The most recent review published on The Higher Flyer evaluates international business class onboard American Airlines’s now-retired fleet of Boeing 767s. There’s nothing particularly exciting nor noteworthy about the experience, but with lie-flat seats, direct aisle access for all passengers, and upgraded dining options on offer, your expectations for a product marketed as “Flagship Business” are likely going to be met but not exceeded. It delivers all that you could want in decidedly-average fashion, but because the fares are prohibitively expensive, it’s nearly impossible for me to recommend it. When compared to significantly cheaper, if not better, alternatives, it’s the textbook definition of a terrible deal… although some might disagree with that assessment. There’s an inherent ambiguousness to higher flying reflected here, and that poses an interesting question: what makes a “good value” good?
The astronomically-priced airfare immediately indicates that AA’s business class one way between Madrid and New York is a poor, poor value.
Yikes! $5,398 is a jaw-dropping figure, and if you break that down further, you’ll find that…
- Based on the straight-line distance between Madrid-Barajas and New York-JFK (totaling 3,589 miles or 5,776 kilometers), this segment costs about $1.50 per mile or 94 cents per kilometer.
- My particular flight, which took 7 hours and 35 minutes from takeoff to landing, cost a whopping $11.86 per minute and $711.82 per hour.
That’s obnoxious, but just because something is expensive doesn’t automatically mean that it’s a bad value. As mentioned in the introductory post of the trip report, this leg of the itinerary was paid for with 50,000 Iberia Avios and $40 worth of fees. THF values Iberia’s currency at 1.25 cents per mile (CPM), so this redemption cost the dollar equivalent of about $625. That doesn’t sting anywhere near as badly as $5,398 does, and furthermore, the 10.8 CPM ratio is quite cool too.
Conversely, redeeming points doesn’t guarantee a good deal. The price that I paid is a steal, but that option isn’t always going to be there. Sometimes luck has to be on your side, and that’s not something you want to leave to chance. Depending on how things work out, you could be looking at paying up to 180,000 AAdvantage miles for this same fare. That’s the equivalent of $2,250 — based also on a 1.25 CPM valuation — and is still a rather horrific figure.
The fact that American wants north of $5,000 or up to 180,000 AAdvantage miles for this is insulting because, as a passenger, it’s hard to escape the feeling that American is doing the absolute bare minimum. As the review’s conclusion explains…
Flying American Airlines’s business class on its Boeing 767 fleet, and then subsequently reflecting on it, is an exercise in perspective. You’ll get all the luxuries that you’d expect, like a lie-flat seat and higher-quality catering, and you’ll travel to your destination in relative comfort. All that doesn’t come cheap though, and it’s not uncommon to see a typical fare for this cost more than $5,000. At that price point, there’s not a lot of room for error or compromise. AA’s 767 “Flagship Business” technically delivers on what it should, but it’s hard to recommend it because it does so in such an underwhelming fashion; the experience feels half-baked yet still demands an arm and a leg.
That’s really problematic! If you spend a ton of points or $5,398, AA’s uninspired effort might be more than a bit disappointing for you. There at least ought to be something to make this worthwhile for higher flyers, right? Alas, there’s nothing but a lackluster-yet-serviceable business class with a top-of-the-line price tag.
…But here’s the thing: it’s still international business class!
Whining about this kind of mediocrity feels blithe at best and ungrateful and entitled at worst. How can anyone genuinely criticize an airplane’s accommodations that are far superior to what most others experience and, thanks to points, sometimes cheaper than a lot of economy class tickets? Subjective relativity is ingrained in higher flying though — what’s luxurious for me might be trashy for you and vice versa — and this certainly applies to business class on AA’s 767s. Is it good? You could say that it is, but it all just depends; what you’re looking for and what you value will influence your answer to that question. I myself have no qualms paying the premium for a lie-flat seat and an otherwise memorable affair, but what I want most is a strong “bang-for-your-buck” ratio. When I evaluate American Airlines against its competition in this market, its staggering cost of admission immediately puts it at a disadvantage.
“But but but,” one might argue, “AA’s flight is direct and that’ll always cost more!” Sure, that’s nice, but let’s be real: the added convenience seldom justifies a several thousand dollar premium. If you’re willing to pay for a nonstop routing anyway, notice that Air Europa also flies between the two cities. It’s easy to redeem points for a cheap business class ticket — Air France’s/KLM’s FlyingBlue program presents lucrative options — and check out the impressive, brand new reverse herringbone seats available if you need more convincing. Most importantly, Air Europa’s fares, quoted above at $2,473, are roughly 55 percent cheaper than American’s!
Furthermore, if you don’t mind a decently long layover in Lisbon, you can fly in TAP Portugal’s international business class for nearly half of Air Europa’s rate (or a quarter of American’s!). You can enjoy a spacious, lie-flat seat, delicious dining, and a comfortable ride on a brand new aircraft across the Atlantic for $1,286! You’ll add some time on to your itinerary and you won’t have as many compelling points-based opportunities, but the tradeoff for those is a price that’s so, so right.
No matter if you choose the $1,286, $2,473, or the $5,398 option, your experiences as a passenger are going to be similar no matter what you choose. Why spend exponentially more for something that, at best, is only marginally better than the rest? By my metrics, choosing one of the more expensive options sets you up for a terrible value. And, if you have the financial flexibility to afford any of these fares with cash, why choose one of them at all when this is available…
That’s right, you can fly the world-renowned Singapore Airlines Suites Class for less than the cost of American Airlines’s “Flagship Business.” Granted, this itinerary requires a connecting flight in Lufthansa’s euro-business and then an overnight layover in Frankfurt, Germany, but wow, talk about a unique opportunity for genuine, higher flyer luxury.
All three of these alternatives are, in my humble opinion, far better values than what American offers. It’s a no-brainer for me, but what if you have a lot of AAdvantage miles or Avios that you need to spend? You can’t use those currencies on any of the other airlines. What if you have to get to a meeting in New York the afternoon that you land? Air Europa and TAP touch down in the evening, and Singapore Airlines doesn’t arrive until the next day. What if you’re traveling on a corporate contract and you’re obligated to fly AA? If you find yourself in any of these situations, then American is going to be your best bet. Go figure, a $5,000 American fare (or 180,000 point redemption) could be of great value to you and an easy choice. The subjective world of higher flying sure is weird sometimes, huh?
What do you think? What’s good about a “good value” for you?
“Another Weekend to Europe” Trip Report
- Introduction: Another Weekend to Europe
- Iberia Premium Economy, Airbus A350-900, JFK-MAD
- DoubleTree Madrid-Prado, Spain
- Navigating Madrid-Barajas’s Terminal 4
- American Airlines Business Class, Boeing 767-300, MAD-JFK
- On perceiving “good” value
- American Airlines Flagship Lounge, New York (JFK)
- 54 Hours in Madrid