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An avid world traveller and an enthusiast of the aviation industry. Has been to over 50 countries, on paths well and less travelled. Always on the lookout for luxury travel at economy price.

Flight Review: British Airways Airbus A320 London Heathrow to Stockholm Business Class (Club Europe)

This flight, BA776, was an early morning departure at 07:15 am from London Heathrow Terminal 5. I arrived the terminal early around 5:30 am and it was relatively empty at this hour.

Check In
Being a British Airways’ Gold member, I proceeded straight to the First Class check-in area on the south side of the terminal (Zone J). As I was travelling without a check-in luggage, I bypassed the check-in counters and went straight to the pre-security zone. There was absolutely no queue. The staff scanned my boarding pass which was downloaded from my BA app, then immediately I progressed to the auto-barrier. Once again, with my BA app, I scanned my boarding pass over the scanner. Successfully verified, the gate opened and I continued to the dedicated main security. The usual routine – liquids out, laptop out, belt off, coat off, etc, and put them through the x-ray machine. I was through security in less than three minutes. It should be noted that this First Class check-in, also referred as First Wing,  is only available to first class passengers, BA Gold members and One World Emeralds. The latter two can use this exclusive access regardless of the travelling class. After security, it was a very short walk along a wide corridor flanked on both sides with digital advertising. This led straight to the British Airways First Class Lounge. The whole process was seamless; from landside to airside, was accomplished in less than ten minutes. Impressive!

BA First Class Lounge
This lounge is quite large and spacious. Facilities included showers, spa, business centre, hot/cold food buffet and self-service hot and cold beverages, amongst others. The hot breakfast on offer was a typical English breakfast (sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, hash browns, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes) along with breads and cakes. I have patronised this lounge for many years; the menu have remained the same throughout – be it breakfast, lunch or evening meals. The menu has not changed one bit.  I wonder how hard could it be to refresh the menu occasionally!

BA776 was assigned to Gate 10, which was in the middle of the terminal. It involved going down one level, then through the boarding checks. A bus then whisked us off to the aircraft. When a bus is involved, priority boarding becomes non-existent.

Cabin and Seating in Club Europe
The interior cabin was fresh and very clean with newish looking dark leather seats. On this flight, the first five rows were turned into business class cabin. British Airways operates a variable cabin size in accordance to the demand of the premium seats. Essentially, all the seats in the aircraft are the same. On the business class (Club Europe) seats, they simply blocked off the middle seat.

British Airways BA776 A320 Row 1
British Airways BA776 A320 Row 1

I was seated in 1A. The seat did not recline at all; this is a standard feature on BA short haul flights. Where I was, when seated and legs rested, there was at least 16”-18” of gap before reaching the galley partition. While the seat pitch was generous in row one, you cannot stretch your legs because of the physical wall of the galley, but it was perfectly fine for a short two-and-a-half hour flight.

British Airways BA776 A320 Seat 1A Pitch
British Airways BA776 A320 Seat 1A Pitch

Overhead compartment spaces were plentiful in the front cabin.

The flight departed on time but the taxiing and queuing consumed over forty minutes before we were airborne. Early morning is a busy time for landings in Heathrow; long haul flights tend to arrive at this time. The captain did a god job updating the passengers on the progress.

Inflight Services
I was greeted warmly by a bubbly male cabin service purser. He actually shook hands with all the business class passengers and greeted them in person individually. (A rarity these days!)

We were not offered drinks or morning papers before take off. There was no in-flight entertainment and no wifi. A small screen unfolded from the overhead compartment provided the visual display. Safety demonstration was by way of a very entertaining and amusing inflight video, featuring an all-star cast of British actors and actresses (Michael Caine, Asim Chaudhry, Olivia Colman, Jourdan Dunn, Naomie Harris, Joanna Lumley and David Walliams). It was a clever and creative way to convey safety messages in a humorous manner. But admittedly, if you are not exposed to the British celebrities or culture or familiar with its humour, you will almost certainly have little appreciation on the content. And if you do not speak English (as with 80% of the 7.6 billion world population), you will totally be in the dark (yes, even the subtitles were in mighty English).

The screen remained visible throughout the flight (except towards landing time) providing useful navigation information (flight position, altitude, distances, times and map).

A very professional sounding female captain welcomed the passengers and relayed the pertinent information about the flight. The business cabin was manned by a team of two including the purser. They were very pleasant and friendly, and were always smiling (must be the happiest crew that I have seen in BA flights for a long time).

Shortly after reaching cruising altitude, hot breakfast was served. We had a choice of omelette, English breakfast or vegetarian option, along with beverages (tea, coffee and juices). I chose the English breakfast. Overall, it was nicely presented and tasted pretty decent but the bacon was too ‘steamed’ for my liking. The hot food was individually prepared and served straight from the galley, not through the mass trolley. The dishes and empty cup were cleared promptly after I finished the meal.

British Airways BA776 LHR-ARN - Hot English Breakfast
British Airways BA776 LHR-ARN – Hot English Breakfast

Despite the delays in getting airborne, our flight arrived right on schedule in Stockholm Arlanda Airport Terminal 2. Disembarking was swift and it was just a short walk to immigration.

Overall, this BA776 was one of the better and pleasant flights that I have experienced on British Airways’ short hauls. The cabin was fresh and manned by courteous and friendly professionals who were genuinely happy to serve (particularly for an early morning flight). OK, this was no Qatar Airways or Singapore Airlines long haul business class, but it was a nice change.

Airline Review: BA776 British Airways Airbus A320 London Heathrow to Stockholm Arlanda Business Class (Club Europe)
Date Flew: 09-NOV-2018

Hotel Review: Hotel Madrid Centro by Melia

Hotel Madrid Centro is a 3 star rated hotel that used to be part of Tryp hotels but is now under the management of Melia Hotels.

Hotel Madrid Centro is centrally located in Madrid. It is situated at the north-west end of Gran Via, near Plaza de Espana. In this vicinity, there are numerous theatres, restaurants and shopping centres. The major tourist attractions are also nearby. To name a few, Plaza Mayor, Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, Mercado San Miguel, Cathedral Santa Maria and Royal Palace of Madrid are all within walking distance, around 10-12 minutes’ walk. The main shopping area at Plaza del Callao is less than 5 minutes by foot.

Check-In and Lobby
The reception area was on ground floor and tiny in size. It did not take more than a small group of people to check in to overflow this area. When we checked-in, there was only one person on duty and we had to wait ten minutes for him to finish his telephone conversation. Otherwise, our check-in went smoothly. The main elevator was just a few feet away from the reception counter. It can be dauntingly slow during busy periods. Oddly, there was a casual foyer on the first floor with brightly coloured sofas and rugs. This was like an extension to the lobby, but totally segregated from the reception as they were on different floors.

Hotel Madrid Centro – First Floor Foyer
Hotel Madrid Centro -First Floor Foyer

Our bedroom was on the 11th floor, the highest in this hotel. It overlooked some blocks of buildings which were not that exciting (but not a dump either). The bedroom was small, barely manageable with two people. It was also very basic. It had a narrow working counter/desk but with no available power supply unit for charging the laptop. A power outlet was available by the bedside table on each side, requiring an European round plug. There was no USB charger. The 25” television sat on the desk too, competing for the limited space. Only two channels were in English (CNBC and Bloomberg).

Hotel Madrid Centro – Double Bedroom
Hotel Madrid Centro – Work Desk / Counter

The room was equipped with a safe. Flooring was of wood laminate. There was no refrigerator or coffee-making facilities.

The biggest disappointment was the bed itself. It was creaky and the mattress was hard and had definitely seen its better days. The comfort factor was definitely lacking here. The centrally-controlled heating and air conditioning unit was also very loud. The thermostat control in the room was as good as useless. Overall, it was a challenge to get a restful sleep.

Surprisingly, the bathroom was nicely fitted with marble/granite tiles and countertop. It even had a bidet. The bath was a shower-bath combined unit. Towels were ample and fluffy. The hair dryer was wall-mounted and worked well. Apart from hand soap via a dispenser, there were no other amenities provided.

Hotel Madrid Centro -Bathroom
Hotel Madrid Centro -Bathroom

There was not much space in the bathroom. There was no way two people can be in the bathroom at the same time. If someone was using the toilet, access to the bathroom was practically impossible.

Hotel Madrid Centro – Bathroom – Space Constrained, note the door clearance against the toilet

Despite my negative comments, I have to say that overall, the hotel admirably maintained the cleanliness of its room and public spaces. Both the bedroom and bathroom were very clean.

As for other facilities, the hotel has a fitness room and restaurant. I did not use both. For dining, you are spoiled for choices offsite in the neighbourhood. Expectedly, there was no swimming pool, being a three star hotel.

I booked directly on Melia’s website for €115 plus 2000 Melia Reward points per night, prepaid and non-cancellable. You can get free 2000 Melia Reward points by simply signing up for its membership.

The hotel is OK, but I will certainly not be coming back here any time soon. A hotel room, for all its intents and purposes, should provide the guest a good night’s sleep. The inability to enjoy this convinced me it was not worthy of a repeat.

Having said that, if you are torn between budget and location, Hotel Madrid Centro is not a bad compromise, provided you can put up with some discomfort. It is a place that you would not want to stay for a long period. 2 or 3 nights should be bearable, as long as you will be spending a lot of time outside. The one thing going for this hotel is its good central location and its room rate affordability when compared to others in the same area.

Tips for Madrid:
It is easy to get from and to Madrid airport using the Metro. Simply take Line 8 from the airport and change at Neuvos Ministerios for Line 10 to Plaza de Espana station. Take exit 3 Gran Via; the hotel is less than 100 metres from the station. The cost is €6.25 one way from the airport (inclusive of Metro card). The return journey costs €5 one-way.

Churros at Chocolateria San Gines
Enjoy churros at Chocolateria San Gines. It is open 24 hours daily, only 10 minutes walk from Hotel Centro Madrid. Dunk the churros into a cup of hot chocolate. One helping of six churros and hot chocolate with a cup of cappuccino is €6.50. Chocolateria San Gines is the oldest churro café in Madrid.

Churros and Hot Chocolate
Churros and Hot Chocolate at Chocolateria San Gines

Dining at Sobrino de Botin
Sobrino de Botin is the oldest restaurant in the world, a title confirmed by Guinness World Record. It is located by Plaza Mayor, only 12 minutes walk from Hotel Madrid Centro. It is famous for its roasted suckling pig and roast lamb. A roast pig and soft drink will set you back about €30 per person.

Roasted Suckling Pig at Sobrino de Botin
Roasted Suckling Pig at Sobrino de Botin

Flight Review: American Airlines Embraer RJ-175 Main Cabin Extra – Short Haul International Flight Vancouver to Los Angeles

American Eagle
American Eagle

Flight AA6072 from Vancouver to Los Angeles was operated by Compass Airlines on behalf of American Airlines as American Eagle. The route was operated with an Embraer RJ-175 jet aircraft with a scheduled flight duration of 3 hours 12 minutes.

I did not pay outright for this flight. I redeemed my British Airways Avios which costed me 7,500 points and a surcharge of CAD $53.

The check-in at Vancouver Airport went smoothly, but it took almost an hour to clear US Immigration. (Vancouver Airport has US pre-clearance facility; this means you clear US Immigration and Customs in Vancouver itself, arriving into US as a domestic flight.)

Boarding was by group number, 1 to 4, then 5 to 7. I was in group 2. Boarding was accomplished quietly and with minimum fuss.

There were four rows of business class seats with 1-2 configuration, five rows of Main Cabin Extra (MCE) with 2-2 layout, and the rest (11 rows) were standard economy (also 2-2). There was no physical divider between the MCE and business class cabins, merely a half-length curtain separating the two.

The interior of the aircraft looked new, smart and very clean. All the seats were with dark leather upholstery. They were on the firm side but comfortable. The overhead compartment was small; you would find problem stuffing a big carry-on in it.

The flight departed the gate early at 0616 hours (scheduled at 0623). Once airborne, complimentary beverages (soft drinks, coffee and tea) were served. Alcoholic drinks were available at a surcharge. Inflight entertainment was also complimentary and this was by wifi streaming to your personal mobile device.

As a One World frequent flyer with top tier Emerald status, one of the perks, is being able to select my seat ahead of time for free, including the Main Cabin Extra (MCE). Without this privilege, MCE seat would cost CAD $48 extra. I was seated in 8A, the first seat in MCE, immediately after the business class cabin.

What blew me away was the seat pitch on row 8. The legroom was mind-bogglingly generous; in fact, all the seats in row 8 had more legroom than the business class itself. Seated and with my knees rested at right angle, my 14” laptop did not even touch the seat in front. See pictures.

AA6072 Seat 8A Embraer 175 Legroom
AA6072 Seat 8A Embraer 175 – Generous Legroom!
AA6072 Seat 8A Embraer 175 Legroom - Sizing Up
AA6072 Seat 8A Embraer 175 Legroom – Sizing up with 14″ Laptop

The flight arrived Los Angeles thirty minutes ahead of schedule. It taxied to a remote terminal where I then took a shuttle bus to Terminal 5 to collect my luggage.

A very pleasant and peaceful morning flight with comfortable seat and ambiance.

Seating Tip:
8A, 8D and 8F are great seats, probably worth paying the extra CAD $48 seat surcharge. Avoid 8C; although the pitch is great, the trolley path cuts into it, constraining your freedom to stretch your legs at all times.

Airline Review: AA6072 American Airlines Embraer RJ-175 Vancouver to Los Angeles – Economy Class, Main Cabin Extra
Date Flew: 17-OCT-2018

Hotel Review: Delta Grand Okanagan by Marriott

Delta Grand Okanagan by Marriott
Delta Grand Okanagan by Marriott

The Delta Grand Okanagan is part of the Delta Hotels, a Canadian hotel chain. It was acquired by Marriott in 2015. The Delta brand continues to be maintained by Marriott as part of its global lodging portfolio. It is rated as Category 5 in Marriott Rewards.

Delta Grand Okanagan by Marriott
Delta Grand Okanagan by Marriott

This Delta Grand Okanagan is located by the Okanagan lakeside and is blessed with outstandingly beautiful scenery. The expansive and serene blue lake is complemented with mountain views in the background. Occasionally, you can watch float planes taking off and landing unobtrusively.

Water View from Delta Grand Okanagan Hotel
Water view from Delta Grand Okanagan Hotel, Kelowna, BC, Canada

Lobby & Check-In
We arrived at the hotel at 8.15 am and was attended at the front desk promptly and politely. There were rooms available and she checked us in immediately. She acknowledged our elite status and upgraded us to a Club Floor room with access to the executive lounge. (We later found out that she was the Assistant Front Office Manager). The ninth and tenth floors are the Executive floors.

The lobby floor is not very grand, kind of darkish, and is anchored by its large restaurant, Oak+Cru. The lobby area can get very crowded, especially when there are special functions happening (as it did during our stay). It is a strange layout. The main entrance does not lead to the hotel reception, but to the restaurant. The reception is obscured to the right side.

Delta Grand Okanagan Lobby Floor
Delta Grand Okanagan Lobby Floor

Despite being on the club floor, our room did not have the water view; instead, it was a dull and boring city view, overlooking a dead mall. The room itself looked gloomy, overwhelmingly because of the very dark carpet. The first impression, for an expensive hotel, it did not immediately exude quality. The bedroom was spacious though, equipped with many standard features, but surprisingly, it was missing a safe and sofa seater. For a ‘grand’ hotel, these should have been part of the standard features. I checked the photos in Marriott website; it did show a sofa seater, so this room must be an odd one.

Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Room
Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Room

The work table is of decent size but located directly below the 48” television. Say, if your other half wants to watch the TV and you want to work, it could be very distracting for both.

Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Room - Work Desk
Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Room – Work Desk

There were two bottles of mineral water on the work table initially, but they were not replenished the next day.

The cooling and heating of the room is individually controlled in the room itself, but the unit was noisy and disruptive to a peaceful sleep.

The bathroom is on the smallish side but equipped with full amenities. There is no bath, just a narrow shower unit that also has both the handheld and overhead rain showers; all functioned admirably.

Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Room - Shower
Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Room – Shower
Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Room – Bathroom Amenities

Executive Lounge
The executive lounge is on 9th floor, and access to the lounge is by room card. It opens from 6.30am to 10pm. Outside the hours of breakfast and evening cocktail, there was nothing much in the lounge. Continental breakfast is served between 6.30am and 9.30am. The evening hors d’oeuvres starts at 4.30pm to 7pm with food servings in the form of spring rolls, samosa, nuts, cheeses, salad and various biscuits. The lounge has gorgeous views of the Okanagan Lake and mountains.

Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Lounge
Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Lounge
Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Lounge
Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Lounge
Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Lounge
Delta Grand Okanagan Club Floor Lounge

Car Park
The self-car park is located independently on a separate tower. (They do have valet parking.) It would take a good 3-5 minutes to walk to the lobby. The daily parking charge of $24 was pretty steep for Kelowna standard, and more annoying when you were already been forced to pay $20 resort fee per day.

The restaurant Oak + Cru is really the focus piece of the lobby floor. It gets very busy during the Happy Hours. The restaurant is very big and extends to the outside patio, and has nice views of the purpose-built lake and the Okanagan mountains.

Delta Grand Okanagan Restaurant Bar
Delta Grand Okanagan Restaurant Bar
Delta Grand Okanagan Restaurant Patio
Delta Grand Okanagan Restaurant Patio

Resort Fee
The daily resort fee gives you the entitlement to use the recreational boats and bicycles. The City has friendly bike lanes by the lake shorelines – biking is a highly recommended mode to explore the beautiful shoreline by the City Park and Waterfront areas.

Delta Grand Okanagan - Rear View
Delta Grand Okanagan – Rear View

Overall, this is a modern and beautiful hotel in a good location which has outstanding natural beauty at its doorstep. The staff was polite and attentive. My room could have been better; despite this, Delta Grand Okanagan is a quality and clean hotel that I would not mind coming back to. However, I disliked paying the daily resort fee, especially when I had no need to use the recreational facilities.

Cathay Pacific Gets An “F” For Paint Job

Cathay Pacific Spelling Error
Cathay Pacific Spelling Error

Just a light hearted post for a giggle.

Would you like to fly on Cathay Paciic?

Cathay rolled out its plane from the paint shop and got its own name spelled wrongly. Amusing it is, but more baffling, how could anyone not spotted it even before leaving the hangar?

So…Cathay Pacific, the next time I spell my name incorrectly on my air tickets, would you be kind enough to waive the cancellation penalties?


Asia Pacific Dominates Air Travel But Americans Travel The Most

World Air Transport Statistics 2018

Key aviation statistics for year 2017 were released by IATA (International Air Transport Association) today. IATA is the major organisation in aviation industry, representing some 290 airlines, which together have 82% of global air traffic.

Asia Pacific Dominates

Based on total passengers carried on scheduled services by airlines, Asia Pacific carriers carried the largest number of passengers, totalling 1.5 billion passengers, an increase of 10.6% over 2016. Asia Pacific airlines commanded 36.3% of the market share.

European carriers came second with 1.1 billion passengers and enjoyed 26.3% of the market share. Followed closely in third position was the North American airlines with 942 million passengers which captured 23% of the market share.

Top Five Airlines

Ranked by total scheduled passenger kilometers flown, American Airlines came top with 324 million, followed by Delta Air Lines at 316.3 million and United Airlines at 311 million. Emirates Airline trailed at 289 million in fourth. In fifth was Southwest Airlines at 208 million.

Top Five International Airport-Pairs

Once again, Asia Pacific region dominated.
1. Hong Kong – Taipei Taoyuan (5.4 million, up 1.8% from 2016)
2. Jakarta Soekarno Hatta – Singapore (3.3 million, up 0.8% from 2016)
3. Bangkok Suvarnabhumi – Hong Kong (3.1 million, increase of 3.5% from 2016)
4. Kuala Lumpur – Singapore (2.8 million, down. 0.3% from 2016)
5. Hong Kong – Seoul Incheon (2.7 million, down 2.2% from 2016)

Top Five Domestic Airport-Pairs

Asia Pacific region dominated once more.
1. Jeju – Seoul Gimpo (13.5 million, up 14.8% over 2016)
2. Melbourne Tullamarine – Sydney (7.8 million, up 0.4% from 2016)
3. Fukuoka – Tokyo Haneda (7.6 million, an increase of 6.1% from 2016)
4. Sapporo – Tokyo Haneda (7.4 million, up 4.6% from 2016)
5. Beijing Capital – Shanghai Hongqiao (6.4 million, up 1.9% from 2016)

Most Frequent Flyers By Nationality

Worldwide, scheduled airlines carried 4.1 billion passengers, an increase of 7.3% over 2016, representing an additional 280 million trips by air.

The Americans took the honour as the most frequent flyers, followed by the Chinese and Indians.

1. United States of America (632 million, representing 18.6% of all passengers)
2. People’s Republic of China (555 million or 16.3% of all passengers)
3. India (161.5 million or 4.7% of all passengers)
4. United Kingdom (147 million or 4.3% of all passengers)
5. Germany (114.4 million or 3.4% of all passengers)

Airlines Alliances

Once again, Star Alliance maintained its position as the largest airline alliance with 39% of total scheduled traffic by revenue passenger kilometers, followed by SkyTeam at 33% and Oneworld at 28%.

Passenger Load Factor

In 2017, the available seat kilometers (ASK) were 9,508 billion. The revenue passenger kilometers (RPK) were 7,748 billion, giving it a passenger load factor of 81.5%. This reflected a high utilisation of aircrafts.

Source for all data above:
62nd Edition of the World Air Transport Statistics (WATS), IATA

Most Economical Way To Fly South American Regional Flights

Iguazu Falls, Brazil
Iguazu Falls, Brazil

After completing our trip to Machu Picchu and Lima, our plan is to head out to Rio de Janeiro on a one way basis. We intend to find the most direct and economical flight, either by using cash or points.

The non-stop flight between Lima and Rio is about 5.5 hours, and you only have a choice of LATAM Peru or Avianca. Both fly once a day using a single aisle narrow body aircraft (A319 and A320 respectively). Flight on Avianca is an overnight red-eye flight while LATAM operates a day flight.

We priced it out on Google Flight.

Google Flight Search LIM-GIG

Clearly, duopoly is not in the best interest of the consumers. The one way cash price of EUR 470 was clearly too expensive. The next logical step was to check on the points redemption. As Avianca is part of the Star Alliance, you can use one of the Star Alliance member’s frequent flyers to check on the redemption. In our case, we have Air Canada’s frequent flyer, Aeroplan.

As with the cash flights, this proved to be disappointing. All the flights on offer were with two stops. A 5.5 hour direct flight would take a minimum of 19 hours to complete.

Aeroplan LIM-GIG Availability
Aeroplan LIM-GIG Availability

The fees and surcharges (CAD 50 / EUR 33) were reasonable, but a two stop flight would consume too much of our time. On this basis, we ruled out Avianca (Star Alliance).

We then checked on LATAM (part of One World Alliance) flights using our British Airways Executive Club’s account. It yielded a pleasant result – a non-stop flight with LATAM for 12,500 Avios points and CAD 40.14 (EUR 26.50) fee. Compared to the cash price of EUR 713, this was a bargain.

British Airways Avios LIM-GIG

We concluded that using Avios points is the better way to secure regional flights in South America. One of the main reasons is that some of the South American governments control strictly on what the airlines can charge for fees and surcharges, keeping the overall fee very low. Another sweet spot for British Airways’ Avios!

Most Economical Way To Fly South American Short Haul Flights (Lima-Cusco-Lima)

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

The sweet spot for Avios points redemption, be it with Iberia Airlines or British Airways or their partners, is to use them for short haul flights. You need as little as 4,500 points for a one way, plus a small fee, for example, to get from London to Dublin, Paris or Amsterdam. The same applies for Japanese and South American domestic flights, amongst a few others.

As you gathered from our previous post, we had successfully redeemed Avios points for our long haul South American flights on Iberia Airlines (Madrid to Lima, Rio to Madrid). After arriving in Lima, Peru, we need to travel on to Cusco, which is the nearest airport / city to start our Inca Trail hike.

Preamble: This article assumes that you have an existing British Airways Executive Club account and some Avios points in it.

We can either book the flights with cash or redeem our points. As usual, we would always check the cash flight first and this becomes our comparative baseline. LATAM Peru (formerly LAN Peru) and Avianca Peru (previously TACA) are the main airlines flying the Lima-Cusco route. LATAM is part of the One World Alliance, while Avianca is part of Star Alliance.

As far as the cash price is concerned, Avianca was significantly cheaper for the dates we were looking for. The base fare was cheap and included free baggage allowance of 23 kg. The fare priced at EUR 103.46 return economy class (USD 118).

Avianca Cash Flights LIM-CUZ-LIM
Avianca Cash Flights LIM-CUZ-LIM

On the other hand, LATAM was pricing at EUR 256.86 (USD 294) for similar flights, more than double of that of Avianca. LATAM does not give free bag allowance for the cheapest economy (Light), so we had to use the next fare level (Plus) to make an equitable comparison.

Latam Cash Flights LIM-CUZ-LIM
Latam Cash Flights LIM-CUZ-LIM

It is undisputed that if we were paying by cash, Avianca would be our choice.

As for the points redemption, we can either go for Star Alliance (Avianca) or One World (LATAM) flights. If you have Avios points from British Airways or Iberia Airlines (or even Aer Lingus), you can use them to redeem for flights operated by Latam. If you are tied to Star Alliance, you can redeem your points for Avianca’s flights through United’s MileagePlus, Air Canada’s Aeroplan, Lufthansa’s Miles and others.

We have a stash of Aeroplan points which we can redeem on Avianca, or British Airways Avios points on LATAM flights. Our search on the Aeroplan website returned a very limited flight option and with no availability for our return leg (CUZ-LIM). We priced it out anyway, just to see what the charges were.

Aeroplan LIM-CUZ-LIM
Aeroplan LIM-CUZ-LIM on Avianca

Although the charges were quite minimal (because they are regulated), the 30,000 points required was clearly not attractive.

British Airways Avios gave an appealing option with lots of flight choices (literally all the flights for the day). For a return trip, it was only 9,000 Avios points plus C$20.60 or EUR 13.77 or USD 15.65. (My Avios and Aeroplan were priced in Canadian dollars because I have Canadian accounts.)

British Airways Avios: LIM-CUZ-LIM

At this point you should know that you can also book similar flights using Avios via Iberia Plus. Although Iberia and British Airways are owned by the same company (IAG), they are not made equal. For the same routes, Iberia Plus requires 12,000 Avios points while British Airways Avios needs only 9,000. The charges are the same.

Iberia Plus Avios : Lima-Cusco-Lima – charges for LATAM flights

Always ensure that you check between these two programmes for the best redemption rates. In general, British Airways gives poor value for long haul redemption flights, but great for short hauls.

To summarise – Lima-Cusco-Lima:

 Points RequiredRedemption ChargesCash Price
British Airways Avios9,000EUR 13.77
Iberia Plus Avios12,000EUR 13.83
Aeroplan30,000EUR 13.77
AviancaEUR 103.46

So, it was clear that the choice should either be paying cash for the Avianca flights or redeeming British Airways Avios points for the LATAM flights.

We opted to use our British Airways Avios points for several reasons. Points are meant to be used, not saved forever. They tend to get devalued when the frequent flyer programme changes. The 9,000 points required was very good, and the charges were very palatable.

Booking your flights using British Airways Avios is simple and straight forward. Go to ba.com and login into your Executive Club account. Navigate to “Spending Avios” (under Executive Club menu) and “Book a reward flight”.

In our next post, we will investigate on how to find the most economical way to get a regional flight in South America.

Redeeming Avios Points with Iberia Airlines to South America (Peru and Brazil)

Miraflores, Lima
Miraflores, Lima

Armed with our newly minted 90,000 Avios points we received from the Iberia’s promotion, it is time to redeem the points. Just to recap on this promotion (now expired), by booking the cheapest one way Iberia flights ten times, we received a total of 90,000 Avios points. No flying was necessary. Essentially, we acquired 90,000 Avios points for just €243. See our articles relating to this:

Amazing Iberia Offer for Avios
Follow Up on Amazing Iberia 90,000 Avios Offer

90,000 points open up quite a lot of avenues for premium travel. We evaluated many options on how to obtain the best value for these Iberia Plus Avios points including redeeming them for flights and hotels. In the end, we maintain that redeeming for long haul business class flights is one of the more attractive options.

We plan to hike the Inca Trail in May 2019, so it is an opportune time to take advantage of the points.

Consider this. If you were to buy a business class flight on Iberia, from Madrid to Lima, then return from Rio de Janeiro to Madrid, the cash price would be €2,403.06.

However, using the points, it would cost only €377.59, saving a whopping €2,025 each. At €377.59, you could not even get an economy return flight.

Iberia Compare Cash vs Points
Iberia: Comparison Cash Flights vs Points Redemption

Apart from hiking up the Inca Trail (ultimate destination – Machu Picchu), we are also planning to combine this trip with Brazil to see Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Our mission next year is to complete our trips to see the New7Wonders of the World.

How did we book our flights with Avios points?

Some handy tips to remember:
1. Avoid British Airways – their charges and fees will impoverish you.
2. Avoid London as point of origin due to high airport departure taxes/fees. Try Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, instead.
3. Where possible, use Iberia flights for simplicity in booking.
4. Some countries regulate strictly on what the airlines can charge as fees when it comes to points redemption. Brazil and Hong Kong, for example, prohibit airlines from putting on carrier surcharges, etc.
5. For one ways, you can only book on Iberia or British Airways flights (possible with Vueling, Air Italy, Level and IB Express too). Iberia’s partners’ flights are bookable as returns only.
6. Multi-city option is not available through Iberia Plus website. Book as two one-ways.

Redeeming through Iberia Plus website is quite constrained. It is good for straightforward itineraries. If you need multiple stops, you need to be creative; even so, your choices are quite limited. If you get the dreaded error message “Request not processed”, log out and try again (and again). You can call Iberia Plus, but the general consensus is that they are not a helpful bunch.

With all the factors above considered, we proceeded to book our multi segments trip. Our itinerary:

Main Long Haul Flights
1. Madrid (MAD) to Lima (LIM) Business Class
2. Rio (GIG) to Madrid (MAD) Business Class

Our first task was to secure our long haul flights. We chose Madrid as our starting and ending point because it has low surcharges and Iberia has many non-stop flights to and from South America. Basically, we are flying into Lima, but returning from Rio. This kind of itinerary is commonly known as ‘single open jaw’. That is, fly into one city and return from another city.

To accomplish this, we have to make two one-way bookings. Currently, there is no facility in Iberia Plus to book multi-city flights online. It is imperative that you have researched availability for both flights, and then work quickly and accurately to get the seats confirmed. The last thing you want is to end up with an ‘orphan’ booking where you cannot get the remaining leg confirmed.

How to make an open jaw booking on Iberia Plus?
As previously mentioned, Iberia’s booking engine is not the friendliest nor rich in features. You have to work around it to get your desired results.

Firstly, login to your Iberia Plus account.

Click One Way, and Pay with Avios, and Search.

You then have to input the characters in the image (not case sensitive) to prove that you are not a robot.

On many other airlines’ websites, we would use “Multi-City” option to book flights such as these, but not with Iberia. It is only good for cash booking, not on Avios redemption.

Select the flight and click View (at the bottom right screen).

Continue with the rest of process to complete the Madrid-Lima booking.

Next, we want to book the other half of the long haul flight, i.e. Rio to Madrid.

Repeat the steps as above, except change the “From” and “To” (from Rio to Madrid respectively).

Complete the booking and payment process as before.

Note: The currency shown for the charges depends on which country website you selected or defaulted. The above two were in US dollars.

To summarise, we have now completed the booking for:
Outbound – Madrid to Lima for 42,500 points, charges USD 125.64 (EUR 109.89)
Inbound – Rio to Madrid for 42,500, charges USD 28.91 (EUR 25)

Total Avios points redeemed was 85,000 with a total fee of USD 154.55 (EUR 134.89).

If all that you require is a simple return trip, say Madrid-Lima-Madrid, just use the “Round Trip / Return” option.

This leaves us a balance of 5,000 Avios points. You can still make good use of these. You can get one way Spanish domestic flights, for example, Madrid to Barcelona for only 4,500 points. You can even get Madrid to Casablanca, Lisbon or Nice for 4,500-5,000 points.

Bear in mind, if you had acquired the 90,000 points through the Iberia’s special promotion, you have to redeem all the points by 1st December 2018, or they will expire. But your travel plans can be beyond the deadline date – into 2019.

Earlier on, we mentioned that we are hiking up the Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu. That means after landing in Lima, we have to find our way to Cusco, which is the nearest town/airport to Machu Picchu. In our next installment, we will write about how we secure our domestic flights (Lima-Cusco-Lima) and a regional flight (Lima to Rio).

Read this:
Most Economical Way To Fly South American Short Haul Flights

Flight Review: Iberia A330-200 Madrid to New York Business Class

Iberia Airbus A330-200
Iberia Airbus A330-200

This was my first long haul business class flight with Iberia Airlines. Typically, on transatlantic routes, my choice usually defaults to British Airways due its non-stop flights from London, and occasionally with American Airlines for the same reason. I snagged a very good deal, paying only €1229 for Algiers-Madrid-New York-Los Angeles-Madrid-Algiers – all in business cabin. (New York to Los Angeles transcontinental flight was on American Airlines, which was a very good product.) This entire trip nicely yielded me 500 tier points for my British Airways Executive Club frequent flyer account.

Check In
The check-in at Madrid Airport Terminal 4S was quite speedy, and so was the security checks; probably because I arrived very early for my flight.

I had the pleasure of using the Iberia Premium Lounge Velazquez. Access to this lounge is available to Iberia business and first class paying passengers, and One World Emerald and Sapphire members regardless of class of travel. It is located in Terminal 4S (Satellite) – International and Non-Schengen Areas, airside after security.

Iberia Lounge Madrid Terminal 4S
Iberia Lounge Madrid Airport Terminal 4S

It is an impressive new lounge with generous open spaces. It is modern contemporary in design and receives lots of natural lights as it faces the airport tarmac. The lounge is well equipped with business facilities, spacious seats, a quiet relaxation area, showers, inside washrooms and kids’ facilities. The seats are very comfortable and have power and USB chargers attached next to them.

The dining areas are at both flanks of the lounge. The food was equally nice with a good spread of hot and cold buffet. On my visit, there was paella, grilled hake, roasted chicken breast, vegetarian sushi, pasta, salad, mini burgers and Spanish omelette amongst others.

It is definitely one of the more comfortable lounges that I have patronised and would not hesitate this for a very long layover.

Iberia Lounge Madrid 4S Dining Area
Dining Area – Iberia Lounge Madrid Airport Terminal 4S

It was a bit chaotic. Despite the call to board, we had to wait quite a while before we boarded the aircraft as it was not quite ready to receive passengers. After a further thirty minute delay, we finally made our way to the aircraft via the airbridge.

Cabin and Seating
The business class layout in this Airbus 330-200 was 1-2-1. The initial impression was that it looked quite average, maybe because the upholstery, flooring and colours looked drearily dull.

Iberia A330-200 Business Class Cabin
Iberia Airlines A330-200 Business Class Cabin – Layout 1-2-1
Iberia A330-200 Business Class Cabin
Iberia A330-200 Business Class Cabin

All the seats had full direct aisle access, a feature that is highly desirable in premium cabins. For maximum privacy, go for the window seat; I was seated in 1C – a window seat. It was in a staggered arrangement – 1C, 2A, 3C, 4A, 5C were all window seats.

Iberia A330-200 - Seat 1C (window)
Iberia Airlines A330-200 – Seat 1C (window)

The seats looked a bit tired and the cabin was not very clean. I had to sweep away some dirt from my seat and tray. The amenity kit was placed on the side storage. The toiletries were contained in a cheap foamy bag (something you do not want to snug into your cabin bag).

Iberia A330-200 Business Class Cabin - Middle Row Seats
Iberia A330-200 Business Class Cabin – Middle Row Seats
Iberia Business Class Amenity Kit
Iberia Business Class Amenity Kit – in cheap foamy container bag

The seat transformed into 180° lie flat bed. There were the usual preset modes on the seat control panel. Overall, I did not find the seating totally comfortable but adequate. Power outlet and USB connections were incorporated.

Iberia A330-200 Business Class Cabin - Seat Control
Iberia A330-200 Business Class – Seat Control

Inflight Services
A three course menu was available for selection. Shortly after take-off, we were offered drinks and snacks. It was followed by the main course.

Iberia Business Class Dining Menu
Iberia Business Class Dining Menu
Iberia Business Class Grouper Fish
Iberia Business Class – fish meal

I chose the grouper fish for my entrée. The food presentation lacked class and did not look inviting. Essentially, it was a baked fish served with smashed up spinach. The fish was over-cooked and tasted bland. Needless to say, I left a lot on the plate.

Despite the below than average inflight dining experience, the cabin crew were quite pleasant and obliging, but lacked personal touches. Do not expect to be addressed by your name.

The inflight entertainment looked a bit dated too. It was dead on departure and the crew took over two hours to get it running. The screen size was about 11-12 inches. A reasonable selection of the latest Hollywood movies was on offer, but I did not find anything exciting to watch, so I picked to see a couple of old classics.

IB Business Class IFE
Iberia Business Class IFE – yes, we waited over two hours for it to come online!

Onboard internet was available at a fee but I did not sign in to try.

Despite a delayed departure, we arrived New York on time. Overall, it was a pretty average experience flying this Iberia’s business class. There was nothing to really ‘wow’ you. The inflight dining and entertainment were far from the best. The cabin could also have been cleaner. But if you value privacy and direct aisle access over others, this Airbus 330 is a solid choice. Iberia Airlines recently introduced the Airbus A350-900 aircraft type, operating between Madrid and New York and vice versa. This new aircraft is substantially superior than this oldish A330-200 in all aspects.

Airline Review: IB6253 Iberia Airlines A330-200 Madrid to New York Business Class
Date Flew: 09-APR-2018