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TPG’s resident economy reviewer JT Genter recently took to the skies in long-haul business class for the first time. Here’s his review of the upstairs Club World business-class cabin on British Airways’ 747. (All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.)
Although I’ve flown 19 long-haul flights on nine different airlines in economy over the past decade — and probably at least three dozen over my lifetime — I’d yet to experience an international business or first class cabin. Thanks to a flight deal alert from TPG, that streak ended this past December.
As I was wrapping up the end of a very busy and stressful deadline at work, my TPG To Go app chimed to alert me of an incredible flight deal: Business Class to Europe from just 30,000 Avios + $446 round-trip.
My wife Katie and I had each collected 50,000 Avios from the British Airways Visa Signature Card and had pooled our Avios into one Household Account. So, we were ready to take full advantage of this deal.
Unfortunately, the terms and conditions of the Pay With Avios option didn’t include flights departing out of our home airport, Austin (AUS). We could drive up to Dallas (DFW), but the pre-discount fares weren’t any cheaper, so we stuck with Austin at first.
The cheapest option from Austin was to Madrid for about $1,500 (before discounts). We’d never been to Spain, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. We weren’t AARP members yet, so I applied online and promptly got a membership number. I grabbed my American Express Business Gold Rewards card — on which I’d already chosen airfare as my 3x category — and booked through the AARP page of British Airways’ website, saving us $800 ($400 each).
If we’d booked all of our flights on British Airways aircraft, we could’ve saved an additional 10% by using our British Airways Visa Signature card. However, I was really looking forward to being able to fly upstairs on a 747 — a dream of mine since childhood — so we booked our trip via Dallas (DFW) with an AA leg rather than flying nonstop from Austin (AUS) to London (LHR).
Since we were flying in business class on an international itinerary, we were able to enjoy the Admirals Club lounges in either Austin and Dallas — although technically we could’ve gotten access to these lounges through my Citi Prestige card even if we had been flying in economy.
Our flight departed out of DFW’s international terminal D, so we went to the Admirals Club in Terminal D. The club itself is elevated above the terminal and has expansive windows looking out over some American Airlines international gates and an active runway.
After geeking out watching the planes come and go for a bit, we grabbed some snacks and finished some last-minute work using the decent Wi-Fi. On our way out, we used our drink coupons for some bottled Naked juice smoothies to go.
Before leaving the lounge area, we stopped by the nearby DFW The Club, which I had access to through the Citi Prestige card’s Priority Pass. While there was an extensive drink selection and some views of the runway, the lounge was quite small (Occupancy: 49) and felt busy. We were happy that we’d spent most of our time in the Admirals Club instead.
We arrived at the gate just a few minutes before boarding began at 4:10pm for our 4:40pm scheduled departure. Boarding started with the first-class passengers and then continued with Club World business class and Oneworld elite passengers.
We tried boarding with the second group, but it seems that we missed the announcement saying you needed to have your passport checked at the counter before you could board, so we were delayed for a few more minutes.
Documents confirmed, we boarded the plane and were greeted at the door by flight attendants sporting silly holiday hats and glasses — we were flying on Christmas Eve and the crew had decided to make it cheerful. Once on board, we turned and walked up the flight of stairs I’ve always wanted to, up to the glorious upper deck of the Queen of the Skies!
BA hadn’t refreshed this 747 yet and the cabin itself showed its age, even sporting a dull yellowish color. However, once on the upper deck, I felt completely separate from the floor below, as if I were flying in a private plane over the Atlantic. There was no indication that there were up to 325 other people below our elite 20-passenger, two-flight-attendant cabin.
However, not everyone enjoyed the upstairs cabin. A couple who were supposed to sit behind Katie didn’t like the set-up of the upstairs cabin. The crew happily accommodated their request to move downstairs.
Once the couple moved, the upstairs cabin was nearly half empty. No one took the aisle seats next to Katie or me — as we both wanted a window seat — so we didn’t have the awkward “look into a stranger’s eyes” experience that other Club World passengers have to endure during takeoff, landing and meal service.
The upstairs bathrooms were similar to those in the economy cabin — certainly nothing like Emirates’ on-board bathrooms — with the simple addition of some lotions.
Seats and Amenities
At each seat, there was a plastic-wrapped set of headphones, a plastic-wrapped heavy blanket and a somewhat thin pillow.
The upstairs window seats each have “lockers” between the seat and the window. These were welcome places to store my backpack, sweatshirt, laptop and other carry-on items, while also keeping them handy. There was no need for me to use the overhead bins — which seemed quite tight due to the curvature of the plane.
Note that the window lockers taper off as you get closer to the front of the cabin, as the width of the plane decreases.
If you need additional storage, there’s also a storage tray at your feet, which slides out from its resting place underneath your neighbor’s seat. An outlet was located directly above the bin, so I used this bin to store my laptop and phone while they were charging. No charging was allowed during taxi, takeoff and landing.
Above this storage tray was the tray table and in-flight entertainment screen, which were both stored in the console between the seats. Closer to the seat on a console were the seat controls and wired in-flight entertainment remote.
Flight attendants passed through the cabin soon after we boarded to hand out Elemis Club World amenity kits. The drawstring bag contained socks, an eye mask, hand and body lotion, “pro-collagen marine cream ultra rich” lotion, minty lip balm (which was greatly appreciated during this flight), simple earplugs, toothbrush, toothpaste and a pen.
Menus were handed out shortly after we were seated. There was one change to the printed menu: The beef wouldn’t be available since British Airways had substituted a traditional Christmas turkey dinner!
Along with the menus, the flight attendants offered a choice of Champagne, orange juice or water. We enjoyed sipping Champagne as we looked over the menu. The attentive flight attendants offered refills frequently during the boarding process.
Despite the seemingly-short boarding time, we pushed back from the gate one minute before departure time. During the rather long 23-minute taxi, the flight attendants passed through the cabin to take our dinner orders.
Once at the runway, the pilots powered up the four engines and we quickly were in the air. As we were flying on one of the shortest days of the year, the sun wasn’t up for too long after we took off. Seated facing backward gave us a wonderful view of the sunset and ever-darkening skies.
The in-flight entertainment (IFE) system wasn’t available during taxi and takeoff. Although the screens were extended for the safety video, they had to be stored in the console during takeoff.
Once in the sky, we explored the IFE system, which clearly showed its age — the touchscreen monitors required a firm touch and the screens weren’t as clear as other IFE screens we’d seen recently.
The system itself had an adequate number of movies, TV shows and music to choose from, but the whole IFE system itself wasn’t as crisp or captivating, and it could certainly use a refresh. Thankfully, British Airways is in the middle of rolling out a refreshed cabin on its 747 aircraft.
We received good-quality, seemingly noise-cancelling headphones, which had two different-sized prongs. You can use your own earbuds or headphones if you prefer as long as the plug matches one of the two sizes. There was no Wi-Fi available on this flight.
Dinner and Drinks
About 20 minutes after takeoff, flight attendants passed through the cabin with the drink cart. A wide selection of alcohol was available, but I chose a refill of Champagne. The flight attendant was glad to model the bottle of Taittinger before serving me a glass. Along with this drink service came a small bag of high-quality roasted almonds and cashews.
While dinner was cooking, the flight attendants would pass by a few more times shortly afterward to offer refills (if you’d had any of your drink) or alternative drinks (if you weren’t drinking your drink). They were never pushy and I found the attentiveness pleasant. But, unless you plan on waking up with a hangover the next morning, be prepared to say no a few times.
About 50 minutes after takeoff, appetizers were served. I inquired if it’d be any trouble for me to move to the aisle seat next to Katie during meals. The flight attendant encouraged the move and even volunteered to take photos of us (with the camera that I made sure to bring with me to my “meal seat”).
We both found the salad fresh and tasty. There was a wide selection of warmed bread to choose from, but the butter was too cold to really spread on the bread. The salmon with cream cheese was tasty and refreshing. Another round of drink service accompanied both the serving of appetizers and collecting of plates.
As I was tickled by the thoughtfulness of British Airways specially sourcing a Christmas dinner for tonight’s flight, I certainly had to order the meal. I found the turkey to be quite moist, tasting freshly sliced and not at all reheated. Likewise, the stuffing was perfectly prepared, however the potatoes suffered the opposite fate. The brussel sprouts and yam slices were flavorful sides.
Katie ordered the “Chilled main course zesty quinoa salad with coriander and lime king prawns.” She found the shrimp well prepared, although the accompanying quinoa was a bit undercooked.
Dessert was a choice between “cherry and almond slice with sauce anglaise” and “truffle cheddar and brie cheese with herbs and golden fig preserves.” We split one of each.
For after dinner drinks, Katie chose peppermint tea and I took the flight attendant’s recommendation of the port.
After dinner, most people settled in for the night — including half of the crew. The two upstairs flight attendants alternated two-hour rest periods during the overnight, leaving one to watch after the cabin while the other slept.
The standard (non-exit row) Club World seats are listed at 72-inch pitch, so they’re sized fit to someone no taller than me at 5 foot, 11 inches. When I lay flat on Katie’s seat (61A), I touched the seat shell at my head and my feet — if you’re as tall as The Points Guy (at 6 foot, 7 inches), you’re going to want to grab an extra legroom seat like 62A/K or 64 A/K.
If you prefer privacy while you sleep, be sure to select a window seat. While the aisle seats are identically sized, they’re quite exposed to the aisle.
I slept rather poorly overnight. I don’t sleep well on my back and switching to my side wasn’t much more comfortable due to the firmness of the seat, making my shoulder uncomfortable. I actually felt the most comfortable with the seat at an angle.
However, Katie slept wonderfully on the flat-bed seats, waking only to the two bouts of moderate turbulence we experienced. She also woke up on her own about 30 minutes before breakfast. Upon sitting up, a flight attendant came by to see if she needed anything.
Before heading to sleep, I asked a flight attendant what time breakfast would be since I wanted to set an alarm and wake up beforehand. She answered that breakfast would be served about 5:30am London time, but that I shouldn’t worry about setting an alarm, as she’d be glad to wake me up.
Sure enough, about 5:45am, she reached over the partition to gently rub my shoulder to wake me, letting me know that breakfast was about to be served. It was a lovely touch of personalized service.
Breakfast choices were between fresh seasonal fruit and Bircher muesli. Katie got the fruit plate and found it to be fresh and crisp. I got the muesli plate, a mixture of sliced apples and oats with an interesting earthy flavor. I enjoyed the amount I had, but opted not to finish the plate. Both meals came with a “warm bacon roll served with tomato ketchup” and a croissant.
Drinks with breakfast included a choice of coffee, tea, smoothies and juice. Needing a caffeine boost to get us going on this early morning, I opted for the coffee and Katie ordered an English tea. We each also enjoyed a rich fruit smoothie.
During descent, the flight attendants passed through the cabin to hand out Arrivals Fast Track cards, allowing us to speed through border control. While border control was rather empty during our arrival, these likely would have been handy if we were traveling during a busier time.
Once we’d landed, the captain came on to welcome us to Terminal 5 (not London or Heathrow). With a touching speech, he wished us a very Merry Christmas.
I’ve heard of subpar experiences on British Airways’ Club World, so my expectations were certainly in-check coming into the flight. We were thrilled to have had such a wonderful experience!
Throughout the flight, we received attentive and pleasant service from the flight attendants and found the meals to be delicious and plentiful. While the seats could be larger, they were satisfactory for our needs. The in-flight entertainment system was certainly lacking, but proved to be unnecessary on this overnight flight.
We’re used to getting great economy deals, typically paying between 2.5 to 6 cents per mile on international trips, so this was quite a splurge for us to pay $1,100 round-trip for a flight. However, if a similar deal came up, we’d definitely jump on it! At this price, British Airways Club World was certainly worth the premium — especially once you consider the bonus AA elite-qualifying miles and bonus redeemable miles we earned.
Even after this wonderful experience, we personally wouldn’t pay more than double the economy fares, but now we better understand why some flyers only choose business or first class — this sort of treatment can certainly spoil you!
Have you ever flown in British Airways’ Club World business class? Share your experience in the comments, below.British Airways Visa Signature® Card