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Anatomy of an Award: Booking this Trip

AA First Class: Los Angeles to Tampa

BA Business Class: Tampa to London (LGW)

A Day in London: Gatwick to London to Heathrow to Paris

When booking an award with AA miles, you cannot select your seats on BA planes until 24 hours before departure. About 21 hours before departure, I logged into and gave my six digit confirmation code. Almost all the seats had been selected, but I still had some choice.

I checked the seatguru map for the plane I was flying, a 3-class Boeing 777. All the seats highlighted as the best options were gone, so I went with a forward facing, aisle seat: 1G.

I arrived at the airport about 80 minutes before departure. Here’s a profile shot of everything I brought. I wasn’t kidding about being a one-bag traveler.

The security line for the British Airways terminal was extremely long, probably half an hour in length. Both times I’ve used TPA airport, this has been the case. But I was able to use the priority line and pass through in two minutes. Airside, I headed to the lounge accessible to British Airways Club World passengers.

The lounge was small and packed. The only seats were in the room with the finger sandwiches and drinks. I hedged against a bad meal onboard by eating several tasty curry chicken sandwiches with hummus. With about 45 minutes until departure, boarding was announced in the lounge. We headed to the gate and onto the plane.

After taking a left, the best direction to turn when entering a plane, I arrived at seat 1G, the right-hand aisle seat in the middle section of the front row. BA’s Club World Class on its 777s is arranged in a 2-4-2 pattern. The window seats and the two middle seats are rear facing, while the aisle seats are forward facing. All seats have easy access to the aisle without disturbing any other passengers, as long as you can squeeze through the seat dividers.

Between the seats are permanent and temporary dividers. The temporary divider is a screen that can be put up for privacy or down for flight attendants to pass trays or to talk to a companion.

If you’re traveling in a party of two, I would recommend the two middle seats. They face the same direction and have the easiest opportunity for conversation with the person next to you. And unlike the middle seats in coach, there is no worry about aisle access, so there is no real downside.

If one of you really wants a window, taking the two seats on either side of the plane could be a good option, but you will be facing each other at a distance of several feet, making a private conversation difficult.

If you’re alone like I was, I think the best choice is a window seat. They offer the most privacy and the only chance to see out the window. They’re also rear-facing, which I think is pretty cool. My seat was also a solid choice for a solo traveler. Although the aisle seats can have a bit of foot traffic, it didn’t disturb my sleep. I would certainly avoid the two middle seats if you don’t have a companion.

Before takeoff, champagne was offered. After takeoff, menus were distributed.

I went with the asparagus and the vegetable lasagna, both excellent choices.

As I ate, I watched a few episodes of Parks and Recreation and Curb Your Enthusiasm. As soon as I finished eating, at about 8:00 PM, I asked for my tray to be cleared before dessert. After brushing my teeth, I put the seat into the bed position.

As you can see, the seat goes completely flat and connects to the completely flat foot rest to make a bed. The length is about 6’1″, which is a little shorter than my 6’4″, but I slept comfortably with my feet flush against the bulkhead and my head against the seat divider. A pillow and comforter are provided.

The flight departed on schedule at 6:40 PM with an eight hour flying time and an 7:45 AM arrival in London. This was a particularly tough schedule for me to optimize. Clearly, I would need to go to sleep as soon as possible after takeoff to get as much sleep as possible, but it would be tough to sleep at 7:00 PM when I had been staying up until 3:00 AM the previous few nights to play poker at the Hard Rock in Tampa.

With the help of a little melatonin (highly recommended), I was able to fall asleep just after 8:00 PM and got a solid five and a half hours. I woke up as the cabin lights were turned on for the breakfast service.

The breakfast service was simple.

After I snapped the photo, they came by offering bacon rolls with our choice of ketchup or “brown sauce”–what an appetizing name! I turned down the brown sauce and enjoyed the bacon roll although it was UK-style bacon, which is nothing like and not as tasty as American bacon.

The trays were cleared, and I took a walk through the cabin. By my count, there were 41 passengers in the 40 Club World seats. The infant had been cranky at take off, but was pretty well behaved, at least with my ear plugs in. World Traveller Plus (E+) was also completely full. It was three rows of domestic-first-class-style seats.

The economy cabin was enjoying its breakfast snack box as I walked through. Every seat was occupied. The seats, with the industry-minimum 31″ of leg room, led me to assume that I would have gotten 0-2 hours of sleep if it weren’t for frequent flier miles snagging me a bed up front.

After landing, as we waited for the door to be opened, I asked a flight attendant if she flew the Tampa to Gatwick route often because I was so surprised that a seemingly obscure route was 100% full. She said she almost never flew it. She normally flew BA’s flights to Barbados, Cancun, and other Caribbean destinations.

That reminded me of my complete list of international gateway cities for AA awards. If you’re willing to pay the $300 BA fuel surcharge on AA awards, you can get a Caribbean and a European destination, along with a fully flat flying bed all on one award. For many people, this is a great deal!

What’s my final verdict? The BA Club World (business) seats are awesome! They allow for a comfortable night’s sleep. Ideally I would fly BA on a longer flight to get more sleep or at least a later departure to make sleep even easier. As you’ll recall from my Anatomy of an Award post on this award, I paid $300 more in fees by routing through Tampa on this flight than I would have on other routings to Paris that didn’t fly BA transatlantic. The $300 extra was well worth it for me in this case.

First, the $300 unlocked a stopover in Tampa. AA doesn’t fly transatlantic from Tampa, so I could not use Tampa as a stopover on an AA award unless I flew BA. (See this post for AA stopover rules.)

Second, the $300 got me BA’s flying bed instead of AA’s weird angled business class seat. Combined, I value those two things at well over $300. BA has such a great product and so many US destinations that many people may find themselves in a similar situation, where BA makes a ton of sense.

For instance, if you live in San Diego or Las Vegas, how about flying BA business class direct to London and beyond with a free oneway beforehand in Hawaiian Airlines first class direct from Honolulu to your home airport? That would probably be well worth the surcharge.

What are your experiences with BA business class?


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