Ranking the Different American Airlines Business Class Seats

Product consistency?  Who wants product consistency?

Certainly that’s not the goal at the new American…. at least not as far as Business Class seats are concerned!  Due to its merger with US Airways, an aging international fleet and seat supplier issues, American now features no less than nine (9) different international business class products.

Nine.

Of those, seven (7) are on wide body planes used for the vast majority of international routes to Europe, South America and Asia.  Over the past year or so, I’ve been able to fly on each wide body business class cabin in the American fleet, so I figured it was time to decipher the differences and rank them — all in one post!

But first?  The candidates (along with my past and future reviews of these flights) – many of these flights were in the last few weeks or months, so are in my queue to either write and/or edit and publish reviews:

  • A330-200 and A330-300 “Envoy” Suite
  • B767-300 “old” configuration
    • MIA-MXP (upcoming)
  • B767-300 “new” configuration
    • ZRH-JFK (upcoming)
  • B777-200 “old” configuration
    • MIA-EZE (upcoming)
    • SCL-MIA (upcoming)
  • B777-200 “new” configuration
  • B777-300ER
  • B787-8 Dreamliner

Let’s go ahead and profile each of these types of Business Class seats!

A330-200 and A330-300 “Envoy” Suite

Envoy Suites class on US Airways A330-200

Envoy Suites class on US Airways A330-200

Continue Reading →

First Look: Turkish Business Class Istanbul to Washington

After a long, Valentine’s Day weekend in Rome, my fiancé and I flew Turkish Airlines in business class back to Washington-Dulles via Istanbul.  While a full-fledged review is forthcoming, I wanted to share some initial pictures and thoughts of the long haul segment of Monday’s trip — from Istanbul to Washington on the Turkish Airlines A330-300.

I’d heard great things about Turkish Airlines’ catering, and boy — they sure didn’t disappoint, as this was some of the best catering I’ve experienced.  From the shorter, European flight, to the Turkish CIP Lounge at Istanbul, to the long haul flight from Istanbul to Washington, the catering — all day long — was simply fantastic, and first-rate.  I’ll let some of the pictures provide a good teaser for my review, which should be written in the next week or two…

Turkish Business Class Seats on the A330-300

Turkish Business Class Seats on the A330-300

Cute Salt and Pepper Shakers!

Cute Salt and Pepper Shakers!

Appetizers!

A variety of appetizers — these were only three of eight selections!

Amazing entree

Amazing entree – Adana Kebab

Dessert -- what?

Dessert — capping off a fantastic meal

Flying over Northern Canada

Flying over Northern Canada

The catering was amazing.  Simply some of the best I’ve ever had in business class, and even competitive or better than some international first class products that I’ve flown.  The attention to small, cute little details was also appreciated, and made certain aspects of this long flight quite enjoyable.

The business class seat on the A330-300 was a reasonably comfortable way to spend an almost 12-hour flight, but it certainly isn’t an industry-leading product by any stretch of the imagination.  I’ve heard mixed reviews about the service on Turkish, but I experienced completely friendly and accommodating service on this flight — though it wasn’t so much the most polished service I’ve had, it was certainly an enjoyable experience.  I’ll get into much, much more detail when I publish my full-fledged review of this flight from Istanbul to Washington in Turkish Business Class.

How to Book an Around the World Trip with US Airways Miles

US Airways Dividend Miles are some of the easiest miles out there to accrue, and at least for now, the airline has a very rewarding award chart with several awesome hot spots that one can exploit to derive maximum value from their miles.

Perhaps no award on the US Airways chart has more value than the business or first class award from North America to North Asia for 110,000 miles in business class or 120,000 miles in first class.   US Airways defines “North Asia” as China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macau, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.   US Airways’ liberal routing rules allow one to really exploit this award and turn it into a de-facto around the world ticket.

In this post, I will demonstrate:

  • The mechanics and details of a US Airways award ticket
  • How to book a US Airways Award ticket on oneworld partner airlines using American’s website
  • How to book a US Airways Award ticket on oneworld partner airlines using British Airways’ website
  • How to book a US Airways Award ticket on oneworld partner airlines using Qantas’s website
  • The proper way to call a US Airways and book this award

Continue Reading →

Around the World with US Airways Miles

A week from today, I will be embarking on another around the world adventure — this time it will include a stop at one of my favorite places in the World — Munich during Oktoberfest.  The Oktoberfest trip is one that I’ve taken the past four years, so it was a no-brainer to book a fifth straight year at the Weisn.

I will be joining ten other friends in Munich for four days, and at least two days at the tents of Oktoberfest — the world’s largest festival.  We also plan to attend a Bayern Munich match, the famed Hofbrauhaus, and some other various sites in and around Munich.  Last year I was able to experience the closing of Oktoberfest, and it was definitely worth the effort to stay for it on Sunday night, so we will be enjoying the closing ceremonies once again from the Hacker Pschorr tent.

The 2013 Closing Ceremony at the Hacker-Pschorr Tent at Oktoberfest

The 2013 Closing Ceremony at the Hacker-Pschorr Tent at Oktoberfest

When planning this trip last year, I wanted to take advantage of a stash of US Airways miles that I had on hand, as I was uncertain of how the impending US Airways / American merger would affect the very favorable US Airways award chart.  As such, I decided to stretch the value of my miles as far as possible.  I also want to try several Star Alliance first class partners while I could, since one could no longer book US Airways on Star Alliance partners after March 31, 2014.

In order to squeeze that extra value out of my award, I decided to book a trip from the US to North Asia… yes, North Asia. Continue Reading →

United’s Premium Service Business Saver Award Availability is Much More Sparse than its Competitors’

It’s been widely documented that United Airlines has implemented a series of devaluations to its MileagePlus loyalty program.  First, there was the move to add a dollar spend amount to Premier Status qualification through the added criteria of “Premium Qualifying Dollars.”  Then, United announced a major devaluation of their award chart which hit premium international travel particularly hard.  It also created essentially a separate, more expensive chart for travel redeemed on one of United’s Star Alliance partners — the partners that supposedly make membership in Star Alliance so valuable.  Finally, last week, United announced their new plan for accruing redeemable miles in its 2015 MileagePlus program — it will based purely on ticket price, and not on the mileage flown, which is essentially bad for anyone who is somewhat price-sensitive, and is buying their own tickets.  This revenue-based system appears to be a carbon-copy of the same plan that Delta announced this past February, leading many to accuse United of simply copying Delta on things that arbitrarily “sound like a good idea.”

To counteract these devaluations, one might think that United may increase award availability so it’s not all bad for the consumer.  Alas, that is not the case.  Though United continues to have pretty good saver award availability on international awards, it has become increasingly hard to find a saver award — particularly for a premium cabin on a transcontinental domestic flight.

Case in point:  United’s Premium Service flights from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO).

These flights are operated by two-class Boeing 757-200s with a special, two-class configuration featuring 28 lie-flat, business class seats.  I was alerted by a friend that the availability of these seats is absolutely dismal, so I looked into it and then decided to compare it with the availability of “saver” level award seats in both Delta and American’s programs.

What I found was much worse than I thought.

United Premium Service Award Availability

Below are the availability calendars for United’s Premium Service Saver-level award availability for JFK-LAX for the entire schedule.
*Yellow denotes saver economy space is available.  Blue denotes BusinessFirst is available, and Green denotes both economy and BusinessFirst is available.

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That’s right.  For the entire year, there is award space for only three dates for BusinessFirst — and all are within the next three days.

The availability is much the same for the opposite direction:  LAX-JFK:  3 dates in the next year; ironically enough including Christmas Eve.

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I then decided to look at the other United Premium Service route to San Francisco, only to find similar results (I’ll spare you all the calendar shots.)

JFK-SFO:  Slightly better, with 6 days of BusinessFirst open

SFO-JFK:  The worst of the whole bunch:  only 2 days with BusinessFirst saver open, and very little economy space open at all.

After seeing this paltry availability for United, I figured that surely it was probably just as bad for Delta and American.

Notsomuch…

Delta Transcontinental BusinessElite Award Availability

Upon studying the Delta award availability (which is much more difficult to navigate than United’s), I found that on its JFK-LAX premium route with all flat-beds in its Transcontinental BusinessElite product, there was actually pretty good availability for saver-level seats after September.  In fact, in October, it’s pretty wide open (the Green dates indicate Saver availability).  The same was true with return flights from LAX-JFK.

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Delta’s Domestic Award Chart

It is worth noting that Delta has a couple different levels of “Saver” awards, based on seasonality, so a Saver award could cost you either 50,000 or 65,000 round trip (since no one-way awards are offered on Delta).  Delta’s online award search engine is also vastly inferior to that of United, so there’s always that.

American Airlines A321T Award Availability

American Airlines had a simllar pattern of availability as did Delta.  Though this summer’s business or first class “MileSAAver” level availability was slim-to-none, it looked pretty good after August.   Below is American’s chart for Business class MileSAAver awards on its non-stop JFK-LAX route on its new A321T, 3-class “Flagship Service” flights.  It’s also worth noting that first class availability was just as readily available after the summer time.

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 So what does this tell us?

For starters:  don’t plan on being able to use your United miles to fly on its Premium Service flights anytime soon.  This is just another deficiency that’s a result of a littany of #flyerUNfriendly “enhancements” to United’s formally industry-leading MileagePlus loyalty program.

Though it faces major competition in a continually evolving US air travel market,  United seems to cherry-pick the things that it copies from other airlines, such as Delta’s Skymiles medallion qualification and revenue-based earning program.  At the same time, it seems to ignore other very important things such as creating operational efficiencies by decreasing the reliance on regional carriers, and rewarding customers with at least making premium transcontinental flights obtainable with miles.  It could always mean that United is filling all these high dollar seats with paying customers while their competition is not, but given United’s recent reports of profitability (or lack thereof), I really doubt it.

How to Use American Miles to Book US Airways Flights to Europe

I recently enjoyed a US Airways business class flight in their Envoy Suite from Philadelphia to Venice, which I mentioned that I booked with American Airlines AAdvantage miles.  Now that US Airways has officially joined OneWorld, and is in the process of integrating operations with American Airlines, it is very easy to book award space on US Airways flights using your American AAdvantage miles!  The ability to do this is especially advantageous for transatlantic flights from the US to Europe.

Envoy Suites class on US Airways A330-200

Envoy Suites class on US Airways A330-200

Before the addition of US Airways, your options for flying to Europe with American miles were relatively limited.  Most of the options involved a connection at London-Heathrow on either American or British Airways.  Aside from the headache involved with transiting one of the World’s busiest international airports, these flights include significant taxes and fees that significantly decrease the value proposition of redeeming your miles.  Other than this, American does offer some non-stop flights from the US to other gateways in Europe, but those seem to be increasing difficult to find on points.

This is where US Airways comes in.

Since they started to merge with American earlier this year, US Airways non-stops to Europe are also bookable online on American’s site.  Since you’d be using American miles, you would use the American partner award chart.  American charges 20k-30k in economy (based on the season), 50k in business, and 62.5k in first class for a one-way flight between the US and Europe or vice-versa.   Since US Airways only has economy and business class, we will be focusing on business.

I will search for a flight to Venice from Philadelphia (though the mileage price would be the same from any city in the US — you’d just need to change planes).  To search for these awards on the American site, it’s important to check the “Redeem miles” checkmark.  I usually search one-way awards, and if a round-trip is needed, book it as a round-trip once I’ve verified availability.Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.11.15 PM

By default, economy class will be chosen.  I’m interested in business class seats, so I’ll select the blue, business class button and the available dates will be populated in the calendar.  Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.12.58 PM

I select Friday, May 30th, and voila — there’s availability on the route in US Airway business class on the same flight I took — US Airways flight 714 from Philly to Venice!Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.14.54 PM

This is available for 50k miles + $2.50 per person (please note that if the reservation is made inside of 21 days, there will be an extra $75 charge per person for passengers without elite status on American).Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.18.57 PM

As I mentioned in my previous post, I consider the product on US Airways to be one of the best business class options to cross the Atlantic (on their A330-200 and A330-300 aircraft).   American offers a similar, but newer product on their new B777-300ER aircraft, but these currently only fly to Europe between New York-JFK, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and London-Heathrow with very limited award availability.  American seems to be releasing this very comparable business class award space on these US Airways non-stops  even mores than some of their own flights to Europe.

US Airways currently operates the following routes to Europe, which are all bookable using your American AAdvantage miles:

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Charlotte to: Dublin, London, Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon.

 

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Philadelphia to: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dublin, Shannon, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Zurich, Venice, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon.

*Be sure to check the operating aircraft, because the Envoy Suites product is only offered on their A330 planes.

All in all, it’s pretty easy to do this if you have a bunch of American miles.  Even if you don’t, it’s easy to accumulate American miles through generous signup bonuses for one of many Citibank AAdvantage credit cards.