Delta Air Lines runs a good airline in terms of operational performance. As far as its frequent-flyer program though – not so much. Delta has no international first-class service, and one of the biggest disadvantages of SkyMiles is that they cannot be used to book first-class travel on other airlines. Major bummer.
However, when using SkyMiles to book flights in business class, any segment(s) of the trip that are entirely within one country book into the highest class of service on the flight. Thus booking a business-class SkyMiles award ticket can result in sitting in first class on a wide-body aircraft in the very limited circumstances where those aircraft are flown by a SkyTeam airline on a flight within one country. You should also be able to fly first class using SkyMiles on a China Eastern 777-300 between Shanghai and Beijing.
(Update: Even though China Southern withdrew from the SkyTeam alliance effective January 16, 2019, you can still use SkyMiles and the Delta website to book China Southern flights. Earlier this year I flew a China Southern 737-800 in business class from Bangkok to Guangzhou and in a first class suite on a 777-300ER from Guangzhou to Beijing for 40,000 SkyMiles. But now you can book the same flights for 33,500 miles with American Airlines or 22,500 if both flights are in business class!)
With that in mind, to get back to Beijing from Bangkok for returning to the U. S., I booked a business-class award ticket on SkyTeam partner China Southern Airlines for 40,000 Delta SkyMiles. The ticket was booked via the Delta website which also allowed seat selection at booking. The trip began with a flight on a 737-800 that stopped in Guangzhou, China and continued to Beijing on an A380 where I could select a first-class seat.
Connecting in Guangzhou (CAN)
Upon deplaning at CAN we were bused to the terminal. A China Southern representative was waiting with a sign with my name. She escorted me through immigration and security and then took me to a transfer desk where it took 15 minutes to get the boarding pass for the flight to PEK. (Not getting this boarding pass in BKK is a story for the post on the flight to CAN. Suffice it to say that sometimes China Southern and Delta have difficulty communicating.)
China Southern Flight 3099 Guangzhou to Beijing
CZ Flight 3099 was scheduled to depart at 09:00. After a short stay in the China Southern Sky Pearl VIP first/business-class domestic lounge, I was one of the first to board at 08:00 at a slightly chaotic boarding gate.
China Southern A380 First Class Suite
China Southern has eight first-class seats arranged 1-2-1 in two rows just aft of the flight deck and forward exit doors of the A380. These seats are called Platinum Private Suites. My suite was seat 2D in the center of the cabin.
These first-class seats are 26 inches wide and have 83 inches of pitch. The seat converts to a bed that is 33 inches wide and 79 inches long. When the sliding doors are closed the seat becomes a suite with walls that are five feet high.
There are no overhead bins in first class. Instead each suite is assigned a locker with a combination code.
Seat Features and Amenities
The seat has very clean lines. There are padded arm rests on both sides. Controls for lighting and the seat are on the right arm rest, which flips up to reveal a storage compartment and the audio/video remote. Even though these seats have been around for a few years, there was little evidence of wear and tear.
There is another storage compartment under the ottoman.
There was no amenity kit on this flight but pillows, excellent noise-canceling headphones, eye shades and a shoe horn were on the seat and armrest at boarding.
Even though the scheduled flight duration was just over three hours, a mattress pad and blanket was stacked on the ottoman.
Apple juice and a cookie were waiting at the seat at boarding. Once seated, the flight attendant brought a wet towel. After I finished the cookie and juice, the flight attendant offered a glass of champagne and handed out menus for food and beverages.
At 09:00, the scheduled departure time, the captain announced that there would be a delay of unknown length due to congestion in the air traffic control system. (Oh no! I must spend more time in this luxurious suite.) LOL. Unfortunately, in China delays and even cancellations because of an overloaded civilian aviation air-traffic control system are all too common.
Shortly after the announcement a flight attendant came by to take lunch orders, and I had another glass of champagne
During the delay, I took the opportunity to close the suite doors and catch up on a little shut eye since I’d only slept briefly on the red eye from Bangkok to Guangzhou.
I had been resting for about one hour when at 10:36 a flight attendant said we would be taking off soon. The departure from Guangzhou was at 10:58 or about two hours late.
After reaching cruise altitude, I had a flight attendant make the bed again and relaxed.
I was so comfortable in this suite that I forgot to pay a visit to the self-service bar in business class on the upper deck.
These were the beverage menus:
Reader Bernard comments that the wine selection is terrific. I’m no expert, but the champagne, Chateau Bel Air, and Chateau de Bensse Medoc were wonderful.
The selection of alcoholic beverages was on display. Johnnie Walker Black was the only whisky. I’m sure other brands would be available on long-haul flights.
In-Flight Tea House
China Southern offers four types of tea from renowned producers. The tea is served with professional tea art performed by the flight attendants.
At 12:07 the attendant woke me for lunch. The service began with a warm towel and nuts and beverages.
This was the menu for lunch: The menu includes several Cantonese and Guangdong-style specialties for which China Southern takes great pride. I should have been more adventurous and tried one but opted for the chicken soup and beef filet.
The entree was served at 12:17.
The entree, soup and sides were delicious. The beef was tender and juicy. It was prepared medium to medium rare.
Dessert followed and included french ice cream, fruit, and a new dish for me, papaya and snow fungus sweet soup.
In-Flight Entertainment System (IFE)
After lunch I investigated the IFE system. The 23-inch video monitor has a good picture although not as crisp as the newest ones like on the Delta A350. The monitor is fixed in place so viewing from boarding to gate arrival is possible.
China Southern says that the video-on-demand service includes more than 1,200 program options with more than 600 hours of entertainment and a storage capacity of 1 TB. There are 150 popular and classic multilingual movies from Hollywood, China, France, Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, and 300 Chinese and foreign TV series. Video programming is updated every three months.
The USB interface allows browsing personal photos and PDF files, listening to music, and other functions; you can also share files with other passengers in the cabin. In addition, a full range of office software applications allows you to process Word, Excel and other commonly used files. There is no WiFi.
At 12:47 the flight attendants notified passengers that the flight would be landing in about 45 minutes. That was plenty of time to visit the bathroom and make preparations for landing.
There is one lavatory in first class. It is on the starboard side and is only normal size. There were no pajamas on this flight, but when changing clothes, I prefer using a larger bathroom that is accessible to those with disabilities. On the China Southern A380, you’d need to go upstairs to the business class cabin for that.
After travelling 1,484 miles, China Southern Flight 3099 arrived at the gate at Beijing Capital Airport at 13:31.
I thoroughly enjoyed spending 5.5 hours in a Platinum Private First-Class Suite on the China Southern A380. While the level of service was less than what is offered on an international long-haul flight, I was impressed with the seat and the attentive service the flight attendants provided. English was not a problem. Unlike standard business-class seats that have a door pasted on, Platinum Private Suites are roomy enough to deserve the term suite. The mattress pad and duvet turn the seat into a comfortable bed.
This flight is the best use of 40,000 Delta SkyMiles that I can think of. The one-way, first-class fare for the flight from Guangzhou to Beijing is typically around $3,800. It is the only opportunity to use SkyMiles to fly in first class on an A380.