Next Trip Report: TAM First Class And Korean Air First Class!

TAM is an airline that I’ve always thought has a pretty cool looking first class product, though up until recently was completely unattainable on miles. Up until last month I don’t think I saw a single first class award seat available to partner airlines ever. So as far as I was concerned they’d join my beloved Transaero as the two airlines I’d never have the chance to fly in first class.

That all changed in early February, when, for whatever reason, TAM opened up a ton of first class award space. Overnight they went from not releasing any first class award space whatsoever, to releasing virtually every available first class seat into award inventory.

My assumption was that this was some huge glitch, similar to the Singapore Airlines first & business class award glitch in July of 2012, or the Lufthansa first class award glitch between Toronto and Munich in November of 2013.

Much to my surprise TAM is still releasing a ton of first class award space, for reasons I can’t quite wrap my head around.

Almost every flight with seats for sale has award seats remaining, and in many cases all seats in the cabin are available for awards (keep in mind TAM’s first class cabins have just four seats, which is the smallest of any airline I know of).

TAM-Award-Space-41 TAM-Award-Space-42

I mean, I’ve shared award reimbursement rates between airlines in the past, and they don’t give airlines much of an incentive to release premium cabin award space, to put it lightly. So at this point I’m not sure what to think — whether it’s a glitch or intentional.

Anyway, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to try TAM first class, so later this week I’ll be taking it for a ride.

What did I end up booking?

TAM-Korean-Award

Outbound: Korean Air 777-300ER First Class Los Angeles to Sao Paulo
Cost: 70,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles + $120.90 taxes/fuel surcharges

Last month I flew Korean Air A380 first class from Seoul Incheon to Los Angeles. I was blown away by their product. I always assumed Korean Air was style over substance, but the soft product was one of the best I’ve had on any airline.

The hard product was solid as well, though definitely not cutting edge.

Korean-Air-A380-First-Class-002
Korean Air first class

Anyway, one of Korean Air’s more interesting “fifth freedom” routes is Los Angeles to Sao Paulo, which they operate on a 777-300ER.

What makes this route so awesome?

  • Korean Air (probably) offers the best first class product between the US and South America. For the most part airlines flying between the US and South America are pretty lackluster, so I’m fairly certain this is the best first class product flying between the US and South America. Of course the only way to find out for sure is to test it!
  • First class award space on the route is phenomenal. Korean Air SkyPass fairly consistently releases 2-3 first class award seats per flight on this route.
  • Korean Air SkyPass is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are one of the easiest credit card points currencies for US based members to rack up.
  • Korean Air SkyPass has very reasonable redemption rates between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo. They charge just 70,000 SkyPass miles for a one-way in first class, which is pretty darn good given what a great product it is and how great award availability is.

Korean-Air-Award-Cost

So I’m very excited to fly Korean Air again, not only to make sure that my great flight on them wasn’t a one off, but also to compare the 777-300ER to the A380. Now I assume there won’t be quite as many amenities as on the A380 (given that Korean Air’s A380 configuration is the most spacious of any airline), but if the seat, food, and service rival what I had on my A380 flight, I’ll be one hell of a happy camper.

Check out my post on redeeming Korean Air SkyPass miles for more information on the booking process. For what it’s worth I ticketed this award online, so I’ll be writing a tutorial on how to do that shortly.

Return (Part 1): TAM 777-300ER First Class Sao Paulo to New York
Cost: 62,500 American AAdvantage miles + $90.40 taxes

TAM is in a unique situation in that they’re leaving the Star Alliance on March 30 and joining OneWorld on March 31, 2014, as a result of their merger with LAN.

Right now you can still redeem Star Alliance miles (such as United, US Airways, and Aeroplan) for travel on TAM given that they’re still in that alliance, though as of last year it’s also possible to redeem American AAdvantage miles for travel on TAM.

So I decided to redeem American miles since they charge just 62,500 AAdvantage miles for a one-way first class ticket. The added benefit is that they allow a stopover at the North American gateway city on an award, which brings me to my favorite North American fifth freedom route…

TAM First Class Seat
TAM 777-300ER first class

Return (Part 2): Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class New York to Vancouver
Cost: 62,500 American AAdvantage miles + $90.40 taxes

I love the fact that Cathay Pacific flies between New York and Vancouver. And I love how close Seattle is to Vancouver. And I love how American lets you do a stopover at the North American gateway city on a one-way award.

So I’ll be flying from Sao Paulo to New York, stopping over, and then continuing from New York to Vancouver a few days later in Cathay Pacific first class. I’ve flown the route before and sure enjoyed it.

Cathay_Pacific_777_First_Class75
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER first class

It’s hands down the most comfortable flight within North America, and the only one that serves Krug, for that matter.


Krug in Cathay Pacific first class

Bottom line

While I’ve flown Korean Air first class just recently, I hope it will be an interesting review nonetheless. It will allow me to compare the 777-300ER and A380 hard product, and see if the catering and service are as good on this flight as on the last one. Furthermore, I think it’s a really unique fifth freedom route.

TAM I’m excited about for obvious reasons. Up until now it has been the “forbidden fruit,” so I’m excited to try it regardless of how the product is (much like I was excited to try China Southern, and we saw how that turned out).

And Cathay Pacific I’m excited to fly again, because, well, they’re Cathay Pacific. Hopefully I get one of their 777s with the refreshed first class cabin.

Stay tuned for updates a bit later this week, and safe travels to everyone!

(In the interest of full disclosure, I earn a referral bonus for anyone approved through some of the above links. Thanks for your support!)

Comments

  1. @ Abby — Cabotage only applies if you’re purchasing a ticket within the US via a third country. In this case it’s a ticket between Brazil and the US, and you can route that via Canada (even if entering the country twice) since they’re not selling you a domestic ticket.

  2. So AA allows the north american stopover even on a one way award? I thought that was only for a roundtrip booking? This will come in really handy.

  3. Lucky,

    What other US routes does TAM fly? Also, were you able to get from YVR to SEA with the same 62,500 miles because the flight was only a connection (what’s your layover time?)

  4. @ mileswhore — They only fly to JFK and MIA as far as I know. Yes, YVR-SEA is on the same award, and I have about 20 hours in Vancouver.

  5. Lucky this trip is what I had always wanted to see you try! KE on outbound and TAM on inbound will be interesting reports to read, plus the CX F segment will be icing on the cake!! Safe trip all in all.

  6. Hey Lucky – I actually tried to ticket YVR-JFK-GRU last week using AA miles on Cathay andTAM first and spoke to 3 agents who weren’t able to book it. Apparently the routing rules for TAM wouldn’t allow the flight from Canada. Another Agent said that routing via JFK wasn’t “natural” and I would have to connect via either LAX or DFW. Any idea what went wrong or help on what I can do?

  7. Looking forward to reading those TRs.

    @Lucky: I have booked an award ticket on CX using AA miles. Miles were deducted from my AA account, credit card was charges. I have received confirmation email. However I cannot find my flight on CX web site using the ticket reference or record locator. Any tip?
    Thanks

  8. @ R B — If you call American they should be able to give you the Cathay Pacific record locator, which you can use to pull up your reservation on Cathay Pacific’s website.

  9. @ Scott — I had no problem booking it. TAM publishes a fare between Sao Paulo and Vancouver and it’s well within the MPM, so can’t imagine why. All I’d recommend is calling back again.

  10. @ Lucky – I don’t know what are your plans in Sao Paulo, but may I suggest two places that I really like: Bacio di Latte Ice Cream (they have three stores, one in Jardins) and Brasil a Gosto restaurant (in Jardins).
    Even if you have other plans, one of the best parts of Sao Paulo is eating. There are lots of great places to eat and drink.

  11. You should include your flights from Seattle to YVR and LA. What will those be like?
    This is my kind of trip by the way. Awesome place to awesome place. What are you going to do in Sao Paulo?
    I have been on the Cathay Pacific flight from JFK to YVR. It was really nice. I was really impressed. They are a really nice airline. I think I did it about 3 summers ago. I had a bike in a box, and they didn’t even charge me extra! Plus, I arrived like 10 mins before the flight and I walked right on. So easy.
    I was impressed with how good the air was on the plane. Considering in the US, all you here about is how bad everything is in China, Cathay Pacific goes against that completely.

  12. I’m curious how Korean can justify a fuel surcharge on a GRU flight. If it were me I’d escalate that. Paid fares apparently include 90 cent YQ each direction, which itself runs against my third hand understanding that Brazil forbade YQ.

    There’s certainly not a $100 YQ on a paid fare in any case, however.

  13. @ Gary
    YQ are forbidden if the travel begins in Brazil, but not if they begin abroad. I’ve been charged with YQ in a one-way CDG-GRU by TAM.

    @ mileswhore
    They fly MCO as well, and have flights to MIA from GIG, MAO (on a A321), FOR (1x week) and maybe BEL (not 100% sure).

  14. wow, I did not know you can do SEA-YVR-JFK-XXX… I always drive or train up!… anyway my booking is YVR-JFK-GRU-EZE 62.5k AA miles, and of course followed by EZE-GRU-JNB-CDG-and on….

  15. @ Gary — Yeah, found that odd as well. On one hand don’t think I can “legitimately” argue it since the policy only applies ex-Brazil, though it is odd. But even with a $100 YQ it’s still a phenomenal value, in my opinion.

  16. Complementing my last post (#24): TAM also flies from CNF and BSB to MIA (though not daily from CNF), and their flights out of MAO are on a 767, not an A321.
    And, if anyone still might be interested, they fly GRU-MEX as well.

  17. @ Lucky and Denis (from MD, right?) – I’m seeing Tam’s first class to/from Europe (LHR, CDG, FRA, MXP, MAD) wide open next year, starting from mid-january.

  18. @lucky – the argument would be that published fares include a 90 cent YQ each direction, so US$100 is just made up..

    And my reference to Brazilian law was that KE actually files a 90 cent YQ on the one-way return as well, not just on the flight to Brazil. So I think I’m misunderstanding some nuance in the rule there [like you can’t have YQ of $2.5 or higher].

  19. Boo – so I just got back this morning from my YVR>JFK flight on CX in F. I already had a stopover flight on this record purchased for AA to S. America. I located TAM availability on ANA’s website again, tried calling AA EXP and spoke to 3 different agents to ticket my award in TAM F and they’re still unable to see the availability or ticket the award. I think I’m going crazy!! I was going to book a connection on Qatar from GRU to EZE and AA said they can’t book that flight either. Ben – what the heck am I doing wrong? Does this only work on the GRU>JFK>YVR leg and not the YVR>JFK>GRU leg? 🙁

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