When you begin to dabble in Miles & Points, what initially captured your attention was most likely the possibility of redeeming points for luxurious travel experiences, like flying first class or staying at resorts with overwater villas, at bargain-bin prices. Collectively, these experiences are known within the community as “aspirational” redemptions, and many participants in the game aim to check them off their list sooner or later.
I am of course no exception, and ever since I began collecting miles, my attention has been fixated on accumulating enough miles to be able to fly around the world in the throes of luxury. And now that I’m finally starting to reach that goal, I figured it would be helpful to document the trials and tribulations I went through as I strove to nail down these bookings.
Space on First Class flights is highly coveted, so snagging yourself one of those spacious suites at the front of the plane takes a considerable amount of effort and planning. The idea here is to gather all the intel you need in one place, so that you can come back and absorb the information whenever you’re ready to book.
Let’s begin with Lufthansa First Class, which I flew back in October. First, a quick recap of what’s on offer...
In Lufthansa’s world-famous First Class cabin, you’ll get your own suite with a considerable degree of privacy, a 17'' in-flight entertainment monitor, a dazzling selection of expensive wines and spirits, a consistently excellent onboard gastronomic experience including caviar, and one of the most comfortable beds in the sky.
In addition, if you are departing or connecting in Frankfurt Airport, you have the opportunity to make use of Lufthansa’s stand-alone First Class Terminal, where you can enjoy a relaxing bath (with champagne on ice if you ask nicely), a restaurant-quality dine-on-demand menu, and the most well-stocked bar I’ve ever seen in an airport lounge.
Furthermore, you’ll be personally driven to your departing flight in either a Porsche or a Mercedes-Benz, casting aside the usual grievances associated with air travel.
If your journey begins or passes through Zurich, Switzerland on the same day as your flight, you can also visit the world-class Swiss First Lounge, where you’ll be confronted with the sheer opulence of having your very own in-lounge hotel room.
Ordinarily, the cash price of a Lufthansa First Class ticket begins in the range of $7,000 and rises to as much as $15,000. But of course, if you had that kind of money to throw around, then what are you even doing here?
The first step to booking any sort of aspirational travel is to figure out where you’re looking. Lufthansa is one of those airlines that operates First Class to just about every corner of the world they fly to, so you have no shortage of options.
Keep in mind that their First Class routes used to be even more plentiful in the past, and a series of reconfigurations has reduced that number. That’s why I’d recommend aiming to fly Lufthansa First sooner rather than later if you’re interested, since the trend is that there’s progressively less and less routes, and therefore award space, available.
The below maps indicate which of Lufthansa's routes offer First Class as of the time of writing. Keep in mind that four different aircraft types operate First Class: the Airbus A380, A340, A330, and the Boeing 747-8. While the cabin configurations vary between aircraft types (for example, the 747-8’s front-row seats are right up against the nose of the plane), the seats themselves look pretty similar throughout, and the service ought to be consistently uniform.
flights between Frankfurt AND the Americas
flights between Frankfurt AND africa, the middle east, and india
flights between frankfurt AND asia
flights to/from munich
As you can see, you're quite spoiled for choice. It's interesting to note the little fifth-freedom flights that accompany Lufthansa's A330 flights to the Middle East. Also take note of the fact that the A340 operates exclusively on flights to and from Munich.
How many miles are required to fly Lufthansa First Class? The answer of course depends on which mileage program you’re redeeming with. For most Canadians, the program of choice will be Aeroplan, in which case a North America to Europe redemption costs 70,000 Aeroplan miles one-way.
If you just want to attain the experience at the lowest mileage cost, you’ll note that Lufthansa flies First Class to a bunch of places in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait, so according to the Aeroplan Reward Chart you could potentially route from Europe 2 to Middle East, via Frankfurt, for just 55,000 miles one-way.
The crazy thing is that you can earn enough Aeroplan miles to cover the cost of these amazing redemptions by signing up for just ONE credit card: the American Express Business Platinum Card, which gives you 75,000 bonus points upon spending $5,000 in the first three months.
However, there may be even better deals to be had. Asiana Airlines, a fellow Star Alliance member, has a mileage program which requires only 50,000 miles to fly one-way between North America and Europe. Since Asiana is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, that means it only takes 40,000 Starpoints to book Lufthansa First Class, taking into account the 5,000-mile bonus when transferring Starpoints in chunks of 20,000.
The one caveat is that Lufthansa imposes fuel surcharges, which typically range from $300 to $500 for a one-way flight, depending on the point of origin. There are three solutions to this problem:
Binge-eat, binge-drink, and binge-bathe your way through the First Class experience to maximize your value for money;
Book using a program that doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges (like United MileagePlus, although their mileage requirements are significantly higher);
Book First Class departing from one of the countries that have regulated fuel surcharges, such as Hong Kong or Brazil.
Airlines know that tons of people would love to fly First Class, and even more people would relish the opportunity to do so at little cost by redeeming their points. Therefore, they typically implement policies to make it very difficult to actually book First Class seats.
Lufthansa’s well-documented policy involves suppressing First Class partner availability until about 15 days before the day of departure. For any of their routes, you’ll only see award space (if any) on your usual search engines (such as Aeroplan, United.com, or ExpertFlyer) if your flight is departing within the next 15 days.
Not all availability gets released exactly at T-15 either – it could be released at any point within the 15-day window. The best thing to do is to get yourself a flight alert service like ExpertFlyer, so that you’ll be notified as soon as the award space drops.
Which routes have the best availability trends? In general, the more “coveted” a route is, the harder it is to find availability, although most routes will still have at least one or two seats trickle through over a given period. So a flight operated by an A380 will be harder to get than one operated by an A330, and a flight to Tokyo or New York will be harder to get than one to São Paulo or Dammam, Saudi Arabia (a strange one, for sure).
In terms of the North American flights, based on what I’ve observed, Boston seems to be the easiest flight to get (there was availability almost every day when I searched), followed by Chicago, and then New York JFK, Washington Dulles, Miami, Houston, and Dallas. The longer West Coast flights seem especially hard to track down, although as I mentioned, a handful of seats do come through in any given period.
That brings me to the most important point about booking Lufthansa First Class and aspirational cabins in general: Flexibility is key. While availability may be tough to come by, if you can pick between flying on different dates and/or different airports, that vastly increases your chance of successfully locating an open award seat and putting your name on it.
Lastly, remember that seasonal flights can also impact your chances. For example, in the summer, Lufthansa operates two frequencies per day to Boston, Chicago, and New York JFK – a morning flight and an evening flight – whereas they have just one flight per day during the low season. That effectively doubles your chances of grabbing a seat compared to, say, booking a flight in December. Keep this in mind if you’re planning how you’re going to use your miles for the longer term.
The T-15 restriction throws a real spanner in the works for those who are used to booking award travel very far out from their date of departure. Conventional wisdom in Miles & Points tells us to make bookings as far in advance as possible, lest all the good award seats get snapped up. With Lufthansa First Class, the opposite is true: last-minute bookings are the only way to do it.
However, you might want to combine your Lufthansa First Class redemption with some other flights, and you’d be faced with the risk of the award space on the other flights disappearing by the time T-15 rolls around. That’s why a common workaround is to make an alternative booking first, and then change your flight to Lufthansa First Class once you locate the space.
For example, say you need a flight from Montreal to Istanbul, and you’d like to experience Lufthansa First Class. It might be worth the peace of mind to book an award on the direct Turkish YUL–IST flight first, to ensure that you have a ticket to get you to Istanbul no matter what.
Then, when the two-week booking window for Lufthansa First Class opens, you can search for flights departing from any of the airports on the US eastern seaboard, and change your itinerary once you find the space.
You’d pay the change fee of $100 plus tax with Aeroplan ($75 plus tax if you’re an Aeroplan Diamond member) – that's effectively the price of your peace of mind.
If you’re trying to do a more advanced redemption, say by transferring Starpoints to Asiana Club to book the flight for 50,000 Asiana Club miles, you have to be careful and take note of how long it takes for Starpoints to transfer to other programs.
With Asiana Club, it seems like the transfer process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, so it’s up to you to decide whether you’re comfortable with the risks – there’s the risk that your transfer takes too long and the availability gets picked up by someone else, as well as the risk that you transfer your points (which is irreversible), but you never manage to find availability.
As you can see, the game of booking aspirational travel is laden with trade-offs, which isn’t too surprising given how fiercely these seats are contested by eager travellers around the world.
Finally, it’s important to note that Lufthansa could change how their First Class availability at a moment’s notice. In general, I would advise to start monitoring availability trends for various dates, airports, etc. at least 4–6 weeks prior to your desired date of travel. This way, come the 2-week mark, you’ll have a good idea of what kind of availability you expect to show up, which will allow you to complete the booking quickly and effortlessly.
I spent a good chunk of time studying everything about Lufthansa First Class prior to booking my recent flight, and afterwards I can say that it was 100% worth the effort. I certainly hope that this collection of information will be helpful to you if you’re interested in getting on board one of the world’s most well-regarded premium cabins.
Like the name implies, “aspirational” travel doesn’t come easily without a bit of legwork, but there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll find it worthwhile as you’re sipping champagne at 37,000 feet.