These days, I spend a lot of time reading travel news and reviews. I’m always looking for the next way to maximize the points that I have for the next exciting trip that will get me to (potentially) even more exciting beer. What I have noticed, is a lack of solid reviews of the economy seats out there, especially on long-haul flights. Now, most of us don’t typically have enough miles or cash to fly international business or first class, but are pretty curious what it will be like to be trapped for 10+ hours in a sardine can (I mean seat). We need to know if what we’ll be experiencing will be pleasant, or at least tolerable BEFORE WE BOOK. Therefore, I’ve decided to start reviewing the economy classes of various airlines for you hopeful enjoyment and information — We’ll see if I’m of any use…

I recently took a trip to London for the Thanksgiving holiday and flew American Airlines on the way there as well as the European budget airline Norwegian Air Shuttle on the return. We’ll start with the first, my trip on American Airlines 777-300ER economy.


HOW I BOOKED

So, I’m a big believer in in maximizing value in the points you have and not splurging. Most of us casually in the points and miles game will be able to take a lot more trips if we shell out around 20-30k per leg to get to Europe vs 50k+ for business. That’s exactly what I did here. Using 20,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles and $19 in taxes, I booked my flight from Los Angeles to London’s Heathrow plenty in advance (the holiday time can be slim pickings with availability) on their partner American Airlines using Award Saver space. Now this can be tough to come by, especially for a route as in demand as LAX to LHR, so keep that in mind and if you’re booking closer to the travel dates, expect to be flexible. This Alaska Mileage Plan use of American Airlines Award Saver level at the rate of 20k remains one of the best values in US to Europe mileage gaming. But book quick as that’s changing soon as of the new year!

Once that was booked, I was able to change my seats as I prefer to move up further in the plane than row 34, and snag a window seat to maximize sleeping potential. There were also options for meal specifications in case I had dietary restrictions and / or religious beliefs that conflicted with typical airplane food (sometimes it doesn’t take religion to reject some of the crap some airlines serve in the sky. gross.)


EVERYTHING BEFORE BOARDING

Check-in was available online 24 hours in advance, which was much easier. I also found a window seat even further up the plane so I moved there. So far so good.

Hint: For those of you who don’t know, sitting further up the plane, although you may board last, get you off earlier and helps you beat most of your flight to massive customs lines. Additionally, If you can find a seat near the wings, it’s the most stable part of the plane and least susceptible to turbulence, a.k.a less interrupted sleep.

Arriving at LAX was another story. It was the day before Thanksgiving and everyone, their mother, and their step-mother was trying to get every which way. They were also apparently all calling ubers and lyfts because the rates were sky high!

Finally arriving at the airport, I had the driver drop me off at the Alaska terminal, terminal 6. For one, security lines are typically shorter here (though I have TSA pre-check), but also because I planned on visiting the Alaska Airlines Lounge via my Priority Pass membership that comes with my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. Unfortunately, as many of us Priority Pass users have found, Alaska Airlines has become very stingy with when they allow access to Priority Pass users to come in, mostly to do with overcrowding. Honestly, I understand this as they have to prioritize their people that paid a lot more to access the lounge. Funny enough, there were four other Priority Pass cardholders that were trying the same thing and we were all turned away. I wasn’t worried though. Terminals 7,6,5,4 and the International are all connected via walkway so I knew that I could also use the Korean Air Lounge over at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

After a couple Gin and Tonics (The KAL Lounge has a crappy selection of so-called beer) I made my way over to my gate in terminal 4. The boarding process was smooth and for some reason — whenever I’ve booked an American Airlines flight with Alaska Mileage Plan miles I always end up with Priority Group Boarding on my boarding pass. Not sure if that’s a glitch, but I’ll take it!


THE SEAT AND ECONOMY EXPERIENCESince I was one of the first to board, I found plenty of overhead bin space for my carry-on (I usually fly carry-on only, unless I’m bringing back beer) and took a moment to take in the cabin. It was pretty large and spacious. The seats were in a 3x4x3 formation {xxx-xxxx-xxx} which gets a little crammed of course when trying to use the bathroom as the majority of those seats require someone to move if you need to get up. However, this is pretty typical of most airlines, especially on the European routes.

As you can see, there was an okay amount of leg room, but coming in at hardly basketball player status (I’m 5’9) I could see how that could get a bit cramped. Luckily, there was plenty of leg room under the seat to store my small backpack and still stretch out a bit. There was also a decent amount of room between the end of my seat and the window so that I could lay against and maintain my small bubble. I’ve certainly had less room on flights so this was welcome.

The entertainment screen was decent and there was a good selection of movies and television shows to choose from. I even found the certain TV show that I work on in there, but being on vacation, I wanted to stay far away from work. What was a little unnerving was the entrancing and kind of creepy safety video that played before take-off. For some reason It’s kind of hypnotic, maybe it’s the sci-fi music? Essentially, it makes it feel like you’re about to fly to the death star, and seems like a giant corporate attempt to be slightly hip. Failing at that, it’s much more like you’re suddenly immersed in a dystopian society.

I tried to not let that video get under my skin too much. Food was served about an hour after take-off and I very much intended to wolf that down and fall asleep.

As you can see, I chose the pasta option (Vegetarian) though it was kind of confusing as the flight attendants made this sound like it also had meat in it. Essentially, it was mac and cheese with peppers in it. Seemed a bit odd to serve this on a flight where high altitudes already create a surplus of flatulence, but oh well. Overall the food was pretty standard. Nothing to write home about, but I will write it here on this blog (because you’re not my mother, or maybe you are — “Hi mom!”)

Additionally, shortly before landing we were served a breakfast option which included a flat top muffin (pretty damn good), yogurt and some dried fruit. Also fairly standard, but I thought this breakfast was decent. Much better than serving some crappy egg sandwiches that stink up the cabin.


OTHER THINGS OF NOTE

The staff were just okay. They seemed friendly enough, but their “smiles” seemed forced, and although I’m sure it’s hard to get an answer out of half asleep passengers, a couple of them seemed a little too direct and abrasive. I wouldn’t let this put you off from flying American though, as unfortunately most cabin crews don’t always give “service with a smile” anymore.

Although this isn’t the Boeing 787, there was updated mood lighting in the cabin to help with the adjustment to London time and reduce jet lag. The plane was also pretty quiet and experienced only minor turbulence. I slept a good 5 or 6 hours on the 10 1/2 hour flight so that was great. Apparently American is doing something right with all of that.

I should also note that we departed slightly ahead of schedule and arrived even earlier. This flight actually has a history of arriving mostly early so that was expected, but none the less, a great perk.


THOUGHTS FROM THE SKY

Using Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan Miles to redeem on American Airlines Saver Level continues to be ones of the best values all-around in the game. Unfortunately, Alaska is changing their redemption rates soon to better match what American has on their own metal. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Alaska Airlines and their Mileage Plan loyalty program. However, I would say that the biggest downside with Alaska Airlines awards is that you can only redeem on one partner airline plus Alaska. Therefore, if you’re using this great redemption for Europe, you’ll only be able to use it on places American flies directly, such as London, Milan, Rome, Paris, and a few others. The new award pricing that comes into place on January 1st, 2018 will still have this same flight redemption at 22.5k. This is still a bargain, but book quick if you want to save even more. After all, it took me to jolly ‘ol London, where I had an absolute blast!

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To finish this economy review off I will say that my one-way flight on American was pretty average, but the use of only 20k miles was excellent. For a short trip to London for the short holiday, there really wasn’t too much more to expect or hope for.

Have you flown American Long-haul economy? Let me know what you thought in the comments!