A Screaming Biz-Class Deal: Flying Aeromexico's 787-8 From Mexico City to Santiago
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Ever since I reached Platinum Medallion status with Delta last year, I've been thinking about how I'd re-qualify (or maybe even go for Diamond) this year. I knew that I'd be relying heavily on buying discounted business-class fares on partner airlines to meet both the Medallion Qualification Mile and Medallion Qualification Dollar requirements for Medallion status.
Sometimes the stars align and a great flight deal appears — such as business-class fares on SkyTeam partner Aeromexico between New York (JFK) and Santiago, Chile (SCL), with a stop in Mexico City (MEX) for under $1,000 round-trip. While the JFK-MEX leg was operated by an unexciting 737, the eight-hour leg from MEX to SCL was operated by the carrier's new(ish) Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, which I hadn't flown before. While the 788 doesn't feature the carrier's newest reverse-herringbone business-class configuration, it still offers a solid ride for long-haul flights.
Once these amazing deals started popping up, I immediately booked my ticket between NYC and the Chilean capital for $980 round-trip — even cheaper than we'd originally found. I used my Platinum Card® from American Express so I could earn 5x points on my purchase — a total of 4,900 in this case, worth about $93, according to TPG's latest valuations.
The main event, earnings-wise, came after the flight, though. Aeromexico is a joint-venture partner with Delta, and earnings on the airline are pretty strong, especially for business-class fares. Fares booked into the C, D and I fare classes (i.e. biz class) earn 200% redeemable miles, 150% Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and 40% Medallion Qualifying Dollars or MQDs, based on distance flown. Plus, Delta Medallions earn bonus miles on top of that on Aeromexico flights — as a Platinum member, I earned 80% bonus miles.
In total, I earned 18,522 MQMs, $4,940 MQDs and 34,574 redeemable SkyMiles (12,348 base miles + 22,226 bonus miles) for the round-trip journey. This trip alone almost provided enough miles to move up a whole level of status — after the flight I was just shy of Gold Medallion for the 2019 Medallion year.
Note that before April 1, 2018, Aeromexico business-class flights earned 200% MQMs, but Delta lowered the earning rate on discounted business-class fares for flights after April 1. I just missed the cutoff and thus earned at the 150% rate.
Be aware that if you're looking to earn miles with Delta through Aeromexico, some people who have taken similar flights have had difficulty getting the miles post to their SkyMiles accounts. Luckily, I had no such trouble, but if you have a similar flight coming up, or would like to book one in the future, make sure you bring printed copies of your boarding passes so that you have the proper documentation in case you have to request a mileage credit with Delta.
If you're looking to use miles to book Aeromexico flights to South America, the first places to look are Delta and FlyingBlue. However, it's difficult to get either program to show availability for the complete itinerary, likely due to issues on Aeromexico's end. For example, Delta will allow you to book the JFK-MEX as well as a MEX-SCL leg with SkyMiles, but not the full itinerary: JFK-MEX-SCL. The same issue arises with FlyingBlue... certainly frustrating. But, considering that it's fairly easy to get from the US to Mexico City, you could piece together an itinerary — for example, you could book a JFK-MEX flight in economy for as little as 17,500 SkyMiles and then use FlyingBlue for the long-haul segment. Depending on what FlyingBlue is charging on the day you'd like to fly, you could potentially get decent value for your miles, though there are no guarantees right now with Flying Blue. If you do go that route, remember that it's easy to boost your FlyingBlue account, as the program partners with all three major points currencies: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou.
The first leg of the journey was scheduled to depart at 1:55am, so I arrived at JFK around 12:30am to check in (for some reason I was unable to do so online). I headed to the deserted SkyPriority lane and just a few minutes later was through the (very short) security line and en route to my gate.
Aeromexico recently moved into Terminal 4 at JFK to be closer to its joint venture partner Delta. Thus, if you're traveling on a premium ticket with AM, you can access the SkyClub at T4. But the lounge was closed when I arrived, so I waited for boarding to commence at the gate. Once boarding did begin, it was basically a mad dash to get on board the 737. I get it, though — it was very late and people were anxious to get on board so they could catch some shut-eye before starting the day in Mexico City.
Since I booked a business-class ticket, the JFK-MEX leg booked into first class. It was operated by a 737, and there wasn't anything interesting about the flight — I fell asleep almost immediately and woke up to a dark and bumpy descent into MEX.
Aeromexico Salón Premier
Upon landing in Mexico City, passengers had to clear customs and immigration, even if connecting to another international flight. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to go through security again — not ideal before 6:00am. Despite the annoyance of going through security again, the whole process was relatively quick because we arrived so early in the morning.
After clearing security, I headed straight to the Aeromexico Salón Premier — I had access since I was flying in a premium cabin, but both AM lounges at MEX are part of the Priority Pass program, meaning you could get access if you had any one of a number of premium credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Amex Platinum.
I didn't have high expectations for the lounge, and I'd say that it met them, and perhaps surpassed them. The Salón Premier was on the second floor in Terminal 2, a pretty quick walk after security.
The lounge was a decent size and featured a number of different seating options, including seats around a circular bar and small tables in private nooks. Overall, the space felt surprisingly modern, with high ceilings and generous amounts of wood trim.
The real highlight, though, was the food. When I first arrived, just fruits, pastries and breads were available.
About a half hour later, lounge staff brought out several hot options including — wait for it — nachos! These were really chilaquiles, not nachos, but regardless they were a delight and exactly what I needed after a red-eye 737 flight.
Cabin and Seat
Aeromexico's 787-8 featured B/E Aerospace Diamond seats in business class — the same you'd find on many other carriers, such as United. The 32 seats were spread across two cabins and were arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration.
The front cabin had 24 seats spread across four rows, while the smaller, more private cabin in the back had just eight seats. Each seat was 20 inches wide and featured 60 inches of pitch.
Aeromexico also has larger 787-9 Dreamliners in its fleet, and these planes come equipped with a much more desirable reverse-herringbone 1-2-1 configuration, meaning that every passenger had direct aisle access.
I found the business-class cabin of this 788 to be pretty standard, though I do think that the airline chose an ... interesting ... color for the seats. They were predominantly purple and black, and while they weren't ugly by any means, the color scheme struck me as odd, since neither purple nor black is in the airline's livery.
Whenever I fly on aircraft with this seat type, I always face a conundrum when selecting seats — do I go with my inner AvGeek and choose the window seat, or do I make a more pragmatic choice and sit next to the aisle so I don't have to climb over anyone? This time around I chose the window seat — 3A — and I'm glad I did, because the electronically-dimmable windows on the Dreamliner were just so cool.
If you're seated in the larger business cabin, Row 3 is the way to go — you're far enough away from the galleys so you don't get too much noise, and you're not too close to the lavatories, so passengers don't crowd around you.
As has been noted many times over, these seats don't provide the most privacy. There's just a small, fixed plastic partition between you and your neighbor. Granted, the seats are staggered a bit, so it's not like you're staring at your seatmate the whole flight, but still.
Another shortcoming of these seats is that they don't provide a whole lot of room for your feet if you're not seated in a bulkhead row. The ledge below the IFE screen was quite useful to me, though, as it was the perfect place to keep my passport, phone and wallet during the flight.
The simple seat controls as well as the IFE remote and in-flight literature can be found to the side.
The lack of foot room wasn't a huge deal for me on this flight because it was a daytime flight and I wasn't trying to get a full night's sleep. I did, however, want to take a nice nap, and I could easily get comfortable when I reclined the seat into its fully flat position.
Food and Beverage
After I was settled in my seat, flight attendants came around to take pre-departure beverage orders. They offered a choice of water or orange juice. No alcoholic beverages were offered before takeoff.
The flight departed MEX in the midmorning, so the first meal service was a lunch, served about an hour after taking off. Flight attendants came around to take another round of drink orders (I asked for a glass of sparkling wine and still water) and to serve the amuse-bouche, which was a small serving of brie and manchego cheese, along with crackers and fruit.
The dishes on the menu were designed by Enrique Olvera, the owner of Mexico City's acclaimed Pujol restaurant. For lunch, business-class passengers had the choice of chicken breast with lentil salad and roasted chilacayota; short ribs with couscous, nuts, aquaculture-grown herbs and tomatillo; or penne with tomato sauce and green olives, topped with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
They all were served with an appetizer of asparagus with pumpkin-seed sauce, arugula salad and assorted breads. I chose the pasta, as I wasn't all that hungry after feasting in the lounge at the airport. It may not have been the most beautiful plate of pasta, and not at all Mexican, but it hit the spot, and I was an especially big fan of the asparagus dish.
To drink, business-class passengers could choose between a variety of beers, wines and spirits, including: Champagne (Jacquart Brut); white wine (Santa Carolina Reservado chardonnay or Montes Alpha chardonnay, both from Chile); red wine (Santa Carolina Reservado cabernet sauvignon or Montes Alpha cabernet sauvignon, both from Chile); port (Porto Ferreira tawny); beer (Corona, Corona Light, Heineken, Tecate Light or Stella Artois); and spirits (Maestro Tequilero reposado, Maestro Tequilero Dobel, Stolichnaya vodka, Beefeater gin, Glenlivet, Johnnie Walker Black, Matusalem Platino rum, St-Rémy Napoleon VSOP brandy, Xtabetún anise liquor and Baileys Irish Cream).
I chose the Montes Alpha cabernet sauvignon to go with my meal and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a nice prelude to spending time in Chilean wine country outside of Santiago.
Dessert was a moist orange pound cake with whipped cream and fruit. It was just the right amount of sweet after my meal, and the portion size was perfect.
The second meal service was more of a snack than a full dinner and consisted of a plate of fresh fruit and a choice of chicken tamale with green tomatillo salsa or a turkey club sandwich. I chose the tamale and really enjoyed it, especially the tomatillo salsa, which was spicy without being overbearing. I also enjoyed the fresh, juicy fruit but skipped the packaged chocolates, as I'd had enough sweetness with the cake.
Waiting at my seat when I boarded were a full-size pillow, a substantial duvet, a pair of over-ear headphones, a water bottle and an amenity kit. Usually I think duvets are too hot on planes, but this Dreamliner was equipped with individual air vents, so I didn't get too hot while I was napping. The pillow was great, and felt more substantial than many other pillows I've gotten in business class.
The provided headphones were mediocre at best, but I had my own pair with me, so it wasn't an issue.
The Boggi amenity kit was pretty standard in terms of its contents — it came packed with shea lotion and lip balm from Institut Karité Paris, hand sanitizer, a toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, eye mask and pair of socks.
Aeromexicos's IFE screen was sharp and responsive, and it came with a solid amount of content. I was able to find several movies that I wanted to watch, and I actually couldn't get to everything on my to-watch list, a problem I don't often have while flying.
After watching two movies, I gazed at the airshow map for a bit before catching a few hours of shut-eye.
Aeromexico offered Wi-Fi on its Dreamliner fleet. There were three packages, ranging in price from $1.95 for 5 MB to $21.95 for the whole flight or 110 MB, whichever came first. I always seem to have bad luck with in-flight Wi-Fi, so I skipped it.
I really enjoyed my first business-class flight with Aeromexico. While it won't be winning any contests for the best biz product in the world, it was a great way to get from NYC to deep South America. And, considering my last mileage run was in Delta economy all the way to Singapore, this flight felt like a dream — especially at this price. The service I received was friendly and courteous, though sometimes it took longer than I expected to get glasses refilled. I definitely wouldn't hesitate to fly Mexico's flag carrier again — especially if I'm able to find another steal like this.