Is Flying Business Class Worth the Miles Spent?

A business class reward ticket is typically twice the amount of miles as a coach class ticket. Another way to look at it is you can fly twice in a cramped seat on two vacations rather than just one vacation in a super comfortable seat. Whether using miles to fly business (or first!) is worth it or not is personal opinion but after one bad experience, I’m sticking to my guns from now on and sticking to coach…sort of.

Your First Experience is Always the Best

My first experience in business class was in third grade in the 1960s accompanying my dad on a business trip. I remember it very well because I got a pretty new dress for the trip and was served filet mignon on a table cloth. Fast forward to the next time I flew business class 17 years ago when a very good friend gave Bob and I two business class tickets anywhere in the world as a wedding gift. We went to Istanbul and it was amazing flying over the Alps in cushy seats. This was Bob’s first trip to Europe and the beginning of a life of travel.

It never entered our minds that we would ever be able to fly business class again. But then I learned about points and miles!

My next time Bob and I flew business class was three years ago to Lima, Peru on LATAM using AAdvantage miles. It was a fantastic experience because we had flat seats, the food was excellent, and the service was friendly and smooth. Unfortunately it was a very short flight–we left at midnight and arrived at 6:00 am. For me, it was a little frustrating because I felt I couldn’t enjoy the experience fully. I wasn’t hungry when we got on the flight because I had enjoyed the executive lounge at the airport and I don’t sleep well on planes.

In the Lounge Pre Flight for Business Class

On our return through Miami, we flew American Airlines from Buenos Aires to Miami in coach–uneventful–and business class on the Miami-Los Angeles leg. The domestic leg in business provided comfortable seats (not lie-flat) and we had a nice breakfast. But that breakfast in business cost us 10,000 more American AAdvantage miles each! Was it worth it? In my opinion, no.

Is Business Class Worth the Miles for A Cheapskate Like Me?

After our South American trip, I decided it is better to splurge on business class for a 12+ hour overnight trip so we take full advantage the perks. In April 2017, we flew Iberia using Avios from Los Angeles to Madrid (MAD) in business and then to Rome (FCO) in coach. Avios is British Airways’ and Iberia’s mileage program. We actually transferred points from our Chase Ultimate Rewards to Iberia. It was an odd ticket because the business section to Rome was not available and so although we had to use miles for a business ticket, the short-haul leg was in coach. Of course, I knew that in advance when I booked but it was the only way to get award space in business for the long haul. Our business class tickets were 50,000 miles each one way LAX-MAD-FCO  and our return was 25,000 miles each one way MAD-LAX.

Business Class on Iberia

Our Experience in Business Class on Iberia

We flew on a new Airbus A350 out of LAX at about 6:00 p.m. Departure was very hectic. All the passengers were crowding at the gate. Lots of families had kids and extended relatives boarding early. My estimate is at least 30 people boarded early and more wanted to but were not allowed. Finally, business class boarding was called. (There was no first class on the plane.) What a mess boarding the business class passengers was! Bob and I were the only two passengers who were happy with our chosen seats. Evidently Iberia had messed up everyone’s seat assignments except ours. After about 30 minutes of moving people around, the frazzled flight attendants got everyone seated. We were about to pull off from the gate and I was thinking, “Where’s the champagne??”

There’s no champagne!

About 45 minutes after takeoff, the flight attendants came around with water and orange juice. Seriously? A bit later she came around to take our meal orders. I am not a picky eater but nothing sounded good on the menu. I chose cod in tomato sauce and Bob got mushroom risotto in mango sauce. (You can probably guess where this is going when you mix risotto and mangos!)

About 30 minutes later the first course arrived–a plain mixed green salad–we finally got our first opportunity for alcohol when she brought the wine cart, THANK GOD! Shortly after, the main courses arrived. I don’t know how to describe how bad they were; you can just look at the pictures. My cod without the sauce was quite good but the leaks were completely tasteless. Bob’s delicious mushroom risotto was topped with a frothy mango smoothie. Horrible!

My Main Course of Cod and Leeks–Tasteless
Bob’s Main Course of Mushroom Risotto Mango Smoothie–Horrible

More wine please!

Dessert was a huge serving of raspberry sherbet the size of a softball and about as tasty. The only detectable flavor was a very chemical fake berry essence.

More wine please!

The best part of the flight was the excellent selection of new movies on the entertainment system.

Finally, the flight attendants came around with the hard booze cart.

The seats are flat but somehow uncomfortable, or at least I couldn’t get comfortable. Also, the cabin fluctuated between very cold and very hot. I slept a couple of hours.

Breakfast was not memorable. I honestly can’t remember any part of it other than a container of yogurt.

As you can tell, I was disappointed. I learned that all business class is not the same and that for me, it’s not worth the miles to find out. I have flown Iberia in coach before and had a pretty good experience, in fact better than American Airlines. But this business class experience was absolutely not worth the points. Even the coach segment to Rome was a disappointment as there was no water, no soda, no chips…no nothing. I expect that with RyanAir and EasyJet but not with Iberia.

Our Excellent Coach Experience on Iberia

I was dreading the flight back to the U.S. on Iberia in coach based on both segments of our flight to Europe. We flew back on the same Airbus A350. The first hiccup was they changed our seats about a week before the flight. We had selected a window and aisle together but ended up with two seats together in the middle! I called Iberia and on the phone I was assured we had our original two seats of window and aisle. I asked him to email me confirmation but it never came through and we ended up with the middle seats. Fortunately, the flight was quite empty and everyone was moving around so we got our two original seats together.

Maybe because of my low expectations, I ended up being pleasantly surprised, except for the seating snafu. The coach seats were very comfortable and the most leg space of any coach seat we can remember plus the seat pitch was quite good. We had the same private entertainment system as business class. The food in Iberia’s coach was typical airline food, but not as bad as what we had in business class. I had to ask the flight attendant if she had wine because it wasn’t on top of the beverage cart but she pulled a secret stash out from the bottom of the cart and filled me up twice.

I slept about the same as I did, or rather didn’t, in business class. And breakfast was just as unmemorable in coach as business. But this leg of the trip cost half the number of points so I was twice as happy.

After this trip, I have decided I won’t bother with business class to Europe again. However…

We Have Booked Business Class from LA to Johannesburg on Iberia

I know, I know, I know…I just finished complaining about Iberia’s business class that it wasn’t worth the miles spent. However, knowing that we wanted to go to South Africa in 2018, at the end of 2017 we each signed up for the MasterCard AAdvantage Aviator card with 60,000 bonus miles. We think flying from Los Angeles to South Africa might be worth the miles simply for the lie-flat seats if nothing else so we used our bonus miles with the Aviator card plus AA miles we already had to book business class for 75,0000 miles (each) just for the outbound to South Africa so we can arrive fresh.

As usual, there was very limited business award availability so we are flying LAX-Miami (MIA) on American Airlines  with a 1-hour layover then MIA-Madrid (MAD)-Johannesburg (JNB) on Iberia. The first leg is in first class and the rest is in business. We have a whole day layover in Madrid, which is fine with us because we will go into the city and have lunch with friends who live there.

Our return flight is a bit better from Capetown to Madrid and then Madrid to LA for 35,000 miles each. Since those are two daytime flights we decided to fly coach plus there wasn’t any business award availability anyway.

We used a total of 110,000 miles and $466 (taxes) per person for the round trip tickets. The cost of our flights would have been $2,945 per person. We would never consider paying that amount of money for airline tickets. In fact, our entire 4-week trip will cost less than that, including spending a week doing a combination of lodge and self-driving safaris. (I will do a blog post about that when we get back.)

Will This Be Our Last Trip in Business Class?

Probably yes. I think South Africa will probably be the farthest place we will ever travel, at least as of now we have nothing on our bucket list farther. We have traveled around the world on dozens of flights in coach and were quite happy by focusing on the destination rather than the airline seat. We will keep traveling longer for less money, points and miles.

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