Airline: Saudia Airlines
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300
Flight #: SV41
Route: Jeddah (JED) to Los Angeles (LAX)
Date: April 28, 2022
Duration: 16hr 10mins
Cabin and Layout: Saudia Airlines business class, 36 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration
Cost: 80,000 Delta SkyMiles (available from ~$5,200 one-way)
Transiting through Saudi Arabia may not be the dream for everyone, but as a former Arabic translator, I jumped at the opportunity to fly Saudia Airlines back from a trip to the Maldives.
Although it was a many-legged journey (with the inclusion of a stopover in Dubai), I was happy to make it in order to check out this airline. Plus, I was making a fairly last-minute redemption, which meant that opportunities were thin on the ground when it came to award flights.
Was it worth it? Let’s take a look.
Booking Saudia Airlines Business Class
As you’d expect, the cost for this flight can be exorbitantly high. After all, the journey takes upwards of 16 hours. Generally speaking, the cost of a one-way ticket will be around $5,200. Although there is some rare variety where you’ll see costs as low as $3,600, this isn’t common.
Saudia Airlines is a member of SkyTeam, which means it partners with airlines such as Air France, Delta Air Lines, KLM, Korean Air, and Air Europa. Ideally, I would have liked to fly either the nonstop Emirates flight from Dubai (DXB) to Los Angeles (LAX) or the 1-stop option on Qatar Airways from DXB to Doha (DOH) to LAX to experience Qatar’s amazing Qsuites business class.
Unfortunately, there was no availability for either of these routes, but a search using point.me (formerly Juicy Miles) revealed this option, routing from DXB to Jeddah (JED) to LAX for just 80,000 Delta SkyMiles. This was a pretty great use of SkyMiles, since Delta is known to charge 180,000+ miles for one-way trips to Europe. At this rate, I redeemed my SkyMiles for a value of 6.5 cents each, which is 6 and a half times more than our valuation of 1 cent per point.
The booking process was simple enough; I was able to complete everything via Delta’s website. However, I was unable to select a seat during booking, and a follow-up effort via Saudia’s website required 2-step authentication. This wouldn’t ordinarily be an issue, but the supposed text message to verify my identity never arrived, no matter how many times I tried. Thus, I was unable to manage my booking — or select a seat — online.
I didn’t go as far as calling the airline to pick my own seat because in a 1-2-1 cabin there aren’t many bad seats and I didn’t think the flight would be full. Fortunately, I was right, and I ended up in seat 19A, a window seat midway through the cabin.
Although I was able to redeem miles for this flight, I could have also paid cash. Were this the case, I would have used either The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x points per $1 spent, or the Chase Sapphire Reserve® to earn 3x points per $1 spent (plus, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card has superior trip insurance options).
Bottom Line: Redeeming 80,000 SkyMiles for this flight was a great use of miles, especially when you consider the cash cost of the ticket.
Dubai International Airport
This is a flight review from Jeddah to Los Angeles, but since I started in Dubai, we’ll go over how the check-in process worked there. For those who are unfamiliar with DXB, there are 2 main terminals within the airport — Terminals 1 and 3. Terminal 3 belongs to Emirates and is full of glitz and glam. Terminal 1 belongs to every other airline and is a little more… crowded. Terminal 2 services flydubai and charter flights and is set apart from the main terminals.
Saudia Airlines Business Class Check-in
My flight departed at 4:20 a.m., and since I was flying in business I opted to arrive at 2:20 a.m. This would generally be a decent amount of time, but the chaos at the airport meant I only just arrived before boarding. The check-in process was, to put it mildly, a mess.
Although there are separate lanes for economy and business class (and separate counters), everyone just crowded up in the front. This meant that after I joined the queue for business class, several customers just walked around me and went first. The check-in agents did not address this. Since I couldn’t beat them, I joined them, eventually elbowing my way forward so that I could check my luggage.
One of the key reasons you opt for business class is the luxury of not having to shove your way into accommodations, so this left a really sour taste in my mouth. Still, once I receive my boarding pass, I made my way over to passport control. Since these were digital gates, there was no separate line for business class passengers and I joined the line with everyone else.
There was also no separate line for security, which meant that I continued to wend my way through the throngs of people. All told, it took an hour and fifteen minutes to make my way through the check-in process.
It certainly wasn’t a premium experience, and although Saudia Airlines has contracted with the Ahlan Business Class Lounge in Dubai for business class passengers, I barely managed to stop in on my way to the flight.
My flight from Dubai to Jeddah was on Saudia on an A320 in business class. These were standard recliner seats, though I didn’t experience much of the flight as I fell asleep before takeoff.
Jeddah International Airport
Upon landing at Jeddah, I disembarked from my flight and made my way through Jeddah airport. Although I had already checked in and received my boarding pass in Dubai, I still needed to have it scanned at a Saudia Airlines desk and go through security a second time.
This was my first transit through Saudi Arabia and I found it thoroughly fascinating. I traveled during Ramadan, so most customers were traveling on their pilgrimages. That being said, most of the airport restaurants were closed due to fasting restrictions.
Security is also segregated in Saudi Arabia; each gender goes through separate lines.
Once I finished security, I headed up to the business class lounge.
Saudia Airlines Alfursan Golden Lounge
Saudia’s Alfursan Golden Lounge at Jeddah is located on the atrium level and provides access to both business and first class passengers. It’s less than a year old; the lounge only opened late in 2021. There’s no denying that it’s flashy — there’s a robot drink server and a pizza oven in-house. However, the entrance was completely unmanned; I just waltzed right in and out without having my boarding pass scanned.
Since it was Ramadan, I wasn’t surprised to see that many folks weren’t around. I was surprised, however, that the lounge even had food at all. Saudi Arabia is a dry country, which means there was no alcohol served anywhere.
Despite the relative lack of food (and people), I can see how this lounge can be considered something special. There was a nap room.
There were also several different seating areas.
But like I said, most of them were pretty much deserted.
Unfortunately, the internet access in the lounge was less than subpar. Although there were signs offering the Wi-Fi information, none of my devices were able to reliably connect. I could manage — if I was lucky — to send a single WhatsApp message before the connection dropped and I needed to restart my phone in order to reconnect. It made working impossible, much less being able to communicate with anyone.
My favorite part of the lounge, which I mentioned above, was the smiling robot that passed out (nonalcoholic) drinks to guests.
Note: it was freezing in the lounge, so much so that my sweater and leggings absolutely weren’t enough clothing. I left a little early as a result, especially since there was no Wi-Fi.
Boarding at JED
Interestingly, the boarding process at Jeddah differed from many other locations I’ve traveled to. Although I had already gone through security once, I had to do it again. There are several gates at the airport that are separated by the security line, one of which was mine. This is presumably because the flight was direct to the U.S., although no other gates aside from mine were operating flights.
Post-post-security, my actual gate area was roped off, which meant that I (and all the other passengers) had to find alternative seating throughout the terminal. At no point did anyone come and remove the ropes; once boarding was called, people simply started shuffling around to either side.
In a way, this helped block all the gate lice, but it also made it fairly awkward to try and shove through when the boarding process began. I was, however, able to get through fairly quickly and managed to be one of the first folks on the plane. My flight was due to depart at 8:45 a.m. and boarding began promptly at 7:45 a.m.
Hot Tip: Do yourself a favor and book with competitor Qatar Airways if you’re looking for a premium business class experience from the Middle East.
On Board Saudia Airlines Boeing 777-300
Saudia Airlines doesn’t get a lot of press in the realm of award travel, but I was very interested to see how the flight shaped up, especially when compared to regional competitors such as Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways. Spoiler alert: it’s not great.
As noted above, Saudi Arabia is a dry country. As Saudi’s national flag carrier, Saudia Airlines also serves no alcohol. I tend to enjoy a drink or 2 on the plane, so it was a bit of a bummer that there weren’t any bubbles on this 16+ hour flight.
The flight attendant did, however, come by with an offering of welcome drinks. There was juice, sparkling water, and a date milkshake available. I chose the date milkshake and was also provided with a hot towel.
The date milkshake was so good I had another 2 throughout the flight — until they ran out.
One thing I noticed when I sat down was that there weren’t amenity kits at the seat, which seemed odd for such a long flight. It turned out that the flight attendants handed these out once we were seated; the amenity kit we received differed depending on gender.
All told, the boarding process was quite easy, and I spent most of my time checking out the seat. Speaking of…
Business Class Seat
Saudia used a 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone layout on this flight, which meant every seat had direct aisle access. No climbing over strangers here.
I snagged a window seat, 19A.
The seat was very spacious, far more than I thought it’d be.
There was also a large amount of storage, though it was broken up into several different compartments.
I lost count of the number of different compartments throughout the seat.
The main storage area also included an entertainment remote, an outlet, and a place to plug in your headphones.
The seat is controlled by a touch screen, which was very responsive. Unfortunately, the responsiveness meant that it kept turning on while I was in the reclining position and attempting to sleep.
I appreciated that it had a short-term lumbar massage feature, though it was very short — the massage only lasted about a minute before turning back off.
The dining table was quite large and flipped out into an expansive desk area that comfortably fit all my food (and my laptop).
Although I didn’t bring a large carry-on, it’s worth noting that there was plenty of storage in the overhead bins.
Food and Beverage
I’ve been on a fair few business (and first) class flights, including flights on Cathay Pacific, United, Lufthansa, Air France, Qatar Airways, and Turkish Airlines, among others. So read this from someone who’s had a lot of experience: the food on this flight was my absolute favorite of any premium cabin experience I’ve ever had.
I know, it sounds weird. But honestly, I can’t remember a time or a dish where I was more pleased. The food was rich, delicious, and — most importantly — very fresh.
As you can see, Saudia says that it operates on a dine-on-demand system. In practice, it actually has both a first and second meal service. Although we were taking off in the morning, I attempted to order a dinner dish. This was — I was told by a flight attendant — allowed, but it was technically the breakfast service. So instead, I opted for the eggs.
There was a bit of a language barrier, which meant that when I asked for the eggs and a bit of the hollandaise sauce on the side, I literally only received the eggs and some hollandaise sauce on the side. Missing was the toast, tomatoes, sausage, and asparagus. While that was a shame, the fact that I was able to order perfectly fried over-medium eggs with hollandaise on a plane just honestly made my day. They were delicious, and I’m extremely picky about airplane food.
I was also still hungry since the majority of my food was missing. Over the course of the flight, I ended up ordering several different dishes, including the leek and potato soup.
I also tried out the mozzarella and arugula salad.
Unfortunately, I missed out on the dinner service (chicken mashbous, grilled beef filet, hammour harissa, or cheese ravioli) when it came around because I was sleeping. I’m sure it was delicious, though.
I’ll be honest, the amenities on board left a lot to be desired. While the hard product on this plane is more than decent (especially since everyone has direct aisle access), both the inflight entertainment (IFE) and the internet access were extremely subpar.
Entertainment and Wi-Fi
It’s true that the entertainment screen was large and fairly responsive, but it was far enough away that I needed to stretch if I wanted to use the touchscreen. Fortunately, the remote stored in the side cabinet alleviated those concerns.
However, this was a 16-hour flight, which meant that there needed to be a lot of content to keep me entertained. There wasn’t. Yes, I enjoyed watching “Music and Lyrics” for the dozenth time, since it’s a cute movie, but it ate up a relatively small amount of my flight.
In total, there were just 6 — yes, 6 — comedy movies available to watch. Other genres were no better. After eating, I gave up and tried purchasing Wi-Fi, hoping I could get some work done.
Although Saudia advertises the ability to purchase unlimited Wi-Fi, in reality, you get 1 GB to use. It charges $30 for this amenity, and I didn’t find out until after my card had gone through when I was presented with a data tracker letting me know how much data I had remaining.
That was bad enough, especially since I was planning on uploading some photos while I worked, and 1 GB is not nearly enough for roughly 15 hours of work.
I needn’t have worried, however. The internet was so bad that I still had more than 800 MBs left by the time the flight landed.
Here is where I’d put a picture of the Speedtest results, but it was so slow that the connection errored out. I’m sure you can imagine how frustrating this was.
Bottom Line: The entertainment situation on Saudia Airlines is reminiscent of the ’90s, with very little to offer when it comes to movies and Wi-Fi.
As I mentioned earlier, the amenity kits were gendered. This was the first time I’d experienced such a thing, but I wasn’t upset — the women’s kit included a nifty little hairbrush that I now take with me everywhere.
Although the bag itself is Missoni branded, everything inside was from Grown Alchemist.
The amenity kit contained a variety of items, including that nifty hairbrush, a dental kit, earplugs, sleep mask, socks, cream cleanser, hand cream, a pocket mirror, eye cream, and lip balm.
Unfortunately, there were no slippers or pajamas provided, which is a shame when you consider that competing airlines such as Qatar Airways include these on their flights.
Having gotten used to some pretty nice premium cabins, I was disappointed to find that Saudia’s bedding selection was mediocre. Although this was a daytime flight, the lack of alcohol, entertainment, and internet meant that I wanted to spend as much time as possible sleeping.
The extent of the bedding was single pillow and a thin blanket wrapped in plastic. No mattress pad, gel pillow, comforter, or anything else to be found here. Did I sleep? Yes, but I think it was more due to boredom than anything else. Generally speaking, this was not a comfortable setup.
Bottom Line: Overall, the amenities were pretty substandard, which meant I spent of lot of my time either bored or uncomfortable during my flight to Los Angeles.
I don’t consider myself a picky person overall. Yes, I’ve been spoiled by points and miles, but at my roots, I have grown up with a blue-collar family and an appreciation for service workers. In fact, I felt pretty badly for those working this flight due to all the passengers.
The service was not great. Or at least, it’s not great if you’re looking for something more akin to what you’d find on Western airlines. The breakfast service, although started pretty early on in the flight, ended up lasting several hours. That is to say — I finished eating within a few minutes, but the delivery of each course easily took 30+ minutes, and having my tray table cleared once I was done took more than an hour.
It was a good thing I had no internet or else I would have needed that table.
Suffice to say that, throughout the flight, service was reactive rather than proactive. I don’t like using the call button, but it was the only way to speak to someone. I did wander up a time or to the galley so that I didn’t look that desperate.
Mostly, I ended up pressing the call button to ask for more water, since the sparkling kind only came in tiny bottles and I was thirsty.
It was very interesting to see that, once we left the Middle East, many of the female flight attendants changed their attire from an ultra-conservative uniform to one more likely seen in the West. I assume that’s a Saudi Arabia thing.
Normally, I don’t think one should consider other guests when reviewing a flight since it’s not something over which the airline has control. But this was an exceptional circumstance, and I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely atrocious guests who were on the plane with me.
Will you encounter people like this? I don’t know, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The cabin itself wasn’t that full, but a couple and their 2 children (aged around 4 and 5) were seated directly in front of me. Opinions on children in business class aside, the real issue occurred when the parents sat down, put on their headphones, and proceeded to ignore their children for the entire flight.
Worse than that, they berated the flight attendants multiple times for not properly watching over their children, who were screaming, climbing on top of the seats (actually climbing over and into my seat at one point), and running around. Flight attendants are not babysitters, and it was appalling to watch them being treated as such.
This treatment extended the entire length of the flight, and more than once, the business class cabin was awoken by slamming window shades, screaming, and loud cartoons without headphones.
Finally, another passenger was clearly having digestive issues, as they spent the whole flight releasing copious quantities of very noxious gas. While wearing a mask, I was somewhat protected, but occasionally I was caught while eating, and once, I witnessed a flight attendant gag. It was that bad.
Overall, my fellow passengers morphed my flight from a somewhat mediocre experience to something I’d gladly pay not to experience again.
If you thought things would get better upon arrival, you were as naive as I was prior to taking this flight. Now, I fly a lot — and more often than not I prefer to check my bag as I enjoy traveling unencumbered. This time, my preference failed me, as my bag did not appear at the carousel.
At first, I thought that perhaps it had landed at the back of the queue due to my transfer from Dubai. After an hour of waiting, and the entire carousel stopping, I realized that my bag was indeed missing.
It was some small consolation to realize that I wasn’t the only one. In fact, according to the baggage handlers who helped me out, there was a malfunctioning conveyor belt in Jeddah, which meant that roughly half the bags people had checked had been left back in Saudi Arabia. Apparently, they knew this before takeoff but decided to proceed onward anyway.
Hot Tip: The Chase Sapphire Reserve® and several other credit cards will reimburse you for expenses you incur as a result of delayed or lost baggage.
As the support staff was swarmed by worried customers, I barely managed to get my report completed. Despite asking, I didn’t receive a claim number or any further confirmation that my claim had been filed. I was simply told that my bag would arrive 3 days later (since Saudia doesn’t make these flights every day).
At this point, I was so exhausted that I just left the airport and hoped for the best. Since I’d paid with a credit card, I also believed that I’d be covered for missing/late baggage. Imagine my surprise when I realized my Amex Platinum card doesn’t cover delayed luggage (it does cover lost luggage, even on award flights, but you’ll need to have booked and redeemed your points via Amex Travel).
Happily, my bag was delivered to my home after 3 days, though the out-of-pocket expenses I incurred as a result continue to irk me.
Bottom Line: An undesirable flight experience was capped off by Saudia Airlines losing my luggage for 3 days.
I was very excited to be flying Saudia Airlines’ business class product for the first time. As someone who’s studied the Middle East for more than a decade, even having a stopover in Saudi Arabia was something I eagerly anticipated.
But altogether, I wasn’t thrilled with the experience. Beginning with the need to shove my way forward in line in Dubai, continuing with a less-than-impressive 16-hour flight, and ending with a 3-day delay of my luggage, I won’t be flying Saudia again. Was it a good deal? Yeah, using just 80,000 SkyMiles for my flight presented a great value, but there are plenty of other options for flying throughout the Middle East.
If you value your time, convenience, and flight experience, do yourself a favor and opt instead for competing airlines such as Emirates, Etihad, or Qatar Airways.