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A number of airlines have pumped resources into improving their business-class experiences in recent years, and with all the different options out there, it can be difficult to decide where to spend your hard-earned dollars or accumulated points and miles.
That’s why we’ve launched our Business-Class Battles to compare flights head-to-head across a diverse set of criteria: the booking process, check-in, the lounge, cabin and seats, amenities, in-flight entertainment, food and beverage, service and operational performance. For each of these battles, the author has booked and flown on two different airlines from the same alliance on the same route, just days apart.
You can read the individual reviews that comprise today’s comparison of the British Airways 777-200 and the American Airlines 777-200 to get all the juicy details. But now, let’s take a direct head-to-head look at BA vs. AA on the transatlantic route between New York (JFK) and London (LHR). Let the Business-Class Battle begin!
While there are a number of ways to book these flights, all of them involve major carrier surcharges on the British Airways side and significant government taxes when departing from London in business class:
|Airline Loyalty Program||British Airways
LHR – JFK
JFK – LHR
|American AAdvantage||57,500 miles + ~$479 of taxes and carrier surcharges||57,500 miles + ~$6 of taxes||Starpoints|
|British Airways Avios||50,000 miles + ~$479 of taxes and carrier surcharges||60,000 miles + ~$506 of taxes and carrier surcharges||Amex Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards & Starpoints|
|Alaska Mileage Plan||60,000 miles + ~$492 of taxes and carrier surcharges||50,000 miles + ~$19 of taxes/fees||Starpoints|
|Cathay Pacific||45,000 miles + ~$475 of taxes and carrier surcharges||45,000 miles + taxes||Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards & Starpoints|
To be fair, while British Airways’ surcharges are awful and customer unfriendly — and you get dinged for them even when booking an AA flight with British Airways Avios — if you booked the London to New York leg on American metal with AAdvantage miles, you’d still be on the hook for about $273 in UK departure taxes. Which is also customer unfriendly, but not the fault of British Airways.
However, there are two problems with redeeming AAdvantage miles on American metal. One is that the only flexible currency that can be transferred to AA are Starpoints. While that limits your options, the flip side is you’ll get a 25% bonus when you transfer in batches of 20,000 points. So if you already have at least 7,500 miles in your AAdvantage account, you can transfer just 40,000 Starpoints and have enough for the one-way 57,500 cost.
Unfortunately, the other issue is the lack of award space — AA has gotten ridiculously stingy in releasing premium-cabin space, especially on transatlantic flights. That said, a recent search of New York to London award availability shows some improvement, though that could be short lived.
In the end, we went with a completely different option. Since the round-trip airfare for both legs was just under $3,000 and the 50% points rebate on the Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN was still in effect at the time, we used American Express Membership Rewards points to purchase the ticket directly. That ended up costing 143,700 points, but with no surcharges and no worries about award availability. With the rebate now at only 35%, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good a deal, but it was the right choice at the time.
Verdict: Despite the difficulties, American Airlines wins for not charging carrier surcharges on award flights, and British Airways should be ashamed of itself for continuing the practice, though I’m sure it’s not even a little embarrassed about it.
Note that because of my already existing travel plans, my round-trip flight started and ended in Germany, with a connection in London in both directions. As a result, my lounge experience on the British Airways LHR-JFK leg actually took place in Frankfurt (FRA) in a lounge operated not by BA but by its Oneworld partner, Japan Airlines. So it’s not really a fair comparison, as British Airways does have some legitimately high-end Galleries lounges in Heathrow. With that said…
British Airways: The BA partner lounge operated by JAL in Frankfurt is simple and on the small side, but comfortable — a decent sampling of snacks and beverages were also available. Even though there were a number of passengers there, I had no trouble finding a seat with a small table. The food options consisted of cold cuts, breads, some small sandwiches, a few hot hors d’oeuvres and packaged snacks. The alcoholic options were limited but included the basics, along with red and white wines and plenty of sodas and waters.
American: The new Flagship Lounge at JFK is almost certainly the crown jewel in the AA lounge network at this particular moment, and if you have access to it when you’re traveling through JFK, I recommend checking it out. It has more food and self-serve beverage options than any of the Centurion Lounges, and while in my experience, the dishes are probably a tad more upscale at the Centurion Lounges, the Flagship Lounge has more space and facilities, though it’s also gotten very popular. AA has done an impressive job with the Flagship Lounge and though it doesn’t quite match up to the best lounges in the world, it should be considered to be in the top echelon domestically.
Verdict: Again, this is not a fair comparison as American clearly wins based on the lounges I encountered on this particular trip — note that I’ve previously visited one of the British Airways Galleries lounges at Heathrow and found it to have an impressive variety of food, beverages and services. In a head-to-head comparison, the brand-new AA Flagship Lounge at JFK would have tougher competition against the BA Galleries Lounges at LHR.
Cabin and Seat
|Criteria||British Airways 777-200||American 777-200 (Zodiac seats)|
|Number of Business-Class Seats||48 seats across 6 rows||45 seats across 12 rows|
|Space Between Armrests||20.5 inches||21 inches|
|Lie-Flat Bed Length||72 inches||72 inches|
|Tray Table Size (at full extension)||18″x14″||21″x18″|
|Power Plugs||One universal plug||Two universal plugs|
The number of seats tells the story here — both carriers feature nearly an identical number of business-class seats on the same 777-200 aircraft, but AA has them spread out over 12 rows while British Airways crams them all into just six. The cramped aspect of the dated British Airways Club World seat is further worsened by an alternating front-facing/rear-facing design that leaves you staring uncomfortably at your opposing seat-mate any time the partition between you is lowered, which the flight attendants will do every time they speak to you unless you ask them to stop, as I did.
Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
The 20.5″ measurement from armrest-to-armrest on the BA seat (shown above in 360 degrees) essentially matches the width of the AA seat, but it’s the space beyond those armrests that makes the difference on these competing products. In the British Airways configuration, the wall or partition on either side of your seat is immediately next to the armrests, while the American Airlines seat offers a great deal of extra room on both sides for either the window, aisle or the partition between the two seats in the middle in its 1-2-1 layout. In other words, it’s all about elbow room — there’s lots of it on the American bird and practically none on the British Airways one.
Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
However, the American seat (shown above in 360 degrees) isn’t all roses. The Zodiac business-class seats — while much more modern and spacious than BA’s Club World — have been unpopular with customers thanks to a design flaw that causes it to vibrate whenever the seat-mate in front or behind you moves around. Note that if you can pick one of the seats that isn’t connected to another, you’ll be saved from this issue. Thankfully, AA has canceled its contract with Zodiac and is installing much preferred B/E Aerospace seats in future business-class retrofits.
Verdict: Despite the Zodiac seat issue, American wins because the British Airways Club World seat leaves no room, except in your imagination.
Neither of these airlines offer blow-me-away amenities. The blanket and pillow provided by both were adequate, though the pillow on the British Airways flight was a little on the thin side. The amenity kits didn’t feature any especially exciting or fancy products, but both covered the basics and provided the essentials you’d look for in an amenity kit.
The one other contrast was the actual kit itself. British Airways’ kit looks like a small, sad sack, while American’s kit is a modern, zippered travel bag. I probably wouldn’t end up reusing either of these kits after my trip, but if I did need one, I’d certainly choose the AA’s over the BA sack.
Verdict: Basically a tie, with a slight edge to American for having a better bag.
|Criteria||British Airways 777-200||American 777-200|
|IFE Screen Size||12 inches||15 inches|
|Number of Movies in IFE System||41||275|
|Headphone Availability||Noise-cancelling headphones provided||Noise-cancelling headphones provided|
|Wi-Fi Pricing||No Wi-Fi||$19 for the length of the flight|
|Wi-Fi Speed Test||No Wi-Fi||758 ping
Like much of the Club World product, the IFE system is dated. The controls are sluggish and the selection is limited. In contrast AA’s IFE system is extremely responsive and offers an impressively large selection of movies, TV, music, games and so on.
The Panasonic Wi-Fi on American Airlines was slow but functional for basic business work such as sending emails and light web surfing, though I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to try and watch any videos with it. The price for unlimited Wi-Fi was a reasonable $19 for the entire flight, but for some reason the service itself died about two-thirds of the way through. However, that’s still two-thirds better than British Airways, which still had not installed Wi-Fi service on the plane. The rollout of Wi-Fi on BA is beginning this year, which I suppose is a case of better late than never — once that finally happens on BA’s transatlantic flights, we’ll have to see how it performs.
Verdict: American wins with a superior IFE system and actual Wi-Fi service, even if it didn’t last the entire flight.
Food and Service
The first courses on both airlines were plated nearly identically and both had a primary dish I enjoyed — the melon manchego carpaccio on American and the mozzarella and tomato on British Airways.
Neither airline did its main course beef dish terribly well, but the BA version was drowned in extra sauce, which made everything on the plate very wet. In contrast, AA’s sauce was served on the side.
Both airlines served a form of cheesecake for dessert — BA as a cake, AA in ice cream form — and both were quite delicious.
The second meal on both carriers were also tasty, but I particularly loved the turkey sliders on American, which added at least an extra 1,500 calories to my daily intake. Worth. Every. Calorie.
Finally, when it came to service, both crews did a respectable job but neither was incredibly attentive outside of meal services. In both reviews, I mentioned my gin and tonic issue — minor and nitpicky as it is — regarding how each crew served the drink. While some TPG readers agreed with my complaint, others commented that they prefer a drink to arrive unmixed so they can control the ratio themselves.
Verdict: I personally don’t agree on keeping the gin and tonic separate, but I can understand the argument. That minor quibble aside, the overall service quality was roughly equal, so I’ll call this a tie.
|Criteria||British Airways LHR-JFK||American JFK-LHR|
|Average Departure Delay (April 17-June 16)||37 minutes||20 minutes|
|% of Arrivals Delayed (April 17-June 16)||28%||10%|
|Departure (review flight)||To the minute||11 minutes early|
|Arrival (review flight)||27 minutes early||32 minutes early|
Both of these flights have pretty solid operational performances over time, and that was borne out in my own experience. American Airlines is continuing its somewhat annoying insistence on departing ahead of schedule — my own flight actually closed the door and pushed back 11 minutes early. Jumping the gun by that much doesn’t seem to make much sense when the flight ends up arriving in London 32 minutes early. Also, a check of comparable morning flights on both airlines reveals that AA is already scheduling 20 more minutes than BA in total duration between JFK and LHR. Apparently American still feels there’s not a moment to waste.
Verdict: Both airlines operate this route in a generally timely manner, even if American cheats a bit.
Cue the drum roll… and a hush comes over the crowd as we reveal the final rankings for all categories from my two review flights. Scoring is based on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is best and 1 is worst.
|Criteria||British Airways 777-200||American 777-200|
|Lounge (OW JAL vs. AA Flagship)||5||8|
|Cabin & Seat||5||7|
|Wi-Fi (Pricing and Speed)||1||5|
|Food and Beverage||6||6|
I have to say, these scores feel roughly in line with my experiences and probably aren’t a huge shock to most folks. British Airways Club World certainly isn’t awful, but it’s mediocre at best with routine service and food, one of the less appealing lie-flat seats and no Wi-Fi. American has made major improvements in its international business class over the last few years and deserves credit for it, and though it still doesn’t match up with the very best business-class products in the sky, it certainly should be your choice when it comes to booking Oneworld alliance airlines between New York and London. Especially if you can find award space.
Which would you rather fly? Sound off, below.
Check out our previous Business-Class Battle comparing Lufthansa’s 747-8 to United’s 777-200.
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