traditionally, domestic first-class isn’t the most exciting airplane seat on the market. The seats are designed to accommodate passengers on shorter flights, offer limited recline, slightly more space than a standard economy seat and, oftentimes, they can be quite dated. However, Delta Air Lines is looking to change that reputation.
Delta’s newest narrowbody aircraft, the Airbus A321neo, took off from Boston’s Logan Airport (BOS) on Friday morning en route to San Francisco (SFO) on its first-ever scheduled commercial flight. The plane is the first of 26 A321neos expected to be delivered to Delta in 2022, with a total of 155 on order over the next several years.
The brand-new airplane, which will be used primarily for domestic flights, has a redesigned first-class seat that features privacy partitions, additional storage space, a remodeled tray table and memory foam seat cushions. CNN Underscored got a first look at the cabin during a ferry flight to the plane’s new home in Boston earlier this week, and we’ll show you how you can fly across the country in one of these new seats for almost nothing using Delta’s frequent flyer program — or even your American Express credit card points.
Each Airbus A321neo aircraft currently being delivered to Delta has 20 first-class seats, 42 Comfort+ seats and 132 standard economy seats. At first glance, the most obvious new first-class feature is the privacy dividers at the top of each seat, which the airline refers to as “wings.”
These “wings” not only provide an extra modicum of privacy if the person sitting next to you is a stranger, but are ideal for propping a pillow up against if you’re looking to get some shuteye without ending up with a cramp in your neck — something that even the best travel neck pillows can’t always help to avoid.
“We see the amount of advertising of neck pillows out there,” says Mauricio Parise, Vice President of Brand Experience at Delta, “and this is solely for that in making sure you have a place to sleep and relax.”
In addition to these “wings,” each seat features an adjustable set of neck cushions that can be raised, lowered and squeezed together if you prefer to have something to hold your neck in place rather than propping it up against the dividers.
Another major feature of the new first-class seat design is the addition of several areas for personal storage. One of the largest and most convenient is actually at your feet, where you’ll find a spot that’s perfect to pop your laptop into when it’s time to get up to stretch or use the lavatory. It’s a much better option than leaving it in the typical seatback pocket.
Power outlets have also been relocated in this new first-class seat configuration and are now up on the armrest. With additional storage room available in the armrest for phones and tablets, it makes for an ideal way to charge your small device while still having it close at hand.
It’s important to note that these are domestic first-class seats, and as such, they’re not designed to “lie flat” like modern international first- or business-class seats. (Parise told CNN Underscored he expects a small future portion of the airline’s A321neo fleet to be configured with true lie-flat seats for premium transcontinental routes.) That being said, the seats have a decent amount of recline, so even if you can’t lie down, you’ll be able to put your seat back far enough to stretch out.
As is typical for Delta mainline aircraft, the A321neo has an inflight entertainment screen installed at every seat from first to economy. In first class, it’s a 13-inch HD touchscreen monitor that’s loaded with over 500 movies and 100 TV series, all available on-demand. Plus, the screen can be tilted so that when your neighbor in front of you reclines their seat, you can adjust your monitor and continue watching your movie without contorting yourself into an uncomfortable position.
Delta’s A321neo aircraft also have high-speed Wi-Fi service provided by Viasat, and the airline has been lowering prices for its service so that it’s now possible to pay just $5 for Wi-Fi for your entire flight. While our ferry flight wasn’t a real-life test of the plane’s Wi-Fi since only a few passengers were onboard using the service at the same time, our inflight tests showed a connection that rivaled the performance of at-home internet, with download speeds of 70 Mbps and higher.
When it’s mealtime, the A321neo’s tray table swings out of the armrest. According to Delta, the tray table is sturdier than the one you’ll find on older planes — when we used it, it seemed to stay in place better than the usual flimsy tray tables that can be known to sag in the middle or on the sides.
On our ferry flight, Delta offered the same menu choices that will be available to passengers between Boston and San Francisco: an Impossible burger, a chicken with rice entree or a vegetarian plate. The Impossible burger we chose came with Manchego cheese and was surprisingly tasty, though the bun did get a bit greasy from the cheese during its in-flight reheating. The burger was accompanied by a butternut squash salad and a lemon blueberry cheesecake for dessert.
Overall, the new first class on Delta’s Airbus A321neo is quite comfortable, and certainly a step above the usual domestic first-class seat. While it’s obviously not equal to an international lie-flat seat, it’s clear that Delta has put some real thought into improving the standard first-class recliner, and passengers who find themselves in first class on one of Delta’s new A321neos will find the new seat features to be a pleasant surprise.
How to fly Delta’s new first class seat
While the first two new A321neos will fly exclusively between Boston (BOS) and San Francisco (SFO) for now, Delta plans to quickly roll out the planes to other cities as additional aircraft are delivered, though Boston will remain the primary focus. Under the current schedule, Delta expects to launch A321neo service from Boston to Seattle (SEA) starting Aug. 11, and between Boston and San Diego (SAN) and Boston and Denver (DEN) on Aug. 20.
If you’re paying cash, you’ll find prices of $1,000 and up for a one-way flight from Boston to San Francisco in one of these new first-class seats — though we did find some dates with tickets as low as $705 as of this writing. However, by taking advantage of Delta SkyMiles, the airline’s frequent flyer program, you can use miles to book a seat while paying just minimal taxes and fees.
Delta’s frequent flyer program has award prices that vary based partially on the cash price of a ticket. That means that while you may see extraordinarily high award prices for Delta flights on some days, you may find much cheaper options on other days, so it’s worth looking around and being flexible with your travel plans.
As an example, we’re currently seeing these first-class seats available one way from Boston to San Francisco for as few as 54,000 miles and $5.60 in taxes on most Tuesdays and Wednesdays from mid-September all the way through the end of March 2023, with similar availability from San Francisco back to Boston. Even better, if you fly from Boston to Denver on the A321neo, you can find award prices as low as 37,000 miles plus $5.60 in taxes, and if you’re going to Seattle on this new aircraft, you can find tickets for as few as 30,000 miles one way plus those minimal taxes.
What if you don’t have any Delta SkyMiles? Fortunately, they’re easy to get even if you haven’t flown the airline recently. That’s because Delta has seven different credit cards — four personal cards and three business cards — and each of them comes with a welcome bonus offer with the opportunity to earn tens of thousands of miles just in the first few months after you get the card. Here are the current personal Delta credit card offers:
And if you have a small business, you can get a credit card specifically for your business expenses, and those cards all come with welcome offers as well:
If you’re not sure which Delta credit card might be right for you, check out our guide to the best Delta credit cards and find out the details of each card to see which one might be a good fit for your travel habits.
Finally, remember that American Express Membership Rewards points can transfer to Delta SkyMiles at a one-to-one ratio, meaning that 1,000 Amex points equal 1,000 Delta SkyMiles. So if you have a stash of points that you earned from a card like the American Express® Gold Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express, you can transfer some of those to Delta to book these new first-class seats without needing to have a Delta credit card at all. You’ll find a list of all our favorite American Express options in our guide to the best American Express credit cards.
With the SkyMiles earned from a single welcome bonus, you can redeem for a one-way ticket in Delta’s brand-new first-class seat on the A321neo. In fact, if you’re able to find availability, you can even afford to redeem SkyMiles for a round-trip itinerary between Boston and the West Coast.
If you have a chance to get into one of these new Delta first-class seats, it’s worth the cost, especially if you can redeem your Delta SkyMiles or American Express Membership Rewards to do it. And while these new planes will be mostly based around Boston to start, with 155 aircraft on order, it won’t be long before Delta’s A321neo is showing up in a city near you.
Looking to earn travel rewards? Check our CNN Underscored’s list of the best travel credit cards currently available.