Off to NYC Part 6 – Review of New York to Berlin on airberlin in business class (40,000 Avios + £1.50!)

This is the 6th and final part of a series of airline and hotel reviews covering my trip to New York. To recap (since it is almost two weeks since the previous part of this trip report!), I have just checked out of the Conrad New York hotel and headed off to JFK airport.

Click the links to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

I have written quite a bit about airberlin in recent months on Head for Points.  This is because it offers interesting long-haul redemption routes (some of which are not available on BA at all) along with very low taxes and surcharges on redemptions.

I was therefore keen to try them out for myself, as I keep recommending them to other people!  And, as it turned out, this trip was the ideal opportunity.  I needed to be in Hamburg anyway after this flight, which is a relatively modest train ride from Berlin.

The cost of the airberlin one-way business class flight from JFK to Berlin was 40,000 Avios plus just £1.50 of taxes!

This is well over £200 less than BA want in taxes - albeit that unless you need to be in Germany you also need to factor in 4,500 Avios plus £15 for a one-way Reward Flight Saver flight on BA from Berlin to Heathrow.

The ground experience

airberlin uses Terminal 8 at JFK, which is the American Airlines terminal.  I was checked in promptly (two business class desks open, one person ahead of me at each) and was given a fast track pass for the security line.  This is well worth having in the US!

Once past security (which was only my second experience of a ‘nudoscope’ scanner, the first being Moscow about seven years ago), you are directed up the lifts to the American Airlines lounge complex.  There is the standard lounge and the ‘Flagship’ lounge.  You would need a BA (or other oneworld) Gold card to get into the ‘Flagship’ part, which I don’t.

US airline lounges are generally derided as unbelievably poor.  This one, being AA’s US flagship, was OK.  They have certainly spent a lot of money redecorating it recently.  Here is a stock photo:

AA lounge

However, the core problems remain. You must pay for any food you want (apart from snacks like apples) and for any drink you want.  I was given 1 free drink voucher as an airberlin customer.

The lounge was spacious enough and, whilst busy, was not overcrowded.  There was a large bank of computers available (free!) so I passed the time before boarding on those.

Whilst some (all US) newspapers were available, weirdly there were no ‘real’ magazines.  The only options were those weird free titles which you never see outside airport lounges.

On board

I was not surprised to see that I got one of the old-style airberlin business class planes, since there are only two currently flying with the fully-flat seats.

The old layout is a 2 x 2 x2 layout, with 3 rows by the windows and 4 rows in the middle.  I took the 2nd row in the middle block, to ensure that no-one would need to climb over me during the night.

All 20 seats were full.  I don’t know if people had been upgraded or if this is simply a popular and/or cheap service to get to Europe.  It would not have been full of redemptions, since airberlin appears to cap these at 2 business class seats per flight.

Because it was a full flight, I felt too conspicuous taking photographs!  These stock photos gives you a decent impression of the seat, though.

AB 1

AB 2

The slope towards the floor is certainly steep.  However, to be honest, I did get a few hours sleep so it can’t have been too bad!  As well as the slope, there is no real privacy from the person next to you.  You even need to share the armrest table when putting down your drink.

In terms of leg room, you are better off in Row 1 by either of the windows, since the gap between the seat and the bulkhead is huge. However, unless you are travelling as a couple, you will either have to climb over someone (or be climbed over yourself) to reach the aisle. The benefit of the middle pair of seats is that you and your neighbour both have direct aisle access.

Shockingly, airberlin is a champagne-free airline, it seems!  Pre-departure, I was offered a glass of prosecco, which I drank but was not impressed with.

Food

The food was the most impressive element of the flight.  Like most airlines, airberlin has teamed up with a well-know restaurant – in this case the Sansibar restaurant in Sylt – to create its menu.

(Sylt is the German equivalent of Martha’s Vineyard, and is where the German rich and famous go on holiday.  The film of ‘The Ghost’ was shot there.  It is almost totally unknown to non-Germans, though.)

Here was the menu:

Appetiser (you get both!):

Jicama olive salad

Grilled beef tenderloin slices with radish salad, pomegranate seeds and horseradish

Main courses:

Chicken breast in a dark grape sauce with roasted red and yellow tomatoes, brussel sprouts and saffron flavoured parisienne potatoes

Grilled wild boar mignon in a delicate blueberry sauce, yellow wax beans, broccoli florets, leek and yukon gold potato mash

Seared monkfish with pork belly, zucchini and potato gratin and cherry tomatoes in lemon oil

Three cheese ravioli in a pepper sauce and a herbed alfredo sauce garnished with baby artichokes

Dessert (you get both!):

American cheese cake

Goats cheese button and gouda

It is served on one tray.  The two appetisers and two deserts come at the same time on the same tray!  Once you have eaten the appetisers, the main course comes.

I had the monkfish with pork belly.  And it was fantastic.  For once, the airline had created an off-beat meal from the menu of Sansibar and made it work at 36,000 feet.

The wine list was eclectic, to put it midly, although was a decent selection with three whites, a rose and three reds.  No champagne on airberlin, but they did serve a Prosecco Spumante from Italy.

Breakfast was served nearer our arrival.  Annoyingly, though, it was not near enough.  The lights in the cabin went on, I woke up and so I had the breakfast.  This was one tray containing yoghurt, a fresh fruit plate, croissant, butter, cream cheese and jam.

However, once I’d eaten it (it didn’t take long ….!) there was still well over an hour before landing.  They could have let us sleep for another hour.

Landing at Berlin Tegel

This was to be the end of my NYC trip.  And Tegel Airport had a surprise up its sleeve.

I was 4th or 5th off the plane.  Passport control is AT THE GATE, so you are guaranteed to have no-one ahead of you if you are first off.

If you have baggage (I didn’t) then that it also delivered to a carousel at the gate.  No walking required.

And then, most impressively, the walk from passport control to the taxi rank took about 30 seconds!  I was actually through passport control and in a taxi within about 90 seconds of leaving the plane!  Tegel is also very close to the centre, and within 15 minutes (a €20 ride) I was in Postdamer Platz.  Shockingly efficient!

(I then had a couple of hours in Berlin before hopping on a train to Hamburg, where I met up with the family and spent a couple of nights with the in-laws before flying back to London.  But I will spare you all that!)

Good redemption deals at the new Crowne Plaza Edinburgh
A Flying Blue status match for UK residents (with a catch ...)
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Comments

  1. Interesting report as I’m flying Air Berlin from DUS to Fort Myers, Florida in a few weeks on a AAdvantage award.

    I assume the lounge in JFK was the Admirals Club and I agree with your comments on it. The Flagship lounge is a very different experience with decent food options and hot and cold buffet food. I’d put it as a little better than a BA Club lounge but well short of Galleries First.

    • All in all, AB was totally acceptable for a short overnight flight, even with the sloping seat. Another benefit of doing this route – apart from the tax saving – is that you get an extra hour or so sleep compared to flying to Heathrow. Assuming you were on a leisure trip with no time pressure, you would also have plenty of time to pop into downtown Berlin, see some sights and then head back to Tegel for an evening flight back to London.

      Assuming that Brandenberg airport ever opens, AB would presumably also get a decent Berlin lounge.

  2. Sound like a decent enough experience and I would take comfort from the 40,000 cost plus £1.50. That is how it should be not the rip of £500 a set from the UK. The meal all on on extras has some benefits too in that once you are finished you can hopefully have it all taken away and get some sleep.

    The other big benefit is that you have a choice about seating in that almost every BA club set has the mountaineering problem you touched on and is Club Worlds single biggest weakness.

    I have previously flown BA First and Club from JFK/ EWR however that route is just over my self imposed 5 hour limit for economy travel. With a stiff wind it can be done in 6 hours. And if you can take the day time flights from NYC and BOS then premium travel starts to look like a very expensive luxury.

    I just hope that air Berlin remains an option for Avios as I understand that some middle eastern airline is sniffing around and that they get the new seat installed across the fleet soon.

    The limit of 2 per flight is a blow for family travel but I would need to look at value if not using 241. The saving on airline imposed fuel surcharges may be such that using air Berlin round trip on some routes is better value than BA…..an increasing issue in my view.

  3. Hingeless says:

    I often read that you have to pay for drinks in AA lounges. However, they offer “well drinks” and soft drinks for free. These may not be branded drinks but the G&T is fine by me.

    • I didn’t know that. The fact that they gave me the coupon for 1 drink implied that they would charge for everything else, but to be fair I never asked. A G&T would have gone down nicely as well!

      • Hingeless says:

        The coupons are for premium drinks. It does state that well drinks are free on the menu. (except from the tip)

    • I was in one in LAX where they offered free house wine and beer. Both were acceptable, just.