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A friend of mine was throwing a big birthday party in Ireland over the weekend and a bunch of my friends wanted to go, so last month, I booked a one-way business class ticket on Aer Lingus using 40,000 British Airways Avios and $30 in taxes. As usualy, using Avios on Aer Lingus instead of BA via London to get to Europe ended up saving me tons of money on taxes and fuel surcharges.
Overall, the experience was positive. The big shining point was the service- the flight attendants couldn’t have been nicer and the flight left on time and landed early. The big downside, however, is that Aer Lingus still only offers angled lie-flat seats in their business class cabin, while I’ve spoiled lately with American’s new flagship first class and business class seats, Delta’s full lie flat seats going to Milan and even domestic travel with United’s flat bed seats from JFK-LAX.
Specifically on the New York-Dublin route, Delta flies their 767-300ER with now mostly lie-flat seats (though they are still in the process of retrofitting all of their transatlantic fleet to lie-flats), and United flies EWR-DUB on their 757-200 aircraft with 180 degrees lie-flat seats in business, which I flew in December. American flies JFK-DUB on a 757-200 with angled lie-flat seats. So in my opinion, for this particular route, United and Delta offer the best lie-flat business class product, though to be honest, I might even choose American’s seats over these, though Aer Lingus for service and lower fees when redeeming Avios..
However, thanks to the distance-based redemption formula for British Airways Avios, however, you can’t beat just 40,000 Avios each way on Aer Lingus since American, Delta and United would all charge you 50,000 miles each way.
At the Airport
Aer Lingus flies out of JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK and the check-in agents were wearing JetBlue uniforms. My friend and I were on the 5:30pm flight, which gets in around 5:10am. I got to the airport late due to traffic and checked in just before the 1 hour to departure mark. We had two friends flying on the 9:15pm departure and we would have preferred to fly together, but Aer Lingus never released more saver seats for either of our flights, even though mine ended up being ~35% full in business class. We asked at check-in if we could get on the later flight and they inquired with a manager, but the later flight was oversold so we were out of luck. The agent said that normally it wouldn’t be an issue if there was space available.
Security was easy, though T5 does not have Pre-Check, which I hope changes soon. JetBlue has announced that they’re working to become TSA Pre-Check approved, but no official information has been announced.
Business class passengers have access to the Airspace Lounge at T5, which was small and a typical business class lounge with free and pay-for-food options, which I didn’t bother to try out. I swept in and out because boarding was already happening once we got through security.
Boarding was quick since there were few people in business class and I appreciated the cheerful atmosphere that the Top 40’s soundtrack they were playing created as we had a pre-departure glass of champagne…as you can see in this quick Instagram video I made:
As my friend and I settled into the cabin, we could tell that business class was pretty empty and once boarding was completed it looked about only 35% full out of the 24 business class seats on this A330 aircraft. That was strange since I had snagged the only two award seats on the flight for us, so I wasn’t sure why Aer Lingus had limited availability on an otherwise empty flight, but at least we had gotten on and could stretch out in our own rows when it was time to sleep.
The cabin was in a standard 2 x 2 x 2 configuration, and as you can see from the pictures and the video, it’s a fairly compact layout with a standard seat width of 21 inches and just 58 inches in pitch between seats, so that even fully reclined, it was a pretty tight fit for me.
I also wasn’t very impressed by the personal entertainment screens, which, at just 10.5 inches, were just slightly larger than you’ll find on many domestic coach flights. Since I didn’t plan on watching anything, it didn’t make a huge difference to me, but if you’re not packing an iPad or a good old-fashioned book, you might be bored.
Timing and the Meal
Because my flight departed at about 5:30pm and was landing at 5:30am, it was under 6 hours long, so dinner service coincided with my usual dining times, and I didn’t plan on sleeping much on the flight itself, but would just take a long nap when I got in to Dublin, so I chose to have the full meal service.
To start with, they served a selection of cold canapes, including one with smoked salmon and cream cheese…
And then some hot ones including this mini-pie of chicken and beef. Next came the BLT salad with romaine and Boston Bibb lettuce, aged Roma tomatoes, hardboiled egg, crumbled bacon and Manchego with ranch dressing.
Entree choices included a marinated corn-fed chicken pan-seared with apple cider marinade and served with sauteed kale and Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, but instead I chose the 96-hour braised beef with cauliflower-potato gratin, seared endive, haricots verts and baby carrots in an Armagnac aigre-doux sauce.
The other two choices were a vegetable lasagne with artichoke and sliced mushrooms in a pomodoro sauce, and a pan-roasted Pacific cod with ratatouille and potato gnocchi.
For dessert, there were fruit and cheese platters, and the vanilla bean crunch ice cream truffle.
After dinner, I turned down my seat to watch TV shows on my laptop (I’m just getting into American Horror Story and it’s pretty fantastic) and to get a few hours’ sleep. It was fine for a little nap, but I’m glad the flight was as short as it was, since trying to get more than that would have been a challenge, though I actually skipped the continental breakfast option with your typical selection of warm pastries served with butter, jam and marmalade, yogurt and fresh sliced fruit, and before you know it, we were landing in Dublin.
Although the actual cabin product left something to be desired, overall I was very impressed with the service and had a great crew who was just plain fun to travel with. Although using the same amount of miles as you would to get to continental Europe might be a bit of a stretch for some, I though using just 40,000 Avios and $30 in taxes was well worth it for my experience to hop the Pond in comfort and hit the ground ready to go.
Aer Lingus currently flies from Boston, Chicago, New York (JFK), and Orlando to Dublin. In order to check award availability head over to Expert Flyer to check for award space, and then once you see the space, call up British Airways to book your award since you cannot do so online if you’re using BA Avios.
To figure out how much a partner flight will cost in Avios, use the British Airways Award Calculator. Here’s a rundown of their North American routes- none of them have high fees. You can also redeem for Aer Lingus flights using United MileagePlus miles (avaialbility hasn’t been showing online recently, so you’ll have to call- they should have the same availability that you see on ExpertFlyer), Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Qantas Frequent flyer.
Boston-Dublin: 25,000 roundtrip in coach, 50,000 in business class (amazing deal)
Chicago-Dublin: 40,000 Avios roundtrip in coach, 80,000 in business class.
New York-Dublin: 40,000 Avios roundtrip in coach, 80,000 in business class.
Toronto- Dublin: 40,000 Avios roundtrip in coach, 80,000 in business class.
Orlando-Dublin: 50,000 Avios roundtrip in coach, 100,000 in business class.
San Francisco- Dublin: 50,000 Avios roundtrip in coach, 100,000 in business class.
While the product might lack some of the frills business class passengers are used to, flying Aer Lingus to Dublin might be your best choice for getting to Europe since the taxes and surcharges are so low compared to other hubs like London and Paris, and though I thought the plane was a bit spartan, I’d still rate the overall experience as more than decent.