Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.
With all the exciting new transcontinental developments and the launch of new products such as JetBlue’s Mint service, I thought it was the perfect time to look at some of the most comfortable and flashy flight options that I can’t wait to fly.
1. JetBlue’s New Transcontinental Product Mint: JetBlue recently announced their new transcontinental product which is called Mint. The new premium cabin will be aboard the carrier’s 11 A321′s (scheduled for delivery by the end of this year), and will have 16 seats – 12 lie-flat regular business class seats and four that are “mini-suites” with privacy doors. These planes will be used exclusively on the lucrative New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco routes. Promotional pricing began at $499 each way, and regular pricing will begin at $599 each way when the new seats go into service in June 2014. Seats will be 6’8″ long and 22.3 inches wide with air cushions with adjustable firmness and a massage function plus shoe storage, dual 11-volt outlets with two USB ports and a “wake me for service” indicator light. Seats will have 15-inch personal monitors with 100 channels DirecTV and SiriusXM Radio. In-flight dining includes a choice of three to five tapas-style plates created by New York City-based restaurant Saxon + Parole. JetBlue is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.
2. EVA Royal Laurel Class: EVA’s new-generation business cabin is called Royal Laurel Class and launched on flights between Taipei and New York and Los Angeles towards the beginning of the year with the San Francisco route coming into service in March along with Toronto flights also in March and Paris, Amsterdam and London in August. The 38 lie-flat seats are configured in a reverse herringbone layout and are 26 inches wide, recline 180 degrees and stretch out almost 79 inches, with features including a coat hook, space for shoe stowage, storage nooks and a seat-side table. Part of the perks of the EVA business class is five-star food, including steak, lobster, and Godiva Chocolate and Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream, along with complimentary 2003 Dom Perignon champagne (the only business class to my knowledge that serves it). Entertainment comes care of a 15.4-inch touchscreen TV and high-fidelity noise-canceling headphones. There are also AV-input outlets, USB and iPod ports on a system equipped with software such as Media Player, Photo Viewer and PDF Reader. The amenity kit features Bulgari products and passengers are given a clothes brush to freshen up before landing. As EVA is now a member of Star Alliance, this is great if you are using cheaply purchased US Airways miles (only 90,000 to fly business class to North Asia!) or United miles or if you have a Chase card like the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus that earns Ultimate Rewards since the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of United. Alternatively, you can use ANA, Aeroplan and Singapore miles since all three are transfer partners of Amex Membership Rewards. Check out this post for more information on using Star Alliance partner miles for EVA awards.
3. Emirates A380 First Class: It’s been around for a little while now, but one of the most sought-after experiences in the skies, Emirates A380 First Class deluxe “suites” offer a lie-flat bed up to 79 inches long, gourmet meal service and even in-flight showers available. Each suite has a wall-mounted big-screen TV, showing up to 1,200 on-demand video and audio channels, a personal mini-bar, and privacy doors. Rather than having set meal times, the Dine-on-demand meal service allows you to order from an a la carte menu any time you want. There is also a First Class Social Area or onboard lounge, where you can enjoy cocktails and appetizers with fellow passengers. One of the nicest perks, however, is the onboard Shower Spas packed with Timeless Spa products so that you arrive both refreshed and clean! The A380 flies 20 different routes around the world, including Dubai to Los Angeles, New York, London and Sydney, and can you see the full schedule here. Of course, long-haul routes tickets will cost you well north of $10,000, but Emirates operates the aircraft on a few little-known short-haul routes in its network as well, such as Auckland-Sydney, costing around $2,000 return or Colombo, Sri Lanka to Male, Maldives for ~$500. Alaska Airlines has decently priced Emirates redemptions, as well as JAL- both are transfer partners of Starwood Preferred Guest. Korean Air is also a partner of Emirates and a 1:1 transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards, the points program of the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cards.
4. Asiana’s Boeing 777-200ER First Class Cabin: In July, Asiana introduced their new three-class Boeing 777-200ER (77W) service on its daily Seoul Incheon-New York JFK route, which features a two-door First Class Suite as well as Quadra Smartium Business Class seating. There are eight lie-flat first class suites in a 1-2-1 configuration. Seats have a pitch of 84 inches, a lie-flat length of 81 inches and are 25.2 inches wide – so pretty spacious. The AVOD in-flight entertainment system features the world’s largest in-flight personal TV at 32 inches, and it’s loaded with dozens of movie options, while the LCD SFCU (Seat Function Control Unit) embedded in the arm rests provides creates a touch screen for seat and light control. Other first class amenities include a personal mini-bar, duck down comforter set, a Traveler’s Kit with Bvlgari cosmetics and toiletries, noise-canceling headphones, cotton towels in the bathroom and wool blankets. Meal menus were developed jointly by La Cucina (Korea’s leading Italian restaurant), star chef Edward Kwon, and the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine, and include western, Korean, Chinese menus and Japanese menus. While a roundtrip ticket from JFK-ICN in first class could set you back up to $18,000, Asiana is a member of Star Alliance and you can book roundtrip award travel in first class with US Airways miles to North Asia for 120,000 miles or using 140,000 United roundtrip.
5. Aer Lingus New Business Class: Aer Lingus announced in September that it will introduce lie-flat beds in its business class cabins from 2015 as part of the re-launch of the San Francisco-Dublin route. The aim is to make the business class comparable to first class cabins on other international airlines (yea, lets see how that goes). The Dublin to San Francisco route will begin in April 2014, and the new schedule will also feature year-round service from Toronto to Dublin, as well as year-round flights to Shannon from the East Coast of the US. The big picture includes increasing the transatlantic capacity of Aer Lingus by 24% and strengthening ties with Silicon Valley to encourage Ireland’s development as a technology hub for Europe. I actually had the opportunity to experience Aer Lingus’ current business class in August when I went to Dublin from JFK, for my full review click here. They were angled lie-flat seats in the business class cabin, so not the most comfortable seats, but the cabin crew was great. The cabin was in a standard 2-2-2 configuration, and 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. Needless to say, I am excited for the new product to launch and for the ongoing expansion of the routes. The good news is that Aer Lingus partners with British Airways and award tickets on the airline carry very low fees, which is one of my favorite tricks for avoiding huge fuel surcharges on award flights to Europe using Avios. JFK-Dublin requires 40,000 Avios (since Avios is a distance-based mileage program) each way in business class. If you don’t have enough Avios, the easiest top-up I recommended is American Express Membership Rewards, which is a 1:1 transfer partner of British Airways. Amex points transfer instantly so you can process the transfer while on the phone with the British Airways representative. Another option is using Chase Ultimate Rewards, since if you have the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus your points will also transfer instantly at 1:1 to British Airways. Chase also issues the British Airways Visa which is currently offering 50,000 Avios after just $2,000 spent within three months with a $95 annual fee.
6. ANA’s New In-Flight Services And First Square: ANA launched their new in-flight services in September for routes departing from Japan bound for North America and Europe. Featuring the tagline, the “Inspiration of Japan,” first class seats boast ultra-light comforters made from Teijin fibers by Nishikawa Sangyo, a mattress that disperses body pressure, and an “Angel Float” pillow for a flexible fit in all positions. To add to the comfort, passengers are provided with double-sided knitted lounge wear and an amenity kit by L’Occitane. In the Boeing 777-300 ER, the unique cube-shaped design of the First Square creates plenty of room and privacy, along with space to hang your clothes, store baggage and personal items. Entertainment comes in the form of a 23-inch TV screen and digital noise-canceling headphones, there is also a handset that becomes a personal satellite international telephone, iPod connector and USB port. The newly-fitted 777-300 ERs fly from Narita to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., London and Frankfurt. ANA is a a member of Star Alliance and its award search engine is one of the best ways to find Star Alliance availability. It has several other airline partners and is also a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards (transfers usually take about 48 hours) – which you earn on cards like the Premier Rewards Gold and the Platinum – and Starwood Preferred Guest (transfers can take up to a couple weeks), which makes it a versatile program to maximize when it comes time to redeem some of those points for an award on a Star Alliance carrier or its other partners such as these airlines. For full details, check out my prior posts Overview Of ANA Award Taxes And Fees, Overview Of ANA Taxes And Fees: Part 2, Overview Of ANA Taxes And Fees: Part 3, Overview Of ANA Taxes And Fees: Part 4 – Non Alliance Partners, and ANA Award Taxes And Fees: Airline Partner Roundup.
7. KLM World Business Class: I actually just flew KLM’s current business class from Cape Town to Amsterdam and an update cannot come soon enough! KLM’s announced a makeover of its World Business Class earlier this year and the new product has 180-degree reclinable seats that are 81 inches long and have a privacy canopy. The old business class seats were angled lie-flats rather than fully horizontal, and the product had begun to look dated, so the new seats designed by Hella Jongerius (you’d probably recognize her modular aesthetic from her famous “Polder” sofa), are much sleeker looking. Other amenities include a 17-inch personal TV and inflight entertainment, in-seat power, personal storage area, double faced pillows and a menu created by Michelin-starred chefs such as Sergio Herman and Margo Janse. The airline has begun refurbishing its fleet of 22 747-400′s with work scheduled to be completed by April 2014, followed by its 777-200′s before work begins on its Airbus aircraft. All those customizations will take KLM’s current seating down from 42 to 35, likely making award availability even harder to find. Taking advantage of Flying Blue’s half-price Promo Awards where you can get to/from Europe from North America for as few as 25,000 miles each way in business class could be a great way to test out the new product, and also keep an eye out for Amex transfer bonuses as well as future buy miles bonuses so you don’t break the miles bank redeeming for an award flight. To take advantage of the 50% off deal, you have to book between August 27-October 29 for travel between September 1-October 31, though stay tuned for the next round of promo awards.
8. Air New Zealand 777-300ER Business Premier Class: Air New Zealand has its latest Business Premier product aboard its fleet of 777-300ER’s, which currently service its routes from Auckland to Los Angeles and on to London then back again. Business Premier cabins are at the front of the plane and comprise rows 1-12 with a total of 44 seats. It is split into two cabins—7 rows in the front, and 4 rows in the next one, and the seats are configured in a 1-2-1 herringbone pattern. Seats recline to a full length of 6’7″ and have 12.1-inch television monitors while passengers are treated to La Prairie amenity kits, the menu was designed by three well-known kiwi chefs and the wine list features award-winning New Zealand wines. When it comes to award travel, they never really release award availability to partners for Business Premier so you might have to pay for premium economy and then pay cash for a last-minute. However if there is award space, your best redemption would be using 110,000 US Airways miles for roundtrip business class from the US to New Zealand. Air New Zealand is also a partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, so you can transfer points from there for miles but the transfer ratio is not great so I’d avoid it. To read more about Air New Zealand’s Business Premier service, check out TPG Managing Editor Eric’s review of it.
9. American’s New A321 Transcontinental First Class: American will start replacing its aging widebody 767 aircraft with a huge new order of smaller A321’s beginning in November 2013 (can’t wait!) through 2014. The new A321’s will have 10 fully lie-flat seats in a 1 x 1 configuration in first class. Business class will have 20 lie-flat seats in a 2 x 2 configuration, while the Main Cabin will be 3 x 3 with 36 Main Cabin Extra seats. The entertainment systems on these aircraft will also have seat-to-seat chat, live text news and weather updates, 3-D moving maps, airport maps and connecting gate information. Travelers in premium classes will have access to free entertainment on the 15.4-inch screens, and Bose headsets. First class awards are 65,000 roundtrip for SAAver awards, and first class AAnytime awards are 130,000 miles roundtrip.
10. Qatar Airways 787 Business Class: Qatar took delivery of its first 787 out of a total order of 60 back in July with plans to put it into service first on Gulf routes before debuting a long-haul route between Doha and London Heathrow. Their business class cabin offers 22 flat-bed seats with 180 degree recline and 80″ pitch. Earlier this month Qatar announced it would be joining Oneworld as a full member starting October 30, and American Airlines and Qatar Airways announced reciprocal frequent flyer mileage earning that began September 2 with reciprocal award redemptions becoming possible October 1, though award availability is tight. Qatar Airways is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest and a partner of British Airways already as well, so you can transfer Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest points to Avios at a 1:1 ratio as well.
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