Book this, not that: Business-class awards between the US and London
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Routes between the U.S. and London are by far the most competitive in the transatlantic market. Now with JetBlue added to the mix, there are six airlines that offer flights in the hotly contested market.
Given the stiff competition, airlines have been investing heavily in making their onboard products stand out. If you’re flying business class, you’ll always be travelling in a lie-flat seat. However, on some airlines, you might get a pod with a sliding door while others sport older seat types (and on some, such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, there are different seats depending on the specific aircraft you’re on). Business class on some airlines opens the doors to lounges on both sides of the pond, while others will leave you fending for yourself in busy terminals.
Perhaps more importantly, award rates and availability can vary greatly from one airline to the next. Although there’s no way around the U.K.’s Air Passenger Duty fees, some airlines tack on much higher surcharges than others.
Today, we’re going to look at the business-class award options between the U.S. and London and help you decide which ones are worth your hard-earned points and miles — and which you might want to skip.
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Book this: American Airlines Flagship business
American Airlines flies to London-Heathrow (LHR) from several U.S. cities using a mix of Boeing 787-8s, 787-9s, 777-200s and 777-300ERs. Although the business-class seats vary from one plane to the next, every configuration offers direct aisle access and lie-flat beds. American has also begun reopening its Flagship lounges for international premium cabin passengers.
The best way to book American awards is often through its own AAdvantage program. One-way saver awards cost 57,500 miles each in business class and are fairly easy to come by out of cities such as New York (JFK), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Philadelphia (PHL) and Miami (MIA). But the real value here is that American doesn’t tack on any fuel surcharges so you’ll pay just $5.60 (£4.05) in taxes and fees on the flights to the U.K., though taxes in the opposite direction flying from the U.K. back to the U.S. might add up to hundreds of dollars, so beware.
Skip that: British Airways business class
While British Airways’ old 2-4-2 business class product was cramped and not very private, its new Club Suites are excellent and the airline has been rolling them out fairly quickly. There’s a sliding door at every seat, the food is tasty and the bedding from The White Company is terrific.
So, why are we suggesting you skip it? British Airways tacks on hefty fuel surcharges to its awards, particularly in premium cabins (think $750+ (£542+) each way). While you may be able to shave a bit off the cost by booking through Asia Miles, the surcharges are generally just as high when booking awards through other partners like American Airlines AAdvantage or Iberia Plus. If you’re spending around $1,500 (£1,085) out of pocket on a round-trip award, you ultimately won’t be getting much value out of your miles.
Book this: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class
If your heart is set on flying in a suite with a sliding door then you might want to book Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class suite, currently available exclusively on its A350s. Unfortunately, Virgin awards have the same issue as British Airways redemptions in that they come with sky-high surcharges. However, that’s partially offset by slightly lower award rates and an arguably better overall business class experience.
Transatlantic business class awards start at 47,500 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles each way plus about $700 (£506) in surcharges. You can avoid paying fuel surcharges by booking through Delta SkyMiles, but you’ll need to shell out 120,000 miles each way these days.
The cabins are ultra-swanky and even feature an onboard lounge area, dubbed The Loft. The food is delicious and Virgin has an edge over British Airways when it comes to the soft product thanks to additional amenities like pyjamas. But what truly makes Virgin stand out is its ground experience, which includes a private check-in area at LHR and exceptional “Clubhouse” lounges.
Skip that: Delta One
Although Delta’s starting to fly some 767s with updated cabins, you won’t find its top-notch Delta One suites on flights to London. Most business class seats on London flights either feel very dated or are on the narrower side, though the soft product is pretty good.
The problem with Delta One redemptions isn’t fuel surcharges, but rather sky-high redemption rates. One-way awards start around 200,000 Delta SkyMiles for the next several months, but they usually cost even more than that. If you’re lucky enough to find saver-level space, you can book these awards for 47,500-77,500 miles each way through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, depending on the distance and season, but you’ll need to pay about $700 (£506) in surcharges each way. At that rate, you’ll be better off flying Virgin Atlantic itself, which offers superior seats…on its A350s at least.
Book this: United Polaris
Almost all of United’s London-bound flights feature the airline’s Polaris business-class pods. Although there are no sliding doors, all of the seats offer a fair amount of privacy. On the amenity front, you can expect Saks Fifth Avenue-branded bedding, a mattress pad (only upon request) and an amenity kit stocked with Sunday Riley products. United also offers high-end Polaris Lounges at most major hubs, though they’re still closed for the time being.
United offers flights to London from cities like Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington D.C. (IAD). Finding saver-level award space can be challenging, but once you do, it’s worth it.
Saver awards cost just 60,000 United miles each way plus no fuel surcharges and minimal taxes. That said, when there’s saver availability, you may be able to book the same awards for fewer miles through partners like Turkish Airlines Miles and Smiles or Air Canada Aeroplan.
Turkish charges just 45,000 miles each way, while Aeroplan charges 55,000 to 57,500 miles, depending on the distance. If you’re lucky enough to find saver availability in both directions, you can book through ANA Mileage Club for just 88,000 miles round-trip. All of these programs partner with multiple transferable points currencies so it’s easy to earn the miles you need to book these awards.
Skip that: JetBlue Mint
JetBlue is the latest airline to launch flights across the pond and its Mint business class suites are easily some of the most comfortable on these routes. Each seat offers a sliding door and the meals are restaurant-quality. Flyers also have greater flexibility as JetBlue flies to both London Heathrow (LHR) and London Gatwick (LGW).
Nevertheless, JetBlue has two major drawbacks. First, it’s the only carrier that doesn’t offer business-class passengers lounge access. But perhaps more importantly, there’s no great way to book these flights with points. Round-trip awards start at 160,000 TrueBlue points, but if you only want to book one way expect to spend about 250,000 points over the next several months. And although you can now book JetBlue Mint awards with Emirates miles, transatlantic redemptions unfortunately aren’t available yet.
You have lots of options for booking business class awards to London. Regardless of the airline you fly, you’ll have a lie-flat seat and filling meal, though they’re definitely not all equal.
When booking award flights to the U.K., your focus should be on two things: award rates and fuel surcharges. Although an airline might offer a terrific in-flight product, sky-high redemption rates or fuel surcharges may be reason enough to skip out on them.
Featured photo of the Upper Class suites on Virgin Atlantic’s Airbus A350 by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy
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