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While Iberia doesn’t offer as many routes to the US as its partners, it’s still a good choice for Oneworld flyers. The Pros: lie-flat seats, friendly service and 4 MB of free in-flight Wi-Fi. The Cons: the amenities are lacking and the food is so-so.
Last fall, my friend and I decided to visit Portugal, a country with a phenomenal wine scene, gorgeous natural scenery and fascinating things to do in both Lisbon and Porto. The only question was, how were we going to get there?
For several years, my main US frequent-flyer program has been American Airlines AAdvantage, so I first looked into how I could use my AAdvantage miles for an award ticket from my home base in Los Angeles. There were three obvious choices: I could fly American Airlines to London (LHR), Madrid (MAD) or Barcelona (BCN) and connect to Portugal via Iberia, I could fly British Airways to London and connect from there or I could fly on Iberia to Madrid and connect to Lisbon (LIS).
That third option was the most intriguing for a few reasons. First, award availability in business class on American Airlines’ flights to various European destinations was quite tight when I happened to be looking. Second, flying BA via London would mean incurring several hundred dollars in taxes and carrier-imposed surcharges. Flying on Iberia was a much more attractive option since I’d save money and time. I also think the seats are nicer than those in BA’s Club World, which feel extremely outdated at this point.
The only downside with Iberia is that it only flies to Madrid year-round from New York (JFK) Chicago (ORD) and Miami (MIA), with seasonal service to Los Angeles (LAX) in the spring and summer, so that narrowed down my choices — it was fine by me, though, since I was coming from LA but my friend was based on the East Coast and could meet me in New York or Miami and fly to Madrid and on to Lisbon from there with me. Because we were fairly flexible and just looking to plan our trip for sometime in October 2016, I was able to look at award availability throughout the whole month. Although you can now book Iberia awards online at AA.com, at the time, I had to use BritishAirways.com to search for award seats on its partner. Miracle of miracles, I actually found two business-class award seats on Iberia’s flight from JFK to Madrid early in the month and there were several flight-connection options from Madrid to Lisbon with award seats open.
Now for the tricky part. My friend could travel up to New York on her own, but I had to find a way to get from LA to JFK to catch the connecting flight on Iberia. That’s when I was blessed with a second miracle: a business-class award seat on one of American’s transcontinental flights with lie-flat seats that would get me to JFK the evening before my connection to Madrid. Saver-level awards on those flights can be impossible to find in advance, so I took it as a sign that I was meant to book this award. I could simply tag that onto the transatlantic flight and the connection to Lisbon, and it would be the same number of miles. This was before American’s award-chart devaluation, so my total came to just 50,000 miles plus $124 in taxes and fees. I had to call American Airlines in order to book the award at the time, and they waived the phone-booking charge. We were set!
Or were we? I had booked these awards in March 2016 for travel in October 2016, but in the intervening few months, my plans changed and it turned out I would already be in Europe to meet my friend. So I needed to change my award. In the meantime, American’s devaluation had occurred, and my award would now cost 57,500 miles if I were booking it then. In order to change my award without incurring a higher mileage charge or any fees, I would have to find almost the exact same routing per AA’s policy on changing pre-devaluation award bookings after the award-chart changes had occurred. At the least, I would have to start in Los Angeles and end in Lisbon but also fly Iberia. I would also have to change my ticket by March 2017 (within a year of the original booking).
I went back to the drawing board to see if I could find another Iberia award ticket from New York to Madrid and on to Lisbon, then I would need to tack on an itinerary from LA to New York that would get me there within 24 hours of departure so that it would not count as a stopover and could be combined onto the same award ticket. The first one I found was in January 2017, so I just called American back and made the change to give myself a little breathing room. I was also able to secure the domestic portion aboard a flight from San Francisco (SFO) to JFK with lie-flat seats.
Then my plans changed again and I searched for yet another award that would get me to Europe for another trip I had planned in February. I was actually able to score the same JFK-Madrid-Lisbon routing on Iberia as the two previous awards — the one downside was that I would now have to break up my transcontinental trip by flying through Arkansas. Still, I figured it was worth it to keep my plans and my award intact, so I went ahead and finalized the following booking. All told, I was out just the same 50,000 miles, would incur no further fees since I had made all these changes well in advance and I would get to try Iberia’s most up-to-date business-class product.
As a side note, the other method I would have considered for booking this flight would be to use Iberia’s own Avios since the airline seems to open up more award space to members of its own mileage program. While I don’t have any Iberia Avios, you can transfer Avios from your British Airways Executive Club account into an Iberia account. British Airways is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so topping up your account is a cinch. Iberia itself is also a transfer partner of Amex. The airline also offers off-peak award pricing, which would have been in effect for my itinerary so it would have cost me just 34,000 Avios and about $85 in taxes and fees, as you can see in the itinerary below.
Airport and Lounge
I spent the night before my flight in New York, and my departure wasn’t until that evening, so I had plenty of time to get to the airport. Iberia operates out of Terminal 7 at JFK along with British Airways, Qatar Airways, Aerolineas Argentinas and Icelandair.
There were no queues in either the economy or business-class lines, and I got to use a priority line for security, which left me plenty of time to visit the British Airways lounge.
There were two components to the BA lounge here. One was the British Airways First Lounge, which was open to passengers flying first class on BA or its partners, as well as Oneworld Emerald elites.
The main part of the lounge was the Galleries Lounge, which was open to business- and first-class passengers on BA and its partners, including Iberia, as well as Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire elites. Because my ticket was in Iberia business class, that’s the section I had access to.
The lounge was pretty large. After reception, I turned right and could continue into one of the main seating areas.
At the back of the waiting areas was the Elemis Spa, which wasn’t open during my visit.
To the left was the buffet with hot and cold snacks.
Beyond that was another main seating area.
And a bar with wine, spirits and other beverages.
There was a pub area with beer on tap and salty snacks like chips — or would it be “crisps” in the BA lounge?
A pre-flight dining area for folks looking to maximize their in-flight sleeping time was also available.
I grabbed a café-style table so I could get some work done, had a drink and snacks, then headed down to the gate about 45 minutes before departure — before the display screen in the lounge even said the flight was boarding.
Cabin and Seat
Even with that head start, I wasn’t among the first to board, and the cabin filled up quickly.
Business class aboard Iberia’s A340-600 consisted of a single large cabin with a total of 46 seats. There were 12 rows with four seats each in a staggered 1–2–1 configuration — the first row didn’t have a middle section at all.
These seats were a model called Solstys, manufactured by Stelia Aerospace (the company created by the merger of Aerolia and Sogerma). You might have seen the same seats on Alitalia and aboard the Emirates A380.
The seats along the outside walls of the cabin were staggered so that some had a wide armrest on the aisle with the chair portion closer to the wall, while the others had their larger armrest on the wall with just a narrow one separating them from the aisle. That wide armrest contained the footwell of the seat behind when it was in lie-flat mode.
In the center section, meanwhile, rows also alternated. In some, the seats were separated by their wide armrests with their chairs right on the aisle.
The seats in the other rows were positioned close together with the larger armrests separating them from the aisle and just a narrow armrest between them — they’re typically referred to as “sweetheart seats” because of the close quarters, and are better for couples.
Because I’d booked my flight far in advance, I was able to secure one of the side seats with the wider armrest on the aisle side for the utmost privacy. It was upholstered in gray and had a nice, clean-cut look to it.
The wide armrest on the aisle had a cubby where I could put the menus and amenity kits flight attendants handed out, as well as a place to put a cup. What was interesting about this version of the seat was that the footrest of the one behind me was directly beneath the armrest and did not have a side wall to it — in other words, it was open to the aisle. While that’s nice for not restricting your movement or if you have larger feet, it definitely leaves you exposed to the aisle. The ottomans on the more private side seats, however, give you the both privacy and more room, though the passenger in front of me decided to hang his coat on mine.
That wide armrest was also where I found everything else of interest. It had a little ledge to rest my hand or arm on, and above this was the touchscreen remote for the entertainment system. Next to that were the buttons controlling the seat positions. There were three pre-set positions for takeoff, landing, lounging and sleeping, as well as a button for massage functions and arrows to adjust the individual parts of the seat.
Below the arm ledge was a little cubby for a phone or a camera and beneath it was a panel with a universal power port, a USB port and the headphone jack. Seats also had individual reading lights, which I could brighten and turn off with the push of a button.
Iberia saved on space by choosing a seat model with a decidedly old-school tray-table setup. It was basically a panel that stowed flat up against the seat-back in front of me and unlatched and swung into place. Compared to more sophisticated versions on airlines like Cathay and Qatar, this one felt practically primitive. That said, it was slender and saved on both weight and space in the seat.
The seats reclined to beds with a full length of just over 78 inches, which was fine for me, but might have been restrictive for taller passengers. It was 26 inches wide, which was actually wider than a lot of business-class seats.
The pillow and blanket waiting at each seat were less than impressive, but comfortable at least for a short snooze.
Each seat had its own 15.4-inch touchscreen entertainment system, which felt pretty up-to-date and of a decent size. I could control it with a 4.2-inch handheld touchscreen remote as well.
The system had about 80 movies, including plenty of new releases in several languages, as well as television shows, music and games. There were noise-cancelling headphones waiting for me at my seat.
Shortly after I boarded, a flight attendant came by to introduce herself and hand me an amenity kit. These cute little kits were purple with red zippers and contained the usual suspects — a toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, socks and earplugs — as well as L’Occitane lip balm, moisturizer and cleansing wipes.
The other interesting thing about Iberia is that Wi-Fi is available and business-class passengers get a quick hit of four megabytes for free. I used mine to send a couple of texts and emails from my iPhone.
There were pay options available as well, but I didn’t feel like spending $20 for a measly amount of Wi-F, plus I wanted to eat quickly and try to get as much rest as possible.
Food and Beverage
My flight departed at 5:30pm, but because it was only seven hours till landing, the flight attendants got right to work on meal service soon after takeoff. First, they came through offering beverages with olives and warm nuts from a cart. I opted for a glass of white wine from Rioja.
The airline claims to take its food and wine program seriously and says it offers dishes featuring seasonal Spanish produce and vinos that highlight the country’s wine industry. But when I’d read other reviews of Iberia’s business class, including one written by TPG back in 2013, the menu was identical! The airline hasn’t changed its menu on this route in at least three years, which is crazy, especially given the airline’s claims of seasonality.
There was also a bit of a wait — like, almost an hour — while the trays were being prepared. Though I got some work done during this time, it did eat into the flight time, so to speak. My meal started with a selection of appetizers that included veal consommé, marinated salmon with fresh greens and hearts of palm, a plate of cheeses and bread with olive oil.
Among the main dishes offered were duck with raspberries in a port sauce, sun dried tomato tortellini with tomato sauce and the one I chose, king prawns in an “American sauce” that was basically butter, with steamed baby potatoes. It was nothing special, but it was still tasty and a nice, light option. I went against wine protocol and had a red Ribera del Duero with my seafood, and it hit the spot.
For dessert, I tried the chocolate and fudge cake, but it was really like a piece of frozen pudding with chocolate shavings on top. I only had a bite and a glass of port, which ended up being my real dessert.
Meal service ended about 2.5 hours into the flight, leaving just about 4.5 hours. Because I wanted to rest as much as possible, I decided to skip the breakfast service, which came through about 90 minutes before landing and included orange juice, fresh fruit and yogurt, croissants or toast and a selection of coffee or tea. I slept right through it, so I commend the cabin crew on being quiet and not disturbing sleeping passengers. This is where my seat really shone, since that big armrest kept me insulated from any aisle activity.
I also want to mention the flight attendants briefly. I had heard that Iberia’s flight attendants can be brusque, but all the FAs on my flight were delightful — they were friendly and diligent, told jokes and patiently practiced Spanish with me — and the service was actually a highlight of my trip.
All told, I had a really nice experience on Iberia. Was it mind-blowing? No. The seats were fine and the food was just OK. The brevity of the flight also meant that I wasn’t terribly well-rested. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Iberia’s longer Los Angeles-Madrid route when it is operating. The seats were comfortable for working, eating and sleeping, and I managed to get as much rest as possible. The entertainment system was quite good and easy to use and the service was charming.
To be honest, I would prefer to fly in American’s newer business-class seats, since I appreciate the privacy of reverse-herringbone configurations. But Iberia’s business class turned out to be a great choice. Not only did flying Iberia save me from paying hefty taxes and fees on British Airways or on American via London, but the fact that I was able to book and rebook my award post-devaluation at the 50,000-mile level made it feel like something of a bargain as well.
Have you flown in business class on Iberia’s JFK-Madrid route? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.
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