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EgyptAir’s business class was a solid but no-frills way to get to Egypt from the US. The Pros: Great award availability, nonstop service that means no annoying stopovers or the hassle of transiting in large airports like London Heathrow (LHR). The Cons: A dated product, middle seats in business class and indifferent-to-surly service.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express
As much as I like flying the nicest airlines in the world, time is still money. On a recent whirlwind trip with my Dad to Egypt and Jordan, I wanted to maximize my time on the ground exploring two new countries, so when it came time to fly from New York (JFK) to Cairo (CAI), I went with the only nonstop option, EgyptAir. Even though it’s not known as being one of the fanciest airlines — and it doesn’t serve alcohol — I decided it made the most sense for us. And heck, this trip was all about adventure, so it seemed like a fun choice to me.
Since I was on a trip with my father, I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time working on a full flight review, so bear with me on this one. I’m going to keep it to a minimum — then again, that’s what EgyptAir was all about, so I guess it makes sense.
Because EgyptAir is a Star Alliance partner, you can book your trip through popular programs like United’s MileagePlus or Aeroplan — for this business-class flight, I shelled out 80,000 United miles (plus $5.60 in taxes), which I transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards. Note that United recently updated its award chart, so this flight in biz will now cost 85,000 miles one way. Signing up for travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve lets you earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of opening your account — another option is to apply for the Chase Ink Business Preferred Card, which offers an 80,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first three months. Alternatively, you can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan. A one-way business-class flight on EgyptAir from the US/Canada to Cairo will cost you 82,500 Aeroplan miles (plus $5.60 in taxes). The Platinum Card® from American Express is currently offering a 60,000 point welcome bonus after you spend $5,000 in the first three months, while the The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express gives you 50,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months.
EgyptAir flights tend to be pretty cheap, and you can typically find one-way business-class flights on this route for about $1,900 while round-trip tickets tend to hover around $2,700 each. Using 160,000 United miles for a round-trip flight wouldn’t really be the best redemption — Egyptair business is basically just a very nice version of premium economy, plus you’d only be getting 1.7 cents per United mile in value, which is just okay in my opinion.
That said, there are some cool tricks so you can do to increase the overall value of your miles. You could use 80,000 miles to fly from New York to Cairo, then continue to Johannesburg (JNB) after a 12-hour layover in Cairo — all in business class — essentially giving you two destinations for the price of one. A 12-hour layover in Cairo is definitely enough time to go see the pyramids since they’re only about an hour away from the airport, so if you want to do that on the way to South Africa, it could be a great option.
Getting to JFK
I really wanted to treat my Dad on this trip so I splurged and got us two seats on a BLADE helicopter to take us from Manhattan’s West Side to JFK in just five minutes. You can get your own seat on the “Uber for helicopters” service for $195 one way — it actually codes as a travel purchase on credit cards like the Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred, so you’ll be earning a solid amount of points for your flight as well. It was awesome to see my Dad’s face light up seeing the New York City skyline from the chopper. It was his first time in a helicopter, too, which made the experience even more special. If you’re interested in trying out BLADE for yourself, click here and enter referral code THEPOINTSGUY (case sensitive) to earn $100 in credit — which is applied in $50 increments — to use toward BLADE flights.
Check-In and Boarding
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 6:30pm, which is basically rush hour at JFK’s Terminal 4. EgyptAir doesn’t participate in TSA PreCheck either, so even though we were in the first-class lane, it still took more than an hour for us to get through security.
Because of that, we were only able to spend 15 minutes in the lounge. Flying in EgyptAir’s business class gives you access to two lounges in Terminal 4 — the Swiss Lounge and The Lounge. We headed to the Swiss lounge, which was perfectly fine. A variety of southern food options were available, ranging from mashed potatoes to green beans. Unfortunately, there was only cold food in the lounge, and it wasn’t very impressive.
On the Champagne front — always important to me — we were offered only Freixenet Brut. At just $10 a bottle, it’s pretty bottom-of-the-barrel. It’s actually not even Champagne, but rather a Spanish bubbly.
There was also a self-service bar featuring the usual spirits and the choice of red or white wine.
Next time I might try The Lounge or head to the Wingtips Lounge in Terminal 4, with is part of the Priority Pass Network. Cards like the Amex Platinum, CSR and Citi Prestige offer complimentary Priority Pass memberships.
It eventually dawned on me that our flight wouldn’t be serving alcohol because EgyptAir is a dry airline. Most times, you can bring your own alcohol on board and the crew will serve it to you. I tried to buy some at the duty free shop but unfortunately, you need to do that 90 minutes before departure so this wasn’t an option for us this time around. We soon came up with a plan — instead of boarding early, my Dad and I headed to the bar next to the gate so we could be among the last to board. We had a nice drink and even purchased a couple of cans at the bar to bring along with us. What can I say, we’re both named Brian Kelly and we both like a good beer!
There was so much security when we boarded that my Dad’s carry-on bag — which was the normal size — had to be checked to our final destination by a security guard. It was annoying, but not the end of the world. When I asked the flight attendant if we could drink our beer, she said “I couldn’t care less — do what you want.” She didn’t ask us to hand over the beer so she could pour it for us, and was totally OK with us serving ourselves — we only had a couple anyway.
Cabin and Seat
EgyptAir operates a 777-300ER on its long-haul flights — including from JFK to Cairo — its 77W is set up with a 2-3-2 configuration in business class, with a total of 49 angle-flat seats. You’ll also find 297 seats in economy in a roomy 3-3-3 arrangement.
Unfortunately, EgyptAir doesn’t have the best business-class product. The seats are angle-flat, meaning they can’t recline to a full 180 degrees, which is generally the norm with any decent international business-class product. On top of that, not every seat has direct aisle access so you’ll have to jump over people if you’re seated by a window — or, even worse, you may even be stuck in the dreaded middle seat.
The seats have 60 inches of pitch and are 76 inches long when fully reclined. They’re 20 inches wide, too, so you won’t be totally crammed between the armrests. Between each seat is an extendable partition that grants passengers a little privacy.
My Dad and I had window seats, but if I was traveling by myself, I would have chosen to sit in the center row in an aisle seat and hope that the person in the middle either wasn’t there or didn’t climb over me. If you’re traveling with a friend, you should be fine — my Dad and I had no issues.
Here’s my seat in “bed” mode with the provided bedding. There was a small reading light built into each seat that can twist and turn, which was great if you wanted to read before turning in for the night. I was able to nab four hours of relatively comfortable sleep.
The amenity kits we received were pretty bare-bones — they looked cute but we didn’t even get ear plugs, so you’ll definitely want to bring your own. I also brought my own pajamas to change into since EgyptAir doesn’t provide any.
Inside were a pair of socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a pen and a moist towelette.
EgyptAir has a solid in-flight entertainment system featuring a 15.4-inch screen. It was operated by a small controller that’s attached by a cable to each seat. IFE was minimal with a handful of western movies and TV shows. I didn’t bother much with it because I always bring my own laptop loaded with shows. I recommend doing the same when flying on a relatively no-frills carrier like EgyptAir.
Food and Service
The food on EgyptAir was just okay — nothing to write home about but nothing to really complain about either. The menu was small, but reasonable.
The service level was similar to what you’d find on a US Airways domestic flight — anyone who flew US Airways back in the day will know exactly what I mean. The flight attendants weren’t necessarily rude, but really seemed like they were bothered to be there. It felt like everything was done at a bare minimum effort-wise — for instance, when the appetizer plate was brought out, the FA didn’t even bother to remove the plastic wrapping.
The meal also didn’t come out for over an hour after take-off and there was obviously no rush on the crew’s part. The food was similar to what you’d see in domestic first class. The pasta ran out so I got the chicken — I don’t remember what it tasted like, because, well, it didn’t taste like anything! My dad had the lamb chops and said they were fine. I was so tired after a couple of beers that I ended up sleeping all the way until we landed and didn’t even have breakfast.
Overall, I’d say EgyptAir was a fine way to get from JFK to Cairo. It might have been a cutting-edge business class 15 years ago, but now pales in comparison to other business class products out there. It was great not having to connect through Europe, though, and the convenience of having a nonstop flight from the US to Egypt is the main luxury of flying on this carrier. I would fly on it again, but wouldn’t go out of my way to do so — I’d just recommend that people go in with lowered expectations.
Have you flown in business class on EgyptAir? Tell us about your experience, below.
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