Review: British Airways First Class SFO - LHR
Review: Iberia Airlines Business Class LHR - MAD
Recap: Sights in Spain
Review: American Airlines Business Class MAD - DFW
About three weeks before Christmas, we decided that we wanted to take a trip during the week between Christmas and New Years. Things at work are usually slow and it's fairly easy to take time off, so we decided to go for it. Because we waited until the very last minute, we blew A TON of miles on the trip. We had been keeping our eye on award availability for several weeks before we actually booked anything, but not much was available and nothing was opening up as we got closer to our dates, especially not any Saver awards. We were pretty much open to flying to any destination in Europe and Spain ended up being one of our only options to use American miles and fly Business or First.
The flight out was fairly easy to book and although it wasn't quite as much of a gouge mileage-wise as the return, it was on British Airways, which is famous for outrageous fuel surcharges. We ended up booking the following:
SFO - LHR in British Airways First + LHR - MAD in Iberia Airlines Business: 62,500 AA miles each + $490
MAD - DFW - SFO in American Airlines Business and First: 135,000 AA miles each + $53
In hindsight, this was an insane amount of money and miles to spend at the last minute on a whim, but once I got the idea of going to Europe over the holidays in my head, I really couldn't get it out.
British Airways (BA) #286
London (LHR) - Madrid (MAD)
Monday, December 28th, 2015
8:20 PM - 2:45 PM (+1), Duration: 10 hrs, 25 mins
Boeing 747-400 First Class, Seat 2K
We boarded our flight directly from the British Airways Terraces lounge at SFO about an hour before the flight was due to take off. The first thing you'll notice upon boarding is the excellent lighting scheme throughout the cabin, which makes everything a very cool shade of blue. The First class cabin is on the upper deck of the 747 in the nose, so the seats are configured in a v-shape with a sort of 1-2-1 pattern across the cabin. The nice thing about this somewhat odd layout is that seats 1A, 1K, 2A, 2K all have no space between them for another row of seats, so they're a bit more private.
While I mentioned that rows 1 and 2 are more private, the seats overall are not very private, which I didn't like. On the edge of your seat, all you'll have is the arm rest, which only goes up so high, so you're wide open to the rest of the passengers while you're sleeping. British Airways seems to enjoy this sort of exposure, since the outer Club World seats are like this also.
Other than the privacy issue, the seats were fine and were comfortable enough for the ride although the seat controls were absolutely not intuitive and the foot rest was so far away, I wasn't able to actually use it for the flight. I did like the small touches like the lamp next to the seat and the windows with actual shades inside them - they definitely gave the cabin a bit of style. There was a small "closet" of sorts, which you could hang a very thin coat in or maybe your clothing once you changed into pajamas. The seat controls and entertainment remote were located to the left of the seat and the television was one that pops out from the wall. This is my least favorite design since you have to stow it for takeoff and landing, which means you can't watch anything for a fairly large chunk of time.
This turned out not to be much of an issue, however, because the in-flight entertainment system had an abysmal selection. First receives the same selection as Club World and we had just flown that about a month before, so there was little entertainment to choose from. Even American offers quite a substantial selection, which is easily 2x what BA offers.
Guest Reviewer: Chris
An avid traveler and obsessive points and miles hound, Chris is my travel buddy extraordinaire. I love him for his enthusiasm, his sense of adventure, and his many lounge access credit cards. Hope you enjoy his perspective!
Back in March, I wrote about how to book partner award flights on Etihad Airways. We originally booked First Apartments both to Abu Dhabi from London and from Abu Dhabi back to London over the Thanksgiving holiday, but unfortunately, the airplane for our flight from London was switched from an A380 (which has First Apartments) to an A340 (which has Etihad's standard First Class). The airplane switch was somewhat devastating, but at least we will still experience the Apartments on our way home. We planned a whirlwind luxury long weekend in Dubai around these flights and I'll be covering all the details in upcoming posts.
Review: British Airways Club World SFO - LHR
Review: LHR Etihad Airways First & Business Class Lounge
Review: Etihad Airways First Class LHR - AUH
Review: Park Hyatt Dubai
Review: Afternoon Tea at At.mosphere Burj Khalifa
Review: Burj al Arab Part I: One Bedroom Suite
Review: Burj al Arab Part II: Grounds and Amenities
Review: AUH Etihad Airways Premium Lounge
Review: Etihad Airways First Apartments AUH - LHR
When Jen and I decided to book the Etihad A380 First Apartment for Thanksgiving, we'd only found flights between London and Abu Dhabi. That left us with the problem of how to get to and from London. We weren't able to find any award space from San Francisco, and there were no amazing deals for paid business class. After researching our options, we decided to spend cash to book British Airways World Traveller Plus (which is what they call premium economy), and then use Avios points to upgrade to Club World (which is what they call business class).
British Airways (BA) #286
San Francisco (SFO) - London (LHR)
Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
8:20 PM - 2:45 PM (+1)
Boeing 747-400 Club World
The British Airways Terraces Lounge at SFO lets passengers board directly from the lounge, which is a nice feature, even though the lounge itself is nothing special otherwise. About 45 minutes before departure, we noticed some of the other passengers lining up, so we joined the queue and were onboard the 747-400 shortly thereafter. When we boarded the plane, we were greeted by a flight attendant who explained how to find our seats (down the aisle, then up the stairs).
It was our first time experiencing the 747 upper deck, and I have to admit I liked it. It's a pretty small area, so the environment feels calmer and more civilized than the madness of the main deck. Seating is in a 2-2 arrangement, compared to 2-4-2 on the main deck, and there are two bathrooms, which is more than enough given the small number of passengers. The aisle was one of the widest I've seen on a plane, and the cabin felt spacious overall.
After we'd gotten comfortable, flight attendants came by a few times to hang up our coats, provide a pre-departure beverage (a choice of champagne, water, or orange juice), and hand out newspapers and amenity kits. The amenity kits were unisex cloth bags that contained a toothbrush and some products by Elemis.
The seats have a quite a few disadvantages compared to other business class products. They don't have all-aisle access, so passengers stuck in window or middle seats have to climb over the legs of others to get out. They're in a yin-yang configuration, so pairs of passengers face each other. That wasn't a problem for us as a couple, but seems like it would be awkward for passengers who don't know each other. There is a divider that can be raised, but it needs to be lowered for flight attendants to serve food and drinks. The aisle seats are also completely exposed; there's no partition on one side, so it feels like you're sleeping in the aisle. Finally, the pillow was thin and basically useless.
On the plus side, the seats recline to a fully lie-flat position, and the window seats have plenty of privacy. On the upper deck, the window seats also have several storage cabinets, so if I were traveling by myself I would definitely try to snag an upstairs window seat. Annoyingly, British Airways charges for advance seating assignments even in business class, but fortunately we had the fee waived due to our oneworld Emerald status.
After takeoff, the flight attendants came by with a cart to take drink orders, and I decided to go for a Kir Royale, which was served with a bag of mixed nuts. A little while later, they served our dinners. The menu read as follows:
Smoked trout with horseradish cream and beetroot salad
Grilled halloumi and portobello mushroom with olive tapenade and pepper drops
Fresh seasonal salad served with vegetables
Seared filet of Midwest beef with mushroom sauce and Pont-Neuf potatoes
Seared sea bream with coconut ginger sauce, coriander rice and stir-fried vegetables
Gnocchi filled with Asiago cheese and fire roasted pepper sauce
Chilled main course fattoush salad with sumac chicken and yoghurt and mint dressing
Mango and chocolate slice
New England Cave Aged Cheddar and Gorgonzola with quince paste
A selection of fruit
The appetizer and salad course was not a big hit. Both of us got the halloumi (a grilled cheese), and it tasted pretty bad. After clearing our plates, they then brought our main courses - Jen went with the steak, and I chose the gnocchi with pepper sauce. My pasta was OK, but Jen thought her steak tasted "like a shoe". Fortunately, the dessert redeemed the meal somewhat; we both got the chocolate and mango slice, which was delicious!
Guest Reviewer: Chris
An avid traveler and obsessive points and miles hound, Chris is my travel buddy extraordinaire. I love him for his enthusiasm, his sense of adventure, and his American Airlines Executive Platinum status benefits. Hope you enjoy his perspective!
In my previous guest post, I reviewed my Lufthansa First Class flight to Europe for Christmas. For the return journey, I found first class award availability with British Airways, and I decided to book it using AAdvantage miles. It cost a fairly reasonable 62,500 miles for the one-way flight, but the fees and taxes of $382 were a bit steep.
British Airways has a separate first class check-in area at Heathrow Terminal 5, so I headed there and was surprised to find a long line of about 15 people. Fortunately there were quite a few check-in desks open, so I only had to wait about 5 minutes to get my boarding pass. I then proceeded to Fast Track security and was airside a few minutes later.
The last time I was at Heathrow Terminal 5, Jen and I tried the Galleries First Lounge, but this time I had access to the Concorde Room, which is only available to first class passengers flying British Airways. Since first class passengers and oneworld Emerald members from other airlines aren’t permitted, the Concorde Room is considered the more exclusive of the two lounges.
The lounge is located immediately to the right after exiting security. I first showed my boarding pass to the lady guarding the door, then once inside I needed to show my boarding pass again. Maybe it’s a British thing, but I didn’t find any of the staff members to be particularly welcoming. In fact, they seemed quite annoyed that I had decided to stop by.
The lounge has both an indoor sitting area and a terrace overlooking the terminal, and seating consists of various kinds of chairs and couches. In the indoor section, there is a full-service bar, but the staff also walk around and take drink orders. There is no buffet, but there is a restaurant area where food can be ordered.
Since I hadn't had breakfast yet, I headed to the dining area and was promptly seated. There were a few British-themed breakfast items on the menu. I opted for the traditional English breakfast, along with an orange juice and a cappuccino. The one thing I couldn’t help but notice was how miserable the wait staff seemed. They all looked incredibly sad and interacted with me as little as possible. Maybe it’s from dealing with overly-entitled passengers all day.
A few minutes after ordering, my breakfast arrived. Sadly, I wasn’t incredibly impressed by the food. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very good. Let’s just say the best part of my meal was the baked beans, which probably came from a tin. The cappuccino tasted mostly like warm water; I couldn’t tell that it contained any coffee or milk.
After finishing my breakfast, I headed to the terrace area and found a comfortable lounge chair to relax in for an hour or so, then I headed to my gate. Overall I was disappointed by the Concorde Room, and next time I’ll make sure to visit the Galleries First Lounge instead, which I thought was a better lounge.
British Airways #285
London (LHR) – San Francisco (SFO)
Monday, December 29th, 2014
10:50 AM – 1:50 PM : 11 hours, 0 minutes
Boeing 747-400: Seat 3A (First Class)
Shortly after I arrived at the gate, Fast Track boarding began. There was no separate first class boarding, so first, business, and elites all boarded at the same time. Once on board, I was led to my seat, and got a handshake greeting from the purser. The staff were all extremely friendly and courteous, which was a huge contrast to the staff in the Concorde Room.
The cabin was pretty cool-looking - I especially liked that there was subtle blue lighting throughout. However, there were 14 first class seats in the nose of the 747, which made it feel a bit cramped. Luckily, on my flight only eight of the seats were occupied. The seat was comfortable and came with a narrow closet, a lamp, and a fold-out TV screen. The best part was the window, which was huge and had motorized blinds. Although it still had the usual airplane windows behind it, it felt more like the kind of window you’d find on a train than on a plane.
After getting settled, I was offered a drink, and I chose champagne. Like Lufthansa, they were serving Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, which is supposed to be a pretty good champagne, although I can’t really tell these sorts of things. A few minutes later, a flight attendant came by to give me my amenity kit and pajamas (or sleep suit, as they called it). The amenity kit was high quality and came with everything one would need, and the pajamas were good too. They had the British Airways logo and said “First” on them, in case I were to forget which cabin I belonged to.
After take-off, I was offered a drink and I decided to try a Kir Royale. It was excellent and was served with warm mixed nuts. Then, about an hour into the flight, the meal service began. The menu read as follows:
Weekend Write-Up: London, Part I
Weekend Write-Up: London, Part II
Review: InterContinental London Westminster
Review: LHR BA Galleries First Lounge
Our flight home from London was via British Airways, but unfortunately, we were flying coach. Luckily, Chris' American Airlines Executive Platinum status translates to Oneworld Emerald, which allows him and a guest (that's me!) to use British Airways First Class, Business Class or frequent flyer lounges. We had a late afternoon flight, so once we arrived at Heathrow and made it through Fast Track security, we headed to the British Airways Galleries First Lounge in the South concourse of Terminal 5.
Upon arrival at the lounge, you will see the First lounge on your left and the Club lounge on your right. The Galleries First lounge is absolutely massive. There were no less than two dedicated champagne bars (serve yourself, of course), one other bar area, a full service dining area, a buffet dining area, a large business center, multiple seating areas, and even a terrace. It was around 3PM on a Monday when we arrived and the place was surprisingly quite packed, but there was plenty of seating throughout the lounge.
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.