Flying on the Airbus A350: Which Airlines and Miles to Use
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Today, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen looks at which major airlines have ordered the new Airbus A350, and how you can use miles to test it out.
Earlier this month, Qatar Airways became the launch customer of the newest Airbus jet, the A350XWB (XWB stands for extra wide-body). Meant to compete with Boeing’s next-generation 787 Dreamliner, the A350 is Airbus’s successor to its long-haul A330 and A340 aircraft.
Orders and Specs
The aircraft is constructed with a majority of composite materials (53%, to be exact), which make it lighter (and thus more fuel-efficient) than aircraft built using conventional materials. Depending on the configuration and series, it seats between 267 and 369 passengers. There are currently three versions of the aircraft on the drawing board: the A350-800, A350-900 and A350-1000.
Currently (and remember, these numbers change a lot), Airbus has 778 orders for the jet (compared to 1,071 for the Boeing 787) from 41 customers including American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Finnair, Lufthansa, United, and Vietnam Airlines, among others.
Using the model with the most orders as an example (with 577 orders out of 778), the A350-900 can fly up to 7,750 nautical miles (14,350 km), is just shy of 220 feet long, and has a wingspan of 213 feet. It has two Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines, and will seat up to 315 passengers in a typical two-class configuration.
The following list is of airlines that are expected to take delivery of the A350 either in 2015 or 2016 (and probably 2017 based on how production has gone so far), though many major carriers including Aer Lingus, Air France, JAL, Lufthansa, Thai and United are not expected to take delivery until 2017-2018. Thus, interior layouts, routes and other information are not yet available. However, I did include details for a couple of them (like American and United) for US-based flyers out there who are looking forward to trying this aircraft out when it takes wing.
Air China: This Beijing-based Star Alliance carrier has 10 A350-900’s on order, with delivery expected to begin in 2016. There’s no word yet on the configuration or planned routes, but let’s say the airline put it in service on its Beijing-Los Angeles route (though likely it will be used both domestically within China as well as on intra-Asia routes and to smaller hubs). You could use your United miles to fly it for 35,000 miles each way in economy, and 80,000 in business. If you were to fly it within China—say, from Beijing to Shanghai—you would need 15,000/22,500 miles each way in economy/first.
American Airlines: American has an order of A350’s as a result of its merger with US Airways. US ordered 22 A350-800’s back in 2007, and was originally supposed to get them in 2014 before Airbus production delays set the timeline back. However, in December 2013, American Airlines amended the order to 22 A350-900’s instead, and expects delivery to begin in 2017. The exact configuration is hard to pin down, but according to US Airways’ fleet information page, its A350 should have 36 seats in business class and up to 294 in economy, for a combined total of up to 330 seats in a two-class layout. There’s no word yet on where the airline plans to fly these new jets, but some possibilities include its routes from the western and Midwest US to Japan and Europe, or possibly down to South America.
Asiana: This Korea-based airline has ordered 30 of the new aircraft (with 8 A350-800’s, 12 A350-900’s and 10 A350-1000’s) with delivery expected to begin in late 2016 or early 2017. Hence, exact routes are still unavailable, though Asiana has said it plans to use the new jets both on regional flights as well as some of its longer hauls. Let’s assume that the airline will fly the aircraft from Seoul Incheon to North America. You could use your United miles to fly it for 35,000 miles each way in economy or 80,000 miles each way in business class. In terms of regional routes, you could fly it between Seoul and Taipei for just 15,000/22,500 United miles each way in economy/business.
Cathay Pacific: This Hong Kong-based Oneworld carrier has a total of 46 A350’s on order: 20 A350-900’s and 26 A350-1000’s. The airline plans to introduce new and improved versions of its Cirrus long-haul business class seat (the reverse herringbone configuration) and its premium economy cabin. The A350-900’s will have three classes (economy, premium economy and business class), while the airline will introduce a new first-class suite on some of its A350-1000’s, but not all. We won’t know more about those until the expected 2018 delivery date, but we should see the A350-900’s starting in February 2016.
Though Cathay Pacific hasn’t made public which routes the new jets will fly, the airline has said that it intends to operate its A350-900’s to Europe and the A350-1000’s to North America. To fly Hong Kong to the US, you could use American Airlines miles at 35,000/67,500 miles each way in economy/business, or US Airways miles at 60.000/110,000 miles round-trip in economy/business. You could also use British Airways Avios, but redemptions are more expensive since it’s a distance-based award program. Flying from Hong Kong to Europe would require 35,000/52,500 AAdvantage miles in economy/business each way, or 60,000/80,000 miles round-trip using US Airways Dividend miles.
China Airlines: This Taiwan-based carrier is currently making a lot of improvements, including the commencement of service aboard its new 777-300ER’s, and an order of 14 A350-900’s (with an option for six more) slated to begin delivery in 2016. The airline plans to use its new planes on predominantly European routes, including Taipei to London. China Airlines is a SkyTeam member, so you could fly it using 50,000 miles each way in economy or 80,000 in business class if you redeemed your Delta SkyMiles. You could also redeem Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles (the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of both American Express membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards), but you’d need 80,000 miles round-trip in economy and a whopping 200,000 miles for a round-trip business class award.
Delta: Delta already has orders in for 25 A350-900’s, though delivery isn’t expected until 2017 at the earliest—not a moment too soon, since Delta’s widebody fleet is now the oldest among the US legacy carriers. There’s no word yet about which routes Delta has in mind for the new aircraft, but let’s consider two examples. To fly North America to Europe on an award, you could redeem 30,000-65,000 miles each way in economy depending on the level of availability, or 62,500-147,500 miles each way in BusinessElite. If the airline deploys the aircraft on its service from Seattle to Tokyo (and it does plan to use this specific aircraft to expand its Pacific network), you would need 70,000-162,500 each way in business class, or 35,000-75,000 in economy.
Etihad: This Abu Dhabi-based carrier is expanding aggressively, and has 40 A350-900’s on order and 22 A350-1000’s. Delivery is expected to begin sometime in 2016, though there’s no word yet on exactly when or where it will be deployed. However, let’s take its frequent service from Abu Dhabi to London as an example. Etihad is partners with American Airlines, so if you wanted to use AA miles on this route, you’d need 20,000 miles each way in economy or 30,000 miles in business class—not bad for a seven hour flight. Etihad Guest is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Rewards, so you could also book an award using points from a card like the Citi Premier Card. A ticket on the Abu Dhabi-London route would run you about 31,115 miles each way in economy, or 44,000-55,000 miles in business class.
Finnair: Finland’s national airline will be the first European airline to take delivery of the A350, and will feature all-new cabins on the aircraft. The first routes (planned by the end of 2015) will be from the airline’s hub in Helsinki to cities in Asia, including Bangkok, Beijing and Shanghai, with additional service to Hong Kong and Singapore in 2016.
The airline’s 11 A350-900’s will have 297 seats in three classes. Business class will have a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration (like Cathay’s current reverse herringbone business class) with fully lie-flat beds. Premium economy will have just 42 seats with 35 inches of legroom, along with thicker headrests and better headphones than coach. Economy will be in a 3 x 3 x 3 configuration with 31 inches of seat pitch and personal 11-inch touchscreen IFE screens at every seat.
Finnair is a Oneworld member, so if you wanted to use miles to fly its route from Helsinki to Shanghai, for example, you could use American Airlines or US Airways miles, or British Airways Avios. American would charge you 35,000/52,500 miles each way in economy/business. US Airways would charge you 60,000-80,000 miles in economy/business round-trip. BA would require 25,000 Avios each way for economy, or 50,000 Avios for business class.
Lufthansa: This German carrier currently has an order of 25 A350-900’s, with an option to order up to 35 more (Lufthansa is actually Airbus’s biggest customer overall). Delivery is expected to begin some time in 2016—good news for long-haul flyers currently stuck on some of the airline’s aging 747’s and A330-340’s. The new aircraft is supposed to be much quieter and more comfortable. There’s no word yet on where the airline will fly the new planes, but if it puts them on its routes from Frankfurt to the US, you’ll be able to use your United miles to fly it for 30,000/70,000 miles each way in economy/business respectively.
Qatar: As of now, Qatar is the only airline flying the A350, though that should change soon. Qatar introduced it to much fanfare as one of the planes on its twice-daily route from Doha to Frankfurt. Qatar has the jet configured in two classes, with 36 seats in business class and 247 in economy. The airline currently has 80 planes on order: 43 A350-900’s and 37 A350-1000’s.
Qatar is a Oneworld member, so you could use American Airlines or US Airways miles to fly this route as an award. American would require 20,000/30,000 miles each way in economy/business, while US Airways would require 40,000/60,000 miles round-trip. You could transfer points to British Airways from Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, or American Express Membership Rewards (along with a 40% transfer bonus through January 31, 2015), and redeem 12,500/25,000 Avios for economy/business. The airline also plans to introduce the plane on its route from Doha to New York at some point in the future. For that redemption, you would need 45,000/67,500 AA miles each way in economy/business, or 80,000/120,000 US Airways miles round-trip in economy/business.
Singapore Airlines: Singapore has kept adding to its order, and now has plans to fly 70 of these new jets in the A350-900 size. Delivery is expected to begin by the end of 2015.
Let’s say the airline introduces this aircraft on its routes from Singapore to Australia. If you wanted to use your United miles to fly from Singapore to Australia or vice versa (one of the bright spots in the recent devaluation), you would need just 17,500/30,000 miles each way in economy/business. If you wanted to fly from Singapore to the Middle East, you would need 35,000/60,000 miles each way in economy/business.
Remember that Singapore Krisflyer is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, SPG, and Citi ThankYou Rewards, and if you book a Krisflyer award on the Singapore Airlines website, you get a 15% mileage discount. So if you transferred your miles to Krisflyer, you would need 21,250/46,750 miles from Singapore to Sydney or Melbourne, or 21,250/38,250 miles for economy/business from Singapore to the Middle East.
United: United originally ordered 25 A350-900’s in 2013, but later converted that into an order of 35 A350-1000’s. Unfortunately, delivery is not expected to begin until 2018. There’s no word yet on the configuration, though it’s expected United will forgo a Global First cabin to include just BusinessFirst, Economy Plus and regular economy seating. While United recently devalued its award chart, many of the awards on its own metal did not increase (though partner redemptions went through the roof in some cases), so you can still find some decent values redeeming United miles on United’s own flights. United is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus card, so that’s a quick way to top up your account for a redemption if needed.
According to preliminary plans, the airline intends to use the A350-1000’s (starting in 2017) on its routes from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Australia (Sydney and Melbourne), which would require 40,000/70,000 miles each way in economy/business.
Vietnam Airlines: With just 10 A350-900’s on order, this Asia-based SkyTeam carrier is certainly not the largest customer, though the order is a big move in its evolution into a global airline. It plans to launch six weekly flights from Hanoi to Paris Charles de Gaulle on September 30, 2015 aboard a new A350-900XWB. If you wanted to fly the new route, you could use either Delta miles or Flying Blue (Air France/KLM) miles, since the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. Flying Blue would charge you 40,000 miles each way in economy or 100,000 miles each way in business class. Delta would require 50,000 miles each way in economy or 80,000 in business class.
Other airlines with A350 orders include:
- Air France
- Air Mauritius
- British Airways
- China Airlines
- Ethiopian Airlines
- Hong Kong Airlines
- Kuwait Airways
- SriLankan Airlines
- Thai Airways
Do you plan to fly the A350 soon? Share your plans in the comments below!