I was helping a Points Consulting client the other day, trying to help him book a spectacular trip with the Aeroplan miles he had collected over the years.
Since this was intended as a big “once-in-a-lifetime” thing, the client wanted to travel in First Class, so we got to talking about the best First Class trips you can book with Aeroplan.
At one point, we touched on Aeroplan Mini-RTW trips as well (i.e., the ability to add up to two extended stopovers on the way to your destination). Surely, the client surmised, booking a complex Mini-RTW trip while flying all the way in First Class would be the best way to maximize the value of his Aeroplan miles?
Alas, it’s not that simple, because there’s really only a handful of First Class airlines over a limited number of routes that you can book with Aeroplan miles. And among these airlines and routes, only a subset of them are even worth the mileage premium that First Class would command.
Let’s take a look at what your options are if you’d like to use your Aeroplan miles to fly First Class, and then we’ll put it all together to try to find the “best” Aeroplan First Class redemption out there.
Which Star Alliance Airlines Offer First Class?
Among the 28 Star Alliance airlines, seven offer international First Class: Air China, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, and Thai Airways.
United Airlines used to have First Class as well until recently, when they phased it out in favour of Polaris business class. Meanwhile, Air India also seems to have phased out their First Class product very recently, although Air India’s First Class is by all accounts so below-standard that they probably shouldn’t be figuring in this conversation to begin with.
(Side note: Domestic US flights with United will often show up as “First” in the Aeroplan search engine, but in reality they are more in line with a domestic business class experience and are priced accordingly.)
So, among those seven remaining airlines, which ones should you redeem your miles for if you’re looking for a special experience?
One airline that’s definitely off the table is Swiss. As a rule, Swiss First Class redemptions are only available to top-tier elite members within their own Miles & More frequent flyer program, and not to partner award programs like Aeroplan.
In the past, there have been “glitches” when Swiss First Class availability filtered through to Aeroplan and United MileagePlus for short windows of time, but then in 2017 we had that fiasco where too many people booked these tickets during one of those glitches and Swiss went ahead and cancelled them all. Safe to say, Aeroplan’s probably put measures in place since then to never display Swiss First Class availability.
The other airline that’s similarly stingy with partner award availability is Singapore Airlines, whose long-haul Suites Class (Airbus A380) and First Class (other aircraft) products are generally only bookable via their own KrisFlyer program and off-limits to partners. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions, like when a few pockets of award space became bookable via Aeroplan on the Singapore–Auckland route last year.
As of now, I still see a few select dates available on this route, although it does seem to be at most one seat per flight, meaning you won’t get to use Aeroplan miles to fly the Double Bed in the Sky as a couple.
The other Singapore Airlines First Class route that’s always available via Aeroplan is the short-haul flight from Singapore to Jakarta on the Boeing 777.
These flights are barely two hours long, but it’s a great way to get a taste of the famous First Class experience on Singapore Airlines as part of a larger Aeroplan First Class redemption, and you’ll also have access to the exclusive Private Room at Singapore Changi Airport before or after your flight.
Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Air China First Class is extremely generous with availability, but whether or not it’s actually worth redeeming miles to fly with them is a different matter altogether.
By most accounts, the hard product is okay but not really competitive with the world’s best First Class airlines, and the in-flight service will most likely be lost in translation if you don’t speak Mandarin. Air China also recently began levying fuel surcharges on Aeroplan redemptions, further weakening the value of redeeming your miles for their product.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s still First Class after all, so it won’t be an actively unpleasant flight by any means, and I’d still like to try it one day. But if you’re splurging a good chunk of your mileage balance in order to treat yourself to a First Class experience, you can certainly do better than Air China First Class.
Lufthansa, ANA, Asiana, Thai
That leaves us with four candidates for booking amazing First Class flights via Aeroplan: Lufthansa, ANA, Asiana Airlines, and Thai Airways.
Each of these airlines, however, only maintains a First Class cabin on select routes within their network. And of course, these luxurious flights will be highly coveted by travellers around the world, so finding availability will always be somewhat challenging.
Asiana Airlines First Class is probably the most generous with award space, and you should be able to find two First Class seats pretty reliable on the Los Angeles route, and sometimes on the New York JFK route, if you’re searching a few months in advance. The fuel surcharges are reasonable at less than $200 per direction.
For the Mini-RTW planners, the Korean airline also offers First Class on their European A380 routes to London Heathrow and Frankfurt.
Click here to read my review of Asiana Airlines First Class on the Airbus A380, which features a stylish private enclosed suite and delightful Korean cuisine.
Thai Airways is also relatively generous with availability, with two seats on many flights when searching in advance, and the fuel surcharges are again acceptable at about $120 per flight.
The catch is that Thai doesn’t fly to North America, so you’ll be looking to try their First Class product on one of their routes to London Heathrow, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo Narita, Osaka (Airbus A380), Sydney, or Tokyo Haneda (Boeing 747-400).
Don’t forget to schedule enough time in Bangkok to try the complimentary spa treatment at the Thai Airways First Class Lounge, which is one of the most aspirational lounges within the Star Alliance network. Thai First Class is the only product out of these four that I haven’t tried, and it’s certainly on my list.
Meanwhile, ANA and Lufthansa are generally considered a cut above the other two, and their award availability is accordingly much tighter.
With ANA, you’d be searching for their North American Boeing 777 routes to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, New York JFK, and Washington DC.
The Chicago, DC, and LAX routes seem to have relatively more availability, and I’ve seen two open seats on both of those while searching 9-12 months in advance. Fuel surcharges will again run you about $150 per direction, which is more than worth the experience that you’re getting.
Unfortunately, ANA no longer operate any intra-Asia First Class routes; however, you also have the option of flying First Class with them between Europe and Japan on their London Heathrow and Frankfurt routes.
Click here to read my review of ANA First Class on the Boeing 777, which features box-style suites and some of the most polished service you’ll find in the air. Unfortunately, it seems like the $500-a-bottle Hibiki 21 whiskey is only being served on the New York, Frankfurt, and London routes going forward.
Lastly, Lufthansa First Class has its well-documented policy of only releasing award space to partners at most 15 days in advance. Some extra-careful planning (and likely a change fee or two) is therefore required to get a seat on these coveted flights.
Fuel surcharges can also burn a hole in your wallet: eastbound departures from North America can cost up to $1,000 per person, while departures out of Frankfurt or Munich are more reasonable at about $400. Needless to say, choose the latter.
Lufthansa probably has the most extensive First Class route network out of all the Star Alliance airlines, and the exact destinations that receive First Class service can vary from season to season. Nevertheless, most of the major US gateways, like Boston, Chicago, New York, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have First Class year-round, as do many destinations around the world like Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Johannesburg, and São Paulo.
Is Lufthansa First Class worth the egregious $400 in fuel surcharges? YES. But only if you take the time to maximize the ground experience, because in my opinion that’s what truly sets it apart from the rest. The Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt is well worth spending at least three hours to fully enjoy, as is the Swiss First Class Lounge in Zurich if you happen to be connecting there on the same day.
What’s the Best First Class Redemption?
Now that we’re clear on the possibilities for booking a First Class trip with Aeroplan, let’s try to figure out what’s the “best” trip we can book.
The first thing to note is that the power of an Aeroplan Mini-RTW is limited in this case to the routes where First Class is offered. If you want to visit South America or Africa, for example, you’d be hard-pressed to find airlines that operate First Class to those continents (except Lufthansa’s Johannesburg route, and even that one is notoriously tight on availability).
Indeed, if we overlay the above maps of each airline’s First Class network, a general pattern starts to emerge of a First Class corridor between North America, Europe, and Asia, with the Thai Airways route branching off down to Australia looking like a great way to stretch the overall distance from a North American origin.
One would imagine, then, that the most powerful First Class redemption via Aeroplan might take the form of a Mini-RTW trip between North America and Australia for 220,000 miles, fitting in as many First Class flights as possible.
How’s this for a first pass?
You’d originate in Chicago, fly to Sydney via Tokyo and Bangkok, then fly back via Bangkok and Frankfurt. You’d have six First Class flights in total: ANA, Lufthansa, and four legs in Thai First Class (two on the A380 and two on the 747). Moreover, your departure from Australia, a country that has regulated fuel surcharges, would likely go some way towards reducing the total surcharges as well.
The trip also checks out in terms of the maximum permitted mileage (MPM), since the Chicago–Sydney MPM of 14,796 miles is enough to cover both one-way distances:
That’s already a spectacular trip, and remember that you can have an extended stopover in any of Tokyo, Bangkok, or Frankfurt as well. But let’s push things a little further and try to fit Asiana in there:
By originating in Boston, you can “buy” yourself enough MPM to route via Seoul and get on Asiana First Class for the trans-Eurasian leg, although the Bangkok–Seoul flight will be in business class.
The Boston–Sydney MPM of 16,155 miles more than covers the outbound and inbound distances:
Why stop there? As many of you know, you can really stretch the MPMs by routing from the East Coast of North America all the way to Perth, Western Australia. Let’s do exactly that, and if you’re a solo traveller, you get to squeeze in an unforgettable ride on Singapore Suites to Auckland…
You’d fly Asiana across the Pacific to Seoul, followed by a flight in business class (on either Asiana or Singapore Airlines) down to Singapore. From there, it’s Suites Class down to Auckland, and then an Air New Zealand flight (most likely in economy class) to Perth.
From Perth, you’d take Thai business class up to Bangkok, followed by Thai First Class on the A380 to Tokyo. Then it’s ANA First Class to Frankfurt, where I’ve added a sprinkle of lounge-hopping in Zurich and Munich for good measure…
…and finally a Lufthansa First Class flight to Boston to bring this crazy adventure to an end.
The routing falls within the Boston–Perth MPM of 18,595 miles by just a hair…
…with still more room to maneuver on the return journey! Can anyone figure out a way to add even more First Class indulgence to this trip?
It boggles the mind that a trip like this – five different long-haul First Class flights across five world-class airlines – can be booked for 220,000 Aeroplan miles. Doing so would be quite an undertaking – you’ll likely have to start planning 9-12 months in advance, book the trip with a placeholder for the Lufthansa flights, and then change to Lufthansa First Class within 15 days out – but would be well worth the effort if you’d like to treat yourself to a once-in-a-lifetime luxury getaway!
First Class awards aren’t always the easiest to book with Aeroplan miles, but with a little bit of craft and guile, you can weave together some delightfully over-the-top trips at an unbelievable value. By booking an Aeroplan Mini-RTW to Australia for 220,000 miles, you can secure your seat on up to six First Class flights, which is the equivalent of one First Class flight for 36,667 miles per flight. That’s simply off the charts in terms of the value you’re squeezing out of your miles!