TAM 777-300ER First Class Sao Paulo To New York

As I hinted at a bit last week, I just finished up a quick trip to Sao Paulo. I did this to sample Korean Air’s 777-300ER first class product between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, which I find to be one of the coolest “fifth freedom” routes there is. The flight was great — not quite as amazing as the Korean Air A380 first class flight I took from Seoul Incheon to Los Angeles a few weeks prior, but excellent nonetheless.

But the primary motivation for taking this trip was to finally sample TAM’s first class product.

TAM is an airline that I’ve always wanted to try in first class, though prior to February I don’t think I’d ever seen TAM offer even a single longhaul first class award seat to partner airlines.

Ever.

Then in February, for whatever reason, TAM opened up a ton of first class award space. Overnight TAM went from not releasing any first class award space to releasing virtually every available first class seat into award inventory.

TAM-Award-Availability

I couldn’t turn down the opportunity, so redeemed 62,500 American AAdvantage miles to fly TAM first class from Sao Paulo to New York, and then Cathay Pacific first class from New York to Vancouver, which is a route I’ve reviewed in the past.

While I’ll have a full trip report soon, here are my initial thoughts on the experience:

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TAM 777-300ER

TAM first class lounge Sao Paulo

TAM has a dedicated first class check-in room located to the left of all their other check-in counters. Printing a boarding pass only takes about a minute so it’s ultimately style over substance, but it is nice to be removed a bit from the hectic terminal.

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TAM first class check-in Sao Paulo Airport

I was hoping there would be an escort service through security and immigration, though unfortunately there wasn’t.

Once through security I quickly found the TAM first class lounge, which is by far the nicest lounge at Sao Paulo Airport. I mean, it’s quite possibly the only part of the airport that isn’t actively miserable.

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TAM first class lounge Sao Paulo Airport

It’s a small lounge but beautifully decorated, and very much felt like a living room. I was the only passenger there, and the service was attentive.

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TAM first class lounge Sao Paulo Airport

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TAM first class lounge Sao Paulo Airport

The food options are lacking, but the little food they did have looked tasty.

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TAM first class lounge Sao Paulo Airport

It’s worth noting that while there was no escort through security and immigration, there was an escort from the lounge to the gate, which was a nice feature since we literally bypassed all the lines at the gate and I was brought directly onboard.

So while this lounge doesn’t compare to the Air France First Class Lounge Paris, Emirates A380 First Class Lounge in Dubai, Thai Airways First Class Lounge in Bangkok, or Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, it might as well be heaven on earth for Sao Paulo Airport.

Not sure how I’ll ever go back to the GOL Smiles Lounge again. šŸ˜‰

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GOL Smiles Lounge Sao Paulo Airport

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GOL Smiles Lounge Sao Paulo Airport

TAM 777-300ER first class cabin Sao Paulo to New York

TAM’s new 777-300ER first class product is sexy.

The cabin consists of only four seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, so along with China Southern’s A330 first class, it’s the smallest first class cabin I’ve flown in. While there are privacy shields, it’s not the most private or spacious cabin, but I just think aesthetically it’s stunning.

And I especially don’t mind the lack of privacy when I have the whole first class cabin to myself, as I did on this flight. In the over three million miles I’ve flown, this is only the fifth flight where I’ve had the cabin all to myself.

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TAM 777-300ER first class cabin

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TAM 777-300ER first class seat

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TAM 777-300ER first class seat

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TAM 777-300ER first class seat in bed position

TAM 777-300ER first class food Sao Paulo to New York

I took the daytime flight from Sao Paulo to New York, so they served breakfast after takeoff and lunch before landing. The food was good — not amazing, but definitely above average.

The breakfast service began with fruit and yogurt.

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TAM first class breakfast Sao Paulo to New York

And was followed by a meat and cheese plate.

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TAM first class breakfast Sao Paulo to New York

And then for the main course I had a scrambled egg crepe which was literally drenched in cheese sauce.

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TAM first class breakfast Sao Paulo to New York

Then the dinner service started with an amuse bouche.

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TAM first class lunch Sao Paulo to New York

That was followed by a salad and appetizer selection served from a cart.

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TAM first class lunch Sao Paulo to New York

Then for the main course I had beef.

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TAM first class lunch Sao Paulo to New York

Then there was a cheese course.

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TAM first class lunch Sao Paulo to New York

And lastly dessert.

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TAM first class lunch Sao Paulo to New York

I loved the glassware, and in particular the champagne flutes.Ā The only issue is that while they were beautiful, they weren’t especially practical.

The first seven hours of the flight were really smooth, and then out of nowhere we hit some clear air turbulence during the second meal service. I would have called it moderate turbulence, though the captain came on the PA and said it was severe turbulence. Don’t think that’s accurate, but who am I to question him? Anyway, both of my glasses fell over and laptop landed on the floor, so that was kinda fun.

TAM 777-300ER first class service Sao Paulo to New York

The two flight attendants working first class were friendly. My expectations of service on a South American airline are different than on an Asian airline, for example. Now, there are huge differences between service cultures even within those regions, but I do think on the whole that service is totally different in South America than Asia.

The crew wasn’t overly attentive, but they smiled, were charming, and always served me efficiently. When I pushed the call button they always appeared within a few seconds. And in a way I’m kind of happy they weren’t overly attentive, since it tends to get pretty awkward if you’re the only passenger in first class and have a really attentive flight attendant.

Anyway, the service was much better than my last trip on LAN, where my food was quite literally thrown at me.

TAM 777-300ER first class amenities Sao Paulo to New York

TAM had very nice pajamas, slippers, and two amenity kits (one consisted of Rituals toiletries, and the other of a toothbrush and toothpaste).

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Bottom line on TAM first class

I was pleasantly surprised by TAM first class. In terms of the soft product they’re not quite to the level of Asiana, Emirates, Etihad, Korean, Lufthansa, etc. But for travel to South America I think they’re pretty tough to beat, especially given how much availability they release.

I’d definitely like to fly them again soon, and next time make sure that I book their chauffeur service in time.

How to redeem miles for TAM first class

TAM is in the unique position of transitioning from Star Alliance to OneWorld on March 31, 2014. So as of a week from today, you’ll no longer be able to redeem Star Alliance miles for travel on TAM.

If you do want to lock in a Star Alliance award on TAM in the next week, your best options are as follows:

Air Canada Aeroplan –Ā 67,500 miles one-way

If you have American Express Membership Rewards points, Aeroplan is going to be your best option. Transfers are instant, and you should be able to book most itineraries on aeroplan.com, though the website often struggles with complex routings.

ANA Mileage Club ā€“ 100,000 miles round-trip from Miami, 120,000 round-trip from New York

ANA has a distance-based award chart, so youā€™ll pay a bit more for awards to New York than Miami. They are also a transfer partner of American Express, and Iā€™d typically say this is a great value. However, the transfers can take several days to process, so unless you have ANA miles already I wouldnā€™t consider this as a ā€œsafeā€ option.

United MileagePlus ā€“ 70,000 milesĀ one-way

With Unitedā€™s new award chartĀ most partner awards are more expensive than a similar route on United metal. South America is an exception, however, and partner awards are priced identically to those on United.

This is a great use of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, especially considering that United has generous routing rules, so thereā€™s a lot of potential flexibility.

Once TAM leaves the Star Alliance and joins OneWorld, the best options will be as follows:

American AAdvantage –Ā 62,500 miles one-way

There is great value to be had here, particularly if youā€™re looking at only connecting in Sao Paulo. American has a strong route network in South America, in particular with their partner LAN, but award space between North America and the South America hubs has been extremely limited otherwise.

British Airways Avios – 75,000 Avios one-way

British Airways has a distance based award chart, and charges 75,000 Avios for a first class ticket for a flight from the US to Sao Paulo. It’s worth noting that since TAM doesn’t impose any fuel surcharges, British Airways won’t either.

US Airways Dividend Miles –Ā 125,000 round-trip

US Airways may actually be the best program to use if youā€™ll be traveling later in the year. US Airways miles are easy to procure, and while this isnā€™t one of the ā€œsweet spotsā€ on their award chart, itā€™s worth keeping in mind that US Airways and TAM are both leaving Star Alliance and joining OneWorld on the same date.

This means that in the event of schedule changes, it is going to be more difficult for Star Alliance airlines to rebook you, as they will most likely no longer have access to TAM space after March 30th. US Airways, on the other hand, will potentially have more flexibility, as part of their transition to OneWorld.

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!

Comments

  1. Holy TV Batman! How big was that thing in the lounge? For such a small space it looks like overkill.

  2. @ thomas — There were, though I think mine was broken, as it only went up a few inches. Wasn’t all that much of a concern to me given the private cabin. šŸ˜‰

  3. are american miles the best way to get to Buenos Aires maybe using this flight with a connection?

  4. @ Neil S. — I don’t think it was longer than usual, perhaps just a function of angles and how small the cabin was. But it was certainly long enough.

  5. @ Michael A — Since TAM will continue to partner with Aeroplan there’s a chance space may continue to show up there. However, I suspect the British Airways website will also display the space.

  6. Not to sound like a douchebag or something – but I am a bit surprised by how “bad” this First class looks, particularly the food doesn’t really seem to be on par with TG, LH, LX, EK?

  7. Very timely post. After my struggles of last week trying to find availability on March 31 on AA (it was showing on AC and ANA), I pulled the trigger on AA metal to EZE (J) and TAM coming back to JFK. Still wasn’t able to book the OW outbound on TAM through AA, but very excited to take this trip and try different products! Thanks!

  8. “[The TAM first class lounge is] quite possibly the only part of the airport that isnā€™t actively miserable.”

    Well, the Admirals Club there isn’t ACTUALLY miserable. In fact it’s quite decent as far as Admirals Clubs, and South American airport clubs, go. šŸ˜‰

  9. @Heather:
    Did you book any free one-ways after your stop at JFK? Not sure if that is your final destination, but if it is, don’t forget to do that šŸ™‚

  10. @ Gary — My biggest issue with the Admirals Club is that the wifi is REALLY slow, and it was actually decent in the TAM lounge. As far as I’m concerned decent wifi speed is just about the single most important thing when it comes to a lounge.

  11. @ Carlos — That’s a toughie. They’re both great products but in different ways. Probably still a slight edge to Korean, though I did enjoy TAM…

  12. @ Ben — Beautifully decorated? We’ve been in that lounge I found the decor repulsive and the lounge horrible.

  13. “Once through security I quickly found the TAM first class lounge, which is by far the nicest lounge at Sao Paulo Airport.” LOL!!!! Not a very difficult thing to accomplish. All lounges at GRU are disgusting.

    When TAM was launched many years ago it was intended to be the SIN of South America. They only hired the most beautiful flight attendants you could ever imagine (and they were also very professional), their service was amazing and it was kind of a sign of status to fly TAM. However, the company had two major accidents in 1996 and in 2007 where 300 people died in both events and in between the founder died in a helicopter crash. After that the company has been struggling with competition from GOL and TAM has lost its glamour. Some people love flying them. Many hate.

  14. “And I especially donā€™t mind the lack of privacy when I have the whole first class cabin to myself, as I did on this flight.”

    Lucky, would you still feel that way on a full flight? It does look pretty tight for a FC cabin.

    And while the cutlery looks good, with the exception of the amuse bouche and maybe the desert, it looked very much like what you’d get served in business class. As a reference, whatever the quality of Cathay Pacific’s steaks, they certainly look more appetizing…

  15. Very nice report, thanks for taking a hit for the team (are you sick of Sao Paolo airport yet?).

    Sorry if I missed it but are the seats horizontal lie flat or angled lie flat?

  16. @ wwk5d — Yeah, maybe not. If the shields worked properly I would be fine with it, but a full cabin without a shield would be less pleasant.

  17. @ A. S. — On descent the purser told me I would be picked up planeside, though I wasn’t. And for that matter I wouldn’t have used it even if I was, since I have Global Entry and didn’t have checked bags.

  18. @Lucky, I booked a flight in early January 2015 from GRU-JFK using United miles. Wanted to do GRU-JFK-LAX but there was no JFK-LAX availability at the time. When/if JFK-LAX availability opens up closer to the date, would I be able to pay a change fee and tack on a JFK-LAX flight without jeopardizing the TAM leg once it’s no longer a *A partner? Or is that leg “safe”? Just wondering if ANY changes to that itinerary would throw the whole thing out of whack.

  19. @Lucky — also, I know this is silly– but I can’t get over those champagne flutes. In photos they seem kind of gaudy šŸ™‚ Most importantly — how was the champagne that was served inside them!?

  20. 1. The lounge decor – I can’t, I just can’t.
    2. Love the living room feel of the first class cabin.
    3. Meal plating leaves a lot to be desired. That meat and cheese plate looks like a joke.
    4. My stomach is churning at the picture of the cheese sauce omelette.

  21. @ lucky post 37 – Both SeatGuru and info.flightmapper.net list it as a non-ER 777-300, but I’m not sure (NZ 087, which I’ve reviewed in my blog as a 777-200, actually showed as a 777-200ER on the flight but both SeatGuru and info.flightmapper.net showed it as a 777-200).

  22. Hi Lucky, Great review! I’m zoo looking forward to take my TAM F in April.
    A question, do you think I would have entry to the first class lounge when I fly JFk-GRU-EZE (on my stop in GRU that is) Onward leg from GRU-EZE is in TAM C?
    Cheers
    Eric

  23. Self-professed pedantry alert: those glasses aren’t actually flutes, as a Champagne flute necessarily has a stem. Apologies for the near-uselessness of my comment! šŸ™‚

  24. @ Heather — Aeroplan charges a $90 change fee, but other than that should be able to make a change over the phone. Though keep in mind they allow two stopovers OR one stopover and one open jaw.

  25. @ AJK — Nope, no reason in particular, but seems if you’re going to transfer Membership Rewards points then ANA would be a better value. But Singapore works as well.

  26. Thanks. Because I already have about 1MM miles IN my SQ account, and because I’d be booking this speculatively, I’m attracted by the $30/pax redeposit fee, compared to $175-$400 it’d cost for 2 pax with AA, UA, US.

    Sure, the 3,000 mile redeposit fee of ANA is attractive as well, but no reason to transfer into a program where miles expire within 3 years regardless of activity unless I have a certain redemption.

  27. You’re right on about the differences to expect between airlines like TAM and Cathay, for example. I had wanted to try TAM out in F until I flew them in Y last year. Nothing horrible, but service was very standoffish and the bare minimum. It’s the only airline that I’ve experienced that doesn’t do *any* drink runs, period, outside of meals.
    Getting stuck in the window seat for an 11 hour overnight on the 10-across 77W didn’t help much either.

    And I won’t even mention that empty abyss that is GRU. Anything over 1.5 hours is torture. My connection was 8…

  28. So is Brazil not doing any improvements to their airports for the World Cup? It seems like that would be a huge motivation to improve GRU, for example.

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