Crossing The Pond: How to Make The Most Out Of Flying New York To London
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Last week, I posted a detailed comparison of transcontinental routes and the benefits that premium flyers can expect when flying each airline from coast-to-coast. One of the other major routes with a huge amount of competition is from New York is to London, and in light of the increased number of flights to London from the US since the partnership of Virgin Atlantic and Delta, this week I decided to shift my focus to transatlantic travel.
Below I have provided calculations on the miles you can hope to accrue – both base elite-qualifying miles and elite bonus miles – based on the routes on each airline as well as whatever elite status you would have if you flew once a month transatlantic roundtrip and what those miles would be worth based on my own valuations of them. I’m going to warn you – there are a lot of numbers and variables (such as airfares, but I took a stab at average prices for advance purchase coach tickets), but take a careful look and see how your airline stacks up.
Number of Daily Flights Between New York JFK and LHR:
- American: 4
- British Airways: 8
- Delta: 3
- United: 0
- Virgin Atlantic: 4
Number of Daily Flights Between Newark EWR and LHR:
- American: 0
- British Airways: 3
- Delta: 0
- United: 5
- Virgin Atlantic: 2
American Airlines’ new 777-300 flies certain routes from JFK, Dallas and Los Angeles to London. American ordered 10 of the new widebody 777-300′s (with 20 planned by the end of the decade) and started flying them in January on the Dallas (DFW) – Sao Paulo (GRU) route and the JFK-London route before starting the JFK-GRU, DFW-LHR and LAX-LHR services. The full list of routes can be found on the American Airlines website.
With a three-class configuration, features include fully lie-flat First and Business Class seating with aisle access from every seat, international WiFi, AC power outlets and USB jacks, and in-seat entertainment. There are eight open suites in first class, along with 52 lie-flat seats in business with a bed-length of 75-78 inches. In main cabin extra, the 30 seats have a pitch of 36 inches and width of 18, and in the main cabin there are 220 seats with a pitch of 31 inches and a width of 17.
I flew both first class and business class aboard the new plane, and it is a huge improvement over American’s former 777-200 flagship, and though I still wouldn’t rank it as high as my experiences in Cathay Pacific First Class or Lufthansa’s latest first class product, I definitely would look forward to experiencing it again and it’s a good option to have on the routes American flies.
Once A Month Transatlantic Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: American Airlines has three levels of elite status – Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold. Flying 60,000 miles (flying to London once a month) would mean you would qualify for Platinum status, which only requires 50,000 miles or 60 segments. Platinum members have an upgrade window of 72 hours before departure (though you have to request upgrades using your 500-mile upgrades), free checked bag, priority access check-in and security, and priority baggage delivery. Platinum members also earn four 500-mile upgrades for every 10,000 miles flown. Platinums also get a 100% elite mileage bonus.
Just over 17,000 more miles would take you to Executive Platinum status at 100,000 miles. Perks for Executive Platinum include unlimited complimentary upgrades starting at 100 hours before departure, companion upgrades, priority access check-in, security, free checked bag, and priority baggage delivery and a 100% elite mileage bonus. Executive Platinum members also get 8 one-way systemwide upgrades yearly and they can be used to secure the upgrade in advance. These upgrades are good for any paid fare class on any AA flight, so generally they are best used for international flights, though they do come in handy when you don’t want to fork out the extra thousands for transcontinental business class and want to confirm the seat – especially for red-eye flights. Though this is a competitive and heavily trafficked route with a lot of paid premium flyers, you can still find decent EVIP upgrade availability on American’s JFK-London flights and TPG Managing Editor just used one to upgrade on a LHR-JFK flight in July which cleared several days before departure.
A key factor when pricing out transatlantic award travel is the taxes and fuel surcharges, as they could change a cheap flight into a pricey one. The taxes and fees for JFK-LHR in economy are $191.90, in business and first class they are $299.70.
So with that in mind, here’s how many miles you’d earn on each route as a once a month, and what kind of value you could look to get from them since I value American miles at about 1.8 cents apiece. These are all based on flying the discount economy fares most of us purchase.
Miles Earned In A Year:
- Flying JFK-LHR Once A Month: 82,992 elite-qualifying miles plus 82,992 bonus award miles if you are already Platinum for a total of 165,984 miles worth about $2,990.
British Airways has had their lie-flat Club World (business class) with a fully lie-flat bed for several years now and while their lounges are good (usually – I wasn’t impressed by my recent experience in the Galleries Lounge at JFK), their food can be hit or miss and there’s nothing really exceptional about their product.
If you are lucky enough to fly their new 787-8 Dreamliner, however, you will get to experience a lighter, quieter and more fuel-efficient aircraft that has enhancements throughout the cabin. As of October 1, 2013, the Dreamliner flies from London to Newark, and has 35 flatbed seats in Club World (with a pitch of 73 inches and a width of 20), 25 seats in World Traveler Plus (with a pitch of 38 inches and a width of 18.5 in a 2-3-2 formation), and 154 in World Traveler (with a pitch of 31 inches and a width of 17.5 in a 3-3-3 formation). Windows are 30% larger than on most aircraft and brightness can be controlled with the touch of a button instead of pulling shades down. In-flight entertainment comes on a TV screen 35% larger than before with 130 movies, 650 TV shows, 550 audio albums, and 225 radio shows. There is also 110V in-seat laptop power ports and 2 USB power sockets in Club World and World Traveler Plus. The pod seats in Club World are in a staggered formation with some facing the front and others the rear, and a privacy screen that can be pulled down between neighboring seats.
British Airways also has an all-business-class Club World London City service between JFK and London City airport aboard an A318, which the airline compares to “having your own private jet.” It features just 32 business class seats in eight rows with 6 foot lie-flat beds and amenities include UK, EU and US power sockets, a personal iPad featuring films and television programs, luxury amenity kit with Elemis skincare products and accessories, gourmet dining both pre-boarding and during the flight, VIP lounge access at JFK and OnAir GSM service so you can use your mobile phone if you have global roaming. Club World London City also provides shorter check-in times (45 minutes in New York and 15-20 in London), fast track through security, and pre-clearance of US immigration on selected flights.
Just a quick note on taxes and fuel surcharges – British Airways is one of the most notorious airlines for levying huge surcharges and taxes on their tickets, which can make booking an award ticket very expensive, but which also drives up the price of their published fares as well. Here is a post on how to avoid BA fuel surcharges, but just as a reference, even on a roundtrip economy ticket in October/November where the total price is $870, only $182 of that is considered the fare, and a whopping $689 (nearly 80%!) is taxes, fees and carrier-imposed fuel surcharges.
Once A Month Transatlantic Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: British Airways’ Executive Club has four levels – Blue, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Premier – for which you earn Avios points and Tier points when flying with them and partner airlines. It’s a bit of a complicated formula that is based both on the flight and the fare class you purchase, but you can use the Tier Point calculator to find out how many you’ll earn on your qualifying itineraries.
For Bronze, you need 300 Tier points and 2 qualifying flights or 25 flights. For Silver level, you need 600 Tier points and 4 qualifying flights, or 50 qualifying flights, for which you have access to the Club lounges, priority check-in desks, priority boarding and other services, whatever cabin you’re flying in, minimum checked baggage allowance of 2 pieces in all cabins, and free seat selection at the time of booking, along with Reservation Assurance to book an economy seat even if the flight is full. After 1,500 tier points and 4 qualifying flights, you will reach Gold level, which has the added benefit of access to the Elemis Travel Spa in Heathrow and JFK, and priority over Blue, Bronze and Silver Members on waitlists, no booking or service fees for reward flights using Avios.
You collect extra Avios when you travel in one of the premium cabins, on top of the Tier bonuses for Bronze (25%), Silver (100%) and Gold (100%) members. Here are the Avios and Tier points you can expect to earn in a year flying once a month in each class.
Miles Earned In A Year:
- Flying JFK-LHR Once A Month In Economy: 82,992 Avios and 840 Tier points for which you’d earn Silver membership with a 100% Avios bonus for a total of 165,984 Avios worth about $2,490.
- Flying EWR-LHR Once A Month In Economy: 82,992 Avios and 840 Tier points for which you’d earn Silver membership with a 100% Avios bonus for a total of 165,984 Avios worth about $2,490.
One of the great things about British Airways, however, is that it’s easy to use Avios to upgrade paid fares. Avios program is distance-based and you can use the Avios calculator. You have to enter your city pairs to find out how many Avios (not including taxes, fees, charges and surcharges) it will take to upgrade.
The amount of Avios needed to upgrade to the next class of service is half the base number of Avios needed to book an economy award ticket on that flight. Economy one-way awards from JFK to London cost 20,000 miles each. To upgrade one class of service you’d divide that by half, so you’d need 10,000 Avios to go from Economy to Premium Economy or from Premium Economy to Club World, which is one of the best mileage values out there. Just keep in mind that upgrades are only available from the following booking classes: J, C, D, R, I, W, E, T, Y, B, H.
Delta is currently operating Boeing 767-400’s with fully lie-flat BusinessElite seats on all their flights between New York (JFK) and London. In-flight amenities include in-flight power outlets at your seat, a personal entertainment system with TV, movies, games and music. The 767-400ER features 40 BusinessElite seats, 28 Economy Comfort and 178 seats in coach. In BusinessElite, seats feature 21 inches of width, are 76.5-81.4 inches long, and offer 180 degrees recline. Customers seated in BusinessElite will each receive a Westin Heavenly pillow and a white comforter as part of Delta’s new partnership with Starwood.
All BusinessElite passengers receive a Tumi amenity kit killed with Malin + Goetz’s Neroli Hand & Body Lotion and Lip Moisturizer, a Tumi eye mask, socks, shoe horn, shoe polish, comb, dental kit, tissues, antibacterial wipes, earplugs and a pen.
Once A Month Transcontinental Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: Flying 82,500 miles would mean you would qualify for Platinum Medallion, which only requires 75,000 miles, and means that you get complimentary access to Economy Comfort when flying to London. However, if you are hoping for an upgrade to BusinessElite you must be on a Y, B, or M fare class and then can upgrade with miles or put in a Systemwide Upgrade request. Platinum Medallions also get priority check-in, priority boarding and security, a 100% mileage earning bonus and lounge access when flying international, so you w0uld be able to use the Delta Sky Club at JFK, or the SkyTeam lounge in London.
Here’s now many miles you’d earn in a year with our once monthly scenarios and what they’re worth based on the fact that I value SkyMiles at about 1.5 cents apiece. These are all based on flying the discount economy fares most of us purchase.
Miles Earned In A Year:
- Flying JFK-LHR Once A Month: 82,584 elite-qualifying miles plus 82,584 bonus Miles if you are already Platinum Medallion for a total of 165,168 SkyMiles worth about $2,477.
United flies a mixture of aircraft from Newark to London-Heathrow ranging from Boeing 757-200’s to the 767-300 and 777-200. It really depends on the day to see what is flight on this route, so if equipment is important to you, take a look at the schedule when you make your booking to see what aircraft is scheduled for the specific flight. United offers 5 daily flights from Newark including one day-time flight, so if your someone who dreads red-eye flights this is something to consider.
United offers 180 degree lie-flat seats on all their 757-200 aircraft and on select 767 and 777 aircraft (check out this post for finding the newest business class products on US airlines). While many United planes are ditching the first class cabin, in my opinion the new business class seats are more comfortable for sleeping since the old first class seats never become fully horizontal. The new reconfigured fleet will include 180-degree flat-bed seats in United BusinessFirst, replacing angled lie-flat and recliner seats in United First and United Business, all-new United Economy seat and new United Economy Plus seats with more legroom. They offer over 150 hours of on-demand programming with a 15.4-inch video monitor the 757 aircraft and on select 767 and 777 aircraft. Other BusinessFirst amenities include noise canceling headsets, complimentary newspapers, lounge access at the departing city as well as complimentary access to the SkyTeam Lounge at London-Heathrow.
Once A Month Transatlantic Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: United’s premier status has four levels. Flying 83,160 miles with United will earn you Premier Platinum level, which requires 75,000 or 90 segments. Premier Platinum members get complimentary access to Economy Plus seating, priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling privileges, lounge access when traveling internationally, and Premier Platinum members earn a 75% mileage bonus.
Miles Earned In A Year:
- Flying EWR-LHR Once A Month: 83,160 elite-qualifying miles plus 6,2370 bonus award miles if you are already Premier Platinum for a total of 145,530 miles worth about $2910.
Since launching their partnership with Delta, Virgin Atlantic has instituted an enhanced flight schedule between New York and London. From March 30, 2014 the two airlines’ schedules will align to offer seven daily nonstop services between JFK and Heathrow, plus two more daily nonstop flights between Newark (EWR) and Heathrow. Below is the upcoming schedule:
The full codeshare will make the biggest impact when Delta starts counting Medallion Qualifying Dollar spend in 2014. In order for a flight to earn Medallion Qualifying Dollars, it needs to be issued on Delta ticket stock, meaning booked as the codeshare. You can still get mileage credit on all Virgin Atlantic flights, but in 2014, you’ll need to book the Delta flight number for the Medallion Qualifying Dollars to count.
You can now use Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for Delta flights and SkyMiles for Virgin Atlantic flights. This is great news because Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so there are now more options to book Delta flights without having SkyMiles (though partners like Virgin Atlantic only get access to low-tier awards, meaning availability can be slim on certain routes). For full details on the partnership announcement, click here.
Along with more flights, Virgin Atlantic currently runs Boeing 747 and Airbus A340 aircraft, but 15 of their new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners will start operation across the network in 2014. The $8 billion purchase of the Dreamliner is the first by a UK company, and the new planes bring larger windows, higher ceilings to the 250-290 passengers in upper class, premium economy and economy. The two-aisle planes are made of 50% composite materials and boast of new levels of fuel efficiency and noise emissions per seat for a quieter and more fuel-efficient flight.
Virgin Atlantic also recently rolled out its new upper class suite on flights from Heathrow to New York (along with other routes to the US, Caribbean, Africa, Middle East and Asia), featuring one of the longest lie-flat beds in business class and a new comfort system and extra padded sleep sheet. Each suite has direct aisle access and a window built in to give you more light. In-flight entertainment comes care of 2.1 inch touchscreen monitor and handset, loaded with our their new entertainment system called JAM so you can connect your phone, USB stick or tablet to access your own content and charge your device.
Once A Month Transatlantic Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: There are three levels for Virgin Atlantic Flying Club – Red, Silver and Gold – and it is broken down to miles and tier points. To reach Silver, you need to earn 15 tier points in a rolling 12-13 months (points are calculated from the current date of the month to the first day of the same month a year previous), and to keep your status, you need to earn at least 10 tier points in your membership year. With Silver, you get 50% extra base flown miles on every flight you take with Virgin Atlantic or Delta, have full use of the Premium Economy Check In area, whatever class you’re traveling in, as well as priority booking if the flight you want is full.
To reach the top level of Gold status, you must earn 40 tier points in your membership year, and the benefits are extensive including 100% bonus on base flown miles with Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines. If you earn 60 tier points, you will receive 2 lounge passes you can share with anyone, and 80 tier points will earn 1 cabin upgrade for 2. Gold status also allows you to give a supplementary Silver membership for someone 18 or over sharing your house address, or a companion ticket when you renew your Gold status. Other perks of going for gold are an extra piece of baggage up to 23kg, and upper class check-in regardless of what class of travel. When flying to JFK or EWR from Heathrow, enjoy a fast track through immigration and security on departures, and a guaranteed economy seat on any Virgin Atlantic flight, along with Priority baggage, Check in, Boarding and Security with Delta.
Miles Earned In A Year:
With Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, you earn miles and tier points with every flight. Plus, when you fly Premium Economy or Upper Class the amount of miles you earn increases with cabin bonuses. Silver members earn a 50% bonus of base flown miles, while Gold members earn a 100% bonus. For the earning calculator, see below or click here.
- Flying JFK-LHR Once A Month In Economy For Red Members: 82,992 and 48 tier points, so Gold status with a 100% mileage bonus for a total of 165,984 worth about $2,490.
- Flying EWR-LHR Once A Month In Economy For Red Members: 82,992 miles and 48 tier points, so Gold status with a 100% mileage bonus for a total of 165,984 worth about $2,490.
With so many choices out there, it can be hard narrowing down which carrier or carriers is right for you, but here are the things I consider:
Number of flights from the airports I want – so if you’re a JFK flyer, chances are you won’t be trying out United, while Newark diehards will have to stick to either United, Virgin or British Airways.
One other major thing to consider is the partnerships here. For instance, if you’re an American AAdvantage member, you get the added bonus of being able to fly British Airways and still earn American miles, and the same holds true of Delta and Virgin thanks to their new partnership, but if you’re a United flyer, you’ve got to stick to them or fly on a partner through another hub like Lufthansa via Frankfurt. This is also an important consideration when it comes to redeeming your miles since if you want to use your miles to fly to London, you’ll be paying much higher fees on award tickets with American and British Airways than you will with Delta and United typically.
You should also take into account the elite status that you’ll earn flying various airlines based on the amount you’re flying. Would you prefer the benefits of top-tier Gold status on Virgin to those of Bronze or Silver status on British Airways? Or Platinum United elite status to Platinum American status, which is actually a lower tier in the grand scheme of things?
Finally, and this is the fun part, if you’re flying a premium class or able to upgrade often enough to a premium service class, have a look at the products being offered including the types of seats, the amenities, and hey, even the menus and wine lists, and see which one you might enjoy most. After all, though this is one of the busiest airline routes out there and airfares can be high, that also means there are tons of options out there for you and you will have choices when it comes time to decide which is best for you.