Sunday Reader Question: Is It Worth It to Redeem for First Class Over Business Class On An Award to Paris?

by on September 30, 2012 · 20 comments

in American, British Airways, Oneworld, Sunday Reader Questions

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TPG reader Jacob is in a great situation – he’s raked in a ton of American Airlines miles and wants to redeem them for a premium-class ticket to Europe. His question has to do with how to get the best value out of his hard-earned miles (and which airline to redeem them on) now that he’s ready to use them:

“Over the last few months, I have accrued around 400,000 American Airlines miles through credit cards (personal, business), Fidelity promo, Netflix, etc. I am getting ready to book some flights for my wife and me to Europe for next year. My question is pretty basic: Would you actually redeem for first class seats on American to Europe? (We’d be flying Chicago O’Hare ORD to Paris Charles de Gaulle CGD.)  When I look at first class rankings, it always seems like AA is at the bottom, or not even on the list. So just trying to decide if redeeming for business class for 50,000 miles is a ‘better deal’ than first class for 62,500 each way? I am new to the game (never flown anything but coach), so just want to make sure I am getting the most bang for my buck (points).”

First off, congrats on racking up valuable AA miles in such a short time! While accruing can be stressful, it’s all worth it when you can redeem for flights – especially in business and first class when it’s your first time in those cabins (note: you will get addicted to flying premium!).

When it comes to assessing which carrier to fly, for me, the luxury of flying non-stop generally outweighs connecting, even if I’m missing out on a “better” product. You could fly nicer business/first products on other Oneworld carriers like British Airways or Finnair, but it would require connecting within Europe and intra-European travel is not fun, even in “business” class (which is basically the same thing as coach on most carriers).

If you want to fly non-stop you don’t have much of a choice here since the Chicago to Paris flight is operated by a 767 that is only equipped with coach and business, so you don’t have the option of redeeming for first. American is upgrading their fleet to a better business class product, but that won’t happen until 2014, so your seat will be their angled-lie flat, which I flew this year from Chicago to Beijing. In my experience, AA is very stingy with releasing saver business class inventory in advance on their Chicago to Europe routes (especially Paris), so if you want to go this route you should plan in advance and set ExpertFlyer award alerts so the second that AA releases inventory you can get an email alert.

AA Business Class on the 777 (same seat as the 767)

Angled lie flat

As a 6’7″ traveler, I personally find the AA business class seats uncomfortable because I feel like I’m sliding down and they aren’t long enough for me to stretch out. Some people find them decent, but they are definitely outdated at this point. Service is generally perfunctory and the food and wine mediocre at best. All in all, it’s just a so-so experience, but can be a great value for Executive Platinum members who can book the cheapest coach fares and used EVIP’s to upgrade to business class (which is what I did when I went to Beijing). If this is your first time flying business class, it’s not a bad product to start with, since most others you redeem down the line will be better. That being said, if you want this trip to be amazing, I’d evaluate three other options.

AA First Class
American primarily only offers first class service on flights to London and depending on when you go, usually only 2 of their 4 daily flights from Chicago to London are on 777s. You could then connect to Paris on British Airways in business class and it would only cost 62,500 miles and $86 one-way.

The service and food are similar to business class, but the seat is much longer and fully-lie flat. You also get pajamas and access to first class/ Flagship lounges, so I’d absolutely spend 12,500 more miles to book first instead of business class, but I wouldn’t connect through London for the better experience.

AA 777 First Class

Fully lie flat bed long enough for a 6’7″ giant

British Airways Business
I personally love British Airways. This year I’ve flown their first class four times (3 times in new first and once in “old”) and Club World once Miami to London. In my experience, the British Airways experience is better than American in every way that matters to me: lounges, cabin crew, food, seats, and amenity kits. Their Club World (business class) product is fully lie-flat, though they do cram 8 across on the 747 so it can seem cramped (definitely try to get the Upper Deck if you fly a 747- seat 62A is amazing – it faces backwards, but has endless legroom due to the exit).

British Airways Club World seat 62A on the 747

British Airways First
I love British Airways’ new first class. It’s not as fancy as Cathay or Singapore, but the award availability is pretty amazing and the whole experience is nice. The seats are fully lie-flat beds and are well appointed, with large swivel TVs, small coat lockers and electric mood-lit window shades. The fuel surcharges/taxes are the same as business class, so whenever I redeem miles on British Airways, I almost always go with first, since the experience is much nicer. First class passengers also get access to the Concorde Room lounges, which is at Heathrow’s T5 and is pretty swanky, with cabanas and an Elemis Spa.

Swanky BA new first

Old British Airways First Class

You have four main options here:

Chicago to Paris non-stop on AA in business class: 50,000 miles and $2.50
Chicago to Paris British Airways Business class via London: 50,000 miles and $311.80
Chicago to Paris AA First Class via London: 62,500 and $86
Chicago to Paris British Airways First Class via London: 62,500 and $311.80

If I were you, I’d try to go for the non-stop out of convenience and it’s the cheapest option. Then I’d go for British Airways first class, British Airways business and then lastly American first class. That’s because I think it’s worth paying $225 more to fly BA first over American first for 9 hours, though frankly if you just plan to sleep on the Europe-bound portion, you might want to redeem for AA and then redeem for BA first on the way home so you can really enjoy the first class experience. I also prefer British Airways business class over American first class because it’s 12,500 miles cheaper, which more than makes up for the $225 price difference. Plus, it’s more convenient to fly British Airways and connect on British Airways all within Heathrow T5 in my opinion.

Before you over-analyze your options, I’d recommend checking availability, because you may find that business class award space is much more scarce than first. And if you do end up redeeming for First and can swing the extra cash to fly British Airways, try it at least one-way, I doubt you’ll be disappointed!

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  • Checkerboard

    You have neglected to mention IB, which offers a fine lie-flat product ORD-MAD, with a short connection to Paris-Orly. As the fuel surcharges are much lower for such a routing, I’d personally rank that higher on the list than the BA Club World option.

    I agree, however, that the non-stop is preferable to any of the connecting options.

  • Pingback: Sunday Readers Question: Could It Be Worthwhile to Redeem for Top Class Over Business Class With An Award to Paris? -

  • Ernie

    Also, if the reader has the correct AA card, he will receive a 10% rebate on points spent, uo to 10k per year. So 62500 becomes 56250. Not to shabby

  • Jimgotkp

    Definitely depends on the product/airline..

  • poik

    At 6’7 I am surprized you like British Airways Business. I am only 6’2 but it is a bit short for me, unless you’re in 62A! or and equivalent spot where you can reach out with your feet. I generally find their business class seats small. I do prefer traveling with BA over AA, in both coach and business class.

  • Schmenge

    Middle seat on AA 777 biz–you’ve got to be bagging’ me!

  • Rick

    I’ve never sat in first class or business and was wondering if it’s easier to talk with someone in business class. It looks like first class are alot farther apart and my wife would rather be in business class so we can at least talk to each other.

  • Lantean

    BA business class is total garbage, i don’t understand how tpg can possibly recommend it… the seats are super narrow and the pods feel claustrophobic. and if you have a window seat they have to serve your food over the pod of the person in the isle seat… and if you don’t know each other it’s so “pleasant”… iberia has definitely better hard product. and the food in BA business class… hmmm… no… lol.

    seriously, i don’t mind the constant pushing of credit card links because i understand tpg has to live from something… but the content of this blog is going to sheet.

  • thepointsguy

    I’ve only done it in 62A and I warned that the 2x4x2 is not ideal. I had no problem sleeping and I liked the totally lie-flat vs AA’s angled seat

  • thepointsguy

    BA’s business isn’t the best product out there, but it surely beats AA in my opinion, which was the subject of this post. Iberia is a good option as well, but I haven’t flown them so couldn’t make a personal recommendation.

  • thepointsguy

    AA’s first class seats are great for traveling companions because they actually swivel so if you are int he middle section you can face each other while eating (or someone can sit and eat in your seat). BA’s don’t swivel but they have the option to have someone eat with you at your seat.

    In BA Club world the seats are actually positioned one facing forward and one backwards so you actually face the person next to you.

    AA business class seats are side by side, so fine for traveling companions.

  • thepointsguy

    Good call- I’ll add that option. I’ve never flown IB, but want to try them out

  • Highflyer55

    BA Bus Class:

    Suggesting that BA in the upper deck is better should be coupled with what it takes to get to the Upper Deck, along with the odds of achieving that. I am an AA Gold (One World Rudy) so I cold pick seats 7 days ahead but not the Upper Deck.

    Perhaps more realistic as to BA C is the lower deck, but there when expanding the seats hit toward lie flat, the seats and your feet hit the structure in front of you. Passengers over about 5’4″ will not stretch flat.

    Also, our BA C meal (after other choices were sold out) was a beef filet, cooked to a gray, tough crisp.

    My review of BA C was based on whether it was worth the extra $300 or so in fees, per each one,way flight. While it is a better product, my answer was no.

  • mary

    Hi , Great Info…thanks.

    What fees can you expect to pay if flying BA using American Miles?

  • Jacob

    @ Ernie or TPG, which AA credit card allows 10% rebate on points spent?

  • Muckb777

    Great post, just looking at booking this one so timing is perfect. However, when I look at booking business round trip in August it shows $135 in fees – where do you get the $2.50? I’m doing the direct AA flight so shouldn’t be any BA charges. Of course AA’s website doesn’t break-down what the charges are for….

  • Sam Wolfe

    I think TPG can provide a perspective without the criticism that he’s way off or his website is somehow declining based on his point of view – this is just what one flyer prefers over another. If everyone agreed with him, AA wouldn’t have a business class now, would it? :)

    I think you are right about IB though, Lantean – TPG, you should definitely try IB J to to MAD next time – usually you are using a US BA lounge anyway, but onboard the space compared to BA is impressive (and food/wine/service/amenty very good). That said, I agree with TPG: BA is better than AA unless you really really must avoid the LHR connection. My 2012 connections in LHR via FastTrack have been painless, so it’s my preferred carrier to Europe. Upper Deck 62K/A as a Silver or Gold member are usually available at time of booking and the seats of choice (others like 64A/K). Either way, I sleep infinitely better on BA than AA as well.

    I think AA offers pajamas in Biz now too – BA does not. I usually just wear a set of BA First PJ’s and take advantage of the sleeper service (which reminds me, the sleeper service / dinner beforehand is another plus of BA over AA, especially from ORD where the Admiral Club is dire, in my opinion.

    Good post, TPG.

  • Guest

    “the award availability is pretty amazing”

    Surely you jest. I am trying to get an award booking SFO LHR NBO, to use the oodles of points we have accumulated from 2 chase 100K offers (plus $$ cc spending).

    First off, BA claims they don’t fly to NBO so I can’t use the 2 for 1 voucher. Apparently this is a codeshare flight.

    Then I tried booking without the NBO leg; finally dropped the 2 for 1 voucher. There is a whopping total of 1 seat in Economy available in the entire month of July, outbound, and NONE available for return until August 13, 2013. There are no seats in any of the higher classes.

    Am I missing something about how to book BA awards?

  • Rghei25

    Fly to London spend a few nites adjusting and Eurostar it to Paris and back. Connections at LHR are awful with your luggage etc. Eurostar is fun, and you can leave half your luggage in London and travel light to Paris… A bit of both cities is a great trip. A few days in London and fly home…

  • Marisa

    When facing eachother does that middle glass go down??

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