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Last week I took my first trip to Greece, meeting up with old friends on the Cyclades island of Mykonos. I left directly from a family visit in Philadelphia, and in order to take AAdvantage of my stash of American Airlines miles, I chose to redeem on the US Airways nonstop flight from PHL to Athens’ ATH, on a US Airways-operated A330.
I booked a one-way award using AAdvantage miles to snag a seat in Envoy (business) Class on the two-class plane for the nine-hour, 45-minute trip, using 50,000 miles – and only $5.60! I booked several days before departure when saver seats opened up; I had originally booked other options using AA miles, but as an Executive Platinum I can change/cancel/redeposit award itineraries for free, so I kept a sharp eye on availability and rebooked into this saver seat 48 hours before departure. For those without elite status, you’d be looking at $150 to change/redeposit miles on a trip, as well as $75 for reservations made within 21 days of departure. However, you can make free date/routing changes to a reservation as long as the origin/destination does not change, so if you book a longer/more expensive routing via British Airways and the US Airways or AA non-stop opens up, you can re-ticket and get a refund of the taxes and fees.
US Airways Club Lounge at PHL
Even if I hadn’t booked an Envoy-class ticket, my Citi Executive AAdvantage would have given me access to the US Airways Club Lounge at PHL’s Concourse A west on the Mezzanine level, between gates A15 and A16. It used to be the Envoy Lounge with nicer perks, but in 2011 US Airways switched it to become a normal, bare-bones club. The lounge was bigger than your typical US Airways lounge and the food and beverage was basic, with a paltry spread of chips, salsa, cookies, olives, crackers, cheese, chicken meatball soup, savory mix, pretzels and trail mix, and one bowl of unripe oranges.
The flight itself, on the other hand, was awesome. Take-off was seamless, with a gorgeous late afternoon view over Philly.
A330-200 Envoy Class Cabin
The configuration of the 20-seat Envoy cabin is five rows in a 1 x 2 x 1 reverse herringbone, and feels airy and spacious, with blond wood and plenty of overhead room and bin space. The relatively encapsulated, private layout of each suite ensures that you can skip that awkward moment when you’re forced to look right into the eyes of a stranger sitting across from you. I shot this video to give you a better feel for the cabin:
My Envoy Class suite was really comfortable, comparable to the new business class seat on American’s 777-300ER and to business class on Cathay Pacific. The Envoy suites aren’t the most beautifully designed business class suites in the sky, but they do offer plenty of leg room – 76-80 inches, to be exact, depending on the seat’s location in the cabin. Each lie-flat seat reclines to a full 180 degrees, and is 20.5 inches wide (or 25 with the armrests down).
At just 12.1 inches, the touch-screen entertainment systems are smaller than on similar products, but you’re given use of a pair of Bose noise-canceling earphones. In addition, all seats have 10-volt universal power outlets and USB ports.
Envoy Class Amenity Kit
The useful Envoy Class amenity kit has all the basics and then some. The kit includes socks as well as eye shades, ear plugs, a pen, toothbrush and toothpaste, but also has a little bottle of Scope and a couple of eco-friendly Red Flower-brand products – moisturizing lotion and a blood-orange-flavored lip balm.
Envoy Class Food Service
The food served onboard was surprisingly good, and the service decent. It took about 50 minutes after takeoff to get my first drink, though once the service started, it was pretty quick.
My dinner starter was actually delicious, with a plate of prosciutto and a few slices of mozzarella (points for the addition of fresh basil), and mixed greens with orange sections, pickled fennel and red onion with a balsamic vinaigrette. The warm, buttery herb bread was one of the best pieces of bread I’ve had on a plane, and I’ve had a lot!
There were several choices of wines, including an Italian Prosecco and a Chardonnay from California’s Central Coast. The second white wine they listed wasn’t actually available, but its replacement, the La Croix Dorée Blanc Réserve from France’s Languedoc, was pretty good – a strong and lightly fruity white that paired nicely with my chicken entree.
For my main dinner, I stepped aside from the tilapia and beef options and went for the well-prepared teriyaki chicken topped off with a wedge of pineapple. I was fine with the mixed peppers and onions on the side, but really enjoyed the side of wasabi mashed potatoes – a nice, zingy touch on an airplane.
Dessert was served from a cart, but this was no “make your own sundae” -style cart. The choices were a cheese plate or a reasonably-sized serving of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream with a crispy pirouette cookie. As a sucker for mint chocolate chip ice cream, I went for this sweet option and found it decent, though I thought it could have used some toppings, a la transcontinental American Airlines service.
At breakfast I had two choices – a three-cheese and poblano pepper omelette served with potatoes and chicken-apple sausage, or a fresh fruit bowl with granola and Greek yogurt – and I chose the latter. It gave my first day in Greece the perfect light start, even though I devoured the accompanying combo of a cinnamon roll and a croissant…because I love all of those words.
My Overall Take
Once I’d left the US Airways Club Lounge at PHL in my wake, this flight experience aboard the A330’s Envoy Class from PHL-ATH was a great way to spend almost 10 hours of my life. I was well fed, caught up some of my favorite TV shows, and got some sleep. Bonus, our landing in Athens not only had an amazing view, but was also smooth and painless.
However, it’s a shame that US Airways hardly ever releases saver level awards. As of the publishing date of this post, August 25, 2014, I only see a single business class saver award PHL-ATH on August 31, 2014 and then none in the future- with only a handful of economy saver awards during summer 2015. I’m hopeful they’ll release more, but for someone who wants to book in advance and only book saver awards, it can be very difficult snagging these seats. If you do manage it, though, you should experience a pretty solid product.
Have you flown US Airways’ Envoy Class?