Is British Airways Business Class Worth It Within Europe?

One of the best uses of British Airways Avios is for travel on shorthaul flights. That’s because British Airways has a distance based award chart, making short distance awards an especially good deal. The cost of airfare often isn’t even tied to the distance flown, which is why Executive Club is in many ways a “sweet spot” program.

Here’s British Airways’ distance based award chart:

New-Avios-Redemption-Chart

Anyway, last week I wanted to fly from London to Stockholm. As you’d expect, last minute fares were outrageously expensive, which made redeeming British Airways Avios an even more compelling value.

I asked myself whether we should redeem Avios for economy class or business class.

A one-way London to Stockholm economy award would have cost 7,500 Avios plus $27.50:

BA-Fare-1

Meanwhile a one-way London to Stockholm business award would have cost 15,000 Avios plus $40:

BA-Fare-2

Ordinarily I would have booked the business class award without thinking twice about it. Ultimately you’re paying an extra 7,500 Avios plus $12.50 for business class, which on the surface would ordinarily strike me as a no brainer.

However, in this case we decided to book economy:

  • As a oneworld Emerald member we received priority check-in, security, and boarding, and access to the Galleries First Class Lounge at Heathrow anyway
  • I was traveling with Matt, so really we’d end up paying a total of an extra 15,000 Avios plus $25 for both of us to upgrade
  • Our flight was operated by a 767, which has a 2-3-2 configuration in economy — since I’m oneworld Emerald we could select seats in advance for free (which even business class passengers can’t do for free in advance), and were able to snag a set of two seats by the window

British-Airways-767

So, after flying from London to Stockholm in economy, what was my conclusion? I don’t think I’d redeem miles for business class in the future, to be honest. Maybe it’s partly because I’m oneworld Emerald, which means I got all the business class perks on the ground (and even better than that, since I get first class lounge access).

Being able to enjoy the Galleries First Lounge before the flight is nice… in particular the champagne bar!

BA-Galleries-First-1

BA-Galleries-First-2

British Airways’ economy product was perfectly serviceable for a short flight. We had two seats together, and legroom was quite decent.

British-Airways-Economy

As you’d expect they had a full beverage service, and on top of that they served a ham sandwich, which looked decent (I don’t eat ham, but had lunch in the lounge, so that wasn’t an issue).

British-Airways-Economy-Meal

Keep in mind that on British Airways (and most other carriers), intra-Europe business class is simply the forward section of economy with a blocked middle seat and a more gourmet snack.

British-Airways-Club-Europe

British-Airways-Europe

And on the 767 British Airways actually only blocks the very center seat in business class. Since it’s in a 2-3-2 configuration, only one of the seven seats is actually blocked in each row.

Is business class intra-Europe worth it?

In almost all cases I’d say the premium for first/business class is worth it when redeeming miles. That’s partly because when you’re paying cash, first/business class is often exponentially more expensive, while when redeeming miles it’s typically only marginally more expensive, or at worst, double the price.

But is that the case within Europe, where business class is just economy with a blocked middle seat (if that) and better service? In general I’d say:

  • As a oneworld Sapphire or Emerald it’s almost definitely not worth paying the premium for British Airways business class within Europe, given that you already receive priority check-in, security, boarding, and lounge access.
  • As a non-oneworld Sapphire/Emerald it really depends on how many Avios you have, how much the premium would be, and whether you’d even get a blocked middle seat (which wouldn’t be the case in a window seat on a 767, for example)

Bottom line

It was nice to come to the realization that sometimes premium cabin awards aren’t worth it, especially as an elite member. While the cash fares for business class may be exponentially higher, that doesn’t mean it’s worth redeeming double Avios for the product.

When redeeming Avios within Europe, do you prefer booking economy or business class?

Comments

  1. With an Economy ticket and no status, you’d forego any lounge access at all. Your status makes all the difference, no?

  2. Having elite status makes the difference. I faced a similar decision when I booked a MEL-SYD flight I’m taking later this week. I realized my *G status was meaningless in this case so I splurged on the extra Avios required for the 1h flight in order to synthesize elite status.

  3. The benefit of the BA business product is Fast Track immigration at LHR. After spending 1.5 hours in line with my then 85 y/o father to enter the UK when flying back into London from Milan In BA coach, I vowed to never do that again. Since then I’ve only flown BA business in Europe. I may reconsider now that I have my UK Registered Traveller Card.

  4. Ben, I understand you comments and agree if you don’t have carry on baggage. However, inter Europe flights seem to have much more restrictive conditions vs us, or long haul international. So we have used miles for getting to London, but have usually purchased BA business within Europe or Air France business to ensure we are not having to check carry on bags when you least expect it. Too many bad issues in the past, and status does not seem to help with that at the gate. Always love your reviews!

  5. SU is the only airline I’ve flown intra-Europe with a real business-class experience. On 737s and A320s they put on a product and service, even on two- or three-hour flights, that is comparable to DL One international, except SU does not have lie-flat seats. Seating is 2-2 on these aircraft in business. A business cabin that was as much as half full would be highly unusual in my experience.

  6. For those who do NOT have ready status, IMHO cashing Avios for J intra-Europe is worth it depending on which airport your flying from. For example, for terribly crowded LHR I’d want to have priority check-in, security as well as lounge access, ditto CDG, AMS, FRA, FCO, CPH, MUC, BRU, LGW, DUB, TXL, DUS, ZRH, MAN, MAD, BCN, ARN, GVA, HAM, LIS, ATH, IST, MLP, VIE. The seat and meal services are the least important to me on very short flights.

  7. I agree with others that your status is a major deciding factor here. Last month I had to redeem Avios for a very last minute ticket from Heathrow to Dublin. It was going to be 4,000 for coach or 7,750 for business. I went for the business class ticket and wound up being glad I did. I don’t have any status. I didn’t have a lot of time, so the priority security line made life easier and put me at ease. Then, the flight wound up being delayed for about 90 minutes, so I was super glad to have lounge access. The inflight experience (mostly the seat) was meh, but at least I was one of the first to deplane and got through immigration quickly. For 3,750 Avios it was totally worth it, given that they’re so easy to come by.

  8. Wrestling with that very same issue, and went the other way even though it was a worse proposition.

    I need to go from Berlin to St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, Rossiya (who is the only one to go nonstop) hasn’t loaded schedules, so I need a back up.

    The back up is 20k AA miles per person (40k total) to go to TXL-LHR-LED. A long flight day, but not much longer to get to St. Petersberg via Munich), and I think just the less din as well as the extra half seat. But since I am Ex Plat, I can cancel no fee and switch to Y if I change.

    I really want to go non-stop, will pay cash and sit coach if it’s an option.

  9. Apart from lounge access and fast track immigration, another reason we generally fly BA (or Iberia) Business within Europe is the increased baggage allowance. If on a 3 or 4-week trip from Australia flying Emirates in Business, with a series of destinations, the additional BA business baggage allowance is equivalent to that for the rest of the journey; thus no excess baggage. Oneworld (Qantas) points required for redemptions for BA business also seem fairly reasonable compared with other uses for those points.

  10. For the typical Euro-style business class, it’s pretty difficult to justify paying the typical business class premium for what is basically an economy class seat and just about impossible to justify if one already has a status level that gives one the usual business class bells and whistles like lounge access, luggage allowances et al. Save the points for something useful.

  11. Fun fact of the day: Air Serbia has a true, dedicated business class cabin with seats comparable to domestic F in the USA. I learned that this summer. Maybe due to the Etihad group connection? I don’t know, but I find it weird

  12. On all of my European flights, I received fantastic service. Yes the seats are the same as coach, but if there’s a reasonable way to do it, it’d still be a much better experience. Gotta love that Britishness :p

  13. If Economy awards are unavailable, Business class awards may be much cheaper than Economy revenue fares. Recent example – we flew from Milan to LHR in Biz for 7750 Avios each plus about a $60 co-pay. We transferred UR points to get the Avios. I value UR points at 1.5 cents each, so our actual cost was about $175/ticket. One way Economy fares were over $400, so biz Avios were the most economical choice. (I could probably have gotten a cheaper revenue fare by booking a round trip and only flying the outbound, but the award was still a better deal.)

  14. “the premium for first/business class is worth it when redeeming miles. That’s partly because when you’re paying cash, first/business class is often exponentially more expensive”

    An absolutely ridiculous justification in my view. A theoretical saving is exactly that – theoretical. If you wouldn’t have paid that price for business (and I personally cannot see why you would with BA CE unless you were an alcoholic or a snob) then you save precisely $0.

  15. Business class in Europe is not worth it. Some say it’s worth it if you have a connection, and maybe they’re right, however, if you have a FF Gold card then you simply don’t need it. All you will get for the double, triple, 4x price is marginally better food and free (mostly crappy) alcohol. 1) They usually serve better alcohol in lounges and better food. Had the seats been better than economy, it would have been a different story, but since they are the same, like you said, it’s not worth it.

  16. After losing my checked bag in my only economy segment(AF intra-europe) during the past few years, having no status, I promised myself I will never fly coach again unless the price is $300 or more.

  17. @ivan – That’s a pretty unsound reason – AA lost my bag last month – in business/first triple hop – they lost it within the US.

    BA CE isn’t worth the money if you have status. And given the space is now the same as Economy – it really isn’t worth the money. Heck US domestic first class on AA/US/DL is now better than BA CE imo in terms of space/comfort.

  18. Correct decision, Ben, but as you say the big difference is having status. I only opt for CE either if there’s no availability in economy or if it’s part of a connecting ex-EU ticket where it’s included anyway. However if you didn’t have status then gaining lounge access, priority boarding, etc starts to make it more worth it. Ideally I pick an exit row seat in economy – far more legroom than CE!

    I’ve been applying the same logic to domestic Qantas flights, with the exception being the longer haul flights (eg MEL-PER) where I’ve paid the extra for the bigger seat/increased comfort.

  19. @speedski I meant BCN lost them, not delayed them. Got half of the item price paid on my debit card but other half ~ gone

  20. I agree 100%, but feel that it qualifies for more than just Europe. For instance, I am a OneWorld Sapphire, and redeemed Avios for Hong Kong to Phuket on Dragon Air. I also chose the economy seat, since my status already granted most of the upgraded perks.

  21. This last weekend we flew to Nice….. AA MIA – LHR in Biz (super! nice product)…. then BA in “Euro Traveler” aka Economy…. to NCE. Wow. Very glad I made no effort to travel in their front cabin. Same tiny gap between each row as in Economy…. only they blocked that center seat. That box with the ham sandwich was welcomed but came with a lemon pastry thing that looked like 100% sugar. That BA front cabin is rather funny. I guess they know that 2 hours is a short hop so why make huge efforts?

  22. So basically the quick and easy answer is “If you have status that gets you lounge access and are not checking in any luggage, then no, its not worth it”.

  23. To echo others intra-Europe business class is only worth it if:

    1. Its part of an international F/J trip where there is no added cost
    2. You don’t have status on a certain alliance and its worth the added miles to basically get all the perks of status (especially in busy airports where fast track is useful)
    3. Only business class is available with miles and the flights are otherwise absurdly expensive.

  24. I’ve been able to redeem Club Europe (BA business class in Europe) for fares from London to eg France, Netherlands or Italy for quite reasonable numbers of Avios (plus paying a fairly small sum), and at times as you say it is cheaper to redeem points than to buy a ticket. The flights I’ve been on are almost always operated by single aisle aircraft with a 2-2 configuration in business but no extra leg room. Many aircraft have now been refurbished with new seats and consoles in Club Europe which I think are comfortable enough although unfortunately same size seat as economy. The meals are substantial though and it’s a treat to have champagne especially if it’s Friday night and you’re going away on a weekend mini-break!

  25. So I see from your pic they got one of those weird horse lamps in the Galleries F lounge too. There’s one in the Concorde Room on the “deck” too, unless they moved it to the Galleries F lounge. Oddball piece of furniture you’d only find in an airport.

  26. @colleen: wow, did not know you can buy the horse lamp; apparently there are dealers all over the world. I googled to see if I could find a price and apparently they go for $8K+ !! I’ll wait until I find one at a local garage sale.

  27. WOW talk about using a column to talk about how important you are. Just a question, are you an emerald oneworld member? Try comparing business class to economy class (without perks) as this would add more value to your claims.

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