Let’s be honest. We all envy the people who gets to fly in the luxury of first and business class like it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Well thanks to travel hacking that involves collecting points, credit card rewards and some mean research skills, it turns out there is hope for all of us.
Ever since residing in the US, I have come across several travel bloggers who regularly shares their travel experience flying premium cabins and paying next to nothing (for example flying Japan Airlines in First Class from USA to Tokyo for only USD 5.60 (read: five dollars and sixty cents) – seems impossible right? Yes.
But after some religious blog reading, finding out the best credit card and airline offer deals – it turns out that flying on a flat bed seat doesn’t have to be so far from reality.
I had actually booked a flight for my husband this month flying from Los Angeles to Jakarta in Cathay Pacific’s Business Class paying only USD 33.80 (during peak season) – FOR REAL – which I will share in a different blog.
As a traveling mama with two kids, I wanted to share my experience flying in premium cabins and how I went out of my way to score these tickets without having to pay the ridiculous price tag just so – we as a family with young children can have a much more comfortable flying experience across the Atlantic. We had planned to go to Paris for Thanksgiving break to visit family and after looking at a number of airline routes, having a stopover in London – spending a few nights there and taking the train to Paris seems to be the most exciting and reasonable route.
So our best options were to fly on either American Airlines, British Airways or Virgin Atlantic, each airline offers several direct flights (daily) from LAX to LHR (London Heathrow).
Booking the Flights
Having signed up for a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card about a year before – each my husband and I – were rewarded 50,000 points (just by signing up & using the card for 3 months) – this means that our total points with Chase was already 100,000 points – without flying (and not including our credit card reward points from using the card itself).
This particular credit card has transferable points to airline partners such as British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air and Virgin Atlantic to name a few. They also have double points offer for every usage on travel, dining and transport (including Uber) – so we basically use this card on a daily basis even to pay bills for as low as $2 (every point counts!).
We hardly carry any cash anymore.To redeem award flights flying American Airlines, British Airways or Virgin Atlantic on Business Class, we would require 50,000 points per person plus taxes & surcharges, for a one way trip.
Searching for flights 3 months ahead, we couldn’t find any redeemable award flight seats in Business Class on American Airlines or British Airways on the departure date we wanted, even though they had plenty of Economy Award Saver seats but none were direct flights to London, it was at least 1 or 2 stop overs in the Mid-West or East Coast.
So our last option was to fly with Virgin Atlantic which luckily only had direct flights.
With Virgin Atlantic, flying economy would require 21,250 points and USD 134.60 in taxes & surcharges per adult.
Upper class (what they call Business Class in Virgin Atlantic) for the date we wanted had no availability and it is hard to find availability when you’re trying to book far ahead – they tend to release availability for premium cabins at the last minute plus to be able to find 3 award seats on the same flight is a real challenge.
British carriers is also known for its high surcharge fees (unlike American carriers and some Asian carriers) – so USD 134 of taxes for an economy seat is actually considered high.
In our case, with 2 adults, 1 child, 1 lap infant – the TOTAL COST for our one way trip to London in economy with Virgin Atlantic was USD 441.00 using 65,875 miles.
This to us was already an extremely good deal to cover the airfare of 4 people for an international long haul fight. So we went ahead and booked this flight.
Closer to our departure I was getting nervous about flying with my active 12 month old in a tight seat and not being able to put my feet up for the entire 10.5 hour flight.
If you’ve traveled with an infant or toddler, you know what I’m talking about….. every minute on the flight can feel like an hour.
PS: All this time when I thought I had a fear of flying, it turns out it was more of a fear of flying economy (LOL).
So I continued to do research on the options to upgrade including calling Virgin Atlantic numerous times to check on availability, but we had no luck. Until….
My go to travel blogger, The Points Guy, published an Amazing Deal Alert for business class flights from US to London flying British Airways. Link to article here.
I can tell you the deal was indeed Amazing.
With our dates in mind, we were actually only looking for a one-way flight because we had different destinations post-London. But since this was a round-trip deal and cannot be missed, we decided we should go for it and booked an outbound ticket for November and reserving a return date for Summer 2016.
We ended up finding business class seats (Club World) on an outbound flight for $661 (LAX-LHR) and inbound $956 (LHR-LAX) per adult fare.
This deal was only on for about 48 hours. These seats immediately went back to their normal price after the sale was over at a whopping $7,584.13 return (for the same flights & dates we had) and the one-way airfare would cost between $3,700 to $6,000. INSANE!
As you can see the airfares we paid for Business Class was even cheaper than the regular Economy Class fare. Now that was an amazing deal.
What happened to our Virgin Atlantic booking? Easy! We had our miles back and the paid taxes refunded 100%. On the other hand, we can save these miles for our next trip.
For me, a vacation starts the moment you leave your home, it is not just about the destination but also the journey (sounds cliche?).
Really though, the most annoying thing about major US airports is the line… from checking-in, TSA (security check), immigration, boarding, etc etc… but these hurdles can be much more enjoyable when you have that premium ticket in your hand that allows you to just glide across the airport queue and using every priority line heading to the executive lounge.
You also get priority line access when arriving at London Heathrow Airport immigration which can cut your waiting time by at least half.
Checking-in at LAX Tom Bradley International Airport BA Club World was a breeze and it was probably the fastest check-in I’ve ever done in my life, we got our boarding passes and were sent away to the the One World Business Lounge in less than 5 minutes.
The reception guy at the Business Class Lounge greeted us courteously, scanned our boarding passes and quickly said – “Would you like to use the First Class Lounge instead?” With twinkly eyes we immediately said “Yes…. (when we really meant was Hell Yeah….)”
It turns out that my husband’s Executive Platinum status with American Airlines (equivalent to One World Emerald status) earned him the privilege to use the Qantas First Class Lounge.
One World Alliance includes airlines such as American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.
He earned his Executive Platinum elite status only within 6 months due to his work that requires him to fly between LA-Miami on a weekly basis.
So the frequent work travel really did pay off!
Our flight was at 8:55PM and we arrived about 3 hours before so we get to experience the lounge before departure. The best thing about executive lounges is the ALL YOU CAN EAT COMPLIMENTARY DINING (haha…).
Upon our arrival at the lounge, we went straight to the Dining Area and was greeted by staff who were formally dressed in white suits and we were escorted to a table right next to the open plan kitchen. I have to say the service was better than I had expected.
The menu looked quite appetizing, we each opted for different dishes, the kids went for fish & chips offered in the kids menu. I had a gnocchi pasta, while my husband ordered the steak and croque monsieur (yes he had 2 meals because it turned out to be quite small).
The gnocchi didn’t exactly look like the usual gnocchi and it didn’t taste as good as it looks. A little disappointed I must say. The dessert however was quite good, we had Caramel Creme with strawberries and my older son ordered the ice cream sundae.
The lounge also had a baby changing area located inside one of the private shower suites in the back of the lounge so this was definitely useful to prepare your babies before takeoff!
Inside British Airways Club World – A380
BA Club World on the Main Deck has a seating configuration of 2-4-2 with the 2 center seats designed for traveling pairs with a rear facing position.
I had expected the seats to be tight because putting 8 seats in one row for business class seems to be pushing it a little too far, but to my surprise it was much wider than I thought with a seat width of 20″ and the flat bed seat pitch stretches out to 72″.
We chose to seat in the main deck – there were additional Club World seating on the Upper Deck with a 2-3-2 configuration, however I was after the double bed seating that was not offered on the Upper Deck.
My toddler being under 2 years old didn’t get his own seat but he was entitled to a baby bassinet, however he was already too big for the bassinet and I know he wouldn’t last in there for more than 3 seconds.
Luckily there were a couple of spare seats available in the cabin and my husband was allowed to move to give my toddler and I more space in the double seat, as you can see he quickly settled in into his ‘free’ seat.
My older son got his own forward facing seat right next to our cocoon. He was a happy little chap!
Having intentionally booked an overnight flight I was hoping my toddler would sleep for the entire flight but he may have been too excited that he only slept for 4 hours out of the 10.5 hour flight.
Not so pleasant for mama!
There is a privacy divider between the cocoon and the aisle seats which made it feel like we were sleeping in our own private suite, it was awesome.
When traveling in pairs or with children I highly recommend seating in row 14E & 14F because you have a direct aisle access and close to the lavatory (there weren’t much noise or interruption from people walking past – thanks to the privacy divider).
Other middle seats of E&F don’t have direct aisle access and would require you to step over the people who are on a lie flat positions on the aisle seats, hence if you only do this once or twice during the flight it shouldn’t be too much bother.
When traveling alone, the best seat would be the window seat that offers extra privacy & storage – best seats are on the very last row of the cabin or section (Main Deck: 15A, 15K, Upper Deck: 53A, 53K, 59A, 59K) – these seats have direct aisle access. The amenities bag was extremely ordinary and no pajamas were provided, in comparison to other airlines such as Qantas Airways that offers pajamas for business class passengers.
Service was courteous and friendly, nothing compare to services from Singapore Airlines or Etihad Airways though. Because I was full from indulging on all the food from the lounge, I asked for the side dishes instead and I received salad + warm bread. Nothing special, in fact it was kind of bland for my taste.
Overall, the flight was very enjoyable due to the extra space that we had seating in the two middle seats. Take off and landing was so smooth and subtle being inside this enormous plane that I didn’t even realize when the plane had already landed.
Would I fly BA Club World again? In a heartbeat.