My partner in booking frequent flyer awards for clients is Steve Belkin, known online as beaubo. He’s the legendary frequent flyer that became a labor broker and hired disabled rice farmers to travel in and out of the Golden Triangle region of Thailand, and hired New Zealand college students to travel to Europe — flying, earning top tier elite status, and assigning the benefits of that status to their ’employers’. He’s earned countless tens of millions of miles and flown all over the world for business and taken his family around the world as well.
And he’s a strong advocate for business class as the best class of travel, with the best availability. That you want multiple seats for a family, and the most convenient schedule, rather than chasing better champagne and caviar inflight.
Since I often write about my first class redemptions, I asked him to provide a counterpoint. His guest commentary follows, and you may be surprised by some of his experiences with airlines you haven’t heard of before.
I love doors on my seat, being given pajamas, and incrementally better wine. But Steve makes the case that you can get most places in the world in pretty good comfort when you want to do so if you’re just ‘willing’ to be open to airline business class products — that are better than you think.
And Steve’s right. For the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time, this is how you get where you are going with the best deal and greatest convenience while traveling in relative comfort.
And you even get surprises along the way — that while Singapore and Cathay may be the Platinum standard, there’s a Gold standard. And even silver winners may wind up offering you Ferragamo amenity kits.
What say you?
I have flown over 100 international flights over the past 5 years in Business Class.
Unlike the bloggers who like to brag about their First Class experiences with supposedly high brow carriers like Singapore, Emirates and Cathay Pacific, my typical flights have been primarily with carriers that have far more consistently available award space. Unlike most bloggers who have no kids or unduly restrictive schedules, I am like most of our clients who have a narrow window to travel and want the certainty of a confirmed in advance award seat….not the anxiety of waiting until the last minute (if at all) for an award seat to open up with the so-called top tier airlines. So therefore, I have flown on a far greater variety of airlines than most bloggers.
To ensure that my recommendations to award booking clients are valid and objective, I have applied a personal vetting system on each flight I have taken.
- I get up in the middle of the flight and walk down the Business Class aisles and observe who is sleeping.
- For those folks who are still awake, I ask them if they are unable to sleep due to comfort issues or if they simply prefer to be awake (movie, book, work, etc.).
- For those who I observed sleeping, I approach them toward the end of the flight and ask how they slept and assessment of seat comfort.
- I ask every fellow Business class passenger how they enjoyed the food, IFE and flight attendant service.
- And finally, I ask a key question- have you flown Business Class before and if so, with which carriers.
My conclusions from the passengers surveyed on these purported ‘second tier’ airline should be compelling for the rest of us….giving us the peace of mind and reassurance that a satisfying Business Class experience is available on a far broader cross section of airlines than reported by bloggers and third party review sites.
By the way, my firsthand results are buttressed by the hundreds of BookYourAward clients who have flown these airlines below without nary a negative feedback in three years. And I practice what I preach…I fly friends and family on the carriers that I find most award space:
- Air France, Lufthansa, Austrian, Air Berlin, LOT Polish, Iberia to Europe
- China Southern, China Eastern, Asiana, EVA Airways to Asia
- Ethiopian, Kenya Airway, Egyptair to Africa
- Royal Jordanian, Turkish to Israel, Mideast, India
- Air China, Malaysia, Asiana to Asia Pacific
ANGLE FLAT SEATS
Survey of 4 flights Ethiopian, 4 flight China Eastern, 4 flights EgyptAir, 4 flights Kenya Airways, 10 Lufthansa, 12 KLM, 16 Air France, 4 Air Berlin, 4 Iberia
- Over 90% of passengers surveyed gave ‘angle flat’ seats an excellent assessment. The 5% who only gave it a good assessment had flown on other ‘top-tier’ carriers, so they weren’t dissatisfied with angle flat seats, they were simply RELATIVELY more satisfied with the ‘top-tier’ seats. 5% flat out claimed they did not like the angle flat seats.
Hardly a stinging rejection of angle flat seats. That said, most carriers are in the midst of upgrading to all lie flat fleets like Lufthansa, KLM, Air France.
Survey of 4 Ethiopian, 4 EgyptAir, 4 Royal Jordanian and 6 Kenya Air
- The stereotypical reputation of being an African/Arab carrier, so must be substandard is refuted. Ethiopian flies 787 on IAD-ADD and 767 on ADD-JNB routes. EgyptAir flies new 777 JFK-CAI and A330 CAI-JNB. Royal Jordanian North american routes are serviced by A330 and A340 aircraft less the 5 years old. Kenya Airways rolled out new 787 Europe-Nairobi and 767 onward to JNB.
All the airlines noted were given excellent service/food/inflight entertainment and seat configuration by over 90% of customers surveyed.
Survey of 4 Royal Jordanian flights
Most concern that airline is okay product but not safe due to Arab-Israeli tensions.
- On every flight and in the lounge in AMM, I have either worn a Jewish skullcap and/or donned the head and arm wrappings called tefillin, without even a second glance from anyone. There is a critical mass of Jewish people that transit AMM. The airport security is ample. And as the Jordanian Air Force headquarters is across the runway, there is no safer place I can imagine in Jordan!