Premium cabins like business class and First Class are the best to redeem your points if you’re looking to stretch your points as far as they’ll go. And even more than business class, First Class is often viewed as a very special “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
Given that Aeroplan points are easily earned here in Canada, let’s take a look at what your options are if you’d like to use your Aeroplan points 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 Aeroplan Partners Offer First Class?
Aeroplan has over 40 partners, the most of any loyalty program in the world. At first, that might suggest that it’d be easy to plan a luxurious trip around the world in First Class.
However, if we dive a little deeper, we’ll see that things are not always as they seem: only a subset of Aeroplan’s airline partners offer a First Class cabin, and only a further subset of First Class products are actually worth pursuing.
Within the Star Alliance network, six airlines offer international First Class: Air China, ANA, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, and Thai Airways. Among Aeroplan’s non-Star Alliance partners, we have two more: Etihad Airways and Oman Air.
(Asiana Airlines used to offer First Class on the Airbus A380, but that was phased out a few years ago.)
So, among those eight airlines, which ones should you redeem your points for if you’re looking for a special experience?
Which Aeroplan First Class Partners Are Off-Limits?
One partner 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 Swiss had gone ahead and cancelled them all.
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.
There’s also Air China First Class, which was generous with award space pre-pandemic, but probably isn’t worth a glance now due to China’s closed-off nature these days – as well as the fact that Air China First Class isn’t exactly a top-tier product.
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’s airplanes outfitted with First Class are currently listed as “parked”, so if and when they fly again remains to be seen.
Which Aeroplan First Class Partners Can You Book?
That leaves us with five candidates for booking amazing First Class flights via Aeroplan: Lufthansa, ANA, Etihad Airways, Oman Air, 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.
Let’s start with Oman Air’s First Class route map, which includes London, Frankfurt, and Bangkok.
Oman Air is quite generous with award space, consistently releasing one award seat in First Class per flight on all its routes that offer the cabin.
You’ll see their two Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners sometimes flying to other destinations, but the routes listed above are most consistent in offering First Class.
Etihad Airways is similarly generous, releasing a few seats in First Class when the calendar opens, as well as every single empty seat last-minute, beginning seven days before the flight.
Etihad’s First Class route map is as follows:
You’ll also see Etihad Airways flying First Class on plenty of Middle East and Indian routes, as well as the occasional flight to Zurich, but these are inconsistent and often get swapped out last minute. To guarantee First Class, you should stick to the routes noted above.
Early on in the pandemic, Thai Airways had retired all their aircrafts that were equipped with First Class, including their Airbus A380s and Boeing 747-400s. Recently, however, Thai Airways announced a resumption of First Class aboard their new Boeing 777-300ERs.
For now, the Thai national carrier operates two First Class routes from Bangkok to London or Tokyo.
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.
The bad news is that there doesn’t seem to be much award availability in the calendar as of the time of writing, but the route is extremely new, so hopefully we’ll see some award space being released soon.
Meanwhile, ANA and Lufthansa are the perennial favourites for those of us who have stuck with Aeroplan for a while, as they have been and still remain available to book. However, award availability on these two are much harder to lock in.
With ANA, award space is most plentiful as soon as the calendar opens, and then only if someone cancels it after it’s been booked. The exception is if ANA happens to decide to suddenly release huge chunks of award space, which has happened before.
ANA’s First Class route map consists of many ports of call in the United States, along with London and Frankfurt.
ANA has also released their new First Class, officially named “The Suite”, on select Boeing 777-300ERs. This product is guaranteed on the London and New York routes, and also sporadically operates other routes like San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Lastly, Lufthansa First Class maintains its well-documented policy of only releasing award space to partners at most 15 days in advance. We’ve recently seen Lufthansa occasionally opening up award space up to 30 days in advance, but T-minus 15 days is still your best bet.
To grab this coveted flight, the best practice is to book a backup flight when initially booking your trip, and changing your flight to Lufthansa First Class as soon as award space opens up.
Lufthansa probably has the most extensive First Class route network out of all the Star Alliance airlines, and most routes have been brought back to operation recently. First Class routes to closed destinations in Asia like Tokyo and Beijing are still not operating.
In addition to the routes listed from Frankfurt, Lufthansa also operates First Class from Munich to Los Angeles and New York.
Be sure to book a long layover in Frankfurt 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.
Indeed, if we overlay the above maps of each airline’s First Class network, we’ll see a smattering of routes around the world, with a particular emphasis on the Europe–Middle East corridor where Etihad Airways and Oman Air operate.
Let’s see if we can “connect the dots” as we put together an Aeroplan redemptions that’s truly optimized for luxury: ANA from North America to Tokyo, Thai Airways from Tokyo to Bangkok (if you can find award availability), Oman Air from Bangkok to Muscat, Etihad Airways from the Middle East up to Europe, and Lufthansa First Class back to North America.
(New York City looks like an ideal origin for our trip around the world, as both ANA and Lufthansa fly there in First Class.)
To maximize your time in all of the Lufthansa Group’s First Class lounges in Europe, you could optimize even further.
Consider flying from Abu Dhabi to Geneva on Etihad First Class, then catching an overnight connection to Zurich to hit up the Swiss First Class Lounge, and then heading to Frankfurt for the Lufthansa First Class Terminal and a Porsche transfer to the tarmac.
This routing would be priced as a First Class award between New York and Bangkok, falling into the third distance band of the North America–Pacific chart.
The round-trip booking would start at 260,000 Aeroplan points, plus the ability to add a stopover in each direction for 5,000 Aeroplan points each. In total, you’d have 40+ hours of First Class fulfillment, along with ample time on the ground to maximize all of the First Class lounges.
First Class awards aren’t always the easiest to book with Aeroplan points, but with a little bit of craft and guile, you can weave together some delightfully over-the-top trips at an unbelievable value.
Bangkok, Thailand or elsewhere in South East Asia will likely be your target destination for a First Class round-the-world trip to remember for 260,000 Aeroplan points.
For that price, you can secure your seat on up to five First Class flights, which is the equivalent of one First Class flight for 56,000 points per flight. That’s simply off the charts in terms of the value you’re squeezing out of your points!