When can you get out of frequent flyer mile redemption these days? How about an all-Boeing round-the-world adventure seated up front? With long-term planning, I experienced eight segments in an adventurer dubbed #Miles4StyleRTW. Join us on a very comfortable and elegant passenger experience aboard Oneworld Alliance partners American Airlines, British Airways, and QANTAS Airways.
Airlines are generally making frequent flyer mile redemption more difficult by reducing the number of seats available and raising the number of miles required for free travel. I like to save my American Airlines frequent flyer miles for long-haul flights on business or first class and have had some very enjoyable and memorable experiences, especially being able to go around the world in first class in 2003 with Oneworld Alliance partners American Airlines, British Airways, and QANTAS Airways.
I had been meaning to repeat this feat for the past couple of years but had to push it back a few times. Finally, in November 2015 I redeemed my miles for an eight-segment (Rio de Janeiro – Miami – Los Angeles – Sydney – Johannesburg – Cape Town – London – Miami – Rio de Janeiro) 10-day journey, once again on American, British, and QANTAS for 475,000 miles plus $700 USD in taxes and carrier-imposed fees.
My flights took place in July 2016, as it is more difficult to find seats with less lead time, especially with multiple segments.
Rio de Janeiro to Miami – American Airlines Business Class (50,000 miles)
I arrived at Rio’s Antonio Carlos Jobim, more commonly known as Galeão, International Airport four hours before my flight to Miami on a LATAM flight from Brasilia. I proceeded to the international terminal thinking check-in would not be open for at least another hour, but the self-service kiosks were ready. I scanned my passport and easily printed my boarding pass.
After passing through security and immigration, I proceeded to American’s Admirals Club. The desk agent gave a warm welcome and explained this was a temporarily facility as American was getting ready to introduce a brand new lounge. There was plenty of food and drink options and comfortable seating. I ate a pasta dish and had some wine.
I went to the gate a bit early wanting to explore the new international terminal. My last flight out of Galeão was in 2003, and the airport was showing its age at the time. However, with Brazil as the host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, billions of dollars went into modernizing the country’s main airports.
The revamp did not disappoint. The new terminal is very modern and spacious. Soon my flight was boarding at Gate C55. When I booked my flight eight months earlier, the seating options were for a 777-200ER with the business class product American introduced on the -300ER in 2013. I would be in for a bit of a letdown.
Upon entering the aircraft, I saw the older business class in a 2-3-2 configuration with angled lie-flat seats. The new layout is 1-2-1 with fully-flat seats that also offer more privacy and direct aisle access to all passengers. I checked the seating chart on my return flight to Rio and also realized it would be on a 777 yet to be refurbished. I had window seat 8J on both flights.
Before pushback, the crew handed out menus and amenity kits. We departed on time and were airborne for the next eight and a half hours. I had a starter plate of fresh mozzarella and prosciutto and went with a mixed grill main course consisting of beef, chicken, and pork, along with a Fabre Montmayou Malbec red wine from Mendoza, Argentina. Dessert consisted of ice cream sundae.
I watched a movie during dinner and asked for the fruit, granola, and yogurt breakfast option, should I be awake 90 minutes before landing. However, sleep got the better of me, and the descent announcement from the captain woke me up.
We touched down in Miami at four in the morning local time, and my next flight would not be for another 12 hours. Since Miami is home, I made the most of my day by catching up with family, enjoying some good Latin cuisine for lunch, and doing some photography and plane spotting.
Miami to Sydney via Los Angeles – American Airlines First Class (100,000 miles)
I came back to the airport at 15:00 local and went to the exclusive American Airlines Flagship check-in lounge, where a friendly agent quickly printed my boarding pass and escorted me to the front of the security line. She said goodbye and wished me a good flight. After security, I headed to the Admirals Club.
American is currently remodeling its lounges and planning to expand food options. The airline has two clubs in Miami, and I checked on the progress of the one by Gate D15. The facelift is more than halfway done, and the new counters and seating areas were fully functional. The new look feels more modern. I decided to wait to experience the food and drink options until my return to Miami.
I was very excited about the next flight since it would be aboard the 777-300ER, which I had not yet flown on American. My aircraft, registered N720AN, was the very first example American received in early 2013.
I settled in a very high tech and roomy Zodiac-manufactured seat 2A, which offers 64 inches (160 cm) of pitch and measures 30 inches (76 cm) in width and 78 inches (198 cm) in length in the bed position.
I suspected this same aircraft would take me to Sydney after the four-hour layover in Los Angeles. I checked my arrival and departure gates, which confirmed my intuition. This plane would be my home for four hours and 20 minutes from Miami to Los Angeles and 14 hours and 55 minutes from Los Angeles to Sydney.
Flying on a domestic flight, I was not expecting much in terms of service, even for first class. Fortunately, I was wrong, and American showed it takes premium transcontinental service very seriously. A friendly crew provided welcome drinks, amenity kits, and menus. I ordered a smoked salmon dip as an appetizer, panko crusted mahi mahi with barley fried rice for the main course, and royal chocolate mousse cake for dessert. They would not disappoint.
Once airborne the flight crew dodged a cluster of typical Florida afternoon summer thunderstorms before a very smooth ride all the way to California. The first gadget I wanted to try was the Panasonic satellite internet connection. An Internet pass requires connecting to the “AA Inflight” Wi-Fi signal, registering for an account, and providing payment information.
Access for the duration of the flight costs $18 USD. I think American could make the first class experience even better by providing a courtesy access coupon code to premium customers, but I did not mind paying. The speed will not allow for any streaming services that require a lot of bandwidth, but it was good enough for web surfing and providing social media updates on the experience. Above all, this internet service is available virtually anywhere in the world the aircraft is flying, except for China and a few coverage gaps in the southern oceans.
I was already familiar with the IFE, which I experienced in premium domestic service in the airline’s newer Airbus and Boeing airplanes. The system made by Thales “TopSeries” offers 200 movies, 180 TV programs, 350 music albums, 18 radio channels, and 15 games. It is very difficult to get bored with so many options.
With internet access, a good dinner, and a couple of movies, I did not notice how quickly the time flew. I had a fruit plate for a snack, and soon we were descending to Los Angeles. As soon as I turned off airplane mode on my phone during taxi, I received a text from a Flagship Lounge representative telling me she would meet me at the gate and escort me to the lounge.
Los Angeles to Sydney
Seventy-two hours before this segment, I received a courtesy email from American asking me what I wanted for dinner on the way to Australia. I found it to be a nice touch, and the text I received upon landing in Los Angeles made it even nicer.
The Flagship representative greeted me and gave me the choice of staying at American’s Flagship Lounge or going to the QANTAS version, where there was full sit-down dinner service. I wanted to save my appetite for the flight and also wanted to experience American’s own product.
The Flagship Lounge is across from the Admirals Club, which was more crowded and noisier that particular evening. It offers plenty of drink, snack, and meal options in a self-service area, and seating is very comfortable. The representative said she would take me to the gate 50 minutes before the 22:55 local time departure, and soon the time came.
I found the Flagship service to have a very good personalized feel before, during, and after the stay. The representative said her goodbyes after taking me and the other first class customers to the gate. This time, my seat was 1A. I was ready for dinner and looking forward to the seared lamb chops I ordered three days earlier.
Along with welcome drinks, noise cancelling headphones, and amenity kits, the crew handed out pajamas. We departed on time for our long trek across the Pacific Ocean. I bought another internet pass. One suggestion would be for an all-day pass option with a validity of 24 hours to avoid making two purchases on the same day.
When we leveled off, dinner service began. I chose a delicious poblano soup as a starter and the lamb Chops were a delight. I accompanied my meal with an Australian Eileen Hardy Chardonnay. My next task was to put the sleeping comfort of the seat to the test. At around the two-hour mark, I changed to the pajamas and went to sleep after being up for 20 hours.
The bed position if the seat was very cozy and my tired body enjoyed almost nine hours of virtually uninterrupted sleep. When I awoke, there were three hours left in the flight, and I ordered a mixed berry smoothie followed by a continental breakfast composed of fruits, yogurt, and granola. The cabin crew handed out entry cards and passes for the express immigration lanes, which came in handy considering the long lines I would see in Sydney.
At dawn, we were greeted by a mild but rainy and low-visibility winter morning in Sydney. The comfort and service of first class without a doubt made the time go by fast and never made me wonder “are we there yet?” The good sleep during the flight, made the adaptation for my next two days in Sydney a bit easier.
Sydney to Johannesburg – QANTAS Airways Business Class (50,000 miles)
After crossing the Pacific Ocean, came the time to cross the Indian Ocean for 14 hours and 15 minutes aboard a QANTAS 747-400. This service offered business, premium economy l, and economy seating. I booked business seat 16K on the upper deck of this “Queen of the Skies” registered a VH-OJU and delivered in January 2000.
I took a train from my hotel to the airport. Business class check-in at the counter took less than two minutes with a very friendly and courteous agent. Immigration and security were also quick, and I headed to the QANTAS business class lounge.
I had a 10:50 local departure time and resisted on the wide variety of breakfast and snack options in order to fully experience the onboard meal service.
I headed to the Gate 37 and saw the entire crew waiting with the passengers. It turned out our departure was delayed by an hour. There were no congestion or technical issues, but the gate agent explained that since our aircraft was coming from a hangar at the other end of the airport, it had the lowest priority to get towed to the gate in relation to departing and arriving traffic.
I returned to the comfort of the club, still resisting any urge to eat. Boarding eventually began. After passengers needing extra assistance and families with small children boarded, business class customers followed. I made my way upstairs to the upper deck. QANTAS uses the “Sky Bed” shell seat, introduced over 10 years ago, and it does not feel dated.
Our very cheery Australian cabin crew provided amenity kits, noise cancelling headphones, pajamas, and menus, as well as the usual welcome drinks. Take off to the north provided a great view of Sydney and the surrounding area on a very beautiful day. The menu had a programmed lunch and dinner service and an on demand snack and drink service throughout the flight.
The seating layout in the upper deck is 2-2. I was on window seat 16K and did not have a neighbor to worry about stepping over during the flight. I pulled up my IFE screen and explored “iQ”, the airline’s entertainment service offering 60 movies, 250 TV shows, 250 music channels, 18 radio shows, and various gaming options, plus the moving flight path.
I chose braised venison with chestnuts as the main plate for lunch and it was big satisfying hit. About three hours into the flight, after watching a movie, I changed to the pajamas with the unmistakable kangaroo logo and got plenty of sleep on the fully-flat bed. Mentally, I was truly enjoying my round-the-world journey, but I think my eight hours of straight sleep were my body telling me it was a bit tired.
I awoke very refreshed and drank a bottle of water to hydrate. Dinner gave lunch some competition in the form of prawn oil pasta with crab and roasted cherry tomatoes main platter. I watched some of the television programming to catch up on some of my favorite shows during the last three hours of flight.
We crossed the eastern coast of Mozambique at sunset and soon began descent into Johannesburg. The two flight attendants who served me during the 14 hours came up to personally thank me for flying, provided an express pass to immigration, and asked if there was anything else they could do.
We touched down at 6:55 PM, almost an hour behind schedule. This fantastic QANTAS business service can easily be confused with many international first class services.
In the second part of this Round-the-World Adventure, Luis Linares explores the different products on board Comair, British Airways and American Airlines.