A friend had asked me how do you know which airline to book when you want to use points? This was indeed a valid question when it comes to travel hacking your way into premium cabins and once you figure out your way around it, the options can be varied.
My first step was to look into which points I have available to redeem and search for the most valuable transfer partner that offers the most efficient route for my trip. My husband and I are currently saving some miles for our family travel plans next year (to cover a family of 4) so I knew I had to be smart about using our existing points and miles.
Booking the Flights
I discovered that my husband didn’t realize he had over 53,000 Membership Rewards Points just sitting there from his American Express Corporate Card and of course he didn’t know what it could be used for, so I thought this would be one of the best gifts a husband could give to his wife. Jewelry won’t work for me but points/miles will work anytime…. =)
Amex Membership Rewards Points are transferable to a number of excellent reward programs below:Aeroplan Air Canada was the most appealing for me because it would only require 55,000 miles for a one-way business class seat between Europe and US, instant points transfer from Amex to Aeroplan (instead of waiting a few days for the points to become available) and the transfer ratio is 1:1 so I won’t be losing any points conversion.
Air Canada is a member of Star Alliance, which means having Aeroplan miles will allow you to redeem flights not just on Air Canada but also United, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Singapore Airlines, Turkish Air and other global carriers.
So I immediately signed up for an Aeroplan membership for both my husband and I, because to transfer Amex points to a travel partner program it needs to be under the same membership name. But when booking the flight it could be for someone else using your points.
You can easily search reward flights availability on Aeroplan’s website (also United’s website) and it will show you availability on partner airlines as well. A few results came up for my search including flying Lufthansa via Frankfurt or flying with United, but not all of the segments are in business class. Air Canada was the only one available with all seats in business class but I had to position myself in Zurich to fly to Los Angeles via Toronto.
I thought this was no big deal since there are daily direct flights from Florence to Zurich and the fares are around USD 140 – 180 depending which time of the day I’d choose to fly. This was the itinerary I decided to book using 55,000 Aeroplan miles:
I ended up paying $446.02 in CAD (Canadian Dollars), equivalent to around USD 345.
This is including a top up of 2,000 miles that I had to purchase because I was a bit short on the 55,000 miles required.
If I look up on Google Flights, the airfare for the exact same flights (one-way business class) with Air Canada is priced at a whopping USD 9,157 !!
The cheapest airfare in Business Class from Zurich to Los Angeles would be flying Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul) priced around the USD 3,000 mark.
Swiss Air is the only airline that flies non-stop between Zurich and LA with a price tag of over USD 9,000 as well.
So it is fair to say the amount I paid is more than just a bargain!!Here’s a great guide on 9 (Awesome) Ways to Redeem AMEX Membership Rewards from Upgraded Points.
Swiss Air Business Lounge in Zurich Airport
Zurich International Airport
I was quite impressed with the Swiss Air Business Class Lounge in Zurich Airport, it was bright, airy and has a very sleek modern design.
The breakfast buffet was quite average and there wasn’t much variety to choose from other than the basic pastries, cereal, yogurt and fruits.
The lounge has several rooms and offers different types of seating. This one was my favorite area.
AC 879 Zurich (ZRH) – Toronto (YVZ)
Aircraft:Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
Depart 09:35 AM, Arrive 12:10 PM
Flight Time: 8 Hours 45 Minutes
Seat Configuration: 30 Business Class Seats (1-2-1), 21 Premium Economy Seats (2-3-2),
247 Economy Seats (3-3-3)
My Seat: 7A
Air Canada B787-9 Seat Map (SeatGuru)
I was very excited about finally getting on board the Dreamliner and it certainly met every single of my expectations. Everything feels brand new like the entire cabin was just installed in the same morning.
The cabin features herringbone seating, each seat is private enough for solo traveler even when sitting in the middle seats, all seats have aisle access, a super-sized personal TV, large personal storage, auto-dimming windows and preset settings for 3 types of seating position (sit, relax, sleep).
The 3-course meal lunch was offered about an hour after take off and I particularly enjoyed the Ravioli but unfortunately was too full to get to the dessert.
One hour before arrival we were offered a ‘light snack’ of cold cuts with cheese paired with a plate of orange.
Air Canada Amenities Kit
The service during the flight was good and courteous, nothing extraordinary. Overall though it was one of the most comfortable flights I’ve ever been in thanks to good weather throughout the flight and the half-filled Business Class cabin which made it feel more private. I literally had no-one else sitting on the same row as me all the way to the back so it was nice and quiet.
Hands down this is one of my favorite business class seats out there, if only the Dreamliner flew all the way to Los Angeles!
I had to switch to a much older aircraft at the last minute because I was trying to get on an earlier flight from Toronto to LAX to reduce my 8-hour layover in Toronto.
As it turns out you can change your flight on the same day for FREE to be on stand-by or pay a fee of USD 75 to get a confirmed seat, I had to choose the latter to avoid the agony.
The Air Canada Check-In Counter in Toronto was the only ground staff who could help me change my flights (AC staff in other service desk inside the Terminal said they couldn’t!), I had to get out of immigration in Canada and went through a tedious process just to get there but at least I made it back home to LA early!
Air Canada Business Class Check-In in Toronto
I would fly Air Canada Business Class Dreamliner again in a heartbeat!