After the fun and success of the first Weekend to Europe, I was excited to plan a sequel to help ring in 2019. Madrid had long been on my radar, and at the beginning of winter, the perfect opportunity to visit presented itself. This was made possible in part thanks to Iberia’s remarkable promotion in the summer of 2018, during which the airline awarded up to 9,000 Avios to each customer who made a single booking. But that’s not all! Buy two flights, and you’ll get another 9,000, and adding a third earned another 9,000… and so on all the way up to 90,000 Avios! It didn’t matter if you actually took the flights you paid for, you just had to make the booking to receive the credit! This deal came with a caveat though: all award bookings had to be made before December 1, 2018, otherwise the points would disappear forever. What better use for them than crossing the pond for a quick weekend trip?
Because of poor planning coupled with my own overly-ambitious visions of an intense travel itinerary with grand inflight accommodations, this entire trip was booked hurriedly within 90 minutes of the points’s expiration (i.e. at 22:30 on November 30!). Actually being able redeem the points became increasingly more important than being able to fly in first class, so compromises would have to be made. It would’ve been so nice to travel in business class on both the outbound and the return legs, but because of the existing/unfavorable award availability and time crunch, I had to settle for Iberia’s premium economy from New York to Madrid.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Iberia’s Turista Premium is perfect for those who want something more than a seat in regular, cramped economy, but also don’t want to break the bank and pay for business class. It was so, so comfortable (short of being a lieflat bed) on the quick six-hour-and-some-change flight.
As a point of reference, the hard product is comparable to what you would get in a domestic first class cabin, although slightly better for reasons that will be documented in the review. The meal services are also a noticeable step up from the standard offerings. For a slightly higher price (most of the time), you’ll get a business class quality meal that helps make the whole flight experience all the more
I’m happy to have had the opportunity to get a taste of Iberia’s Premium Economy; it truly is something worth a higher flyer’s consideration, presuming that you can get a good price. If you’re only flying one way, then prepare for a price tag that will sting initially…
…but don’t worry. $3,288 seems to be more of a pricing irregularity than anything. On a roundtrip ticket, Turista Premium becomes a much more affordable proposition. For what it’s worth, the $794 fare quoted below is about $170 more than regular economy.
Iberia’s award chart is hopelessly convoluted and stupidly-difficult to use (here’s a link if you’re feeling brave enough to try using it!), and prices aren’t exactly intuitive. The machine told me that coach would cost 35,000 Avios — not the best deal — and premium economy would only be marginally more expensive at 40,750. Business class was unavailable unfortunately, so this class of service was the next best option.
During these quick trips, good location is crucial when picking out a place to stay. I’m also a firm believer in the “you vote with your wallet” mantra, and I couldn’t bring myself to stay at one of Marriott’s 20 Madrid hotels given the problems with Bonvoy. 2019 is going to be the year of Hilton (for me, at least), but its footprint in Madrid, for as big of a city and as big of a brand as they both are, it’s surprisingly weak. Hilton has a measly two properties… and one of those is at the airport! The other, a DoubleTree, is right in the middle of the Centro neighborhood, and is about three blocks to the west of the Prado. You can’t get much closer than that without getting #bonvoyed!
DoubleTrees aren’t exactly renowned for their charming designs — in fact they’re frequently criticized for being faceless/devoid of anything distinguishing — but the one in Madrid stands apart from this stereotype. This is without a doubt a boutique hotel, replete with interesting-yet-tasteful furnishings, warm lighting and cool textures, and quaint public spaces loaded with architectural charms.
After two nights and two very full days of activities (more on that later), it was time to go back home to the United States. While there was no business class available on the outbound, there were a few seats available on American’s direct flight to New York JFK. AA operates one of its Boeing 767s on the route, which are infamous for their rather questionable retrofits. While there are relatively new lie flat (albeit coffin-width narrow) seats in the front, everything in the back is fresh out of the late-1990s.
The most glaring issue comes from the fact that there is ZERO personal, built-in entertainment anywhere on the plane. In 2019, that’s simply unacceptable on a longhaul flight, and AA’s alternative options just don’t cut it.
AA, you can’t just hand out tablets to business class travelers (or nothing at all to those in economy class) AND expect to be able to charge…
As a point of comparison, the two business class products from last year’s Weekend to Europe also cost around this much. Hell, Air France’s business class offering had a FAR superior hard product AND was $110 cheaper than AA’s!
Scathing words aside, flying AA’s 767 wasn’t that terrible. It was far from great, but that’s alright (especially because they’ll be taken out to pasture in spring 2020; thank God!). The stellar Flagship Lounge at New York JFK helped to make up the difference in quality, with its ample seating options and excellent catering being among the main highlights.
The silver lining of of having two stunningly high price tags: the cent-per-mile ratios made for superb redemption values. Based on an “exchange rate” of 1.3 cents per Avio…
- Redeeming 40,750 Avios for a $3,288 ticket in Iberia’s Turista Premium equates to roughly 8.1 CPM.
- And 50,000 Avios for a $5,388 ticket comes out to 10.8 CPM.
The route map couldn’t be more simple looking…
…although that doesn’t mean that this trip wasn’t any less fun or interesting. Madrid is an excellent city for so many reasons, so stay tuned for a special post about some of the highlights there. Below are a few of my favorite photos taken during the trip, and the stories behind them (and more) will be shared in that particular post.
This whole adventure came out to cost:
- 90,750 Iberia Avios
- 40,750 for Iberia Premium Economy
- 50,000 for AA Business Class
- ~$176 (€156) per night at the DoubleTree Madrid-Prado
Finally, this trip report includes four reviews:
- Iberia Premium Economy, Airbus A350-900, JFK-MAD
- DoubleTree Madrid-Prado, Spain
- American Airlines Business Class, Boeing 767-300, MAD-JFK
- American Airlines Flagship Lounge, New York (JFK)
Plus three complementary articles:
- Navigating Madrid-Barajas’s Terminal 4
- On perceiving “good” value
- 54 Hours in Madrid
And an addendum in response to the DoubleTree review:
Thanks for reading, and thanks for supporting The Higher Flyer!