Book the world’s best first class now. Fly next year.

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Feeling restless?  If you’re anything like me, you miss the challenge and excitement of planning travel.  Deciding upon an ideal destination excites the imagination.  Finding ideal discounted flights or award flights that get you to where you want to go with the least discomfort is as challenging and satisfying as solving a puzzle.  Finding and booking hard-to-get award flights is like winning a jackpot.

If you’re stuck at home looking for a way to spend your time, there’s no reason you can’t plan travel now for next year.  True, we don’t know that the COVID-19 mess will be done by then, but if we book refundable travel with providers unlikely to go bankrupt, we should be OK.

In the first version of this post (published in March 2020) I looked for award availability for travel in January and February of 2021.  In this updated version, I’ve set my sites on spring travel: April and early May 2021.

World’s best first class

Lucky, the principal author of One Mile at a Time, spends a good part of his life flying first class around the world on almost every international airline in order to review and compare the experience.  In his post, The World’s Best First Class Airlines (2020), Lucky ranked the world’s best first class options as follows:

  1. Emirates First Class 777-300ER
  2. Air France First Class 777-300ER
  3. ANA First Class 777-300ER
  4. Garuda Indonesia First Class 777-300ER
  5. Singapore Airlines Suites A380
  6. Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER
  7. Japan Airlines First Class 777-300ER
  8. Etihad Airways First Class A380
  9. Korean Air First Class 747-8
  10. Lufthansa First Class A380 Or 747-8
  11. SWISS First Class 777-300ER
  12. Oman Air First Class 787-9

I’ve personally only flown three of these (and in the case of Singapore it was on their old Suites) so Lucky is far better positioned than me to assemble this list.  Even if one were to disagree with the relative rankings, I bet that most would agree that the best first class options are somewhere on the above list.

Best first class bookable with miles

Not all of the first class products listed above are easily bookable with miles. Here’s a rundown of each:

  1. Emirates First Class 777-300ER: Bookable with Emirates, Qantas, JAL, or Alaska miles
  2. Air France First Class 777-300ER: Bookable only with Air France miles and only for those with Gold elite status.
  3. ANA First Class 777-300ER: Bookable with ANA miles, Star Alliance partner miles, Virgin Atlantic miles
  4. Garuda Indonesia First Class 777-300ER: Bookable with Garuda miles.
  5. Singapore Airlines Suites A380: Bookable with Singapore or Alaska miles
  6. Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER: Bookable with Cathay, OneWorld alliance partners, or other partner miles (Alaska, for example).
  7. Japan Airlines First Class 777-300ER: Bookable with JAL, OneWorld alliance partners, or other partner miles.
  8. Etihad Airways First Class A380: Best booked with Air Canada Aeroplan miles or AA miles.
  9. Korean Air First Class 747-8: Bookable with Korean miles (transfer 3 to 1 from Marriott)
  10. Lufthansa First Class A380 Or 747-8:  Bookable with Star Alliance partner miles (e.g. United, Avianca), but only within two weeks of departure.
  11. SWISS First Class 777-300ER: Like Air France, first class awards are available only to elite members of their own program.
  12. Oman Air First Class 787-9: Best booked with Etihad miles, transferred 1 to 1 from Amex or Citi, or Capital One (1000 to 750) or Marriott (60K to 25K).

The first class products listed above that aren’t practical to book now for next year are as follows:

  • Air France: I don’t have elite status with Air France.
  • Garuda Indonesia: Garuda is no longer a transfer partner with Citibank. As a result, there’s no easy way to get Garuda miles to book these first class awards.
  • Korean Air: I wouldn’t want to transfer Marriott points to Korean in case I don’t end up flying Korean next year.
  • Lufthansa: Lufthansa charges huge fuel surcharges to their own members, so their first class is best booked within two weeks of departure with either Avianca Lifemiles or United miles, neither of which passes along fuel surcharges. So, we can’t book this now for next year.
  • Swiss: I don’t have Miles & More elite status.

That leaves us with a more manageable “best first class” list to investigate:

  1. Emirates First Class 777-300ER
  2. ANA First Class 777-300ER
  3. Singapore Airlines Suites A380
  4. Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER
  5. Japan Airlines First Class 777-300ER
  6. Etihad Airways First Class A380
  7. Oman Air First Class 787-9

Summary of Award Availability

  • Emirates: Scattered dates with 1 award seat on the new product. This is good news considering that they didn’t use to release award space in advance at all on this product.
  • ANA: Scattered star alliance availability for 1 adult in April and May.  Availability for 2 adults more readily found with ANA’s own miles.
  • Singapore: Nothing available from the US, but I found plenty of suite award space from London to Singapore including some awards on the new suites.  If you’re OK flying the old suites (which are still awesome, by the way), I found plenty of days with availability for 2 adults!  If you want, they’ll make up two suites together to give you and your companion a double bed!
  • Cathay Pacific: Wide open for 1 adult between Hong Kong and Chicago or Los Angeles.
  • JAL: Unclear what’s available. There seems to be a bug in their partner award space calendars.  Using JAL miles there appears to be occasional award space for two (approximately once every two weeks) between the US and Tokyo.
  • Etihad: Wide open for 2 on most routes in April!
  • Oman Air: Wide open for 1 between Muscat and London

There are several great options for flying luxury first class with 2 adults.  Etihad has the most wide open availability but only until April 27th when it abruptly stops.  ANA has scattered availability for 2, especially when booking with ANA miles.  Even Singapore Airlines has suites available for 2, at least on the London to Singapore route!

Emirates First Class 777-300ER

Emirates First Class 777-300ER. Image courtesy of Emirates.com.

Emirates’ old first class (where the suite walls only rise half way to the ceiling) is still considered one of the best first class products in the world, but their new first class (pictured above) is arguably the best of the best.

Fortunately, if you’re OK with booking just a single award seat, staggered award space is available on current routes!  And now that Emirates has drastically lowered fuel surcharges, award prices are reasonable as well.

For full details, see this post: Emirates First Class “hotel room in the sky” awards now bookable in advance!

ANA First Class 777-300ER

ANA 777-300ER first class: “THE Suite”. Image courtesy of ANA’s website.

ANA (All Nippon Airways) recently introduced amazing new business and first class products which they are rolling out on their 777-300ER aircraft.  Business class is called “THE Room” and first class is called “THE Suite”.

I picked a route where ANA offers this service and where no other Star Alliance carrier offers first class (at the time of this writing): New York JFK to Tokyo Narita NRT.  Using United’s advanced award search, I limited to non-stop first class flights to look for availability:

The dates shown above with the dotted lines are the days where nonstop business or first class awards are available for 1 adult.  In other words, it’s a starting point for finding ANA first class awards bookable with partner miles.  You have to click into each date to see if any of the awards are actually ANA first class.

ANA’s own website shows even more first class availability.  I was easily able to find a round trip award for 2 adults from JFK to Tokyo in May:

The best way to book the above award is with Virgin Atlantic miles.  Virgin Atlantic charges only 120,000 miles round-trip.  Compared to United, which charges 110,000 miles one-way, that’s phenomenal.  You can transfer points to Virgin Atlantic 1 to 1 from Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, or Citi ThankYou Rewards.

Alternatively, you can book the above award with 150,000 ANA miles per person round-trip (or 165,000 during high season pricing).  While that’s not as cheap as with Virgin Atlantic, it’s at least in the ballpark.  Plus, there are times where ANA makes more award space available to their own members, so it may be the only practical way to book this for more than 1 adult.

Singapore Airlines Suites A380

Singapore new A380 Suites. Photo courtesy of Singapore Airline’s website.

I spot checked a few routes for spring travel.  Here’s what I found:

  • New York to Frankfurt: No saver level first class award availability
  • New York to Singapore (via Frankfurt): No saver level first class award availability
  • London to Singapore: Saver award space is available almost every day and often for two adults!  Old style suites are easy to find for one or two adults.  Award space, at least for 1 adult, does exist on the new suites but it’s much harder to find.
  • Sydney to Singapore: Saver award space is available most days, but primarily on the old style suites or non-suite flights.

In general, it’s really hard to find award space on Singapore’s new A380 Suites.  One problem is that they don’t release award space in first class suites to their partners (with the possible exception of Alaska), so it’s necessary to use Singapore’s own website to search.  The other problem is that Singapore’s website will show “Saver” availability on their calendar if there’s any first class availability, even on one of the older non-suite products.

Singapore’s website lets you view a 7 day calendar of availability, like this:

We’re looking for days that say “Saver”.  “Advantage” awards are much more expensive. Here’s what it looks like when we click into the April 28 date that shows “Saver” availability:

As you can see above, one of the three flights only has “waitlist” availability for a saver award.  Singapore waitlisting is kind of useless so let’s just agree that this particular flight would cost 220,000 miles instead of the 125,000 mile cost for the other two options.  Of the other two options, you can see that one flies a 777-300ER and the other flies the A380-800.  Only the A380-800 flights sport “suites”.  The others have more traditional first class seats.  Once you select one of the flights, you’ll see either the words “Suites Saver” or “First Saver” appear.  Unfortunately, you still can’t know from that alone whether you’ll get the new suites or the old.

To double check whether it’s really the new suites, you can bring up the seat map by finding the flight through a cash booking.  When you see only two seats in each row with a middle aisle, you know it’s the new product:

Unfortunately, it’s much more common to find the old product with four seats across, but seriously you won’t go wrong with that:

Singapore KrisFlyer Miles
Singapore’s “old” A380 suites.

I flew the old Singapore Suites in 2013 and loved it.

Singapore’s old suites. Still excellent.

Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER

Cathay Pacific first class.

Via AA’s website, I found that Cathay Pacific first class awards were wide open for one adult between Hong Kong and Chicago or Los Angeles.  If you want to fly with a friend you may have to stick them in business class as I couldn’t find any days where 2 seats were available in Cathay first class to or from the United States.

Cathay Pacific first class awards between Hong Kong and Chicago or Los Angeles are wide open in April and May for 1 adult.

Cathay Pacific first class is best booked with Alaska Airlines miles for only 70,000 miles one-way between the US and Asia.  You can even book all the way from the US to Australia in first class for only 80,000 miles and with a free stopover in Hong Kong.

Japan Airlines First Class 777-300ER

Japan Airlines 777-300 First Class. Photo courtesy of JAL’s website.

JAL currently offers their 777-300 First Class between Tokyo Haneda (HND) and:

  • London
  • New York
  • Paris
  • San Francisco

And between Tokyo Narita (NRT) and:

  • Chicago
  • Los Angeles
  • New York

As I write this (June 11, 2020), AA.com is incorrectly showing way more award space than actually exists on JAL first class. I checked other sites such as British Airways, Qantas, and JAL, but found conflicting results.  As a result, I was unable to determine for this post whether JAL first class award seats are available.

When available, flights between the US and Tokyo can be booked with 70,000 Alaska miles or 80,000 AA miles one-way.

Etihad Airways First Class A380

Last year I had the opportunity to fly Etihad First Class Apartments from Abu Dhabi to London.  I loved everything about the experience!  You can find my review here.

Etihad awards are no longer searchable on AA’s website, but you can still book them by phone.

Online, you can find Etihad awards on Air Canada’s website now that Etihad awards can be booked with Air Canada Aeroplan miles.  Etihad itself also provides a decent option for searching award space, but make sure to look for “Guest First” awards.  Awards labelled “First” are very expensive and not available to book with partner miles.

Tip: Finding award space from the US requires a trick.  Use Etihad’s award search to look for round trip awards to the US.  Pick an outbound date before you want to depart the US so that the website will show you award availability for the “return” that you actually want.

Amazingly, I found award availability for 2 adults in Etihad Apartments on most days and on almost every route in April.  April 26th seems to be the cutoff though as awards were not available form April 27th onward.

The following routes had awards wide open on most days in April, up through April 26th:

  • London to/from Abu Dhabi
  • New York to Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi to New York was only available on Apr 24 and 26)
  • Paris to/from Abu Dhabi
  • Seoul to/from Abu Dhabi
  • Sydney to/from Abu Dhabi (awards weren’t as wide open but still available on scattered days)

AA offers great award prices for Etihad flights, but booking with AA can be difficult now that AA no longer shows Etihad awards online.  First make sure that Etihad itself shows “Guest Seat” availability and then call AA’s Australian call center.  If they can see the award, ask them to put it on hold for you.  You can then call the US call center to book it.

Air Canada Aeroplan offers decent award pricing as well and has the advantage of allowing mixing other Star Alliance carriers with Etihad in a single award.  Simple awards can be booked online, but complex itineraries may require calling.  You can transfer miles to Air Canada from Amex Membership Rewards (1 to 1), Capital One (1000 to 750), or Marriott (60K to 25K).

Etihad awards can also be booked with Etihad miles, transferred 1 to 1 from Amex or Citi, or Capital One (1000 to 750) or Marriott (60K to 25K).

Oman Air First Class 787-9

First class award flights between Muscat and London are wide open for 1 passenger.

I used Oman Air’s own website to search for first class awards between Muscat and London.  In both directions I found first class available for 1 adult on every day that I looked:

Since you probably don’t have Oman Air miles at your disposal, you’ll want to use 80,000 Etihad Guest miles instead.  You can transfer to Etihad 1 to 1 from Amex or Citi, or Capital One (1000 to 750), or Marriott (60K to 25K).

Will these flights really exist next year?

A number of the airlines discussed here temporarily suspended service due to the Coronavirus.  Even if they are flying again by next year, there’s no guarantee that they’ll fly the same jets or provide the same service that has, up until now, made them a world’s best first class carrier.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these carriers drop first class service altogether.

All of that said, if you have the miles, I don’t think there’s much risk in booking now for 2021.  If the airlines drop the flights you booked, they should refund your miles and any taxes paid.

Summary by Publication Date

  • Emirates
    • June 12 2020: Scattered dates with 1 award seat on the new product
    • March 25 2020: None of the new stuff. Plenty of old.
  • ANA:
    • June 12 2020: Scattered star alliance availability for 1 adult in April and May.  Availability for 2 adults more readily found with ANA’s own miles.
    • March 25 2020: Plenty of availability for 1 adult in Jan and Feb 2021.  Some availability for 2.
  • Singapore:
    • June 12 2020: Nothing available from the US, but I found plenty of award space from London to Singapore including some awards on the new suites.  If you’re OK flying the old suites (which are awesome, by the way), I found plenty of days with availability for 2 adults!  If you want, they’ll make up two suites together to give you and your companion a double bed!
    • March 25 2020: I couldn’t find any of the new suites, but some old style suites are available.
  • Cathay Pacific:
    • June 12 2020: Wide open for 1 adult between Hong Kong and Chicago or Los Angeles.
    • March 25 2020: Wide open for 1 adult between Hong Kong and Chicago or Los Angeles.
  • JAL:
    • June 12 2020: Unclear what’s available. There seems to be a bug in their partner award space calendars.  Using JAL miles there appears to be occasional award space for two (approximately once every two weeks) between the US and Tokyo.
    • March 25 2020: Lots of availability between Tokyo and London or Paris.  Scattered availability to US destinations.
  • Etihad:
    • June 12 2020: Wide open for 2 on most routes in April!
    • March 25 2020: Wide open for 2 on almost all routes I checked!
  • Oman Air:
    • June 12 2020: Wide open for 1 between Muscat and London
    • March 25 2020: Wide open for 1 between Muscat and London

Conclusion June 12 2020: There are plenty of options for flying luxury first class with 2 adults.  Etihad has the most wide open availability but only until April 27th when it abruptly stops.  ANA has scattered availability for 2, especially when booking with ANA miles.  Even Singapore Airlines has suites available for 2, at least on the London to Singapore route!

Conclusion March 25 2020: Your best bet if flying with a second person is to concentrate on Etihad Airways since they had 2 first class seats available on almost all of their routes that include First Class Apartments.  If flying with more than 2, you may be better off looking for business class.

Round the world (ish)

Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

Based on the award availability I found for the March 25th version of the publication, I think it would have been reasonably easy to put together an all-first-class itinerary like this one, for one adult:

  • ANA: New York to Tokyo
  • JAL: Tokyo to London
  • Oman Air: London to Muscat
  • Etihad: Abu Dhabi to Sydney, Australia
  • Singapore: Sydney to Singapore
  • Cathay: Hong Kong to Chicago

Can you find a better route?

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