On a recent jaunt through South America, I needed to book a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Cartagena, Colombia. Unfortunately, flights are extremely expensive ($600 one way, per person in economy!) so I ended up booking the seats with the travel points I’d accumulated through some stellar travel hacking. After parting with $180 and 70,000 points, I was the proud owner of two first class tickets on Avianca that would get us to Cartagena, then through to Bogota, Colombia for our flight back home.
Leg 1: Guayaquil, Ecuador to Bogota, Colombia
We started the journey bright and early at the Guayaquil airport, which was packed full of people and long queues despite being 4 a.m. Imagine how happy we were to see that lovely sign “First Class Passengers Only” that let us walk right up to the ticket agent and skip the line. Win one for business class! After a quick wait to get through security, we settled into the modern Avianca lounge, which featured lots of seating, wi-fi, TVs, a big breakfast spread, and a bar (yes it was open at 4:30 am!). While I wasn’t in the mood for my usual Jack Daniels, I did grab a cappuccino and got some work done while we waited to board the flight.
2A and 2C turned out to be large leather seats, but nothing fancy in the way of sleeping pods or super-recliners. Methinks those types of planes are saved for long international journeys, not two hour flights. As it was so early in the morning we didn’t take advantage of in-flight entertainment or booze, but made sure to get in on the breakfast which was sadly nothing to write home about. My tray had juice, a warm bun and fruit salad, complemented by a rubbery omelet with a side of indistinguishable meat. No shock here: I did not eat it.
The rest of the flight passed by quickly, and soon we found ourselves on the ground in Bogota, as part of a quick layover to get to Cartagena. All in all, our first leg of the trip was enjoyable, as we were able to take advantage of the nice VIP lounge and perks like skipping lineups.
Leg 2: Bogota, Colombia to Cartagena, Colombia
Unfortunately, things went downhill for part two.
First off, Bogota’s airport is a nightmare. It’s dirty, chaotic and poorly laid out. For example, after passing through customs we wandered through long concrete hallways with absolutely no signage, and eventually ended up in front of a bus. We were directed to get on, and after a few minutes it took off across the tarmac, passing planes before depositing us at another terminal for domestic departures, which again had no signs. Since we already had our boarding passes, we didn’t think to go to the airline ticket counter: big mistake! It turns out that’s where the nice VIP lounge access is, which we bypassed in favour of sitting on a dirty seat in the departures area, since it was only supposed to be a 20 minute wait.
When it was finally time to go, we walked down a long hallway which included two staircases and no escalators, hence why my husband ended up carrying an old lady’s suitcase the whole way. When we finally got to the queue for our flight and walked down the “First Class Passengers Only” side, the gate agent turned us away and made us go to the back! What the?! WHY DO YOU HAVE A SIGN, THEN?!
Anyway, it wasn’t much better on board, as my seat—1A—just so happened to be covered in crumbs. You’re telling me they couldn’t even be bothered to dust off the seat between flights? The unapologetic flight attendant handed us a napkin so we could clean it up ourselves. Talk about first class service (eye roll). We also weren’t given anything on the one hour flight, save for the standard pop/juice/water offering. Very disappointing. The only bright side was when we touched down in Cartagena, and our bags were the first off the plane and onto the carousel. Gotta love that Star Alliance priority tag!
Leg 3: Cartagena, Colombia to Bogota, Colombia
Our last flight on Avianca was a quick one back to Bogota a week later, which started with an easy check-in before we made our way to the second-floor VIP lounge, which has large glass windows that look down onto the boarding gates below. The lounge was huge, with lots of different seating arrangements, TVs, nice washrooms and wi-fi.
However, there was a total lack of food and beverage offerings, save for some little non-descript things that kind of looked like sandwiches you’d find at a tea party, as well as some packages of crackers. There also wasn’t a bar or café: instead, a mini fridge held juice, water and pop. One perk for beer lovers, though, was the ‘serve yourself draft’ option, though no one was making use of it at 11 am!
All in all, we enjoyed perks like getting our bags first, and usually getting to skip the line. Otherwise, I don’t feel it was at all worth the $4,000 price tag for first class flights. Perhaps on longer routes the benefits are more apparent, but a lack of perks and subpar service on Avianca made it feel like we could have flown economy with the same results.
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