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Here at TPG, we talk a lot about how to sit at the “front” of the plane (that is, the business- and first-class cabins). However, for those of you who have ever wanted to try sitting at the real front of the plane, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele has some suggestions.
There are a couple of seats on every flight that you can’t reserve no matter how many miles you have. However, you can come pretty close to the experience of being a commercial pilot by sitting in the cockpit of a full-motion flight simulator.
Professional-grade flight simulators cost tens of millions of dollars, and are sometimes worth even more than the actual aircraft they’re simulating. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to “fly” one of United Airline’s Airbus A320 full-motion simulators at the airline’s Denver training center, along with the winners of the United MileagePlus Exclusive Auctions. As a commercially rated pilot myself, I have plenty of time flying actual aircraft, and I found the experience of flying a full-motion simulator to be surprisingly accurate, as the entire structure rotates along three axes to create the impression of aircraft movement.
In this post, I’ll share how you can use your points and miles to try out a professional-grade simulator, so you can still get in the captain’s chair even if you don’t have your pilot’s license.
Opportunities for the Public to Fly Commercial Aircraft Simulators
There are all sorts of flight simulator rides that you can buy, but many are little more than video games designed to shake you around as much as possible. Other simulators might feature realistic cockpits and video displays, but don’t offer any motion. Although these can be fun, they’re nothing like operating a professional-grade flight simulator, which is as close to flying an airliner as you can get.
A professional-grade simulator typically offers a full-motion platform that feels very close to actually being in the air. While most of these simulators are operated around the clock to train air crews and keep them current, there are a few around the world that can be rented out by anyone. And among those, I even found a handful that can be reserved with your points and miles.
Here are 10 full-motion flight simulators around the world that are available to the general public:
1. United Airlines A320 simulator in Denver, Colorado — This was the simulator I was able to fly as part of the United Flight Simulator Adventure auction, and it’s one of the rare cases where you can use miles to fly in a full-motion simulator. Unfortunately, this event is not currently featured by United MileagePlus Exclusives, but it may be offered again in the future, so keep checking.
In addition, Starwood Preferred Guest’s auction site recently offered a seat on the inaugural Emirates flight from Orlando to Dubai, throwing in some time in the A380 simulator at the Dubai Mall. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this offered again, however this is not a full-motion simulator.
2. Thai Simulator Experience in Bangkok, Thailand — Perhaps the best deal available is from the Thai Royal Orchid program, which offers a one-hour experience in a commercial-grade, full-motion simulator for only 12,500 miles. Guests get to fly in an Airbus A380 or A330 simulator, guided by a flight instructor. You have to book your reservation at least three days in advance, and (of course) you have to travel to Bangkok. Thankfully, the Thai Royal Orchid program is a transfer partner of both Starwood Preferred Guest and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
3. Qantas 747 simulator in Sydney, Australia — Qantas is another airline that opens its simulators up to the general public as a mileage award, but like most things in Sydney, it will cost you more than it would in Bangkok. Guests can book a one-hour ride for two people in the Boeing 747-400 simulator at the Qantas training facility just outside of the Sydney airport. The regular price is 115,000 points, but Qantas is currently featuring this award for 92,000 points as a limited-time offer. Remember, Qantas is now a transfer partner of the Citi ThankYou Rewards program.
4. Delta Flight Museum simulator in Atlanta — The Delta Flight Museum at the Atlanta airport is a great place to visit, and it claims that its 737-200 flight simulator is the “only full-motion flight simulator open to the public in the US” (but as you’ll see, this claim doesn’t appear to be accurate). For $425, guests ages 16 and older will receive a one-hour experience including a 10 minute pre-flight briefing, 45 minutes of flight time and a 5-minute review at the end of the session. The Delta Flight Museum is a nonprofit organization, and unfortunately, this experience is not available as a SkyMiles award.
5. EVA Flight simulator Experience Award — EVA Air offers a 90-minute flight simulator experience at its training center in Taiwan, but it costs 100,000 miles, and is only offered to Gold and Diamond Card elite members. Gold Card status requires flying 50,000 miles or 50 qualifying flights, but EVA is a transfer partner of Citi’s ThankYou Rewards program, so if you can earn the status, you do have transfer options.
6. Malaysia Airlines Flight Simulator experience in Kuala Lumpur — Malaysia Airlines offers access to its full-motion flight simulators at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (a secondary airport just outside of Kuala Lumpur). The regular price is 500 Malaysian Ringgit (about $123) for each 20-minute session. In addition, you can redeem 30,000 Enrich miles for a 30-minute session, which works out to a redemption value of about 0.6 cents apiece. That’s a pretty poor value if you’re transferring ThankYou points to Malaysia Enrich miles, but it might not be too terrible if you just have some spare miles that you’re looking to use for a unique experience.
7. Flyanairliner Flight Simulator Experiences in Miami, Paris and Amsterdam — Miami-based Flyanairliner offers commercial-grade, full-motion simulator experiences to the general public at its three locations run by Boeing Flight Services. You can “fly” aircraft ranging from the 737 to the latest 747-8. These experiences are advertised as great for sales meetings and corporate holiday parties, and at the rates they charge, you’ll probably want some corporate backing to pay for it. One hour in a simulator in Miami starts at $1,150 for a 737, while an hour in the 747-8 sim costs $1,550.
8. The Brooklands Concorde flight simulator in London — One of my greatest regrets as an aviation enthusiast is that I was never able to fly as a passenger on the supersonic Concorde, which was permanently retired from service in 2003. The Brooklands Museum in London has one of the few Concorde aircraft on display, and offers visitors the chance to operate the only remaining functional Concorde simulator (out of just two ever built) with the guidance of a former British Airways Concorde pilot. While this was once a full-motion simulator, it now just functions as a fixed sim. Nevertheless, I thought it was so unique that it’s worth mentioning. Your experience includes a reception and a tour of the actual Concorde on display, as well as 15 minutes at the controls of the simulator. At just 175 GBP ($274), it’s practically a bargain.
9. British Airways Flight Simulator Experience in London — BA is another airline that invites the general public to experience many of its flight simulators, including the 747-400 and 777-200. Prices start at 399 GPB ($624) for a one-hour flight. Sadly, you can’t redeem Avios for these “flights.”
10. Las Vegas Flight Ventures — Since you can already do just about anything in Las Vegas, it should be no surprise that you can book time in a full-motion flight simulator there as well. Las Vegas Flight Adventures offers a 737 and 757 flight simulator, starting at $749 for an hour-long session and a 30-minute briefing.
Have you tried any of these (or other) flight simulators?
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