Last Updated: June 3, 2020
COVID-19 Update: Portugal has re-opened to tourists from certain countries as of June 1st. TAP Air Portugal is scheduled to resume flights to North America on June 4, 2020.
For the last leg of our most recent around the world trip in November 2019, we booked business class tickets to get back home in Vancouver, Canada from Porto, Portugal on TAP Air Portugal. In this post, we share information and tips about why we chose to do this, the booking process, the flights, and the airports we transited through.
When booking and planning travel, most people start with a destination in mind and dates and then proceed to search and book for the cheapest option. WLT follows that strategy for 1-2 trips per year, like going to Hawaii or Mexico for Christmas/New Years; otherwise we build itineraries based on the best deals for random destinations at that time.
The Porto leg of our trip was decided after we had booked Tokyo, Bali, and Marrakesh because we’d redeemed lots of points in the last 2 years and knew we needed to pay for a ticket that would generate high ROI (return on investment) to rebuild our points balances. We had even considered going back to Sri Lanka from Morocco via Dubai with Emirates but decided against that option and chose to visit a European destination instead for logistical reasons.
We had narrowed down the choice between Lufthansa business class from FRA – Frankfurt to YVR – Vancouver and TAP Air Portugal between OPO – Porto to EWR – Newark and onward to YVR – Vancouver.
The major negatives to the Lufthansa option were:
- We would have to book another flight to get to FRA – Frankfurt that would add cost and time.
- The Lufthansa business class product from FRA – Frankfurt to YVR – Vancouver is actually quite outdated and not their best.
- You only earn 100%-150% bonus miles for class of service
- Lufthansa’s change fees are very high
We assessed the negatives to the Lufthansa option and figured out that the TAP Air Portugal option addressed all of them.
- We could depart from OPO – Porto, saving time and money by not having to book an additional flight.
- TAP Air Portugal was launching the new OPO to EWR route with their new A321neo aircraft and business class product.
- You earn 200% bonus miles for class of service
- TAP Air Portugal’s change fees/refund option is very reasonable
- Connecting at EWR – Newark is not optimal but we would get to fly on an Air Canada 787 in Signature Class to get to YVR
For about $800 less and an extra ~3,000 Altitude Qualifying Miles, we booked TAP Air Portugal
Spoiler: This was the most difficult revenue booking we’ve ever had to deal with.
The Booking Process:
It took us 3 tries to book these tickets and even after we did, we encountered some difficulties!
- TAP Air Portugal does not accept non-US American Express Cards: TAP Air Portugal says they accept American Express on their Canadian site but they only accept USA-issued American Express cards. We had to use a TD Aeroplan VISA to book the tickets. Thankfully, the TD Aeroplan VISA has decent insurance but it is not as good as our American Express Platinum card unfortunately.
- TAP Air Portugal ticketed half in economy: When we received the booking confirmation, the EWR to YVR segment was in economy despite it showing as business class on the TAP Air Portugal website. When we called the airline, they said the reason the last segment was in economy is because there is no business class cabin on the Air Canada flight, which we know is untrue as the flight is operated on a 787. We asked for a refund as this was not what we booked.It took us 3 weeks to get the refund.
- When all fails, book with American Express Travel: American Express Travel is both a travel agency and a third-party booking tool. For the TAP Air Portugal tickets from OPO to YVR, we eventually booked them using American Express travel for cheaper with all segments in business class which was a win-win as we wanted to pay with our American Express Platinum card.
About 2 months prior to departure, we received notification that the flight from OPO to EWR had a new departure time and would cause a mis-connect and so they re-booked us from EWR to YVR one day later which was not acceptable (as much as we wanted to visit Fleming and Dan from Ware On The Globe). The other option they gave us was to fly from OPO – Porto to LIS – Lisbon then YYZ – Toronto to catch a flight on an A320 to YVR – Vancouver. Since Air Canada’s A320 business class sucks (no lie flat seat) and we were paying for the ticket, we asked to fly via SFO – San Francisco on TAP Air Portugal but that was not an option hence why we compromised on OPO-EWR-YVR. We were also excited because the LIS to EWR flight would be on TAP Air Portugal’s new A330neo. Due to how slow TAP Air Portugal is, it took us 2 weeks to get this sorted using American Express’ help.
The First Flight: Departing from OPO – Porto to LIS – Lisbon:
We departed from OPO – Porto to LIS – Lisbon to catch our flight to EWR – Newark early in the morning. Since we had arrived quite early, we decided to ask if there were seats on an earlier flight. If there is one thing that we commend TAP Air Portugal for, it’s how friendly and helpful their gate agents are. Our initial flight was on an Embraer 175 and the new one on a 737 with the middle seat blocked in business class. Despite it being such a short flight, they served a cold meal and non-alcoholic beverages; the cold meal was a sandwich.
Prior to departing, we decided to visit the lounge due to Ware on the Globe’s review because we saw the photo of the pasteis de nata and wanted to have some more before leaving Portugal! The lounge itself was small but had a decent selection of breakfast snacks and coffee (Nespresso machine). We also agree with Fleming that the Porto airport is very modern and clean, making it a nice airport to depart from.
The Connection: LIS – Lisbon Airport:
As luck would have, this the only flight out of 4 in Lisbon that we would arrive to an actual gate instead of a bus gate. LIS – Lisbon Airport is a very small and condensed busy airport with many bus gates. We arrived at Terminal 1’s domestic section.
We had about 4 hours until our next flight and so we walked around and did some shopping. We saw there was a Star Alliance Lounge in the domestic terminal where we were but decided we’d go to the lounge in the international terminal area. To get to the international departures terminal, we had to go through Immigration and security again before getting access to the main terminal. Overall, it was pretty quick and seamless but there is no priority line for business class passengers.
The international departures does not have a lounge (unless we completely missed it but the TAP staff told us to go back to the domestic departures area), FYI. We made the mistake of assuming there would be a lounge in the international departures area closer to our gate but there wasn’t, and if there was, we didn’t find it. We had read reviews on other travel blogs and the Schengen vs Non-Schengen area designators were pretty confusing.
If you want to use the Star Alliance Lounge or Priority Pass Lounge at LIS before an international departure, you need to access them in the domestic terminal. Since we had 3 hours and there wasn’t anything in the international terminal, we decided to clear customs and go through security again. Overall, we estimate this mistake cost us about 45 minutes. We also had access to the ANA Lounge with Priority Pass but decided to go to the TAP Air Portugal Lounge.
The Star Alliance Lounge operated by TAP was very busy but it was worth going. They had decent snacks and drinks, including Portuguese wines and draft beer and more pasteis de nata since we were not entirely sick of them yet! We do recommend trying the vinho verde, which is a light, young, and effervescent white Portuguese wine that’s quite refreshing in the same way a rose can be.
The Boarding Process for LIS – EWR:
Of everything we went through on this trip, the boarding process for the LIS to EWR flight ended up being the most daunting process of all; because it’s a US departure, there was additional screening at the gate prior to embarking on the bus and Jason had SSSS on his boarding pass. Last time Jason had SSSS on his boarding pass was for our EZE – Buenos Aires to DFW – Dallas Fort Worth flight and they went through every single piece of clothing in his luggage while Maxine was enjoying champagne and chocolates on board the aircraft. Side story aside, we do recommend going to the boarding gate earlier than usual due to the additional screening. Unlike additional screening at other airports, they did not make you leave your over-sized liquids and gels thankfully.
We rode a bus to the aircraft and walked up the stairs and grabbed our seats; they do not have a bus just for business class passengers and wit until it is full to the brim to depart.
The Flight on TAP Air Portugal’s A330neo from LIS – Lisbon to EWR – Newark:
Our first impressions were positive; the airplane was so new, it still had that shine and new airplane seat. We also like the color scheme and the seat looked pretty inviting. Our Thule bags fit in the overhead compartments but we did find them higher and smaller than others including the Air Canada 787 and Turkish Airlines 787 overhead compartments.
Unfortunately, they only window seats we could secure were 8C and 9A. (A is missing a window and located right near the galley so not ideal. Before you knew it, we were in our seats, taking off and admiring the views from our window seats.
The bedding was so-so but definitely not luxurious like other business class products we’d flown on this trip and others; you get 1 pillow and 1 blanket.
The in-flight entertainment screen is 16’ and swivels out so you can adjust it. We also really enjoy foreign movies and found the selection to be really good and we ran out of time to watch everything we were interested in on this 10 hour flight.
Of all our flights, this was probably our least favorite food. The starters were good but the mains were boring and not that great. They also take meal orders from Star Alliance Gold and above so by the time they got to Maxine, there were no options left other than the roasted lamb in pastry dough with pumpkin puree, spinach and hazelnuts. Our favorite parts of the meal service were the code appetizer and the ice cream for dessert.
If there is one thing they do well on TAP, it’s the wine program. They take pride in Portuguese wine and have many options. They also encourage trying small pours of wines to pair with your meal. They also make sure the wine is served at the proper temperature; wines are kept in an ice bucket until they are poured unlike the warm sparkling wine and white wine you get on Air Canada on some flights.
The amenity kit had some useful things in it like funky TAP Air Portugal colored socks, a perfume sachet for your luggage, eye mask, ear plugs, moisturizer, lip balm, toothbrush, comb, and a pen.
The restrooms were also kept clean and sufficient for the size of the cabin and number of seats.
The Arrival: Connecting Through EWR – Newark:
We arrived in Newark on time and made our way to Terminal A to catch our Air Canada flight back to Vancouver. It was quite easy to clear customs and immigration with our Global Entry privilege and proceed to screening but for the first time in years of travel, TSA Pre-Check was not printing on our boarding pass so we had to wait 25 minutes to go through the regular screening line. Unfortunately, the Maple Leaf Lounge at EWR is probably one of the worst we’ve ever been to; it’s quite small, crowded, limited food and drinks and they don’t recycle. The MLL does have nice spacious washroom stalls which beats the ones in the public areas of Newark where unisex outhouse style stalls are scattered. Sadly, we could not use the United Polaris Lounge because it is in Terminal C. We had a great flight back to YVR on Air Canada and since we’ve already reviewed Air Canada’s Signature Class, we won’t go into much detail here.
Overall, we were satisfied with our flights based on the price we paid, the miles we were earned and the in-flight experience. When we compared the cost between an economy ticket and a business class ticket, it wasn’t that much more so we did decide to splurge. That being said, we were very fortunate to find this deal for what other airlines were charging in economy.
We do agree with other reviews about the food and while it wasn’t fantastic, it was sufficient. We also found the service on the flight to be above average and attentive. If we have the opportunity to fly TAP again, we wouldn’t hesitate even if the booking process was fraught with difficulties, the customer service on the phone was not helpful, and LIS – Lisbon Airport is not our favorite.
Have you ever flown TAP Air Portugal? Have you ever experienced difficulties booking a flight? Is there a Star Alliance or Priority Pass Lounge by the International departure gates?
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