Transatlantic Steal: A Review of Iberia's A330 in Business From Madrid to Boston
[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="73" ground-experience="6" cabin-seat="21" amens-ife="10" food-bev="17" service="19" pros="Great privacy (if you choose your seat wisely), crisp IFE screen and easy to book using points." cons="Disappointing lounge in the carrier's hub airport, warm cabin and wholly average food." /]
After a quick spring getaway to Mallorca, Spain, it was time to return stateside. Naturally, my first choice was to fly the Spanish flag carrier, Iberia, via its hub in Madrid.
Iberia is known for offering some of the most competitive award redemption rates between the US and Europe — especially for off-peak flights on its own metal. Even better, Iberia often runs promotions for award flights, where transatlantic business class can be booked for as little as 25,500 miles one-way. Although there wasn't an award sale at the time, there was plenty of business-class award availability to Boston (BOS) for the dates I needed, and they qualified for the off-peak pricing, so I didn't hesitate to book.
One of the best ways to book Iberia business-class awards is through the carrier's own Iberia Plus loyalty program. As previously mentioned, redemption rates vary based on the time of the year you’re traveling and distance, but just to give you an idea, nonstop, off-peak business-class awards across the Atlantic generally run between 34,000 and 43,000 Avios miles one-way.
It's easy to acquire the miles needed to book Iberia flights, as both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards points can be transferred to the Spanish carrier at a 1:1 ratio (or better when there's a transfer bonus). Based on TPG's tests, Chase points transfer to Iberia Avios instantly, while Amex points take about 48 hours arrive, so that's the program I decided to transfer my points from. If I'd really wanted to use Amex points for this redemption, I could have instantly transferred them to British Airways Avios and then instantly transferred the British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios. (Note that this method only works if both your Iberia and British Airways Avios accounts are at least 90 days old and your personal information exactly matches on both accounts.) Alternatively, I could have taken advantage of one of the airline's frequent buy-miles promotions.
The total cost of my one-way ticket, which included a Blue Class (the lowest economy saver level) flight from Palma de Mallorca (PMI) to Madrid (MAD) and business-class flight from Madrid to Boston, came out to 38,500 Avios, plus a very reasonable $125 in taxes and fees. Based on our current valuation of Chase points, I effectively paid $895 for this ticket, a fantastic deal in my book. I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve card to pay for the taxes and fees so I’d be covered by the its excellent travel protections in case anything went wrong.
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Although I was flying coach from Palma to Madrid, I was able to use the business-class check-in line in Palma. I was pretty thankful for that, since the regular check-in line snaked through the ropes pretty slowly.
My flight from Palma landed about 30 minutes late, so I only had about 20 minutes until my next flight began boarding. Aside from having to transfer from the main Terminal 4 building to the satellite building (about a mile apart) and clear passport control, I wanted to squeeze in a quick pit stop at Iberia's Velázquez Premium Lounge, so I needed to run. And when I say that I ran, I mean it. Thankfully, the tram to the satellite building was quick, and there was no wait at immigration, so I miraculously made it to the lounge in about 10 minutes. However, I'd recommend planning at least 20 to 30 minutes for the connection process.
The Velázquez Premium Lounge in the T4 Satellite building is Iberia's flagship lounge and went through an extensive facelift in late 2017, so my expectations were fairly high. However, it just felt like an above-average Priority Pass lounge, at best — by European standards, at least.
Coming in at 26,900 square feet, the lounge was certainly a good size, but it was also packed with people — and that was after most US-bound passengers had already left. The AvGeek in me did appreciate the sweeping views of the tarmac provided by the lounge’s large floor-to-ceiling windows, though.
Although the lounge lacked variety in seating options, there was no shortage of power outlets and USB plugs.
The lounge had two buffets, both with the same selection.
The cold buffet during my lunchtime visit consisted of a salad bar, cold cuts, cheeses and some sandwiches.
Warm options were limited to just mushrooms and quiche. The food that was there tasted fine, but I was expecting something more substantial, considering that the initial press release about the renovated lounge claimed “food service is the central focus of the new space.”
There was a dedicated dining room at the back, which offered a small à la carte selection, but only for dinner, which began at 9pm. That was very restrictive, considering that the majority of Iberia's long-haul flights depart in the afternoon. During the day, the dining room was ideal for those looking to get some work done. Although there was a dedicated work area in the lounge, it wasn't as quiet.
There was a sleek wine bar at the opposite end of the lounge, but like the dining room, it was only manned in the evening.
For children, there was a play area, complete with a highchair and video-game consoles.
After getting a good look around the lounge, it was time to start running again. US flights depart from the far end of the terminal, a five-to-10-minute walk from the lounge.
Boarding was already underway when I arrived at my gate, but since I had SSSS (for Special Secondary Security Screening) printed on my ticket, I needed to go through an extra inspection, which took an additional six minutes. Although this was my first time being singled out, it's not uncommon to be selected when traveling on a one-way ticket — even if you're enrolled in the US Trusted Traveler Program.
From there, it was finally time to board my flight. By this time, economy-class passengers had already begun boarding, but because I was traveling in business class, I was able to skip the long line and board right away.
Our Airbus A330-300, registered EC-LZX, was delivered to Iberia in March 2014 and named Madrid, after the Spanish capital we were flying out of.
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Iberia's A330s feature business, premium economy and economy class cabins. In business class, seats were arranged in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration, meaning every passenger got direct aisle access. The seats were similar to what you'd find in business class on Asiana and Alitalia, as well as the ex-AirBerlin Virgin Atlantic A330s.
There were four distinct seating options to choose from, given the staggered layout. In the center section, seats alternated between "honeymoon" style seats (E and G in odd-numbered rows) and aisle-facing seats (D and H in even-numbered rows).
The side-by-side seats were obviously ideal for those traveling with a companion, but weren't terrible for solo travelers either as there was a center partition that could raised for privacy. The even-numbered seats, on the other hand, were flush against the aisle and offered minimal privacy.
The window seats alternated with those in even-numbered rows (seats A and L) being positioned closest to the cabin wall and a reverse version with the those in odd-numbered rows (seats C and J) being directly next to the aisle. As was the case in the center section, the aisle-facing seats were rather exposed and should be avoided, if you can help it.
I was seated in 4A, one of the "true" window seats that was protected from the aisle. This seat type should always be your first choice if you're traveling alone. Aside from suite-style seats that have doors, such as the new Delta One Suite, Qatar's QSuites or the single seats on JetBlue’s Mint, these seats are among the most private in business class.
The bed measured about 6 feet, 5 inches when adjusted to its lie-flat position. There were no seat cover or mattress pad to sleep on, but it was comfortable nonetheless.
Many newer business-class products have cramped footwells, but that wasn’t an issue here. I had plenty of space to toss and turn to get comfortable when I wanted to sleep.
Although my seat didn't officially have a door, the tray table basically doubled as one.
When folded down, the tray table provided enough room to comfortably work on my laptop while also holding a drink.
Aside from some space for my shoes under the footwell, storage space was limited to a ledge to the right of the seat, a small compartment for small accessories and a small literature compartment.
To the right of the seat was everything I needed to charge my devices and control the seat and monitor. That included seat controls, a universal power outlet, a USB port, a headphone jack and a handheld touchscreen remote.
The cabin temperature hovered around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which I thought was a bit too warm. Unfortunately, there were no individual air vents to remedy the issue.
There were only two lavatories reserved for business-class passengers: one at the front of the cabin and one at the back. They didn't have any special amenities and weren't kept particularly clean throughout the flight.
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Waiting at my seat on boarding was a sealed package with a pillow and blanket, as well as some magazines and the in-flight shopping catalogue. The pillow did the trick, but given how warm the cabin was, the blanket was a bit too thick for my liking.
Once all passengers were settled into their seats, flight attendants came though the cabin with a selection of newspapers, headphones and amenity kits. Inside the Iberia-branded amenity kit were all the usual goodies, such as an eye mask, dental kit and socks, as well as some less common items, including facial mist, hair ties, a shoe horn and shoe bag.
The inflight entertainment system was crisp and easy to use, controlled either via the touch or with the touchscreen remote, though the remote was fairly buggy. The entertainment selection itself could have definitely been bigger, and I wasn't a fan of the headphones that claimed to be noise-canceling. Although the headphone jack was three-prong, my personal headphones worked well without an adapter. The headphones were collected about 20 minutes prior to landing, but music was turned on and continued to be played over the PA until we were on the ground.
Wi-Fi is available on Iberia's entire long-haul fleet. One hour of free internet was available for all passengers, with an additional hour available for 8.99 EUR (~$10), three hours for 19.99 EUR (~$23) and the entire flight for 29.99 EUR (~$34). The connection was pretty stable throughout the flight and was strong enough to use streaming services.
Speaking of connectivity, passengers could also use the entertainment system to call other people on the flight or speak to people on the ground.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Food and Beverage" tpg-rating="17" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" meals="2" champagne="Villa Conchi Cava Brut Selección" comp-meal="0" dine-on-demand="No" comp-alcohol="Yes" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
On the ground, I was offered water, orange juice or cava. I chose the latter, but I wasn't wild about it.
About 50 minutes after takeoff, flight attendants rolled out trolleys for the first beverage service, accompanied by olives and mixed nuts. When I asked which wine would pair well with the seafood I'd be having for my meal I was recommended the Luis Cañas Reserva 2013 — the first wine listed on the menu — so that's what I went for. I was a bit disappointed, however, as it seemed like the flight attendant was recommending the same wine to everyone, and I later noticed that the menu recommended two other wines to be paired with seafood.
Then, 30 minutes later, flight attendants came back around to offer a second round of drinks and serve the first course: chicken consommé, artichoke and black-sesame-seed salad, a cheese plate and smoked salmon with potato salad and bleak-fish caviar. Everything tasted fine, aside from the bread, which was cold and stale. The menu listed a carrot-ginger soup as a second soup option, but it was not available on our flight.
There were four options for the main course: beef cheeks with red wine sauce, roasted sweet potato and grilled tomato; grilled stone bass with fish sauce, steamed broccolini, roasted pumpkin and grilled spring onions; and grantortellone with ricotta and spinach in porcini sauce with dried cranberries.
I'd preordered the fish, and that's what I was served. While not great, it certainly tasted better than it looked. The fish was moist but could have used some more seasoning.
Dessert was coffee cheesecake or orange ice cream with chocolate sprinkles, and I went for the latter. The entire lunch service took about two hours to complete and was finished off with flight attendants distributing water bottles.
The menu said that there were sandwiches, fresh fruit and other snacks available in between meals, but none were proactively offered or set up in the galley the two times I checked. When I inquired if any snacks were available, I was given a cup of strawberry yogurt.
A prearrival meal was served 90 minutes before landing and consisted of a selection of cold cuts, cheese, diced tomatoes, fresh fruit and another cold bread roll. All in all, the meal was pretty forgettable.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="19" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="No" turndown-service="No" /]
The service on my flight was a bit of a mixed bag. Let's start with the good. The purser was phenomenal. Once we were airborne, Raquel went around the cabin to personally introduce herself to every passenger and take (or confirm) meal orders. Then, prior to landing, Raquel went around the cabin thanking each passenger for flying with Iberia and asking how the flight went. Every encounter was incredibly friendly and always with a smile on her face.
While still professional, the rest of the crew didn't seem quite as motivated. My main qualm with the rest of the service I received was that it felt too much like an assembly line. The crew would come through the cabin with a cart, plop down trays of food at once, collect trays at once, bring out the next course at once and so forth. That said, they warmed up as the flight went on and were quick to respond to the call button.
Iberia checked off all the requirements for a solid business-class experience, but nothing about it was particularly memorable. The food and service were both strictly average, and although I was a fan of my seat, it certainly wasn't revolutionary by any means. The biggest selling point of Iberia business class is how easy and affordable it is to book using points and miles, so with the right redemption, I'd absolutely fly it again.
All photos by the author.