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Nov 12

airberlin to Expand US Flights

One of things that I like most about writing this blog is getting to explore airlines that I never would have had reason to talk about otherwise. Such is the case with airberlin (Apparently, they don’t capitalize the “a” which, for some reason, is really bothering me.).

AirBerlin

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Airberlin (It was the first word of the sentence. Whew!) is what I would call a ‘tweener airline. It’s not exactly a low-cost carrier (LCC), like easyJet (There’s another one! What is it with these airlines?), but it’s also not a full network carrier, like Air France or British Airways (two carriers respectable enough to capitalize their names). Not having a defined niche makes for a very tough business model, but they’re still around, which is more than you can say about most airlines, and they’re part of the oneworld alliance (I swear, I’m not picking these on purpose.), so you can earn and burn from their partners. Prices are coming closer to those of the majors, but they’re still reasonable. And it has a cool frequent flyer program where they like to give away miles.

New Routes

Airberlin has traditionally done short-haul and medium-haul flights but, over the past several years, they’ve begun to expand to long-haul. That pattern will continue this week as airberlin adds new rules from Dusseldorf, its hub, to Dallas and Boston in May, while relaunching a flight to San Francisco. For those looking to visit Cuba, the airline is also introducing a flight to Havana from its hub. The Dallas route makes perfect sense, as it’s a good connecting point for flights on their oneworld partner, American Airlines. The others are acceptable for connecting traffic, but don’t fly into the hub of a partner.

Class of Service

As a short and medium-haul carrier, airberlin had no need for a true business class, offering economy seats with 30″ pitch and “XL” seats with 34″, which is what you get on JetBlue (or 3-4″ better than you get on most carriers). As it has moved overseas, however, it has started introducing a true business class in its A330s, with the fleet renovation to be completed this summer (hopefully). The traditional economy class is arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration.

And all I was hoping for was wings and a deck of cards!

And all I was hoping for was wings and a deck of cards!

 

The business product looks decent, but not world-class. It has 1-2-1 configuration across the cabin and each seat has a six-foot bed. The bad is also 180-degrees lie-flat, so we’re good so far. That’s only two inches wider than a standard coach seat and makes it very hard to move around while you are lying down. If you want to do anything except stay perfectly still for the flight, it’s not going to be particularly comfortable.

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Nice colors, but did they find those seats at a doctor’s office?

So Where is the Bargain?*

Like so many other airlines, the best bargains to be found on airberlin are in redeeming miles, particularly if you are redeeming British Airways Avios. Because British Airways rewards are based on distance, not dollar value, a nonstop flight on airberlin from the east coast of the United States to Dusseldorf is only 20,000 Avios (miles) one-way. You can then connect to a flight to just about anywhere in Europe for another 4,500 Avios. BA is still running its 100,000 Avios credit card promo, so that’s two roundtrips to Europe for taking out a card and meeting the minimum spend (or one roundtrip if you only want the 50,000 base Avios for spending $2,000 on the card) and, since you’re not flying BA, you’ll avoid the onerous surcharges. Of course, you can also fly AA to Europe for 40,000 miles roundtrip in the off-season. AA is currently offering a 50,000 miles bonus with its card, limited time only, found through the “miles or travel” banner toward the bottom of this page.

These situations are where airline partnerships come in handy. Even if your own airline doesn’t have availability at the price you want, one of its alliance partners might.

Bottom Line

Anytime a new carrier starts Transatlantic travel, it’s good for consumers. Any time a discount carrier does, it’s even better. Good luck with your new destinations.

Now, if they could only work on their capitalization…

 

*If you’re interested in getting a peek at what miles redemptions might look like in a few years, I wrote a column about it for Inside Flyer, which can be found here.

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