Tag Archives: first class

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: American Airlines domestic first class experience

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Westin Doha
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


For the uninitiated, first class on domestic US flights isn’t quite what you think. There is no nice lounge to luxuriate in before takeoff, no champagne, no multi course meals, no lie flat beds, no amenities kits, no branded PJs. In terms of hard product, think of business class on Silkair’s A320 aircraft. Narrow body, recliner seats, decent-ish legroom but certainly not worth documenting.

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Domestic air travel in the States has gone the way of the Greyhound. And by Greyhound I mean the bus. Price competition has forced airlines to cut any semblance of frills, and as it is you’re lucky to get overhead bin space at the rate people are trying to cram in carry-ons to avoid bag fees.

I had a total of 3 domestic First Class flights on the US leg of my RTW trip, from LAX-DEN-CLT-BOS. They’re pretty similar so there’s really no point writing 3 separate trip reports, but given the rate at which US airlines are aggressively monetizing first class it might be helpful to give you an overview of the experience so you can decide whether you’re willing to pay for an upgrade.

The pre-departure process

A lot of US airlines have moved towards entirely automated check-in, with the kiosk printing both your boarding pass and bag tag. They still have one person at the bag drop area to make sure your bags are properly tagged, but that’s about the extent of human interaction you can expect.

There’s a bit more of a human touch for first class passengers, although as you can see in the photo below the kiosks are also available if there’s a line and you want to speed things up.

Apart from the shorter queues at check-in, another nice thing about the First Class experience is priority security screening. Depending on what airport you’re flying from this can either be a more pleasant experience to have or the difference between making and missing a flight. You can read about priority access here, and it’s available for a fee to passengers travelling in economy.

As I mentioned, lounge access is not provided for domestic first class passengers, so don’t buy an upgrade expecting to get access. However, if you have Oneworld Emerald or Sapphire issued by anyone other than AA, you’ll be granted lounge access. I didn’t have that, so I can’t report on how the lounges are. That said, you can find plenty of trip reports online.

Where boarding is concerned, American doesn’t nearly fragment its boarding groups as much as United does- there are 9 different boarding groups but only 2 lines. How that works out in practice I don’t know.

With single-aisled aircraft, you really want to be either the first or last to board. Everyone else is going to get stuck in a traffic jam along the jetway as people pause to put things in the overhead compartments.

The Seat

I was fortunate enough to have American Airlines’ new first class seat on my LAX-DEN flight. As Ben over on OMAAT points out, this seat is very similar to the premium economy seat that American Airlines is looking to introduce on its long haul fleet.

It’s certainly a nicer looking seat than the old gen First Class seats, where the upholstery can be torn in places and seats can make a disconcerting creaking noise.

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Old Gen first class seat- OMAAT credit

The newer seats are smartly finished in leather, and depending on your route and time of flight there may or may not be a blanket waiting for you at your seat.

Here’s an idea of seat width. Note the adjustable headrest and storage pocket at the side.

Legroom wise, I had a bulkhead seat which was plenty of room for me. But if you’re stuck in one of the other rows, you’ll have decent space too even if the person in front of you reclines.

All seats have in-seat power, but no USB plugs.

The in seat power is in a small crevice where you can store a laptop and magazines

In your other armrest is the tray table. Tray tables will be medium sized- definitely larger than in coach but nowhere as large as an internationally configured first/business class seat.

The Meals

Apart from selected commercially important routes where a small sandwich might be served in economy, First Class is the only place where you’ll get a hot meal served on a domestic US flight.

But before all that, there’s the small issue of the pre-departure beverage (PDB)

I wrote about this previously in one of my United Airline reviews– it seems silly writing about a plastic cup of water, but the PDB has always been a source of controversy on airlines in the US.

If my understanding is right, how it works in the US is that flight crew aren’t paid until the door to the aircraft closes (some airlines may offer a small fixed amount for their travel to and from the airport). Therefore, some flight crew have taken the attitude that “I’m not paid, so damned if I’m going to offer you any service until we’re in the air”. And therefore there have been reports of some flight crew refusing to do anything more than the perfunctory until they’re on the clock. More than enough has been said about this online so I’ll just say that I enjoyed my glass of iced water immensely.

Just before takeoff, the flight stewardesses fill some ramekins with mixed nuts and put them in the warmer. Once the seatbelt sign goes off, you get served warmed nuts.

You won’t get menus on board, so don’t even bother asking. However, AA has a nifty feature that lets you see the menu when you go to the manage my booking section on the webpage. You can even pre-select your item, which should, in theory ensure it doesn’t run out by the time it gets to you.

AA’s website talks about partnerships with celebrity chefs,  but I think those might be for international routes.

The dishes I get certainly didn’t live up to the pedigree of the chefs. This is the meal served from LAX to DEN. Chicken is a staple feature of domestic first class and it is almost always dry.  The veggies are boiled to death and devoid of any seasoning, and the rice is mushy. The sourdough bread was probably the highlight.

Fortunately the cheesecake desert was much more palatable.

From DEN-CLT I had the Vietnamese salad. The salad and chicken were both served cold.

In case you’re wondering, yes, that is chicken on the left. And yes, it is dry. It was so dry I poured a little water on it and was amazed to see the water getting absorbed.

Desert was a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. Ok, freshly baked isn’t the right word to use but it was warmed up in flight. And the centre was molten and good.

CLT-BOS was a shorter 2 hour flight not during a traditional mealtime window so they offered a snack of cheese and crackers.

The Entertainment

American Airlines offers WiFi through gogo, although I find pricing to be on the steep side. 30 minutes is too short for most flights, but $16.95 is too much to pay for a flight pass when your flights are about 3-4 hours at most. And I can’t think of why you’d pay $26.95 unless you’re on some crazy multi-city single day itinerary.

The WiFi itself worked perfectly fine, and supported basic website surfing and web browsing (no video streaming). You can also track the flight’s progress on the WiFi portal’s minimap (no purchase required)

You won’t find seatback TV screens, because those add weight and US airlines are all crazy about saving fuel. What you will get, at least on flights with WiFi, is entertainment streamed for free to your device in all classes.

The selection is really quite decent, with a wide range of recent movies available.

The Service

Service? On a US airline? Yes, yes, it’s not a punchline. Service on my flights was perfectly fine. I know there are horror stories of overworked and underpaid flight attendants threatening to sic the cops on anyone who doesn’t comply, but the attendants I had were all friendly enough. You’re not going to be on a first name basis with them by the end of the flight and they’re definitely more homely than professional, but this should really be the least of your concerns.

Conclusion

It’s not aspirational flying by any means, but so long as you go in with the right expectations, you’ll find domestic first class to be a pleasant enough experience. Is it worth upgrading from economy? Definitely not on short flights. Perhaps on a medium-haul red eye, if you’re currently stuck in a middle seat in coach. US airlines have developed sophisticated algorithms that try to encourage people to buy-up to first class, so see if the offer you get is worth how much you value comfort.

Fortunately, my next experience with American Airlines was on their international business class product, and that, as you’ll see soon, was indeed something to write home about…

First Class for the Family: SQ F Ground Experience and TPR

Since discovering the Miles and Points game 3 years ago, Jeriel has now spent a disproportionate amount of time reading the T&Cs of credit cards and frequent flyer programs. His grand plans for round-the-world premium travel has taken a hit since the arrival of his daughter, but he is still determined to fly as far, frequently and luxuriously as possible on Miles and Points. Expect more family-orientated trip reports and travel tips from him!


First Class for the Family – Melbourne 2017

Hacking the SQ Waitlist
First Class for the Family – Ground Experience and The Private Room
SIN MEL 777-300ER First Class Review
Krisflyer First Class Lounge Melbourne Review
MEL SIN A380 Suites Class Review


About 2 weeks out from our intended travel dates, our outbound leg was still booked in Business Class. I had waitlisted First on the same flight, but when I tried to make a dummy revenue booking, there were 7 out of 8 seats occupied on the seatmap. I was pretty much resigned to flying J.

Why the need to fly F? Our primary concern was for our daughter. This red-eye was scheduled to depart at 2345hrs, and we were hoping that she would be sleeping by the time we boarded the plane. As anyone who has been to the SilverKris Business class lounge would know, it certainly isn’t an ideal place to coax a toddler to sleep. The Private Room would provide significantly more space, peace and quiet. In particular, there is a dedicated parents’ room at the back of TPR. While it is hopelessly under equipped, it still meant we would be able to turn down the lights and get her snoozing.

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Looks nice, until you try to squash your feet into that little recess there and sleep diagonally

On the flight itself, J isn’t so bad. I would say the only perk about flying with an infant in J is that you are almost guaranteed the bassinet seat. There is a significant difference in the hard product between the bulkhead and regular international business class seats on SQ. Bulkhead seats have a full ottoman, whereas the regular seats only have a small cubby for your feet. This makes a world of a difference when the bed is deployed, especially for taller individuals like myself. The bassinet seats are all bulkhead seats and are routinely blocked out for pre-selection by other passengers. Once you have your tickets confirmed, call the SQ hotline to purchase your infant-in-lap ticket and at the same time, request for them to assign the bassinet seat for you.

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Same seat, but much better. The ottoman allows you to sleep straight

Well, Imagine my surprise when our F waitlist cleared about 36 hours prior to departure. This presented somewhat of a conumdrum though: should I spend almost 34k miles and a couple hundred bucks (for the infant ticket) more to upgrade my family to First? School never prepared us for difficult, first-world problems like these… After waffling for about 3 hours, it was already midnight and my wife snapped, ‘just upgrade the bloody flight and go to sleep la!’ Thus it was decided.

Was it worth it in the end? Most definitely not. On hindsight, if I were given a choice again I’d probably have stuck with J for a number of reasons. But I guess this is what the Milelion is for, sharing expensive mistakes so that we all can maximize the miles and points we have painstakingly collected for better travel experiences.

Since I’ve written about the First Class check-in experience and TPR before here, instead of the usual review, I hope to examine some of the more esoteric considerations one may have to think about when deciding between J and F over the next 2 posts, especially in the context of travelling with a young family. Hopefully some of you may find this helpful.

1) Check in Process – All Style but no Substance

Flying First or Suites entitles you to use the First Class check in lobby at Terminal 3. Now I really think this area is quite beautiful. The driveway is huge and the room is beautifully appointed with lots of space and seating. We were the only people using the area (as you probably would be since the process is usually quick and seamless), so my daughter had a great time running around and exploring the different sofas and chairs.

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Driveway of First Class Check in Lobby
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Not another passenger in sight.

Well it definitely makes you feel special, but practically speaking this area offers little more than the dedicated queue in the main hall. You have a porter to carry your bags to the counter and a nice place to sit (instead of stand), but that’s about it.

With children, the main check in hall has so many attractions and displays which will probably keep them entertained for far longer. In my opinion, this is a nice facility to use once in your life perhaps, but definitely should not factor in much when deciding between J and F.

This is a huge pity though, as I’m sure it certainly wasn’t cheap to build and isn’t cheap to staff and maintain. Why Changi cannot collaborate with SQ to come up with a more seamless First Class experience befitting its status as the best airport in the world (like the FCT in Frankfurt or the TG First Class ground service in BKK) really escapes me.

This was made painfully obvious during this particular trip, where we encountered a snag right at the check-in counter, but there was no ‘extra mile’ in the service afforded to us when it mattered most.

We had arrived at Changi almost 5.5 hours prior to our scheduled take off, intending to fully utilize the facilities at the lounge. That proved to be a fortunate decision as we found ourselves in a messy situation with our tickets.

What happened was; as I wasn’t expecting my waitlist of F to clear, I had already ticketed my family on J prior to the upgrade. The CSO who processed my upgrade request had cancelled my daughter’s return ticket, but somehow only re-issued a one-way outbound ticket in return. Basically, she didn’t have a ticket for the trip home.

I have no doubt it was merely an honest mistake on the part of the CSO. It just needed to be rectified before take-off. As my whole family had valid outbound tickets, I was expecting that we could wait for the staff to resolve this issue while we headed up to The Private Room. I was told by the check-in staff member at the First Class area this was not possible. In fact, I was told I couldn’t even wait in the First Class check-in area, but had to make my way out to the SQ Ticketing counter in the main hall to approach the ticketing staff to resolve this. In the end, we had to wait for about 1.5 hours standing at the SQ ticketing desk in the main check-in area waiting for this issue to be sorted out. I can’t even remember how many rounds I walked around the Terminal 3 hall carrying my daughter singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.

After about 30 minutes of waiting, I again politely suggested to the ticketing staff members that we be allowed to go air-side to enjoy the lounge facilities (also because it was getting late and my daughter was getting cranky). We were again denied that request. Another hour elapsed before the ticketing staff asked for permission from their manager for us to head up to TPR. It took another half hour before we were finally issued the new tickets. Thankfully by this time, we were in the comfort of the lounge.

Now, the service at SQ Ticketing wasn’t bad per se. The staff member there assisting me gave me her full attention and set about trying to rectify the situation as quickly as she could. However, shouldn’t prompt and attentive service should be the baseline level provided to any passenger in my situation, regardless of the class of travel? My experience exposes the gaps in the ‘service coverage’ for premium passengers. The service within the confines of The Private Room and during the flight itself is probably amongst the world’s best. From the time you leave home till you reach TPR, and during that short journey from TPR to the doors of the aircraft, it seems you’re pretty much on your own.

In my particular situation, I would have saved myself the long wait if we had simply kept our original tickets. But for now, don’t count on the supposed better service you get as an F passenger to help you get out of sticky situations comfortably.

2) TPR

The Private Room experience has to be one of the big reasons why one would choose F over J. The SilverKris Business Lounge is almost perpetually crowded and noisy, and at times, the First Class Lounge is not much better. TPR, even at its busiest, is truly a sanctuary of peace and quiet. Well, at least until some joker (yours truly) brings their infant over!

The layout of the area is still the same as our previous reviews, but here are some photos anyway.

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View from the Entrance
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View from the back
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Work Area
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One of two snooze rooms
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Dining Area
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The First Class Loo
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Same Tuscan Soul amenities as available in-flight

A positive development seems to be an update in the menu. Previously, a simplified menu was provided based on the time of day. Departing SIN LHR on a 9am flight I had received the truncated breakfast menu, whereas Aaron on his SIN CDG flight received the lunch and dinner menu. This time, we received a nice leather-bound folder with the entire menu, complete with the selection of available beverages. Here is the menu in all its glory (correct as of March ‘17). The wait staff told me that the menu is changed slightly every few months though.

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This looks a lot more presentable doesn’t it?

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Overall a good selection of drinks, but I thought the food menu was not as extensive as it used to be. The Charles Hiedsieck Blanc Des Millenaires on offer was good, but we all know better than to fill up on champagne before the flight itself…

The service was attentive but not intrusive. I received faux shock and dismay at the appalling experience we had at check in. We were shown to the family room and a staff member stayed on hand to make sure we had everything we needed as we put our daughter to bed (we just laid a blanket on the carpeted floor as a makeshift bed).

After she was asleep we had a nice, relaxing meal at the dining area. We had the Sauteed Lobster with Linguine to share, which was delicious. The lobster was fresh and the meat was succulent and QQ, and the pasta was done just right al dente.

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Sauteed Lobster with Linguine

The wait staff recommended Chocolate Therapy for dessert, which worked like a charm. All the injustice from earlier on was forgiven (but definitely not forgotten).

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This. Is. Super.

It was only then could I stretch my legs and look forward to flying the new 77W First Class product.

First Class for the Family: Hacking the SQ waitlist

First Class for the Family – Melbourne 2017

Hacking the SQ Waitlist
SIN MEL 777-300ER First Class Review
Krisflyer First Class Lounge Melbourne Review
MEL SIN A380 Suites Class Review


Hacking the SQ Waitlist

We have all heard of the adage, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’. Well, my wife and I certainly do not plan to spare the rod with our head-strong 2 year old. Besides, I can think of much better ways to spoil her than ‘sparing the rod.’ Flying her First Class for her 2 year old birthday trip could certainly count as one of those ways!

Planning travel with a young child can be challenging. One of the primary considerations for parents is the timing of the flight. Do you fly red-eye and arrive at your destination tired from the relatively poor quality of sleep, but increase the chance of your child sleeping through the flight? Or do you pick a day flight and risk spending the entire ride chasing after a bored infant, giving embarrassed and apologetic looks to everyone in your cabin. My wife and I (and most of the parents with young children we know) prefer the former. Of course, flying premium does help mitigate the part about the poor quality of sleep on a red-eye.

Whatever your preference is, chances are you will face a lot more restrictions on your travel time compared to the average traveller. As we all know, this can’t be good when considering award availability.

We only got around planning this family trip to Melbourne in about early January, about 2 months out from our intended date of travel. Although there were still scattered availability for 2 adults here and there, it was no surprise that saver awards for most of the flights were on waitlist on both Business and First class. At that time, the only available tickets to and fro was an outbound arriving on Monday, and an inbound departing on Thursday. 3.5 days for a holiday doesn’t exactly sound very enticing, but sometimes you’d do anything to get out of the country.

Now I’ve previously written about the SQ Waitlist here.  Aaron has a pretty good overview article here, and has also done some pretty good analysis on award availability here .

If you find yourself in my situation and the current available flights are not ideal, and/or you’d like some more time to think about it while putting the available award flights ‘on hold’ without subjecting yourself to change fees later on, here’s a nifty little trick you can use to ‘hack’ the waitlist.

For example, I wish to fly to NRT around the middle of August this year. The only available First Saver award is on the 17 of August, but I’d prefer to fly earlier or on a weekend if possible. For now, I would like to hold this available saver award.

I first make a reservation for this saver award on the 17th of August as one normally would, going through all the steps (including seat selection) until the payment page.

Selection of the only available flight

After entering your details, go to seat selection, and then proceed on to the payment page.

After entering your details, go to seat selection

When you’ve reached the payment page, exit the booking process by closing the page, or clicking any of the links on the SQ toolbar. I usually just click the Singapore Airlines logo on the top left hand corner of the page.

Now, head to the ‘Bookings’ tab under your account profile. You should see a booking reference number for that flight, even though the transaction wasn’t completed.

Booking Reference number for the ‘sham’ booking

If you attempt to select the ‘Manage Booking’ tab, this will return an error message and prompt you to complete the booking process offline.

Proceed to make the same booking again. This time, the flight should be on waitlist.

Same flight now on waitlist

Proceed to waitlist yourself on the flight. In about 15 to 20 minutes, the first reservation you’ve made should be automatically cancelled by the system after the ticketing time limit has lapsed. You will know this has happened when the booking reference disappears from the list of reservations under the ‘Bookings’ tab of your Krisflyer account. Almost immediately, you should receive a text message telling you that your waitlisted flight (the second reservation) is now available for confirmation. This is because you should be the next in line for an available award ticket on that flight.

Usually, when a waitlisted flight is made available for confirmation, you are given about 3 days or so to pay the miles / taxes and ticket your flight. Just like that, you have now bought yourself another 3 days to think about whether you want that flight or not. If you choose not to ticket in the end, just let the time lapse or cancel the waitlisted booking. There is no penalty for doing so.

In practice, I’ve found this useful to hold a suboptimal ticket while waiting for my waitlisted tickets on my preferred flights, especially for this trip. I held tickets for the Monday / Thursday flight, and eventually better flights opened up which I then ticketed on.

Theoretically, I guess one could repeat this process infinitely to hold the award for weeks, but you run the risk of someone else of higher Krisflyer status also waitlisting or buying a Standard level award on the same flight, thus beating you to the available ticket.

Experiment a little and see what works best for your travel plans. Of course with all things, use with consideration for others who may also be eyeing travel on the same flights as you. Stay tuned for my review of the SQ 77W First Class coming up!