This is our review of Air China business class between London and Beijing.
Last week Rob ran an article on the best Virgin Atlantic airline partner redemptions (click here). Hands down, the best value is Air China in Business Class from London to Beijing. It costs 63,000 Virgin Flying Club miles return in Business Class or 75,000 miles in First Class. Taxes are around £500 return and availability is excellent.
Given that you can get between 5,000 and 15,000 Virgin Flying Club miles for free with the new Virgin Mastercard credit cards – and earn up to 1.5 miles per £1 on your spending – this is a reward that is within reach for many.
But, Air China?
For many people that is an unknown quantity.
So, when reader Joel booked Air China business class between London and Beijing on its Boeing 777 aircraft and asked us if we were interested in a review, we were happy to bend our ‘no reader reviews’ policy! Over to Joel:
Review of Air China business class from London to Beijing
“I did not actually book this trip using Virgin miles, but instead paid cash during an Air China sale covered on HFP. You would obviously get the same experience if you booked with miles.
Air China operates a Boeing 777-300ER (ie Extended Range) for this flight which had a three cabin layout.
There are 42 Business Class seats. As usual you should do your homework before choosing a seat. The seats closest to the front and rear of the cabin do experience the brunt of the foot, restroom and crew traffic.
A and L seats are window seats with a neighbour, and do not have direct aisle access. You may have to do some climbing if your neighbour is asleep and in lie-flat mode. D, C, H and J seats have direct aisle access but are not by a window. If you are in a C or J seat your neighbour will be climbing over you whenever they get up.
I sat in 14D on both legs which had enough distance between the crew and meal preparation sections. Here it is [Anika says: click on any of the pictures to enlarge – they are smaller than our usual review pictures because there are a lot of them]:
These are ‘cubby hole’ seats as you find with many modern business class configurations, albeit not on BA or Virgin:
The crew weren’t too keen on pictures (!) and this is the best I could sneak while boarding and then sat down.
With a 60-inch pitch and 22-inch width, the seat reclines the full 180 degrees. You don’t get any additional ‘bedding’ beyond a large blanket, designed to go under then around you.
I wasn’t sure about the colour and design choice for the upholstery (it being Air China I had expected reds) but it isn’t an eye sore and works well with the mood lighting. I found the cabin quite warm on the outward journey but the crew weren’t able to correct this and I seemed to be the only person saying it. It may have just been the body heat of everyone else sleeping.
The crew will hang your coat for you as there isn’t any vertical storage space with the seat. As expected, you have the overheard bin to yourself and some small storage behind your head off-centre.
Here is a broader shot of the cabin:
The Business Class cabin was full on the outbound journey and at approximately 50% on the return.
The mood lighting was appropriate for the times of day during the journey and the crew keep the lights quite dim during sleeping hours.
As you would expect there was a large selection of movies – over 100 – but mostly in Chinese.
There were also non-sequential episodes of American TV shows (season 3 episode 8, for example) so I stuck to a few movies (San Andreas and Jurassic World were the newest Western films!) and my iPad.
Due to the somewhat odd seat layout, you are not centred to the screen (which is off-centre to your right) but you won’t notice this once you’re focused on the show.
There is no wi-fi but each seat does have some form of power outlet even if just USB 5v.
Air China provide L’Occitane bags in First and Business Class with the usual contents. This is a step up from what you would get in British Airways Club World:
While you get some rather snazzy slippers, no pyjamas are provided in Business Class.
Each journey provided a Chinese or Western food option, with various bits of overlap between the two. In reality you only choose your main item and have no say on the others (or perhaps that was lost in translation). You usually get given all of the desserts which is rather wonderful! You are asked to choose all of your meals at the beginning of the flight, before or just after take-off, and then the menu is taken away.
The outbound flight to Beijing leaves just after lunch (14:10) so you are offered a combined lunch and dinner.
First I had a Thai Chicken Brochette (apologies for the colours due to the mood lighting!):
Then a marinated prawns with Greek Salad, endive lettuce, chicory, feta cheese and tomato with a dill mustard dressing (that packs a punch!) and a warm soft and delicious bread roll.
The feta and olive tomato stuffed chicken breast (a tiny bit dry) with diced pumpkin (a little too soft) and creamy spinach was – as a whole – wonderful!
Desert was fruit and Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
I chose the Chinese breakfast (start as you mean to go on…) but the cous cous congee wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed. They aren’t kidding about the salted egg either!
The dumplings were wonderful. The pain au chocolate (perfectly warm and soft with gooey chocolate) was added to my dumpling plate as there was nowhere else for it to be set down.
Between the First and Business cabins is a self-service snack location if you get peckish:
Flying back to London, the starter was smoked salmon and teriyaki chicken skewer:
Pre-bread was sautéed black fungus with spring onion (great, in small doses); five spicy smoked pomfret (not my taste!) and marinated celery with walnuts and black fungus (delicious). Delicious wuxi pork spare ribs with steam rice were served on the same tray.
Desert was dark chocolate truffle cake with some fruit:
As a light meal, served as a single tray were smoked marlin, prawns and vegetable salad with grapefruit dressing. I skipped the marlin!
The Kang Shi Fu Beef Noodles were fantastic and I’m very glad I stuck to the Chinese dish for this meal.
The cabin crew were attentive and friendly but held back by the language barrier. On both flights only two of the cabin crew were comfortable engaging in English. The others were more hesitant but remained incredibly attentive to refilling glasses or cleaning items as this didn’t require much of a conversation.
The restrooms used by the Business Class cabin were kept clean and well-stocked throughout the flights.
Looking at other reviews online, most people tend to negatively judge Air China based on service. In my experience, over two flights, the crew did the best they could and all other aspects – besides verbal communication – were fully up to international standards.
Air China has a good business product and is an excellent Virgin Flying Club redemption option between the UK and Beijing.
Full details of the Virgin Flying Club / Air China partnership can be found on the Virgin Atlantic website here. As well as redeeming miles, you can also earn Virgin miles on this particular Air China route.
PS. Remember that you cannot use the 144-hour visa waiver if you only fly to Beijing and back. You would need to add a separate flight from Beijing to a third country and leave China within five days. If you are flying back to London you would need to apply for a Chinese Visa in advance.
How to earn Virgin Atlantic miles from UK credit cards
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Flying Club miles from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Flying Club miles. That page is regularly updated with the latest special offers and will still be accurate even if you are reading this article months after publication.
(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles? Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)