I recently wrote about my recent trip from Mumbai to Austin via London. Considering that I fly this route often, I thought it would be interesting to evaluate the benefits of British Airways’ Executive Club (BAEC) while flying long haul routes such as these.
British Airways’ (BA) impressive route network and joint venture with American Airlines (AA) means that most major US cities are within a one-stop flight to most Asian cities. Thus, BA is a popular option for US-Asia flights. However, what is BA status really worth on these journeys? In this article I’m going to outline the most pertinent perks of elite BA status and evaluate how useful they really are.
Depending on the nature of your trip, your baggage allowance can be very important. While irrelevant to most business travelers, baggage allowance can be important for families planning on doing shopping while on vacation. While Blue and Bronze members have no benefits, Silver members have a weight allowance of 32kg (70lb) and two pieces for everyone on their booking. Considering that the normal economy luggage allowance is only one 23kg (50lb) bag, this can translate to a lot of additional shopping. Furthermore, an additional allowance can be great if trying to stuff everything into one bag.
Gold members have an even better deal – Gold members (and everyone on their booking) are allowed an additional bag, and all bags have a 32kg allowance. Again, not very useful for business travelers, but great for families on vacation.
It should be noted that premium cabins (Club World and First) already come with a 32kg weight allowance, and with a piece allowance of 2 (Club World) or 3 (First). Hence, this benefit isn’t very useful for those travelling in premium cabins. Furthermore, there is no additional luggage allowance on “Hand Baggage Only” fares (BA’s intra-European basic economy).
Confirmed seat + Seat selection
Silver and Gold members are assured an economy class seat on all flights, even if it is full – provided they purchased a full-fare economy seat at least 24 hours in advance and check-in at least one hour prior to the flight. I’ve personally never been bumped off a BA flight, but can definitely see this as a useful perk for business travelers.
A more universal benefit is that Silver and Gold members can select their seats from the time of their booking. This is great for families looking to sit together, or even if you want to simply avoid a bad seat. I find people often undervalue just how nice it is to pick your seat for free.
Bronze members earn 25% more Avios on flights, Silver members 50%, and Gold members 100%. Given that this is on top of your cabin bonus, Gold members flying premium cabins have huge earning potential. However, BA awards status based on a separate measure, Tier Points. Tier Points have no earning bonuses for elite members (though premium cabins award more Tier Points). This benefit largely depends on how often you redeem Avios and how you value them.
Depending on your specific departure airport, this benefit can be either great or useless. I often fly out of Austin when flying BA, and so have found this to be a very limited benefit. BA only operates a single flight daily from Austin, meaning the check-in area is rarely busy, and that there is only one premium check-in desk. However, this can definitely be a boon if flying out of an extremely busy airport. Silver members have access to business class check-in and priority security lines (where available). Gold members have access to First class check-in and priority security (where available).
Considering that many airports group premium check-in together, there is a negligible difference between Gold and Silver. A notable exception to this, however, is BA’s home of Heathrow where Gold passengers have access to the First Wing, a private check-in and security experience that opens directly into the First lounge in T5.
Speaking of LHR, both Silver and Gold members have access to priority security lanes when transiting. However, my experience with the priority lanes has rarely felt “premium”. The priority security is often slower than the regular lanes, and Border Force officers will often move passengers into the regular lanes when they see a backlog.
Again, these benefits are negligible for those travelling in premium cabins. Unless you happen to be a Gold member in Business class in an airport with separate First and Business class check-in desks, and even then, its not much of an improvement.
Depending on your preferences, this can be either mildly useful or negligible. BA allows Bronze members and up to board with premium cabin passengers in Group 1. Personally, I’ve found this benefit to be most useful on domestic itineraries with AA (through my OneWorld Emerald status) when I have to fight for overhead space. If travelling in a premium cabin, or you happen to like boarding last, this benefit is negligible.
Arguably the biggest advantage for elite status holders, lounge access has long been cornerstone of loyalty programs. BA offers lounge access to Silver and Gold members. When flying two long haul routes, lounge access can quite literally make or break the journey.
Silver members have access to Business class lounges, while Gold members have access to First class lounges (note: this excludes access to the Concorde Room). When flying on domestic legs, both will have access to American’s Admirals Club. As a great benefit, both Silver and Gold members have access to unlimited drinks (usually the lounge agent will hand you some drinks vouchers to redeem at the bar). However, Gold members also have access to American’s Flagship First Dining areas. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet had a chance to experience this, though I should remedy this sometime in May.
Admirals Clubs lack any “real” food, and only have a small selection of snacks. If your departure airport doesn’t have a BA lounge, prepare to be hungry till the flight. Depending on the airport and how busy it is, I often skip the Admirals Club and just hang out in the terminal.
That being said, lounge access is a whole different ball game in London’s Heathrow T5. The home of BA, T5 serves only BA and IB passengers. As a result, T5 houses 5 BA departure lounges and an arrivals lounge. There are 3 Galleries Business class lounges (two in Concourse A and another in Concourse B), a First lounge (Concourse A), and the ultra-exclusive Concorde Room (Concourse A).
Silver members (and passengers flying Business) can only access the Galleries lounges (along with one guest). I’m not a big fan of the Galleries lounges and find them a subpar product. They are usually quite busy and loud; I’ve previously described them as reminiscent of a mall or shopping plaza, and I stand by that description. Despite their size (the South lounge in Concourse A has capacity for over 800 passengers), these lounges are almost always full and home to both business travelers and families. Count yourself lucky if you can find a seat with an outlet to charge your phone.
I normally transit through LHR in the mornings, and have to say, I’m not very impressed by the breakfast selection. While the Galleries lounges have cereal, fruit, milk, etc. in cold options, they only have egg or bacon rolls in hot options. While something is better than nothing, especially if you have a long layover, I really believe this is an opportunity for BA to improve their product offering.
The biggest advantage of access to the Galleries lounge in my opinion is the shower facilities. While the shower pods themselves have often been compared to NHS facilities (can’t say I disagree), taking a shower is still just as refreshing. Especially if connecting between two long haul flights, I find taking a shower as a great way to refresh yourself and get ready for another long day of travelling. I’ve also found showering and having breakfast in the lounge as a great way to fight jet lag, since it imitates my routine back home. However, the wait for a shower pod can often be over an hour, so I usually make signing up for a shower a priority (aka make this the first thing you do in the lounge).
Overall, the Galleries lounges are great for families with younger children (given you can all get in) due to their very casual atmosphere, and better than nothing. However, if you qualify for access to the First lounge or Concorde Room, there is no reason to stop by the Galleries.
Gold members (along with one guest) have access to BA’s First lounge in LHR. Somewhat ironically named, the First lounge serves more as a dedicated area for BA and OneWorld elites than it does as a First class lounge, as ticketed First passengers on BA have access to the exclusive Concorde Room – BA’s “true” First class lounge.
The First lounge is far superior to the Galleries lounge; the aesthetic is far more elegant, and the décor more muted. The lounge was also less crowded and far quieter than the Galleries lounges last time I visited. The food options are also much nicer – the First lounge serves a full English Breakfast in the buffet and also has a variety of a-la-carte options including Eggs Benedict and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs (as well as the egg/bacon rolls from the Galleries lounge).
The bar is better stocked as well, with a variety of top shelf options such as Blue Label – though still self-serve. The service is also much nicer; I’ve rarely seen staff clean up tables in the Galleries lounge unbidden, however, here I was amazed at how much more attentive staff were. A downside is that the showers are still shared with the Galleries lounge, so there is still likely to be a long wait – as I said before, you should make signing up for a shower your priority if you hope to get one before your flight!
I’ve found the First lounge to be a great place to relax and unwind, regardless of my class of travel. I definitely consider First access to be worth it, especially if you are connecting between two long haul flights. Unless you have access to the Concorde Room, I definitely recommend stopping by if you can.
The arrivals lounge is located landside, after baggage claim. I’ve only used it a couple times, but can definitely see the value. The arrivals lounge is essentially a smaller Galleries lounge (complete with shower facilities), though it is rarely very busy. Primarily used by business travelers freshening up before a day of meetings in London, it is usually pretty quiet. Only Gold members and passengers travelling in premium cabins can access the arrivals lounge. Note, no guests are allowed. Overall, the arrivals lounge is useful if you have a long layover (I’ve had 12 hour layovers I’ve used to explore London) or London is your final destination and you won’t have access to a hotel room for a while.
Due to BA’s status in OneWorld, most of the above perks also translate over onto flights with any OneWorld partners. BA also has several external partners in the hospitality industry, with whom Gold members have access to additional perks. I’ve never actually availed any of the perks, but will include them here for the sake of completeness: free room upgrades with the Mandarin Oriental at check-in (subject to availability), complimentary membership to elite Voyager status with Langham Hotels, and complimentary Avis Priority Rental Service in London Heathrow (your rental will be delivered directly outside the Arrivals Hall).