Before the pandemic, I took advantage of a spring break to travel to Ho Chi Minh, a vibrant and bustling city in Vietnam. But I didn’t just travel there, I traveled in luxury – all on points and miles.
The first leg of my trip was on Air China B777-300ER first class from New York JFK to Beijing
I booked this Air China first class flight during an Avianca Airlines Star Alliance flash sale in July. Avianca LifeMiles is an excellent frequent flyer program to book Star Alliance flights through. Unlike other programs like Lufthansa and Aeroplan, Avianca does not tack on carrier-imposed surcharges, leaving you to only pay taxes and fees on an award ticket. Every year, Avianca also has flash sales, where award bookings on Star Alliance airlines are discounted up to 30%. In this specific case, I booked my Air China flight for 81,000 Avianca LifeMiles and $30.60, instead of the normal 90,000 miles. Considering that a cash ticket on Air China First Class regularly costs up to $12,000, I redeemed these miles at a value of almost 15 cents/mile.
Avianca LifeMiles are relatively easy to accumulate. They are transfer partners with Citi Thank You Rewards, American Express Membership Awards and Capital One Rewards. They also regularly sell their miles with a steep discount at 1.25 cents/mile. Buying miles at 1.25 cents/miles and then redeeming them at 15 cents/mile represents an outstanding value!
Air China’s 777-300ER has 8 first-class open suites in the front of the aircraft spread out in a 1-2-1 configuration. The seat has a pitch of 80 inches and a width of 23 inches. You can store your bags or other carry-on bags under the ottoman in front of you or in the overhead bins. Waiting at my seat was a L’Occitane Amenity Kit with a set of toiletries including hairbrush, lotion, lip balm, toothbrush and toothpaste, sanitizing towel and an eye mask.
After distributing the predeparture drinks, the flight attendant came back to distribute pajamas, which were available in two sizes: L and XL. She then directed me to the inflight menu and introduced the food options available.
Takeoff was pretty rough from JFK. We hit turbulence immediately after we ascended and it continued for the first 30 minutes during the flight . But an hour and a half after takeoff, flight attendants came around to set up the tray table for lunch. A cloth was set on my table and a flight attendant offered me a full five-course meal, including amuse-bouche, soup, salad, entrée and dessert. Overall, it was pretty awesome! I included some highlights:
After the meal, I changed into my PJs while the flight attendant made my bed. I slept straight into the second meal service.
I slept most of the entire flight and woke up just before dinner was ready to be served. I usually can sleep very well on flights and this one was no exception. The cabin temperature was perfect, and the bedding was thick and sufficient.
The second meal service was much faster and abbreviated. I started out with an assorted salad served with buttermilk ranch dressing and had the soup noodles for my entrée. The noodles, though, were bland and I barely touched them.
It wasn't great food but it got the job done and I landed in Beijing about 2 hours after that last meal service, onwards to my connecting flight to Ho Chi Minh.
Overall, I enjoyed Air China's first class offering. The seat was definitely comfortable to sleep in for a long-haul trip but their dining service definitely did leave some more to be desired.