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 →

American AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles Combine – What it means to you

On Tuesday, American Airlines announced that it would combine the legacy loyalty programs of American Airlines and US Airways on this coming Saturday, March 28.  Previously, American had stated that these two programs would be merging sometime in the second quarter 0f 2015, so this puts them a little ahead of schedule.  The newly combined program won’t be a huge change to those loyal to American Airlines, but it looks to be quite an adjustment for those US Airway Preferred members — and many of those adjustments are good!

So now that these programs are merging into one, what does that mean to the frequent flyer?

In general, passengers should know the following tidbits while this merger goes through this week:

  • Both websites will be functional this week as the programs combine
  • Some US Airways Dividend Miles functionalities will be unavailable until Saturday, March 28
  • The last day to book US Airways awards and to take advantage of its unique award chart is Wednesday, March 25.
  • If you’ve already linked your US Airways Dividend Miles and American AAdvantage accounts, they balances will be combined
  • If you haven’t linked your accounts, the airline will combine your accounts and issue a new American AAdvantage number to you that will show your combined airline activity

Continue Reading →

2014 Year in Review

Another year has passed, and once again I was fortunate enough to travel a good bit.  Now, I didn’t fly nearly as much as I did in 2013, but my 2014 effort ain’t too shabby!  Nevertheless, my stats for this year were less than 2013 for a variety of reasons:

  • In 2014, I focused on burning the tons of miles that I accumulated from flying over 150,000 miles in 2013
  • In 2014, I took a few very long trips instead of a dozen quick trips and weekend getaways
  • In 2014, I did not take trips “just because” due to the new Premium Qualifying Dollar requirement instituted by United.  This reduced the incentive for me to look for and fly cheap tickets for random weekends to various places, since status is no longer calculated solely by the distance one flies — there’s a dollar spent aspect to it now.
  • By the time I status matched / challenged to American, pretty much my entire year of travel was already set, and since I’d qualified for Executive Platinum, there was no reason to take trips for the sake of status.

Despite a large reduction in distance traveled, I’ve still had an incredible year traveling in 2014, and I present my 2014 Year in Review… Continue Reading →

Pardon My Absence Over the Holidays

First of all, I want to apologize for not posting the last month.  The last 30 or so days, my life has been completely and utterly swamped with moving, as I moved into Washington, DC from Arlington, VA.  That, combined with the Holidays and work really left no time to blog in my spare time.  Since I moved in last week, we did not have Internet connected until last night, so I really couldn’t have blogged from home even if I wanted to!

Finally, today I have some free time to kill in a couple of airport lounges, so I figured I’d get some material written.  I’m currently in the Boston United Club on my way to Dubai, where I’m spending the weekend with some friends.  Why am I in Boston?  That’s a story for another time — but long-story-short?  It was about half the price to fly BOS-IAD-DXB than it was the simply IAD-DXB round trip, so I naturally booked a cheap flight up to BOS this morning from DCA on US Airways.

I’ll publish a detailed trip report of my travels to Dubai, as I’m headed there tonight in United BusinessFirst on my last itinerary as a United Premier 1K member — so it’s my swan song, so to speak with United.  After that, almost all of my flying for the next year with be with American or its oneworld partner airlines.  Be sure to check out the trip report from my last trip to Dubai in June 2013.

In addition to the upcoming trip report on this little weekend jaunt to Dubai, I’ll be finishing up a report of my failed trip to Iguazu Falls in November, as well as a few posts about the latest goings-ons in the world of travel, points and miles.

Oh, and a belated Happy New Year to everyone!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

 

 

2015 Combined AAdvantage Loyalty Program Announced

This morning, American Airlines announced its 2015 AAdvantage Loyalty Program for the combined American and US Airways.  As an American elite, the program remains largely un-changed, and that’s a great thing!  With that said, there are a few changes to the program that I’ll highlight in this post.  The theme of the whole deal is that the combined carrier will run one loyalty program (AAdvantage) for two separate airlines and reservations systems at American and US Airways.  This is a bit awkward, but if they make it work like it’s laid out here, it should be fine.

The Changes

Elite Qualification

  • From an initial scanning of the new program, the biggest change is an increase in the qualifying criteria for qualifying by segments.  The new program features an increase of Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) for Gold / Platinum / Executive Platinum from 25/50/100 to 30/60/120.  The qualification criteria on Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) and Elite Qualifying Points (EQP) remains the same, and that’s a HUGE sigh of relief.
2015 AA Elite Qualification Criteria

2015 AA Elite Qualification Criteria

Elite Benefits Flying on American

  • For Gold and Platinum elites, 500-mile certificates will still be needed to upgrade on flights over 500 miles, but upgrades continue to be unlimited for Executive Platinum members when flying American
    • Previous US Airways elites will receive 500-mile stickers based on their qualification history so they can upgrade on American flights

Elite Benefits Flying on US Airways

  • When flying US Airways, complimentary upgrades will be cleared automatically, based on status (up to 2 /3 /4 days for Gold / Platinum / Executive Platinum)
  • Integration of Auto-upgrades at US Airways (AA elites will be auto confirmed on US Airways instead of at check-in) — this is great!

General Elite Benefits and Notes

  • All AA elites are now eligible for unlimited complimentary upgrades on flights under 500 miles
  • Executive Platinum Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) can now be used on US Airways flights, too
  • Addition of free same-day changes for Executive Platinum Members!
  • Mileage balances, elite qualifying miles and  segments, and lifetime miles will be combined in early 2015

Mileage Earning

  • There are no changes to the mileage earning schemes other than:
    • The mileage earning bonus for business class tickets will increase from 25% to 50%.

You can read all the details on the changes here:  2015 AAdvantage Program

The Timeline

Here’s a high-level timeline on when benefits will be available to AAdvantage members:

Right now

January 2015

Second quarter of 2015 (when programs are combined)

More detail on the timeline can be found here:  2015 AAdvantage Integration Timeline

Initial Thoughts

I am very happy with the changes.  As an American Executive Platinum member, I view these changes to the 2015 AAdvantage Loyalty Program as all positive (other than the increase in segments needed for qualification).  Since I will likely qualify via EQM, this does not affect me.  The benefits also increase a bit for Gold and Platinum members, but the level of benefit for those members pales in comparison to what Executive Platinums get.

I was very worried about the addition of a revenue requirement, but that was not included…. for now.  We’ll see what happens after the two airlines are fully integrated.

Note:  I’ll continue to analyze some of these changes throughout the day and provide more commentary, as needed

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 →

Vegas Baby! For BAcon!

I’m writing this post from about 35,000 feet on a US Airways flight somewhere in between Washington’s Reagan National Airport and Phoenix en route to Las Vegas!  I’m heading out to the desert with my girlfriend in tow for this weekend’s Boarding Area blogger Conference… better known as BAcon!    The primary reason for the trip is the conference, but it’s also the girlfriend’s first trip out to Vegas, so I can’t wait to show her around.Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.00.27 AM

This will be my first time attending the annual gathering of all Prior2Boarding and BoardingArea bloggers — some of them you’ve undoubtedly read before if you follow news about traveling, points and miles.  The three day conference is being held at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort, and is hosted by M life and Hyatt.  Topics in the conference will range from writing improvement to Google Analytics to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and blogging best practices!  We will also get an overview of the Mlife / Caesars brand,  as they are our hosts at the Mandalay Bay.

There are already several special events planned for us over the next few days, and I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store!  I hope to learn a whole bunch of useful information that will allow me to improve my blog, and I look forward to meeting and networking with my fellow Prior2Boarding and BoardingArea bloggers!

Other than the conference, the immediate task at hand for tonight will be to find a proper viewing location to watch my beloved Auburn Tigers play Kansas State tonight for a highly anticipated non-conference, Thursday night college football matchup!  I may go to the local Auburn Alumni Club Bar, but if there’s a great sports bar that anyone can recommend, I’m all ears!

Anyway, I will keep some updates coming from BAcon, and I’ll definitely make some future posts on the highlights of this weekend’s conference!

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:

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.26.29 PM

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

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.26.57 PM

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.

 

Review: US Airways Business Class (Envoy Suites) Philadelphia to Venice

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


After a quick and uneventful, yet pleasant flight from Washington-National Airport, we arrived in Philadelphia with about two hours to spare until our scheduled departure time.  We were welcomed into the Terminal A US Airways Envoy Lounge where our passports were checked and we were issued two premium drink certificates apiece.  The lounge offered a great view of the evening European departures from Terminal A.

I felt it was a very solid lounge for a US domestic carrier – probably one of the better I’ve seen domestically.  Boarding for our flight to Venice was announced around 6pm, so we proceeded to the gate and arrived as some of the last passengers to board.

US Airways (US) 714
Philadelphia (PHL) – Venice (VCE)
Aircraft:  Airbus A330-200
Seat:  4F (Envoy Suites)
Tuesday, April 28, 2014
6:45PM – 09:15AM (+1 day)
Duration:  8:30

My initial impression of the business cabin was that it looked awfully spacious and nice with the wood paneling on the bulkheads and tables.  The US Airways A330-200 features only twenty business class seats (or “Envoy Suites”) as five rows in a a 1-2-1 configuration.  The reverse herringbone configuration of these seats is a scaled down version of the same seats used by Cathay Pacific in their international business cabins.  Though they lack some of the storage of the Cathay seats, these Envoy Suites are some of the most spacious and nicest business class seats one can fly across the Atlantic.  Certainly, they’re currently the best hard product on an US carrier (with the exception of the new American 777-300ER cabin, which are the same type seats as these Envoy Suites).   The 1-2-1 business cabin is quickly becoming the standard among airlines, and US Airways deserves some credit for being the first airline to introduce this seat a few years ago.  I had more than enough room to stretch out.  While fully flat, I was able to stretch out without hitting the wall of the foot well .  This is pretty spectacular since I’m 6’4”.

We were offered champagne as soon as we took our seats, as well as a newspaper, an amenity kit, and brand new Bose QC15 noise-canceling headphones.  I was quite impressed by the Bose headphones, as I’m used to a much inferior offering on United.   They featured American Airlines branding, so they’re on of the first signs of the integration of the two airlines.  Menus were distributed and orders were taken prior to departure.

About ten minutes after takeoff, the flight attendant delivered a vodka tonic with warm mixed nuts.

The starter featured a pesto shrimp dish, which was excellent.  The salad was quite small, and came on the same plate as the shrimp.

For the entree, I selected the panko-crusted tilapia with mashed potatoes and green beans.  The fish was  a much larger portion than I was expecting.  It was tasty enough, and the mashed potatoes were delicious.

I had the tiramisu AND the Ben & Jerry’s chocolate brownie  ice cream for desert – both of which were excellent.  My girlfriend ordered the cheese plate and enjoyed that.

 

Dinner was quite good overall.  It was not overly memorable, but was certainly adequate for a business class dinner.

After dinner, I attempted to finish a movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” but didn’t last more than ten minutes, as I fell asleep in the lay-flat bed.  For whatever reason, I didn’t sleep particularly well that night though the seat itself was quite comfortable.  I finally gave up trying after about four hours or so of on-and-off sleep.  Not too long after that, the flight attendants started preparing the cabin for breakfast – about 75 minutes prior to scheduled arrival into Venice, as we flew over Paris.  There was a choice of fruit and yogurt, or a mushroom and sausage quiche.  I opted for the fruit and yogurt while my girlfriend chose the quiche.  The fruit was fresh and tasty.  The quiche was excellent – easily one of the best egg dishes I’ve sampled on any flight.

After breakfast, I changed and prepared my things for landing.  We arrived into Venice about ten minutes ahead of schedule with a beautiful view of the city, the lagoon, and Murano our the starboard side of the airplane.

Overall, I was very impressed with US Airways.  I was expecting a very solid hard product, and that’s exactly what I got.  The Envoy Suite is an excellent choice for crossing the Atlantic, and it blows away most other US carriers’ offerings as far as comfort is concerned – namely United’s BusinessFirst products and American’s old business class.  Admittedly, I had somewhat low expectations for catering and service, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The flight attendants working the business class cabin were friendly enough and very efficient – not necessarily memorable, but they certainly provided good enough service.  The catering was overall quite good, and I enjoyed a change from the somewhat standard United BusinessFirst menu that I’m used to.

I certainly recommend the US Airways Envoy product, which is found onboard their Airbus A330 fleet.  I would choose it again if the choice was between US Airways and /or United.  At the end of the day, the 1-2-1 configuration is clearly the most comfortable business class configuration out there, and is one of the best business class options across the Atlantic.

How I booked it…

I was able to book this cabin using 50,000 American Airlines miles and $5 per person for the one-way North America to Europe award ticket.  Award availabilty for US Airways flights is easily available via the American Airlines website.  An added benefit of using American miles for flights on US Airways is that it presents a Transatlantic option that avoids London-Heathrow and the significant taxes associated with such a flight.  There are also no fuel surcharges on US Airways flights, as opposed to the hefty surcharges that exist when flying American’s other transatlantic partners British Airways and Iberia.