In which our correspondent finds you can have too much of a good thing when upgraded to first class
It is a steep and slippery slope to climb to British Airways gold card status – after you have made base camp (silver, by acquiring 600 tier points in one year) and the airline has cunningly reset your earned “silver points” back to zero, you then have to earn another 1,500 points to finally reach the golden plateau.
But once you are there, it is far easier to maintain. (For those who aren’t members, this is because the following year you “just” need to earn 1,500 points, not go through the whole 600-plus-1,500 thing. And while we’re at it, yes, I’m aware that if you live outside the UK the tier levels are lower, but I live in the UK.)
Is it worth it? Well, yes. Gold status isn’t a vanity thing, or not wholly. As a business traveller it has real benefits – you get lounge access even when you’re not travelling with BA, you rack up miles more quickly, and you apparently get priority on wait-lists (I have my doubts about that, as I couldn’t get on to a Middle East flight despite requesting it two weeks in advance).
Most important, you are one of the people they bump up a class on long-haul flights. I am being very specific about long-haul because in 20-plus years of travel I have yet to experience the ecstasy and instant warm bliss of an upgrade from economy to business on a European flight. I have, however, got a mountain of BA pyjamas and toiletries (ideal Christmas gifts for distant relations) from years of being bumped up from long-haul Club World to First, and I am sincerely happier than a pig in mud every time it happens.
More often than not, I find out at the gate when they scan the ticket and it makes this lovely “bing” noise. It did it again the other week and I was halfway through thanking the attendant when she told me I’d been chosen for an extra security check. The travel gods toy with you sometimes.
Upgrades are great, but allow me to let you into something of a secret. Right now, I don’t want to be upgraded from business to First. Have I gone mad? No, not at all. Take last week, when once again I was upgraded from Club World to First and felt mild disappointment. For one thing, I’d managed to secure my favourite Club World seat – 14B – which is the best for ease of exit at the other end. If you think this is a small point, you haven’t spent half your life queuing at US immigration. Seat 14B is the closest to the door they always use to disembark at JFK and, whenever I get the chance, it’s my seat of choice.
But surely First would rank ahead of even this, I hear you ask? Surely the point of the top class must be to have priority when disembarking? You’d think so, but no – not since some genius thought to sandwich 30-odd World Traveller Plus seats between First and Business on the B747. It’s this gang that gets off before First, and since they are very slow about it (affluent holidaymakers in no hurry and typically of an age), you then have to try to overtake them before you get to immigration. Never, ever, queue behind them because they will have filled in the form incorrectly and will then have a chat with the immigration officer.
There’s another reason why I didn’t want to sit in First. Yes, the seat is a throne-cum-four-drawer divan bed lined with snow leopard belly fur where you relax back, being gently wafted with bird of paradise feathers. Yes, the food, service and wine are far superior. But there’s the thing. I don’t drink anything on board but water anymore, I tend not to eat (I’ve even started taking sushi with me from the T5 shop) and I am usually happy not to speak for the duration of the flight other than to say please and thank you. Take those things away, and the truth is that the old BA First isn’t as good as the new BA Club World.
As a business person in old First, I can’t plug my UK three-prong plug into the seat power without some Heath Robinson adaptor contraption (not a problem in Club World), and when I do use the entertainment system, the screen is several times smaller than in business. I have seen a demo in BA’s lounge of the new First set-up, which looks good, but I have yet to strike it lucky with an upgrade to the new cabin.
In case I seem to be running down First, I should say that, in general, the service is outstanding – Goldilocks good (not too much, not too little, just right). Once, having gone to the toilet for the tenth time after drinking several gallons of water to avoid deep vein thrombosis, I came back to find my bed made up complete with underlayer and pillow. I snuggled down and woke up a couple of hours later to find I miraculously had a duvet tucked in all around me. For some reason, the cabin crew – great looking, it must be said – winked and giggled at me when I got off. Not sure what’s so amusing about being an ungrateful narcoleptic with prostate problems, but I smiled back all the same.