I ended November with a bit over 93,000 paid American/ British Airways miles flown in 2014. No way I was going to not let myself make it to 100,000 to qualify for Executive Platinum, especially with those 8 Systemwide Upgrades American offers their elite fliers. I looked into buying the elite qualification miles needed, but at $1,799 it was fairly expensive. So I was l looking for a cheap coach flight from Heathrow to Chicago, New York, Boston or Washington, which would have been enough to just get me over the 100,000 miles flown, and a bit more reasonable at around $1,100.
And then British Airways had their “Black Friday” sale (which I put in quotes since it’s not a British thing, but they are catching on… gotta love consumerism). The sale offered roundtrip GBP 1,007 on many of their flights, but in Business class! If I was already going to spend $1,100, what was a few more dollars to fly business instead of in coach? More importantly, a friend of mine had an American Systemwide upgrade he could not use that was expiring early in 2015. It was an early Hanukkah present 🙂 So for GBP 1,007, or less than the cost to buy to elite status without flying, I could fly Heathrow to JFK and back, outbound in A class (I had never flown American’s Flagship first), and inbound in C (business) class.
At check in, SSSS was written on my boarding pass since I was literally going to New York JFK for a mileage run (about 4 hours). I got to get all felt up by a profusely apologetic British man, so thats always a great start to a flight 🙂 Once inside T3 at Heathrow, I choose to first go to the Cathay Pacific Lounge. I had been there once before, and the food is awesome. It was breakfast time, and they had fresh mango, pineapple and passionfruit, with granola and yogurt cocktails served in martini glasses. And it was all served with great runway views. More importantly, the Cathay first lounge was empty. Literally, I was the only person there, as the CX flight to Hong Kong had just left! I had 2 attendants only serving me, and all I wanted to do was watch the airplanes take off! (Priorities, right…)
I then wanted to compare the American First lounge to the Cathay First lounge, as both are in Terminal 3 and I had a few minutes to spare. (That in and of itself is shocking to those who know me, I am not early anywhere). While the American First lounge has good views of cool parking aprons at T3, there are no runway views, and not much in the way of food that couldn’t be found at your local 711 or gas station. The lounge itself was nice, but hilariously, it is literally located below the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, and that about sums up the experience. As you walk into the American lounge, there is a gorgeous Virgin Atlantic chandelier and entryway above you, but it’s clearly for Virgin Atlantic passengers and not unstylish, un-hip, American airlines travelers.
I then boarded AA 106 to JFK, and in the process got a cool shot! It was an Iran Air A300, with a BA 747 in the background, and the tail of a United 787 dreamliner barely in the shot. I wish I had brought a camera better than my phone with me 🙁 On boarding, I got to first class, and filled with excitement, settled into my seat. The seat itself was good, but dated. Carpet edges were frayed, and there were stains on the sides of the seats where drinks had spilled. But it is a very spacious flagship first class seat, and there were pajamas and Bose noise canceling headsets with a big TV. Service throughout was really attentive and the food very good. All in all, I was impressed by the soft product, but disappointed by the hard product. First class was also sold out, in keeping with American offering paid upgrades at check in to gain incremental revenue over the allure of a nearly empty first class which European airlines such as BA and Lufthansa seek. As a result, 5 of the 12 passengers did not get their desired meal (I was lucky, but still, imagine PAYING full fare first class to be told, sorry eat what we have left…)
The lack of value of American’s flagship first class was especially evident on the return, when I flew business class back from JFK to Heathrow. American new business class is really nice, in some ways I think nicer than American’s flagship first. You get almost the same meal, with a newer seat that is a bit smaller, but much better designed. The crews themselves are also a bit younger and more eager to interact on a human level. First class was stuffy in comparison! Basically, if you like your grandma’s living room, fly American’s first. I remember thinking if you want a living room that looks sleek and clean and new, fly business and save the money! Anyone else experienced both American’s flagship first and new business class? Would love to hear your thoughts. Happy almost 2015, and happy re-qualifying of elite status to all 🙂