Quick Hitter: American Optical Original Pilots Got More Expensive. Are they still worth it?

I love the American Optical Original Pilot. What’s not to love? They’re made in America (Massachusetts), look great on everyone (Don Draper for example), and previously had the American Airforce and NASA contract so they were worn by fighter pilots and astronauts (they were the sunglasses worn to the moon). American Optical Pilots can’t be discussed without also referencing the Randolph Aviator. Randolph currently holds the military contract and the sunglasses are for all intents and purposes identical (Randolphs are also made in Massachusetts). Randolph’s have always been, for reasons that are completely unclear to me, more expensive.

The last pair of AO Pilots I bought cost $115 with polarized lenses. The non-polarized versions were $84 (I have some of those too). At that price, I would tell anybody who asked that they should buy a pair (I don’t remember anyone actually asking but it didn’t stop me from telling people to buy them). Last year the company announced that they would be increasing prices because they were improving quality and were offering more styles. The price more than doubled- $194 for non-polarized and $244 for polarized glass lenses. Ouch! In AO’s favor is the fact that Randolph also increased prices. They are around $30 more than the AO version and again almost identical.

Were the AO Pilots underpriced and the price now reflects the value, or are they now overpriced? It’s probably somewhere in the middle. I haven’t been giving non-solicited advice to buy them since the price increase, but if you find a pair for $130 or less- you should definitely buy them.

Thanks to RCS Friend Jon Hickman for sharing his thoughts 

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4 Comments

  1. Forrest
    07/16/2021 / 2:59 PM

    I have an old pair. Have been looking at AO the past month. I really do like the Saratoga and love the look of the tournament in it’s gray offering. 7 barrel hinges with excellent acetate quality and polishing. I believe the lenses are nylon which offer a light weight . The reviews state that the optics on both models are excellent.

  2. SMB
    07/16/2021 / 5:57 PM

    The fact that they are still made in the USA is a plus in my book and considering what some of these web-based eyeglass companies are charging I think that AO and Randolph are still a great value.

  3. Tanner
    07/18/2021 / 8:58 PM

    I’d pay $130, in fact have been planning on it, but dadgum I ain’t going to pay the new price. That’s ridiculous, especially because they haven’t really justified how they’re “improving.” If they really are improving and aren’t just saying that as an excuse to increase costs then they should offer a line of how they were previously made at that previous cost. Somewhat similar to how Duck Head has their different lines.

    • Jon
      07/21/2021 / 4:02 PM

      Agreed. They should have done a more staged increase if they wanted to get to $190.

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