Which Delta Partner Has The Best Business Class To Europe?

As we learned last week, leveraging Delta’s partners is the best way to not get screwed when redeeming SkyMiles, so when reader Nolan asked the following on the Ask Lucky forum recently I was excited to answer:

SkyMiles-Partners-Question

The improvement in partner products is a huge boon to the SkyMiles program. All of the programs listed have at least decent business class products, with some really solid options depending on the aircraft and configuration. So let’s go through the four main transatlantic options when redeeming Delta miles.

Air France

I have a love/hate relationship with Air France.

On the one hand, their flight attendants are fabulously, nearly uncomfortably stylish. On the other, the ground experience at Charles de Gaulle is worse than dragging Ben to Disneyworld.

The biggest issue, however, is that the old Air France business class product is dated and uncomfortable. Seven-across business class seating is just embarrassing nowadays, particularly in an angled-flat seat.

Lie-flat? No.  Chic? Naturellement.
Nick’s photo of Air France business, which makes it look much nicer than it actually is

Also, their blankets are scratchy, which might seem petty, but is a pretty-much a deal-breaker for me.

Air-France-A380-Business-Class
Air France A380 Business Class

However, Air France is in the process of reconfiguring their entire longhaul fleet, and the new business class looks lovely.

Air-France-First-Business-Class-36
New Air France business class with reverse-herringbone lie-flat seats

All Air France planes are scheduled to have the new product by the summer of 2017. The reconfiguration is being done by aircraft type in the following order:

  • 777 fleet
  • A330 fleet
  • A380 fleet

At present, the new business class is available between New York and Paris, along with flights AF72 and AF69 between Los Angeles and Paris. You can tell if your flight will have the new business class by looking at the seat map — if you see seven seats across (gag), that’s the old product. The new product only has four seats across.

If you can find award space on one of the reconfigured aircraft I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Air France, but the old product is probably best avoided, at least for night flights.

Alitalia

As I’ve mentioned before, Alitalia is an Italian airline. The food, the wine, the crew — bellissimo. The operation as a whole? Perhaps not as impressive.

Alitalia has a great lie-flat business class, with a staggered seating configuration:

Alitalia
Alitalia business class seat — ugly, but comfy

Alitalia is poised to get some hand-me-downs a makeover from Etihad, which will result in a more stylish cabin, wifi, and some updates to the catering. Alitalia already has the best catering of any transatlantic SkyTeam carrier, in my opinion, so I’m excited to see the new concepts.

Alitalia-A330-Business-Class-71
Alitalia Magnifica class catering

The major downside to Alitalia, of course, is the hub at Rome Fiumicino. The airport was already unpleasant, crowded, and prone to industrial action (again, Italian), and the recent terminal fire has only exacerbated that situation. However, Alitalia flies to dozens of destinations from Rome, including many of the smaller cities in Southern Europe, and award space is typically quite good.

Etihad has also committed to revamping the lounges and ground experience, so it will get better. In the meantime, Alitalia is probably my overall favorite option for redeeming SkyMiles to Europe.

KLM

KLM offers full-flat seats in their World Business Class, which is found on their 747 , 777, and 787 aircraft. I believe there are some lingering A330s with angled-flat seats, but those still aren’t a terrible option as a worst-case (at least their angled flat seats are only six across, Air France).  The seat is really comfortable, as are the pillow and duvet.

KLM-Business-Class-747-05
KLM 747 upper deck business class — other configurations have direct aisle access

In terms of the soft product, KLM has quality catering, and by far the best dinnerware. I mean, look at these bowls:

Breakfast
KLM business class breakfast bowls. Cute, or super cute?

While the service can be adorably Dutch at times, the overall experience is still great. The overall feeling is of cozy efficiency rather than being necessarily stylish or polished.

I also love how KLM has continued their pre-deregulation tradition of giving passengers a last drink “on the house.” If you thought the dishes were fun…

KLM-Business-Class-747-77
KLM business class Delft houses

Schipol is a comparatively easy airport (though they could really stand to invest in some moving sidewalks), so if that’s a concern for you I’d consider choosing KLM over the other airlines on this list.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic is an unbelievably fun airline. Their crews are absolutely not as polished as some, but I don’t think they care.

They are the only airline on this list to offer an onboard bar in business class, and they have the best selection of in-flight entertainment. Your companion can drink dine with you. If Air France is Fashion Week, Virgin Atlantic is Spring Break.

Virgin-Atlantic-Onboard-Bar
Virgin Atlantic onboard bar

If you don’t like fun, this is not a good choice for you.

But the Virgin Atlantic seat is fully-flat, and they offer a legitimate turn-down service with pajamas, a mattress pad, etc.

Virgin-Atlantic-Upper-Class

As a side-sleeper, I find the seats perfectly comfortable for sleeping, but they might feel narrow if you prefer to sleep on your back. The seating configuration is…unique, but if you can sit in the single aisle, and away from the bar, the seats are more private.

The Virgin Atlantic lounges are also phenomenal. If lounges are important to you, it’s hard to do better in business class than the Virgin Clubhouses.

Virgin-Atlantic-Clubhouse-London-Deli
Deli spread at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse LHR

The major downside to Virgin Atlantic is London Heathrow. If you’re actually going to London, then Virgin is a great choice (probably the best choice when redeeming Delta miles). But while Virgin Atlantic partners with Delta, they aren’t a SkyTeam member. So connections from London are limited, and not terribly convenient.

If you’re going to Paris I might still choose Virgin Atlantic and a connection over old Air France business class, but for smaller European cities you’ll be looking at multiple flights. Definitely a consideration when looking at your overall routing.

Accruing SkyMiles

If you’re looking at travel between North America and Europe, SkyMiles are still one of the best options once you factor in availability and overall cost. As maddening as the program is, we probably redeem more Delta miles for transatlantic trips than any of the other major programs, so SkyMiles can certainly come in handy.

We generally recommend a flexible points currency such as American Express Membership Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest, as both programs allow you to transfer your points to Delta without being committed to SkyMiles. However, there is currently an increased sign-up bonus on the personal and business Delta Amex cards, which makes it relatively easy to pick up a bunch of SkyMiles quickly. If you know you’ll be redeeming your miles soon, this is a great way to bolster your account balances.

Bottom line

Each of these SkyMiles partners are distinctive, and I do love how the character of each airline is reflected in the service and product.

As long as you avoid the oldest products on each carrier, you really can’t go wrong with any of these options.

Which SkyMiles partners have you flown? Do you have a favorite?

About Tiffany

Tiffany Funk is a passionate traveler who splits her time between California and Italy (when she’s not traveling elsewhere!) Her posts offer a different perspective on earning miles, tricks for balancing multiple household accounts, and break down the basics of redeeming miles for aspirational travel -- whatever those aspirations may be!

More articles by Tiffany »

Comments

  1. I think business class to Europe on partners is really the sweet spot for Skypesos. I’ve been to Europe each of the last 4 summers, all on Skymiles partners. Being in Chicago there there are so many choices w/ 1 daily flight on AF, KLM, Altalia, & Virgin and there is relatively zero competition from connecting traffic. The fuel surcharges can be a bummer on Virgin, but the others are pretty reasonable.

    I’ve flown AF the last 2 years on their A333 which had the old seats but in a 2x2x2 config. I actually have found them pretty comfy….but that’s probably more due to the champagne + ambien than the actual seat.

  2. Tiffany,

    Thank you for this informative and well narrated post. I very much enjoy reading it and all of your posts before.

  3. So, does everyone discount DL because there’s no availability? Or is it more expensive somehow? I hadn’t flown DL in forever and don’t collect their miles, but bought one of their relatively inexpensive business class fares to Madrid and found it to be quite good. The “Delta One” seat on the 767 was way too cramped but it looks like they have a nicer product on other a/c. I was very pleasantly surprised.

  4. RakSiam,

    People discount Delta because the lack of “prestige” airline partners like Lufthansa, Cathay, Singapore, Emirates, the perceived lack of availability of premium award space, and a previously broke award calendar. However, Delta for many is the preferred domestic airline, and as Tiffany mentioned, presents many great options when redeeming to Europe. Going to Asia, Korean Air and Delta’s own metal (flights to Tokyo and Hong Kong via Seattle) present good options. Overall it my favorite airline.

  5. Virgin is the best if you’re going to the UK (especially Heathrow and Manchester). Rest of Europe I’d say KLM because of the better seats than AF (though I’d say AF once refurbishment is completed), the strong regional network (especially in Scandinavia and the UK), Schiphol being a better airport than CDG and FCO combined and tge Delft houses which are a reason to fly in itself

  6. Great rundown. Absolutely agree that, especially if you are traveling with a friend or partner, there are few more *fun* ways to travel than Virgin Atlantic Upper Class.

    I will note though that you left off Delta themselves, which can still be available at the Tier 1 number of miles on many TATL routes if you book well in advance. While Delta doesn’t quite have the foreign flair of any of these 4, it does have good seats on all aircraft, very good catering (great on certain premium routes like JFK and ATL to LHR, CDG, AMS and FRA), and the rest of the soft product is very good as well. I would easily choose to fly DL business class over AF, LH or BA business class.

  7. @RakSiam the DL 767s aren’t great compared to their A330s. @Anthony I more than agree and will Virgin has the cool factor that neither SQ, LH, CX and EK have

  8. Tiffany;
    Great report and great style of writing. Clear, funny and to the point. I really enjoyed your previous posts.
    You make me want to have some skypesos to burn.

  9. Having trouble even getting KLM award space to show up on Delta’s site. Looking for a NYC – AMS flight in early August. I can see the flights when I search by $ amount, but no amount of changes can make it appear when I click on miles – regardless of the cost in miles.

    Have tried multiple days and times. Is the flight just sold-out on miles, or is Delta hiding non-Delta inventory?

  10. I loved this post! It had a great amount of thoughtful detail clearly explained. Thank you very much.

  11. Thank you, Tiff, for a good analysis without the “Oh-I-must-fly-first-class-only ” attitude! Or is that a gay thing like Lucky Ben and The Points Guy?

  12. God help you if you ever experience any disruptions or IRROPS on Air France…as soon as anything deviates from the ‘norm’/going by the book they do not have a CLUE. Their safety record isn’t too hot either.

  13. Frankly DL’s reverse herringbone business class on their A330 (which is used on many US-Europe routes) is probably only surpassed by the new AF Business Class. Sure the soft product and food on the partner airlines is better (although the service and food are slightly worse on VS or at best no better than DL) but not drastically so.

    That said, this was still really useful because DL is way stingier with award availability than their partners, especially on nonstop flights. I’ve typically only found DL availability on flights to the weirder European destinations so unless your final destination is one of those or a SkyTeam hub, the partners are probably the most realistic option.

  14. @ RakSiam @Bgriff — Oh, absolutely, and Delta has a very nice business class as well! Nolan just asked about partners, and I didn’t want to get into the pricing algorithms again in this post. I’m sure Nick will be along shortly to tell us all why Delta is better than all other options 😉

  15. @ Ben — I love first class! But I also live on the West Coast, and I like going to Europe. So business class it is!

  16. @ Sergey — I actually haven’t flow Aeroflot yet. How do you feel it compares to the other partners?

  17. @Tiffany: Great post even if you’re infringing on my SkyTeam beat here… 😉 What I’d add would be:

    -Air France’s catering is of a bit better quality than KLM, Alitalia or Virgin Atlantic (and if you’re harping on KLM’s dinnerware, you’re forgetting AF has Christofle cutlery)
    -Air France’s service is not just stylish, but actively warm/personable
    -CDG is the worst, but that’s not entirely AF’s fault (after all, Terminal 1 which is the non-SkyTeam terminal is just as horrid), and AF’s lounges in CDG are very, very strong
    -When you say KLM’s service is “adorably Dutch,” what you mean to say is “indifferent, gruff, borderline German”

    I’m flying Virgin Atlantic in Upper Class in two weeks and will have a trip report to share with all of you!

    Seriously, though, Tiffany– fantastic post.

  18. Nice article! I am flying out of LAX tonight on AF69 (777-300ER) business class, and found it still has old 2-3-2 configuration. Apparently, there is some delay in cabin refurbishment.

  19. There’s also the overlooked Air Europa for Skyteam… although there may be a good reason why they are overlooked…

  20. Thanks so much Tiffany! I would like to go to both Rome and London at some point, so it will probably be either Virgin Atlantic or Alitalia (Although I would also like to visit Amsterdam and Paris). It all depends on availability, return flights, etc. Thanks SO MUCH for the post! Never thought that would happen!

  21. Nick: “Seriously, though, Tiffany– fantastic post.”

    Second that! Really loving Tiffany’s contributions – always great analysis and a talent for communicating clearly even quite convoluted matters.

    Look forward to the Upper Class review Nick.

  22. Just a small tip of advice: do NOT fly AF B. Avoid it at all costs because all around its not worth paying much more than a domestic first/business class fare. Although I tried their Prem Econ onboard the 777 it’s kind of better in terms that it is cheaper, you still get champagne, entertainment, and a seat that reclines well for a day flight (or night if you are like my wife who can only sleep in an airplane seat of its in the nearly upright position.) Although, I’ve found most of their flight attendants to be bored and uninterested (or as Lucky says, they are “going through the motions.”) I would say Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is the one to go with, or if unable, KLM is a good plan B. Alitalia isn’t too bad, but with the staggered, narrow seats, it’s not comfortable for either a day or night flight (but their soft product is definitely better than other SkyTeam airlines (I’m looking at you, Delta and Air France.)

  23. @ Fabio — Thanks! Can’t believe I missed that (and that no one else caught it either). Fixed now!

  24. Tiffany – enjoy your style and posts. I want to do LAX-AUK in Aug 2016 with SO’s in China, HKG, MEL on outbound. Direct return to LAX. Based on your West Coast experience, what airline would you choose for this itinerary based on ease of finding and booking award space preferably in F or business? Any additional tips/recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

  25. @bobbieddie

    Sorry, I know this is not Tiffany answering (and I’m sure her reply with be x10000 better than mine), but I want to share what I would picked in the past. Personally, I am a major fan of Oneworld, so I would recommend CX for LAX-HKG and then fly QF for HKG-AUK via SYD or MEL (but SYD would be better for a premium passenger connecting). I would do F on CX and on QF of the outbound, and then maybe B in the return on QF for AUK-LAX via SYD/MEL. Anyway, you should probably listen to Tiffany because she knows WAY more than I do, but I thought it might be helpful to provide my itinerary I took last December over Christmas. Have fun in Aukland and I hope you enjoy your trip as much as I did! Another note, it would be worth it to find cheap fares from AUK-NPE for a night. It is a beautiful little town with a beautiful landscape.

  26. @ jack — That is very helpful!

    @ bobbieddie — What miles do you have at present? That’s probably the best starting point.

  27. Tiffany,
    Nice post! KLM doesn’t operate the 787 yet at the moment, but when they do (the inaugural is in late october), they’ll have the Zodiac seats on board – the same as the new AF product, in 1-2-1. So probably an even better product then the current New World Business Class. Unfortunately, they won’t be flying to the US any time soon…

  28. Jack – Many thanks for your thoughts. Can you share what websites you used to make your bookings – did you use Asia Miles website, already have miles in an account, or transfer miles when you had secured your flights? Any tips on how best to do that? I don’t want to transfer and load up CX or KrisFlyer and then not be able to get the flights.

    Tiffany – I have lots of AA miles, and lots of Chase Ultimate Rewards, SPG miles. Am starting to collect Citi Thank You Rewards as well. Look forward to your thoughts.

    Thanks to you both.

  29. @bobbieddie

    I hope that this is helpful. Sadly, I wasn’t the one who made the bookings (my sister did). She said she had used AAdvantage miles because she travels a lot for work. She called the Executive Platinum line to make the bookings (and she did it on the first call!). Honestly, what we did was have a payed revenue fare on AA from ORD-JFK (I live in Chicago, so that is why we flew out of there) and then connected on CX to HKG after a nice overnight in NYC. That way you can drink even more champagne and enjoy the experience more 😉 so that may be a possibility for you. But in my opinion, another possible way you can go to AKL is to fly EY from LAX-AUH and then AUH-LHR again on EY (or BA if you want to try different first class) and finally LHR-SYD-AKL on QF. On the return, you could fly on QF from AKL-SYD-HKG and then HKG-LAX/JFK (and then pay for a flight from JFK-LAX) on CX. That way it can become an around the work in first class trip! Although, it all comes down to how many miles you have/how many miles your willing to spend. Hope this helps!

  30. I may buck the trend here, but I HATED Virgin Atlantic. I feel it is hype over substance. Their crappy old planes, the seat layout where you cannot look out the windows so you spend your time staring at another person because you are angled facing that person, the truly awful meals for a business class product. I could go on but you get the drift. The irony is that finally Delta has caught up in terms of its seat in its Business Elite with a full-sized pillow and duvet and REALLY comfortable seats, which unlike Virgin you have more choice than either go to bed or sit up straight, plus the signature Delta friendliness of its flight attendants. For some reason best known to them they have ceded all flights to Europe from Atlanta to Virgin. I able to compare the two last year with Virgin on the flight to Manchester (old plane, crap seating and running out of choices to eat and being told that if I really wanted beef that they’d get me a beef stew from coach. To which I said sure as long as you refund me my business class fare) And then flying back via Delta which I have to say was superb, from the meals, to the seat, to the flight attendants. Hope it’s better this year as I’m going with KLM on the outbound flight and Virgin on the flight back to the States. Maybe a different aircraft may make the difference, but I doubt it. But when you’ve no choice, you have to put up with it.

  31. Totally agree on the AF 7 across. I am (most unhappily) seated in such a section on an AF from ATL to CDG tonight. Fingers crossed that no one is in the ‘F’ seat next to me. Not only is it not lie flat, but there is basically no personal stowage for passport, phone, etc and the amenities bag is a joke. Being AF I expect good food but I will be skipping that trying to sleep. I’m going to be very careful booking AF in the future. Could be worse. I could be on an old (is there any other kind) KLM craft.

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