Zipping across the Atlantic in a comfy business- or first-class seat is quite the rush—especially when you get that seat for free by redeeming miles. Not all first class cabins can be booked with award miles, but many can, and some of them offer really unique experiences. Here are two that are worth hoarding miles for:
A modern-day Concorde
When British Airways flew its supersonic Concorde between London and New York, it held flight number BA 1. The flight number was symbolic—a special number for a marvel of aviation. Concorde carried business travelers, diplomats, and celebrities on a regular basis. It was not uncommon for the crew to recognize passengers from past flights and address them by name.
The Concorde is no longer flying, but there is a new flight called BA 1. It takes off from London City Airport (LCY), which is located near Canary Wharf, the heart of London’s financial and business district. And while it does not travel at supersonic speed, it maintains the same principles of exclusivity and convenience that defined travel on the Concord.
The trip takes places on one of a pair of a British Airways Airbus A318s, the smallest commercial aircraft to cross the Atlantic. Each has been specially modified with extra fuel tanks for the journey, and inside, instead of the usual 100 plus seats, the planes have just eight rows of flat-bed seats.
The first benefit of the BA 1 flights (other than the comfort of the seats) is the convenience: traveling from the heart of London, instead of Heathrow, allows passengers to avoid the lengthy, traffic-filled drives to and from the city. (Aviation geeks will also find the takeoff from LCY’s short runway exhilarating as the baby jet zips off the ground at an incredible angle to avoid disturbing the city with too much noise.) And because the aircraft only has 32 seats, the boarding process is extremely quick and civilized.
The second benefit is the service: A dedicated flight crew works these flights (just like they did for the Concorde), which allows for a great deal of personal attention for each traveler. For example, most airlines stop serving meals and drinks about an hour before landing. But on these flights, the crew will still serve breakfast up to 15 minutes before landing so that business travelers can sleep longer during the flight. It’s the kind of service that makes you feel like you’re on private jet rather than a commercial flight.
So how do you get this experience? If you don’t fancy paying around $5,000 for the roundtrip, you can use American Airlines miles (57,500 miles each way; 115,000 roundtrip) or British Airways’ Avios points (60,000 one-way, 120,000 roundtrip). And if you don’t have either one but you do have a Chase credit card, you can get Avios points by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Both American and British Airways tack on taxes and fuel surcharges, but those still only cost about $400, far less than the ticket would be on its own.
Your own private room in the sky
While BA 1’s unique service takes place aboard the smallest aircraft crossing the Atlantic, another must-try service can be found on an Airbus A380, the largest aircraft crossing that ocean. Ethiad Airways operates these massive jumbo jets, equipped with nine first-class apartments on their top decks, each of which has a sliding door, a cushioned sofa that transforms into a plush bed, a large-screen TV, and a wide recliner seat.
While these rooms aren’t quite as amazing as the two-room suites with butler service that the airline offers on some flights (and which are nearly impossible to get through mileage redemptions), the private rooms offer many amenities. A personal chef tailors the inflight menu to each traveler’s preferences, and the foods can be enjoyed at any time during the flight. (Your room’s large dining table will even be set with crystal and china reminiscent of a Michelin-starred restaurant.) Each apartment has windows with automatic blinds, a vanity area, a minibar, and access to the lobby lounge where a full-bar set up and café menu are available.
Before takeoff, a flight attendant drops off a gift bag with cotton pajamas and slippers, and if you want to shower before landing, you can get a full five minutes of hot water plus designer toiletries and thick towels. With all this and on-point service, you’ll basically feel like you’ve spent the night in a high-end hotel.
These cabins can be booked with American Airlines miles (62,500 miles one-way between London and Abu Dhabi; 115,000 miles each way between New York and Abu Dhabi), but unfortunately the booking process isn’t particularly easy. The award seats don’t appear on American’s website, so the best place to search for them is to search for a “Guest” seat on Etihad’s redemption search tool. (If “Guest” space appears, then award space is available for redemption using American miles.) Also, although American’s phone agents cannot always see award availability in these cabins in their computer systems, American Airlines’ Australian call center can! So if you want to book by phone, fire up Skype and give them a call at 61-2-910-11948.
Ramsey Qubein Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.