This summer’s main getaway was a two-week stint in Europe, made possible thanks to a fare-war this spring across the major alliances. The fantastic sale, coupled with British Airways’ AARP discount, meant that I actually purchased a business class ticket to Europe, rather than using miles.
Though we were on a British Airways itinerary, I credited the flight to American Airlines, which was super helpful for my status re-qualification, clocking in 6,317 EQM and 8,844 award miles for just this segment alone.
The paid Business Class ticket posed two initial problems:
- The itinerary was roundtrip from Atlanta, so I had to also buy a separate ticket to get us there – no biggie.
- Business Class on British Air is definitely a huge step up from Economy, but, compared to some of the other cabins I’ve recently been in, nothing special.
Solving problem #2 required a few Avios. British Airways’ frequent flyer program is generally a very bad deal when it comes to buying award flights across the Atlantic. Executive Club uses a distance-based award chart which charges increasingly insane amounts of miles depending on how far you’re traveling. For example, Atlanta to London, clocking in at 4,201 miles, would cost 75,000 Avios each way in Business (and an even more astounding 100,000 Avios in First Class, for a seven hour flight!).
That’s not all. In addition to charging a bunch of Avios, British Airways tacks on insane fuel surcharges on all of its award tickets. In the case of our flight, the one-way price would be $506. With a surcharge that large, an award ticket would end up costing the same price as we paid outright for our ticket!
On the other hand, one sweet spot use of Avios is for upgrades, which only cost the difference in Avios prices between cabins, without any tacked-on fees. Because we were already booked in Business, upgrading to First Class cost a mere 25,000 for each of us, which I transferred almost instantly to my Executive Club account from Chase Ultimate Rewards. The current sign up bonus on the Sapphire Reserve (link here) is enough for these upgrades! All it took was one quick call to British Airways to lock in the cabin change and we were set.
I was super excited to try out British Airways’ first class cabin. While it is pejoratively referred to as the nicest Business Class in the sky (more on that later), it was a cabin on my bucket list, which was nice to be able to check off.
After positioning flights to Atlanta, we had to take a shuttle from the Domestic Terminal to the International Terminal for check-in. We flew to Atlanta on American Airlines and, though it used to be possible to through-check on multiple itineraries on OneWorld carriers, American no longer provides this courtesy, so we collected our bags at one terminal and then proceeded to the next.
Check in was quick and simple, and there were no lines for security, so we were in the terminal with a few hours to spare. We were invited to utilize The Club at ATL lounge while we waited.
Once inside, I was blown away by how over-crowded, loud and uncomfortable the lounge was. I spent five minutes walking the (relatively small) space, and literally could not find a single pair of seats together.
Unfazed, and unwilling to let go of something free, I decided to check out the food options. That perusal ended quickly. It was super gross.
So, within 10 minutes of entering The Club at ATL, we left, to enjoy the tranquil serenity of Atlanta’s beautiful and spacious International Terminal. My recommendation? Don’t enter The Club. Ever. When an airport terminal is quieter and more relaxing than an airport lounge for an International First Class flight, there are serious problems at play. British Airways should be seriously embarrassed to contract with this lounge.
Soon enough though, it was time to board, and I giddily encouraged Danielle to join me in being among the first to board this 777-200.
As far as First Class cabins go, this is hardly the most spacious seat in the industry. British Airways manages to cram 14 seats into this forward section of the airplane, so don’t expect closed-door suites or anything like what you may find on Asian or Middle Eastern carriers.
However, the design of the seats and finishing touches were all extremely comfortable and sufficient for a good-night’s rest. (Apologies for the quality of pictures taken before take-off, the cabin was lit in blue light for effect; cool for tranquility, bad for photos!)
After settling in to my seat – 4F – I was brought a glass of champagne and some water. British Airways pours Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle in First Class, an absolutely fantastic champagne. Delish!
Next, we were brought pajamas and amenity kits, which came prepared in a cute little package.
While my ammenity kit was a dark solid black leather, Danielle’s was a colorful floral pattern. Nice touch! Inside were all the standard goodies, including eye shades, moisturizer, socks and a dental kit.
It wasn’t long before all the pre-departure preparations were completed, and we were on our way. We had a very short taxi, a smooth roll down the runway, and were up in the air in no time. Within a few minutes, the flight attendants sprang into action, bringing another glass of champagne as well as some candied nuts.
Now, we left Atlanta at almost 10:30 PM and had a relatively quick 7 hour flight across the Atlantic, so while I would have loved to enjoy lots of food and drinks and entertainment options, ultimately I was much more interested in trying to get some solid sleep before our first day on the ground in Europe. I was hungry after our failed lounge attempt, and wanted to try a little bit of food, but I expected that service would be quick before the lights were turned out so that passengers could get some shut eye.
That’s where my expectations diverged from reality. With only one flight attendant serving each aisle, service was incredibly slow. It was nearly an hour into the flight before I was asked what food, if any, I wanted to order for supper. So, rather than stretching things longer than necessary, I made a game day decision to try a starter and soup and then call it a day. (British Airways does not serve caviar in First Class).
First, I ordered a smoked salmon appetizer.
Then, I followed that up with a corn chowder, which was absolutely delicious.
Danielle had a similar line of thinking, so she got a cheese plate and called it a night.
Even with the limited food service, this was a 2 hour affair – uncomfortably slow. Once my food was cleared I asked for my bed to be made as quickly as possible.
The flight attendant was sad that I’d passed on dessert, so she left me some “chocolates” by my pillow too. I didn’t want to be rude, so I took a bite… or two…
I was able to sleep for a solid 3 hours or so before bright light and the clatter clatter of passengers eating breakfast woke me up. It wasn’t quite my normal eight hours of beauty rest, but the bed was extremely comfortable. At this point, we were already nearing London with little more than an hour to go in flight, so I slowly got myself vertical and asked for some coffee.
I wasn’t hungry at this point, so decided to forgo breakfast, but for those who wanted, they offered a traditional English Breakfast, as well as options of yogurt, pastries and the like. The crew seemed very conflicted between trying to serve passengers breakfast and take care of cleaning up their bedding, while also preparing the cabin for arrival at Heathrow.
But, all worked out, and it wasn’t long until we were on the ground in London – we were only in a very short holding pattern before final approach.
On the ground, we were invited to use British Airways’ Arrivals Lounge, which was easy to find after collecting our bags and clearing customs. We stopped in to grab a bite and, most importantly, take a shower before hitting the road.
Our flight didn’t land until almost noon, but had we landed earlier, as first class passengers we would have been invited to sit down in the formal dining room for table service.
Instead, we grabbed a bit from the buffet.
And, of course, I poured myself some more coffee.
Refreshed and cleaned up, we headed out of Heathrow airport and on to the Tube toward our London hotel!
British Airways offers a solid First Class product, which was super easy and inexpensive to upgrade to using Avios. While not the fanciest product out there, it is definitely a step up from Business Class and offered a comfortable seat, delicious food and a good “night”s rest.
I wish that British Airways would contract with a better lounge in Atlanta, but there aren’t really many options for a OneWorld carrier there.
In the air, the service could definitely be sped up on a short red-eye like this; in the future, I’d probably just go to sleep right after take off, to make the most out of my comfortable bed in the sky!