To Heathrow and back — AA vs. BA business class. Which was better?

The weekend before last, I flew to London Heathrow airport on Saturday and returned home on Sunday… on purpose.  My goal wasn’t to visit London (which is a great city to visit, by the way), but rather to earn the remaining EQPs (Elite Qualifying Points) I needed to secure American Airlines Executive Platinum status for another year.  I had to earn a total of 100,000 EQPs by the end of this year, and I thought this trip would get me there.  To see how wrong I was about that, please see: How I screwed up my end of year AA mileage run.

In October, there was a brief window of opportunity where three British Airways promotions overlapped (see: Ignoring terms and flying cheap via 3 stacked promos: BA sale, AARP discount, and Avios promo).  Actually, four promotions overlapped.  The fourth promo ends January 31 2016 and offers up to 125,000 bonus miles on flights to Europe.  I paid $446 plus 30,000 Avios for a round trip business class flight from Chicago to London.  In exchange, I earned about 43,000 redeemable AA miles and lots of elite qualifying miles and points (but not as many points as I expected).

My Saturday morning flight was aboard AA’s 767-300.  My Sunday return flight was aboard BA’s 747-400, where I had secured a seat in the upper deck.

Cabin / Seats

American Airlines’ business class had two aisles with seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.

AA vs. BA business class: AA middle seats

As you can see above and below, side tables alternate between large and medium.  I had a window seat, 3J, with a small side table to my right.  The even row window seats have larger side tables and a bit more privacy for sleeping.  If this had been an overnight flight, I definitely would have preferred an even numbered row.

AA vs. BA business class: AA window seats

On the British Airways flight, I was in the upper deck, which had a single aisle, and seats were in a 2-2 configuration:

AA vs. BA business class: BA upper deck

I had used Seatguru to pick seat 63 B.  Seats in green are supposed to be the best choices:

AA vs. BA business class: Seatguru BA 747 400 upper deck

If I had been on an overnight flight, I would have been really pissed off at Seatguru for this misleading advice.  Despite Seatguru’s claim, all business class seats have the same ample legroom, as far as I can tell.  Plus, window seats are far, far, far better for privacy, storage, and space to put stuff.  Here’s a photo from my aisle seat:

AA vs. BA business class: BA aisle seat

As you can see, above, the seat was wide open to the aisle.  For a daytime flight, this was actually good: it was easier to catch a flight attendant’s eye for service.  For an overnight flight, though, it would be far worse than a window seat due to lack of privacy.  For storage, there was only a small drawer near the floor, but it proved to be adequate for my needs.  One nuisance was the lack of any kind of side table. When the tray table was stowed away, there was literally no place to put anything down.  One time during the flight, I put my empty wine glass on the floor because I had reclined my seat to a position in which the tray table would have been in my way.

Contrast the above, to the window seats…  As you can see below, the window seats have a long windowsill trough for storage and for putting stuff down (when the trough lid is closed).  The seats also have a lot of privacy, especially when the screen divider between seats is raised up.

AA vs. BA business class: BA window seat

Overall, despite my quibbles regarding the BA aisle seat, I found the BA seat to be much more comfortable than the AA seat.  Even when the BA seat was in the full upright position for takeoff and landing, I found it very comfortable.  The AA seat was not bad at all.  I simply preferred the feel of the BA seat.  I’m pretty sure that this is one of those things that varies by each person’s body size and shape.  In my case, the ergonomics of the BA seat fit me perfectly.  The AA seat, though was a literal pain in the butt after a long flight.

Service

AA service was good, but unremarkable.  BA service was excellent.  Two flight attendants covered the 747’s small upper deck, so there was always someone available for anything I needed.  And, while both AA and BA staff were friendly, the BA staff seemed a bit more so.

Food

AA exceeded my low expectations with breakfast.  The smoked salmon was very good:

AA vs. BA business class: AA breakfast

And breakfast was followed by a delicious dessert:

AA vs. BA business class: AA dessert

The pre-arrival “snack” (actually, a pretty complete dinner), was not as good.  I ate the lobster mac and cheese (not pictured), but didn’t enjoy it at all.  The chocolate ice cream dessert (not pictured), though, was amazing.

On the BA flight, I selected the chicken meal (not pictured).  The appetizer was excellent.  The main course was good, but unremarkable.  I was looking forward to the pre-arrival afternoon tea, until it arrived.  My mental image of “Buttermilk or fruit scones served warm with clotted cream and strawberry preserves” was quite a bit nicer than what actually appeared:

AA vs. BA business class: BA afternoon tea

To be fair, it all tasted fine.  My judgment was simply clouded by higher expectations.

Overall, I enjoyed most of the food on both flights.  I’d have a hard time saying which was better.  They were both good enough.

In-Flight Entertainment

AA provided tablets which were setup on a dedicated tray for that purpose.  Imagine a tablet computer plugged in here:

AA vs. BA business class: AA shelf for tablet IFE

This setup would be great for those who bring their own entertainment (since the shelf could be used for just about anything), but I personally prefer built-in screens when I plan to use the airline’s entertainment system since they take up less room and often include larger displays.  AA’s in-flight movie selection was great in one way: it included several movies that are still in theaters.  On the other hand, I’ve been flying AA a lot lately, so I had already seen most of their movie selections.

BA had a built-in touch screen display with a larger selection of movies.  Overall, both systems were good, but I preferred BA’s larger screen and wider movie selection.

Wrap up

Both AA and BA offer a solid business class product will lie flat seats, decent food, and decent in-flight entertainment.  I’d happily fly either one again.  In both cases, strategic seat selection is important for overnight flights.  On AA’s 767-300, I would choose a window seat on an even row so as to get slightly better privacy.  On BA’s 747, I would choose the upper deck, and I would definitely pick a window seat for maximum privacy.  Note though that, unlike AA, BA charges extra to select seats at the time of booking (starting at about $83 for business class international flights) unless you have OneWorld Sapphire or Emerald status.

If I had to pick one or the other, I would choose BA over AA mostly because of the seat comfort.  Somehow, for my body shape, the seat fit perfectly and simply felt great.  On long flights, that’s really important.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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F_vloc
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F_vloc

I took advantage of the same sale to fly business PHL to LHR over Thanksgiving, only couldn’t get direct flights. Out bound PHL to ORD (AA) then ORD to LHR (on BA 777) and returned LHR to MAN (BA) then MAN to PHL (on preAA US 330). Preferred the AA TA portion mainly because the seat/bed was more comfortable and the FAs were more friendly.

smittytabb
Guest
smittytabb

I agree completely about that particular AA seat. Glad to know it is not just me. I think it has something to do with the material it is made of or the positions it has, but it is much more uncomfortable than others in the J fleet. I hate it and never could find a comfortable position except when flat. I also agree the even numbered window seats are the best play. What a pain you have to take another flight to get EXP. Hope it all works out with no problem.

ace
Guest
ace

“BA charges extra to select seats at the time of booking (starting at about $83 for business class international flights)”
In what world is this fair or logical? I can see charging for luggage etc. but this makes no sense at all and encourages me to eff BA every effing way possible, which I have already done, but I will engage with new vigor.
Arch criminals is too nice a moniker for the airlines.

Lantean
Guest
Lantean

I think this only applies to award and promo fares… I booked BA biz on regular fare and it let me select seat at time of booking.

DaninMCI
Guest
DaninMCI

Thanks for the great review. I guess BA 747’s might be better than an old AA 767 but I’d think the AA 77W’s would be as good or better in some cases. It seems that service and experiences vary between AA and BA crews for sure.

Skybuck
Guest
Skybuck

Agree that the BA seats are great and that the upper deck aisles really lack privacy. Because of the inability to select seats in advance for free or even at check-in (first flight was on AA, and the AA and BA web sites just pointed to each other) I figured I was lucky to get an upper deck seat at all upon arrival at the airport, but there were empty window seats. Not sure I like the idea of facing backwards, though.

bmh
Guest
bmh

Glad to read TRs from others that got in on the excellent October BA business “sale.” I’m planning a similar MR, but out of LAX doing a same day turn not even bothering to leave LHR. Flying the BA 777-300ER on the outbound (fan of the OW lounge in TBIT) and returning on the AA 777-300ER just to compare the 2 products. Quick question: do you see any problem with the same day turn? I have 3 hours to get from T5 to T3.

Also, ran into a similar situation calculating EQMs, but fortunately my flight is in 2016. Almost gave myself 2.0 EQMs, but recalculated to 1.5 EQMs. Really appreciate the clarification!

Brenton
Guest
Brenton

My first business class experience in my life was last month on a BA 747 overnight flight. I wasn’t able to get in the upper deck (although the main business cabin only had 5 other people). I was really impressed with the comfort and privacy of the window seat. We flew back on Iberia and it was definitely harder to sleep or stretch out.

Max
Guest
Max

In addition to the AA seats being supremely uncomfortable in the flat position, AA does not provide mattress pads in business! There are also some awkward sharp corners — I once painfully hit my kneecap on one of them while trying to get comfortable in my sleep.

Ziggy
Guest

It may be worth pointing out that you had the best (IMO) British Airways business class cabin (upper deck 747) and definitely not the best cabin that AA offers. BA won’t get any better than that, AA (hard product-wise) definitely will.
I completely agree re. BA aisle seats – no privacy and no storage. They’re an abomination,

Jamie
Guest
Jamie

We’ve flown BA business a few times now and for any families out there, I will say that they have always done an excellent job of keeping us together. That was my main worry about not selecting seats. And even though they do say that they’ll keep families together, I was nervous.

A
Guest
A

We just got back from AA 767 biz (JFK – BCN) and BA A380 (LHR – IAD). AA was terrible. The seat was not comfortable, the buttons to move my seat basically did not work, and the service was terrible. The flight attendants took forever to pass out the tablets and literally collected them 2 hours before we landed. BA was great, the seats were private and comfortable, and the service was great. Even though AA has a “pretty” hard product its down right terrible. Everyone loves to have on UA business class, but I much prefer UA or BA over AA any day. It’s the simple things (like hot cabins, terrible service, asking for water 5 times, and those stupid tablets that make a difference).

Jerry Mandel
Guest
Jerry Mandel

So, various comparisons between the two, including tradeoffs. To me, the highest priority is how I can avoid the ripoff YQ/YR surchrges.

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