How to find and book the world’s best first class award flights

18

The thing I love most about points and miles is that they often make it possible to enjoy experiences that I would never dream of paying cash for.  A great example is the ability to use a reasonable number of airline miles to book international first class flights that otherwise might cost $20,000 or more round-trip.  These tickets often include luxury ground experiences such as exclusive first class lounges, dedicated security lines, and more.  On board, you can generally expect to have incredible service, excellent food with caviar and top-shelf drinks, luxury amenity kits, slippers and pajamas, etc.  And when it’s time to sleep, you can expect your flight attendant to prepare your bed with comfortable sheets and pillows.

Etihad First Class Apartment
Etihad First Class Apartment
Etihad First Apartment turn down service
In this view, the Etihad First Class apartment bench has been laid flat and prepared for bed time.

Unfortunately, saver-level international first class award space can be a challenge to find.  Luckily there are tools and tricks that can help.  In this guide I’ve assembled the best tips and tricks that I’m aware of for finding and booking some of the world’s best international first class.

World’s best first class

Ben Schlappig, 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, Ben ranked the world’s best first class options as follows:

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

While people are likely to disagree with the relative rankings, above, 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 Skywards, Air Canada Aeroplan, Qantas Frequent Flyer
  2. Air France First Class 777-300ER: Bookable only with Air France miles and only for those with Platinum elite status.  Best bet to get into this cabin is to book a business class award and accept an offer for a paid first class upgrade.
  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 Indonesia GarudaMiles.
  5. Singapore Airlines Suites A380: Bookable with Singapore KrisFlyer miles.
  6. Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER: Bookable with Cathay Asia Miles, OneWorld alliance partners (such as Alaska, BA, or AA), or other partner miles.
  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 747-8:  Bookable with Star Alliance partner miles (e.g. United MileagePlus, Avianca LifeMiles, Air Canada Aeroplan), 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 Air Candada Aeroplan or Etihad miles.

In this post, I’ve documented tips for finding and booking four of the top 12 first class products: Emirates, ANA, Etihad, and Lufthansa.  I expect to expand this post over time to include more of the best first class options.  I also plan to create a similar post for finding and booking the world’s best business class products.

Emirates First Class 777-300ER

a man sitting in a chair with a cup of tea
Emirates First Class 777-300ER. Image courtesy of Emirates.com.

Overview

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.  It features fully enclosed floor to ceiling suites and luxury all around.

How to find Emirates new suites routes

Emirates’ new first class suites are only available on Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.  Among those that Emirates flies, Ben reports that only 9 have the new suites and that you can find where they’ve been recently flying by clicking through these links to FlightRadar24:

Once you find a route you want to investigate, you can look at the seat map to see if it’s the new product.  In the image below, I used Booking.com to view the seat map for a flight from Geneva to Dubai.  Since the seat map shows only three seats across, it must be the new product (the old configuration has four seats across).

a screenshot of a computer

The trick to finding Emirates first class award space

The best way to find award availability on Emirates first class is with Seats.Aero.  With the free version of the tool you can see awards only for the next couple of months, but with the paid version, you can see farther out.  Here’s an example of finding award space from North America to Dubai:

  1. On the top menu, select Explore… Emirates Skywards
  2. Select Show flights from North America, to Asia (Seats.Aero includes the middle east in Asia)
  3. If you subscribe to the paid version of Seats.aero, click the box to show extended availability.
  4. Sort by “First”.  The results in Green, if any, are what you want.
  5. Optionally search for your departing airport of interest.
  6. To find return flights, repeat all of the above, but change the “Show flights” section to from Asia, to North America.

The Emirates upgrade trick

If you can’t find the award space you want, another great trick is to find and book business class and then use miles to upgrade at the airport.  See Ben’s post here for full details: The Trick To Upgrading Emirates Flights With Miles

How to book Emirates first class

If you’re flying entirely on Emirates, booking directly with Emirates miles may be your best option, but it’s worth checking prices with Qantas and Air Canada too, to see which is cheapest.

Emirates award price: Use the Emirates Miles Calculator to find the price they’ll charge in miles.  For example, one-way from Washington DC to Dubai currently costs 163,500 miles.  You’ll also be on the hook for some amount of fuel surcharge fees which change fairly often.

If booking through Qantas, the award will be priced according to Qantas’ distance-based Partner Classic Flight Reward table.

If booking through Air Canada, there’s no good way to know the price other than to search for the award through Air Canada’s website to see how much they’ll charge.

Here are the relevant point transfer options:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Air Canada Aeroplan1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (4 to 5 days)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)
Emirates Skywards1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (~3 days)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)
Qantas Frequent Flyer1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~1 day)60K to 25K (~2 days)1 to 1 (~1 day)

All Nippon Airways (ANA) First Class 777-300ER

a tv in an airplane
ANA 777-300ER first class: “THE Suite”. Image courtesy of ANA’s website.

ANA’s flagship business class is called “THE Room,” and their flagship first class is called “THE Suite”.  Both products look amazing.  The entire Frequent Miler team is going to have a chance to try out THE Suite in June as part of our Party of 5 Team Challenge, so you can bet that we’ll have one or more reviews coming out soon afterwards.

How to find ANA THE Suite routes

ANA offers the new suites only on 777 aircraft.  Unfortunately, it’s not on all of their 777 aircraft.  Ben reports that it is on 9 of their 15 777s and that you can click through the following links to see the routes they’ve been flying:

The best way to determine if a particular flight features the new product is to find the ANA business or first class flight on Google Flights, and expand the detail to see if it shows the words “individual suite” (hat tip: Thrifty Traveler).  If so, it’s THE Room (business class) or THE Suite (first class).  If it simply says “lie flat seat” then it’s the old product which isn’t very nice at all compared to most current business class options.  Another option is to pretend to book a paid first class flight on ANA’s website.  ANA will show that the flight features THE Suite in the search results.

The trick to finding ANA first class award space

To find ANA award availability from the U.S. to Japan, use Seats.Aero.  With the free version of the tool you can see awards only for the next couple of months, but with the paid version, you can see farther out.

  1. On the menu select Explore… United (or Avianca) in the top-right selector
  2. Select Show flights from North America, to Asia
  3. If you subscribe to the paid version of Seats.aero, click the box to show extended availability.
  4. Put HND into the search box, then sort by “First”.  Investigate each of the results in green to see if any offer the new first class.
  5. Change the search box from HND to NRT. Investigate each of the results in green to see if any offer the new first class.
  6. To find return flights, repeat all of the above, but change the “Show flights” section to from Asia, to North America.
This image shows Seats.aero displaying award availability from Asia to North America
Here I found some first class availability, but only the one flight to JFK is likely to offer the new first class.

Another trick for finding ANA first class is to use SeatSpy to look for United First Class on routes that United and ANA have in common.  Details here.

How to book ANA first class

ANA itself charges 150,000 or 165,000 (peak dates) for round-trip first class between North America and Japan.  This can be a very compelling option both because it requires fewer miles than other options but also because ANA sometimes opens more award space to its own member than to partner airlines.  Additionally, ANA charges only 3,000 points to cancel an award.  The primary downsides are that ANA charges fuel surcharges and requires round-trip travel.

Another good option is to book with Virgin Atlantic miles for 72,500 miles one way between Tokyo and west coast North America or 85,000 miles between Tokyo and central or eastern North America.  Unfortunately, Virgin Atlantic also adds fuel surcharges to these awards.  Another downside is that you must call Virgin to book these awards.

The next best option is to use Air Canada Aeroplan miles.  For flights between Tokyo and North America, Aeroplan will usually charge 110,000 miles one-way for first class (unless you have a long routing that causes the total distance to exceed 7,500 miles).  The great thing about this option is that Aeroplan doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on awards.  So while the point price will be higher than the other two options above, the cash component will be much less.

Finally, if you want a freely changeable and refundable ticket, you can book with United Airlines miles for 121,000 miles one-way.  You can alternatively use Avianca LifeMiles for around the same price (120,000 miles one-way), but LifeMiles has steep change and cancellation fees.

Here are the relevant point transfer options:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Air Canada Aeroplan1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (4 to 5 days)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)
ANA Mileage Club1 to 1 (~1 day)60K to 25K (4 to 7 days)
Avianca LifeMiles1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)3K to 1K (~1 day)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)
United MileagePlus1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 30K (2 to 5 days)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (1 to 2 days)1 to 1 (Unknown)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)

Etihad Airways First Class A380

a person sitting in a chair

In 2019 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.

Unfortunately, Etihad currently only has a single route on its schedule in which they’re flying the Airbus A380 with First Class Apartments.  That route is between Abu Dhabi and London (and happens to be the exact route that I previously flew).

The trick to finding Etihad first class award space

By far, the easiest way to find Etihad first class award space is with SeatSpy:

  1. Select Etihad
  2. Pick Abu Dhabi to London as the route to search
  3. Once the calendar of results appears, move the Points slider down to around 150,000.  Also uncheck “Economy” and “Business”.  Any dates that remain have award space that should be bookable with AA or Air Canada Aeroplan miles!

How to book Etihad First Class

American Airlines usually has the best award prices.  Etihad awards are no longer searchable on AA’s website, but you can still book them by phone.  For the route between Abu Dhabi and London, AA charges 62,500 miles (plus around $300).

Another great option is to pay with Air Canada Aeroplan miles.  For the route between Abu Dhabi and London, Aeroplan charges 65,000 miles.

Etihad itself charges approximately 140,000 miles for the same route.

Here are the relevant point transfer options:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Air Canada Aeroplan1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (4 to 5 days)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)
American AAdvantage3K to 1K (~2 days)1 to 1
(Ends 6/24/24) (~ 1 Day)
Etihad Guest1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~1 hour)60K to 25K (3 to 5 days)1 to 1 (Instant)

Lufthansa First Class Boeing 747-8

a close-up of a seat

In my opinion, where Lufthansa first class shines brightest is on the ground rather than the air.  When transiting Frankfurt or Munich in Lufthansa first class, the ground services are phenomenal.  In the air, you can expect great service, but far less privacy than the other “world’s bests” in this article.  Lufthansa is expected to roll out a brand new first class in a few years which should compete very well with the best of the best, but for now the ultra-luxury is on the ground.

How to find Lufthansa First Class

Lufthansa only opens first class awards to partner programs two weeks in advance.  Your best bet is to have a back-up plan for your travel and wait until two weeks ahead to look for availability.  United and Air Canadas websites are very good for finding availability for specific routes.

If you’re flexible as to the route to take, use the Seats.Aero Lufthansa First Class Finder Tool to find available awards.

Seats.Aero's Lufthansa First Class Finder Tool
Seats.Aero’s Lufthansa First Class Finder Tool

How to book Lufthansa First Class

Avianca LifeMiles charges only 87,000 points one-way for Lufthansa First Class between the U.S. and Europe.  Ironically, if you tag on extra Star Alliance segments in economy or business class, the price will actually be even lower due to the way LifeMiles handles mixed cabin itineraries.

The next best options are to book with Air Canada Aeroplan for 100,000 miles or United MileagePlus for 121,000 miles.  Both LifeMiles and Aeroplan charge high change and cancellation fees, but if you’re booking last minute anyway maybe that doesn’t matter.

Other options like Turkish and ANA would charge fewer miles, but they would also pass along Lufthansa’s very, very high fuel surcharges and so I don’t recommend those options.

Here are the relevant point transfer options:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Air Canada Aeroplan1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (4 to 5 days)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)
Avianca LifeMiles1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)3K to 1K (~1 day)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)
United MileagePlus1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 30K (2 to 5 days)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)
Want to learn more about miles and points? Subscribe to email updates or check out our podcast on your favorite podcast platform.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

18 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
HoKo

Nice post. Only request would be for you to quantify the fuel surcharge range for the booking options that pass that along.

Gary

Greg,
Will you do an article on booking the best business class products? That would be very interesting and valuable.

Lukas

Heads up, QANTAS is also a great option for booking Emirates F class.

Tigris23

Greg, thx for the lil nice article. Definitely want to try some of these 1st class if not all. Can we book ANA first via Aeroplan?

harv

Is there a luxurious first class option from DTW? I am only interested in a non stop flight. Thanks for all your excellent articles.

THEsocalledfan

Greg, any word on Lufthansa adding direct flights to Sioux Falls, SD with a solid First Class product? 😉

Lee

Regarding Air France, even if a person were a Platinum elite, it has limited first class award inventory to one seat per flight. If one is traveling solo, swell. If one is traveling with P2, P2 gets the seat (of course).

Christian

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! So very many posts by numerous bloggers brag about super elite experiences using miles but the availability for those works out to be somewhere between little and nothing. This really brings the practicality home, which helps immensely.

DMoney

It’a amazing that all 4 of these awards can be booked using Aeroplan Miles. Imagine if you wanted to plan a RTW trip with 2 stop overs to experience all these first class flights – all you need is some 400k Aeroplan points, which you can easily get through AMEX, Chase, CapOne, Marriott, (probably Bilt too, but not sure)! What is ever more amazing is that you don’t need to step foot on AC metal (or even Canadian soil) for all of this.

Andrew

Would be amazing, but good luck getting all of them to link up. I’ve booked all 4 before individually, but that would be a truly Nick level trip to pull off.

Jay*

Some of us has have, when there were a lot more F routes being offered. 😉 LH, OZ, TG, NH.