Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Airbus A321neo
Flight #: BA481
Route: Barcelona (BCN) > London Heathrow (LHR)
Date: October 8, 2021
Duration: 1hr 46mins
Cabin and Layout: British Airways Club Europe (short-haul business class), 32-seat capacity across 8 rows in a 3-3 configuration (with an empty middle seat)
Cash Cost: £230 (~$309) (open-jaw round-trip LHR-MAD (with Iberia), BCN-LHR (with British Airways))
Typical Miles Cost: 15,000 Avios + £17.50 (~$23)
Booking My Flight
Paying cash for a business class flight within Europe is often a poor value. In most cases, the difference in price between an economy and business class flight does not match the difference in the inflight experience.
That said, it’s always worth checking out the different options as you may be surprised like I was when planning this trip to Spain.
I wanted to spend my 31st birthday in Barcelona — one of my favorite cities and a place I used to call home. I thought I’d mix things up by trying out Iberia’s A350 in business class to Madrid on the outbound leg, then fly home in business class with British Airways.
I could have opted to use points, which would have set me back 30,000 Avios + around £110 ($149) in taxes in fees for the round-trip itinerary.
Thankfully, BA gives those wishing to redeem their Avios the opportunity to pay by combining their points and cash, a helpful option for travelers. The Avios + cash options for my specific flight are listed in the screenshot below.
If I had booked this one-way flight with Avios + cash, I would have skipped the 20,000 Avios + £0.50 (~$0.67) option and instead would have chosen the 15,000 Avios + £17.50 (~$24) option, as this would have provided a better value overall. Yes, I would have had to pay more out of pocket, but as you’ll see below, I actually would have wound up ahead.
We value British Airways Avios at 1.25 cents apiece, so we can assign the following cash values to each of the options listed above:
- 20,000 Avios + £0.50 = £250.50 (~$339)
- 15,000 Avios + £17.50 = £205 (~$278)
As you can see, the 15,000 Avios + £17.50 option would have resulted in me “saving ” just over $60 for the one-way ticket.
Hot Tip: When using points to book a flight, be sure to reference our valuations first, and convert the points required to book the flight into a cash equivalent to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Sometimes, like in this case, you’re better off paying cash.
However, for this trip, I found a business class cash fare using Google Flights for only £230 (~$309) round-trip, which was less than half the cash equivalent that a round-trip ticket using Avios would have cost me, so I booked it immediately. It’s not uncommon to find similar prices for a round-trip ticket between the U.K. and Spain in peak summer months even on budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet.
It would also mean I’d earn 80 Tier Points (40 Tier Points each way), which would go a long way to help me earn the British Airways Executive Club Gold status I’m chasing. This is in addition to the 1,435 redeemable Avios I earned.
There was no doubt about it: I was very pleased with my bargain round-trip business class ticket to Spain.
My limit for this particular set of flights would probably have been £300 (~$405) given I was flying a “proper” lie-flat business class seat on the outbound from London to Madrid, so I felt like I got a great deal at £230 (~$309).
Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN)
After a fun-filled 2 weeks in Spain, it was time to head home to Newcastle in the northeast of England for my birthday party.
Getting to Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN) is quick and easy. I usually take the Aerobus that operates 2 routes from its terminus at Plaça de Catalunya in the center of the city to the airport and takes around 20 minutes. Line A1 goes to Terminal 1 and line A2 goes to Terminal 2. Go figure.
The bus stops at a few other places in the city depending on the route and the direction of travel. A one-way ticket will cost you €5.90 (~$7) and a round-trip will set you back just €10.20 ($~12).
The metro also runs to the airport, but it takes longer and usually requires a change of line, which isn’t fun in the heat with luggage.
The bus dropped me off at Terminal 1 just a few feet away from the entrance closest to the British Airways check-in area.
Only those with valid boarding passes or who were able to prove they had a flight booked for the same day were allowed into the airport. Though I’ve often experienced this in Asian cities, this isn’t standard practice in Spain. The same thing happened when I caught a flight departing from Madrid earlier in the year.
The Iberia and British Airways check-in areas are located next to each other.
There was only 1 family at the priority check-in area when I arrived and there was a free agent in the “regular” line, so I headed straight to him for assistance.
I try to travel light, but still prefer to check a bag as I hate having to cram my liquids into the flimsy plastic bags the airport provides to comply with regulations in Europe.
Luckily, there were no issues with carrying on my backpack and the 2 shopping bags I’d filled with last-minute purchases just before I left for the airport.
Within minutes I had cleared fast-track security and was entering the departures area.
A quick scan of the departure board informed me that my flight would depart from the D and E gates.
Despite the terminal opening in 2009, it still looked and felt brand-new.
If you’re passing through Terminal 1, you’ll notice a familiar store…
I headed to the Pau Casals lounge, only to be told that British Airways (along with a few other airlines) uses the Joan Miró lounge closer to the D and E gates. So I continued to clear passport control and find the appropriate lounge, where I was hoping to relax for a bit before the flight.
As is often the case with European airports, if your flight is to a nation outside the Schengen Area, you have to go through passport control just before heading to your gate. This means you spend time either in a lounge or simply hanging out in the departures area and then have to leave with enough time to get through passport control and to your gate on time.
In Barcelona, however, the lounge for flights to non-Schengen countries is also after passport control, rather than before. I much prefer this setup, as it means you can relax once you get to the lounge rather than worry about leaving the lounge with enough time to clear passport control.
On all of my post-Brexit travels, this was the first time I’d seen a passport lane exclusively for U.K. citizens. It makes sense though, as it undoubtedly helps streamline the passport checking of the hundreds of passengers heading back to London on one of the many flights per day.
After passport control, there was an eerily quiet walk along an almost-deserted corridor.
This corridor is probably not always this quiet, but on the day I traveled there were only 9 flights (including mine) scheduled to depart from D and E gates for the rest of the day.
The destinations, except for a second flight to London on low-cost carrier Vueling, were to North African and Middle Eastern cities such as Algiers (ALG), Cairo (CAI), Casablanca (CMN), Doha (DOH), Istanbul (IST), Marrakech (RAK), and Tangiers (TNG).
Lounge Options at Barcelona Airport
When I finally made it to the correct lounge, there was no line.
The Joan Miró is also the dedicated lounge for those flying in premium classes and those with elite status flying with several other airlines, including American and Delta.
First impressions weren’t great — 9 out of 10 tables were covered in trash.
I was pleased to see 2 members of staff rushing around to clear the trash, though. My guess is that all the eligible passengers on the Qatar flight that was scheduled to depart shortly after I arrived in the lounge left at once to head to their gate, so the lounge staff were playing catch-up.
I certainly wasn’t expecting to find a spa. My excitement quickly diminished, however, with the realization that it was closed.
Food was served by staff behind a screen in a buffet area divided into 2 separate stations: 1 for food and 1 for drinks.
There was a small selection of sweet and savory light bites.
Savory options included mini Spanish ham or Spanish tortilla (a sort-of omelet typically made with eggs, potatoes, and onions) sandwiches, mini pizzas, or a mini slice of Spanish tortilla.
Dessert options included brownies, wafer biscuits, croissants, carrot cake, cookies, and a selection of mini pastries.
All the beverages on display were complimentary and included soft drinks, beer, wine, and Cava.
I didn’t want to eat too much before my flight so I went for a small tapas-style selection of “croissant mixto” (ham and cheese croissant), a mini ham sandwich, and a portion of (cold) Spanish tortilla. An all-beige lineup, but it was deeply satisfying.
Boarding Barcelona to London
I got to the gate at 5:45 p.m. — around 40 minutes before the flight was scheduled to depart — and people were already in line.
In order to be one of the first passengers to board so I could take photos for this review, I begrudgingly joined them.
One heated argument between fellow passengers about line-jumping and about 20 minutes later, boarding commenced.
While the aforementioned argument escalated around me, a rather surly gate agent wrapped a “cabin guaranteed” tag around my flimsy paper shopping bag. I’m glad she did, as I don’t think the bag or its contents would have made it to London in 1 piece had it been forced to travel in the cargo hold at the last minute.
We then spent 10 sweaty minutes in the jet bridge waiting to board. It may have been October, but the Barcelona heat was still strong and the rays had been warming the glass jet bridge up like a greenhouse all day.
The silver lining of the wait was that I was able to snap some lovely photos of G-NEOT, the plane that would take me to London.
British Airways Club Europe [BCN to LHR]
Once we’d boarded, the captain made an announcement over the loudspeaker at 6:28 p.m. (3 minutes after the scheduled departure time) to apologize for the brief delay which was apparently due to issues with the deboarding of the plane.
We pushed back around 10 minutes later, and I got a great view of this Turkish Airlines A321 that was parked at the next gate.
We were airborne about 13 minutes later.
A 3-3 seating arrangement is pretty standard for European carriers, even in business class.
British Airways often blocks out its middle seats with a table, though it did not on this particular flight.
The BA-embroidered headrests distinguish these seats from those in the economy cabin.
My seat reclined, but only a few inches (as shown in the picture below) and there was a coat hook on the right side of each seat for the use of the passenger behind.
Behind the headrest, there’s now just an empty space where the BA Highlife magazine once resided.
Despite the sign advising that Wi-Fi and charging were available, the power outlets were out of service due to an upgrade to BA’s short-haul fleet, so I was told.
The aircraft was only 2.5 years old, so it struck me as odd that it would already need an upgrade.
A net in the seatback in front of me was the only form of storage, but it was more than enough to hold my MacBook Air, passport, and the aircraft safety card.
The tray table was a good size and extended out a few inches.
The extendability and size of the tray table meant that my laptop fit with enough room for comfortable typing.
Club Europe (Business) Cabin
The Airbus A321neo was configured with 8 rows of Club Europe business class.
The size of the Club Europe cabin on British Airways’ short-haul jets can be adapted to meet the demand of a particular flight.
The partitions you see by the curtain below can be moved to make the cabin larger or smaller, though 8 rows is usually the standard size.
According to SeatGuru, there are 2 types of Airbus A321neo in BA’s fleet. On this particular jet, the thicker, more padded, and more comfortable business class seats continue through to row 14 to allow for more Club Europe seats (if needed). From there to the back of the aircraft, the Euro Traveller (economy) seats are thinner, less padded, and more like what you’d find on a low-cost or even ultra-low-cost carrier.
Food and Beverage
In late summer 2021, British Airways unveiled the Best of British menu for its business class passengers.
Each month or so, passengers will be able to choose from a different classic British dish. I was happy to hear that the Best of British option on my flight was bangers and mash. A quinoa and cucumber salad (no thanks) and rigatoni with tomato and ricotta were also on the menu.
As a lad from the north of England, I was brought up on classic homecooked dishes like this, so I was very happy with my choice.
The sausages were thick, meaty, and of excellent quality — the kind you’d expect from a proper butcher.
As you can see, I pretty much licked my plate clean — great work, British Airways.
Dessert was delicious, too. I’ve been a fan of the desserts from BA’s caterer of choice, Do&Co. A particular favorite of mine has been the chocolate mousse. Quite frankly, I don’t think another BA Club Europe dessert will ever beat it.
However, the apple-crumble goodness from this flight would certainly come in as a close second.
I also asked for a bottle of water, as the tiny plastic cups of water that are typically served last only a couple of gulps.
It would be great to see British Airways make similar moves to its Oneworld alliance partner airline, Alaska Airlines, which recently removed plastic from inflight water service.
As you’d expect with business class, all drinks were included.
Passengers can choose from soft drinks, red or white wine, cans of beer, as well as mini bottles of Nicholas Feuillatte — British Airways’ Champagne of choice.
I’ve heard many Champagne connoisseurs complain that Nicholas Feuillatte is nowhere near as good as the Dom Pèrignon and Krug served on other airlines. I don’t think I’d be able to tell the difference.
The vast majority of BA’s short-haul aircraft have no seatback IFE systems — only a small subset of its Airbus A321 fleet have seatback entertainment in business class, but these aircraft typically serve destinations that are a little further away, like Amman (AMM) or Cairo (CAI). And right now, it seems these aircraft aren’t in service.
However, for a short flight like this, I was happy to be entertained by the beautiful scenes through the window.
In the era of pandemic travel, cleanliness is more important than ever. I’m happy to report that the aircraft appeared clean when I boarded. Even my tray table, which I often find can be dirty, was perfectly clean.
Amenities on a short-haul business class flight within Europe are few and far between at the best of times — long gone are the days of seatback IFE screens for short flights like this.
However, with non-functional Wi-Fi and power outlets, there were no amenities to speak of on this flight.
The front of the aircraft is home to the lavatory dedicated to Club Europe passengers, though some passengers seated towards the front of the economy cabin did pop through the curtain as this bathroom was closer.
The space was small and compact, but as clean as you would hope to find an aircraft toilet.
I noticed there were some White Company products, including a luxurious hand balm. I didn’t make my way to the back of the aircraft to check, but I would assume these were only in the Club Europe cabin and not the economy cabin restrooms.
The service I received during the flight by this brilliant British Airways crew was impeccable. Most of my interactions were with the lovely Nadia who went out of her way to make sure I had everything I needed, and that my glass was never empty — thank you!
The food service started 15 minutes after takeoff. Trays had been cleared and second drinks were offered just 20 minutes later.
Mask-wearing was enforced for the duration of the flight, which is to be expected these days.
Each passenger was also handed an antibacterial wipe when they boarded the aircraft.
In hopes of discouraging passengers from standing close together in the aisle while deplaning, an announcement was made asking passengers to remain seated until their row or group or rows were called for deplaning.
Despite the slight departure delay, we landed ahead of schedule and pulled up at the B gates satellite terminal at London Heathrow at 7:44 p.m.
Just about 5 minutes later, I was on the underground train to the main terminal where I’d clear passport control and pick up my bag.
The scene on arrival at the U.K. border was quite chaotic.
Even the eGates — which usually have no lines — had a 20+ minute wait. The U.K. Border Force allows nationals of Australia, Canada, the E.U., Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S. to use the eGates as long as they are at least 12 years old and have a biometric symbol on the cover of their passports.
The line was significantly longer for those who weren’t citizens of the countries mentioned above.
This flight from Barcelona to London was a lovely way to spend the last couple of hours of my birthday trip to Spain.
The service I received, the ahead-of-schedule arrival, and the top-notch bangers and mash more than made up for waiting around during the boarding process and the longer-than-usual line at passport control.
Granted, my outbound leg on an Iberia flatbed was more comfortable than the return leg in an upright BA Club Europe seat, but considering the price I paid, I’m more than happy with the experience.