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Last week, I had to be in Monaco for a few days (to accept an award on behalf of a youth group in Ghana that won Peace Jam’s One Billion Acts of Peace Service Project of the Year, and to attend the Monaco International TV and Film Festival) and was glad to find a last-minute seat in business class aboard Delta’s Boeing 767-400, nonstop from New York-JFK to Nice (NCE).
As many regular TPG readers know, I used to be a Delta fan boy (read: Diamond Medallion), but I’ve officially broken up with the airline for a number of reasons. Though its product is generally average, Delta seems to both overvalue and overcharge for its services — especially when it comes to redeeming miles. That said, there are some advantages to flying Delta; in particular, it offers several nonstop flights from JFK to smaller European cities, including Copenhagen, Nice, Málaga and Venice.
While these nonstop flights are appealing, it still seems to take a crazy amount of miles to redeem for a flight, especially with Delta’s constant devaluations. I could’ve saved a bit on miles had I taken a different flight with a layover or with another carrier, but I was focused on maximizing my time with just a few days in Monaco, so I shelled out 147,500 SkyMiles each way to avoid connecting in Europe.
Check-in and the Delta Sky Club
My flight from JFK departed at 9:05pm, allowing me to maximize my day in New York while still having time to get to the airport and explore some of Delta’s Terminal 4 at JFK.
But first, I had to check in using Delta’s priority service (available for Delta One and Elite Status flyers) located at the far right end of the terminal. Delta and Virgin have their own dedicated priority areas in the terminal with a super friendly and helpful staff. I was able to get through the line in almost no time, then made my way to the Delta Sky Club located at Terminal 4.
My Delta One ticket gave me access to the Delta Sky Club, but Delta’s guest policy is unfortunately pretty strict, so I wasn’t able to bring my travel companion in with me until I paid a fee of $50 (or $29 with my Amex Platinum). American’s policy of two guest allowances and United’s of one guest allowance are both more generous.
Along with my Delta One ticket, I also got a complimentary coupon for a free tasting menu in the lounge. After getting myself settled, I grabbed a table … but was immediately barked at because it was apparently for restaurant patrons only. I couldn’t redeem my coupon in that area, so I ended up having to sit in a different area and flag down a waitress there — which proved to be quite difficult. Definitely not the fanciest of lounge dining experiences.
In addition to the tasting menu, the lounge also has a small salad buffet with limited options.
The best part about the club by far is the Delta Sky Deck, an outside patio where you can watch planes take off and land. Fortunately, I happened to be there around 7pm — prime time for watching Europe-bound flights depart, so I saw a few 747s and some other exciting aircraft. The Sky Deck also has free drinks (Brooklyn Lager and Bud Light — anything more will be an upcharge) and a DJ who plays every Thursday.
I also ran into TPG reader Marcus while waiting for my flight on the flight deck — it was nice to meet you, Marcus!
Despite the amenities the Delta Sky Club offers, I don’t think it’s worth the $50 price tag. The limit on guests is annoying, and the food and drink options are pretty basic. It’s a nice diversion if you have elite status or your flight includes access, but I wouldn’t shell out $50 unless I had a really long layover.
The convenience of a nonstop flight from New York to Nice made this route especially appealing to me. I used 295,000 miles round-trip on this journey, but I could have found much better rates had I been willing to stop in London or Paris. While Delta is generally a fine experience, I feel that the carrier overvalues its relatively subpar products. For example, if I had used Amex Membership Rewards points, I could’ve flown on Singapore first class for just 110,000 miles each way, and that experience blows Delta out of the water on every single level.
If you have a ton of unused Delta Sky miles, this flight might be worth it for you — it was for me based on my points and the convenience of flying into Nice — but you can definitely find a better deal.
It’s important to note that even though this particular flight required almost 300,000 miles, if I’d paid in cash it would’ve cost more than $14,000! (Sounds insane, I know, but check out the screenshot above.) At this rate, my outlay of 295,000 miles turned out to be a not-so-terrible deal, yielding a value of about 4.8 cents per mile. That said, I also wouldn’t normally pay so much for a flight, but on this luxury route, there are many who do.
On the Plane
I’ve flown this product before (and ones similar to it) from JFK to Europe. On the 767-400, the staggered seats are arranged in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration with 40 spots available in the cabin.
The business-class seat itself feels cramped, with a width of only 21 inches — narrower than the 26-inch-wide business-class seats on American’s 777-300ER, but with a bit more give than the 20-inch-wide ones on United’s 767-400.
The seat does include access to power and USB outlets, Wi-Fi ($16 for a 24-hour pass) and a video-on-demand touchscreen, but I hate its lack of storage space. During takeoff I didn’t have anywhere to place my phone and other belongings, and to make matters worse, there’s also an inch-wide crack between the window and the seat where items can — and did — fall. This happened a couple of times throughout the flight with my phone and menu, and it was quite a nuisance.
The aisle seats are also very exposed. Even in business class I had to worry about getting hit by the food cart because my legs were sticking out into the aisle. To avoid this particular issue, I recommend the odd-numbered seats flush against the window so you’re not exposed. (For couples, it doesn’t really matter because the seats are always against each other.) I was in row 10, which doesn’t have any windows, and the crew rest seat is in row 9A.
The business-class seats have the so-called Delta Heavenly Bed, which in reality is just a pillow and blanket to go with your thin, flat bed — not quite the heavenly experience I was hoping for.
Despite the narrow width and the lackluster bed, though, I was still able to sleep pretty solidly for about five hours. Delta’s business-class seat may be a bit claustrophobic, but it does the job.
Food and Service
Overall I found the experience to be enjoyable. The flight attendants were friendly and helpful. While on the ground, we were served some sparkling wine while waiting for takeoff, and despite the fact that on foreign carriers you might have the chance to get a second drink, I wasn’t bothered by the one-drink service. I don’t want to be half-drunk on the tarmac!
The food was pretty good, too. We started with a shrimp appetizer served with some sort of ranch dipping sauce (see photo above), which was really tasty.
Then I was served a small salad with some arugula sprouts and goat cheese — it didn’t taste bad, but was possibly the saddest looking salad I’ve ever seen on a plate.
The most controversial part of my in-flight dining experience was soup served in a coffee mug, paired with a pretzel roll. The soup and bread themselves were delicious, but some flyers might not like this presentation. I personally didn’t mind it — I think a coffee mug is a pretty functional answer to the potential problem of soup and turbulence — I just think you would never see this on more formal carriers.
The four main entree choices were:
-Seared Beef Tenderloin
-Chicken Cacciatore (my choice)
-Three Cheese Manicotti
-Chilled Plate (Cold fried chicken and potato salad)
My choice, the Chicken Cacciatore, was a bit fatty, while I would have greatly preferred a lean, simple chicken breast; the stand-out in this course was the yummy side of garlic broccolini.
For dessert, there were ice cream sundaes and other little treats, as well as some huge strawberries which were pretty darn divine. The specific options were:
-Vanilla Ice Cream Sunday
-Tasting of Sweet Treats
-Selection of Fine Cheeses
In terms of service, the biggest hiccup was at breakfast. I woke up about 50 minutes prior to arrival, and the staff essentially rushed me through breakfast so that they could begin packing up for our descent. The attendants said that they’re required to finish service 45 minutes before landing, so I really only had five minutes to scarf down my breakfast. For some reason, foreign carriers are much less focused on rushing service than US carriers. In my opinion, needing to be completely done with service 45 minutes prior to arrival is a little extreme.
In addition to my choices, there were several wine and Champagne options on the flight:
-Villa Antinori Bianco Toscana IGT (Italy 2013)
-Villa Wolf Riesling Dry Loosen Brothers (Germany 2013)
-Frescobaldi Castiglioni Chianti (Italy 2013)
-Ontañón Bodegas Reserva (Spain 2004)
-Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaïque (Reims, France NV)
Delta was a great choice for this particular situation. The direct flight to Nice was crucial to me for maximizing limited time in Monaco, and with quite a few Delta SkyMiles saved up, it didn’t break the bank. I normally wouldn’t pay for a $14,000+ flight, but I was still able to redeem miles at a pretty good value.
However, Delta still overvalues its service. Neither the food nor the comfort of the flight was anything spectacular, so it’s a tough sell with so many better options on different carriers and routes. Overall, this is just a normal flight. If I had paid the full $14,000 for it, I’d have had a heart attack.
Soon coming: reviews of my helicopter transfer from Nice (NCE) to the Le Méridien Monaco, and my stay at that hotel!
Know before you go.
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