My Best First Class Deals report is tilted toward flights from/to the U.S. You won’t find anything on Garuda Indonesia, Oman Air, or Thai; sorry.
My focus is on values. Some might say I’m obsessed with values. I don’t care if your First Class seat is beyond amazing — if it costs a million miles, just go to the next best deal. Which is why you’ll only find Emirates, Singapore, and a couple of others at the footnotes of this article as an honorable mention.
What else is important?
Look, I’m not a foodie or wine connoisseur, and I’m surely not a food writer. I love food, but I’ve never experienced a true WOW moment on the plane (except some amuse bouches that I remember still), no matter how good the food was. By the same token, fine wines and liquors are lost on me — I’ll never forget sipping Hennessy Paradise on Emirates thinking to myself THIS? This goes for $800 a bottle??? I mean it was a damn fine cognac, but seriously?
I like Krug, though. But not Champagne in general. I like the kind of Champagne that doesn’t get served on a plane (or almost anywhere), like demi-sec. But Krug agrees with me, and I have no idea why. It just does.
So, if not the food or wine what do I value the most about a First Class seat?
- Bed comfort
- Seat comfort
- Entertainment choices
- IFE quality
Let me elaborate
Doors. I love the doors in the air. You don’t get real privacy since anyone passing by can see you from above, but I love the illusion.
Seat/bed space. I’m a big guy. I’m not claustrophobic, but I tend to toss and turn, especially when I’m trying to fall asleep.
Bed comfort. I normally can’t have a sound sleep on a plane, but a great bed helps.
Seat comfort. I don’t need to explain that. If it has built-in massage — even better.
Internet. When I have fast internet at a reasonable price — I’m a happy camper. I can work, browse the internet, stream movies, and whatnot. With the internet I don’t need other entertainment.
Entertainment choices. Very important if the internet is expensive or not available.
IFE quality. The quality of the TV screens and headphones is important if you’re watching a lot of TV on the flight. ANA has the biggest 42″ monitors in its new First Class seats followed by the 32-inchers on Asiana.
You’ve noticed I didn’t mention the service. That’s because I’m very easy to please. I mean, I’m fine as long as you don’t make me wait for an eternity, and if you bring me something I’ve actually asked for. To be honest, I’ve never encountered terrible service in a First Class cabin.
So, without further ado …
First Class Deal #5: ANA First Class Suite
I have never flown ANA, although I love their frequent flyer program Mileage Club and have used ANA miles extensively. Judging by the reviews I’ve read, though, the current ANA First Class seats aren’t regarded as highly as their rival’s, Japan Airlines, with the most vocal complaint being that their weird design blocks windows. All reviews, however, note high quality of food and service.
If that’s the case, the new ANA First Class suite that the airline is about to roll out on their B777-300ER, in August, looks breathtaking! ANA dubs it The Suite. I would make it Number 2, but, alas, you won’t find it on North American routes yet (but when you do, this cabin will be among the VERY best first class deals considering the price/quality ratio).
The Suite is huge — twice as wide as the current one — and features a door.
There are going to be 8 suites in the cabin
And it will come equipped with an impossibly huge 43″ 4K monitor!
The first aircraft featuring news suites flew between Tokyo (HND) and London (NH211/NH212) on August 2. Let’s hope that we in North America will be able to sample this great product in 2020.
Best ways to Book an ANA First Class Award
Depending on the season, ANA will charge you from 150,000 to 165,000 miles for a First Class seat to Japan (round trip only). The fuel surcharge is updated every 2 months on the ANA website. It will cost you $258 per RT until September 30, 2019, regardless of the class of service.
Of course, the very best way to fly ANA First is not with the ANA miles, but with Virgin Atlantic’s. You still have to book round trip and pay fuel surcharges, but the miles cost will surely dull the pain.
- Eastern and Central U.S. to Japan: 120,000 miles
- Western U.S. to Japan: 110,000 miles
And you can often get a 30%-40% transfer bonus from Amex Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou programs to Virgin Atlantic, so your real cost could be just 85,000 or 93,000 points. This is ridiculously cheap for a round trip to Japan in First Class.
First Class Deal #4: Japan Airlines JAL Suite
I flew JAL Suite this May but my experience was spoiled by severe food poisoning I’d had a couple of days prior. It was also accompanied by equally severe muscle pain, so I spent most of my flight falling in and out of brutally short bursts of sleep. I tried to watch a couple of movies, but was unable to concentrate, so can’t even comment on the quality of the entertainment or whatnot. What I can comment, though, is this:
- The cabin wasn’t overly warm. It had been a common complaint in most reviews I’d read before my flight, so either the problem was exaggerated to begin with or the airline did something about it. I felt comfortable throughout the flight despite my condition.
- The service was superb. I didn’t interact too much with the flight attendants, but they were proactive. This is something I can’t say about my latest flight on Cathay Pacific (see below).
- The seat/bed was comfortable, but not as comfortable as Cathay Pacific’s.
Best ways to Book a JAL SUite Award
- American: 80,000 miles
- Alaska: 70,000 miles (plus a free stopover each way if you want)
It seems like this is a no-brainer, but I would argue that Alaska miles are worth more than American. However, if you’re flying beyond Japan, for example, to Southeast Asia, the difference becomes more pronounced.
- American: 110,000 miles
- Alaska: 75,000 miles
Now, this is a no-brainer.
You can currently book JAL flights on AA.com.
First Class Deal #3: Cathay Pacific First Class Suite
I’ve flown Cathay Pacific First Class more times than other airlines, primarily because there is still better availability and it’s easier to book. What is there to say! Cathay Pacific First is a venerable seat that so many folks, including me, believe to be one of the very best in the world.
The Cathay Pacific First Class suite doesn’t have a door or separate bed, and it’s quite dated, but the seat is huge (the biggest First Class seat in the world, reputedly) and very comfortable in both, seat and bed mode. After flying in the JAL suite, I believe the Cathay Pacific seat/bed is simply better, even though the JAL Suite looks snazzier. On the other hand, I’ve found the Cathay Pacific 17″ IFE monitor kind of subpar in this day and age, both in size and clarity.
The service has done downhill as well. I know I said I’m an easy guy to please, but just in case some of you are not as forgiving, there is simply no comparison between my prior Cathay Pacific experiences and the latest one, and judging by many reviews, I’m not the only one who feels this way. The CX flight attendants used to be very proactive and eager to please — my last flight, however, couldn’t be more different. They would never ask if I wanted the bed made and never asked if there was anything I wanted at all. Again, it was fine by me, but all of you guys who’re looking for magic — well, fly the Japanese. 🙂 If, on the other hand, you’re looking for incredibly comfortable hard product (sans doors and the Internet), fly Cathay Pacific.
Best ways to Book a Cathay Pacific First Class Award
There are numerous ways to get Cathay Pacific miles. CX is a transfer partner of Amex, Citi, and Capital One rewards programs, and there is a credit card too, issued by Synchrony. But if you want to know if Cathay Pacific miles are a good way to book Cathay Pacific First Class, the answer is a resounding no.
The cheapest First Class award from San Francisco to Hong Kong will run you 100,000 miles one way plus (a small) fuel surcharge. Any other departure or destination, and you’re looking at at least 110,000 miles one way. That’s a lot in my book. And it will cost you the same 110,000 miles if you decide to book your flight on American.
The best way to book is Alaska miles — just 70,000 miles to anywhere in Asia with one free stopover each way.
First Class Deal #2: Qatar QSuites
What are you doing, Andy, you might ask? QSuites is a Business Class product. Why is it here? Don’t you know the difference between Business and First?
Of course, I do. And yet every review about QSuites makes me feel as if I’m reading about an excellent First Class cabin.
Doors? Check! Double beds? Check! Great, well-thought-out seat (bed)? Check! Dine on Demand? Check! Extensive entertainment collection? Check! Fantastic service? Of course!
So, it feels like QSuites belongs here despite the name. What’s in a name, really?
And let’s not forget that Qatar flies to 9 North American cities! Seriously, you have a good chance of finding your award even if via a connecting flight.
Best way to Book a Qatar QSuite Award
The cost is 70,000 American miles to Doha and most of Africa, and 75,000 miles to South Africa.
First Class Deal #1: Etihad First Apartment
If you don’t agree that Etihad First Apartment is the best First Class suite in the world, something is seriously wrong with you, IMHO.
Sure, plenty of folks dislike Etihad for one thing or another. They may not like the food, the drinks, the bed (too hard), the seat (not enough recline), and, get this: Etihad didn’t use to serve caviar! Can you believe that?
Well, I’m happy to report that Etihad has recognized the error of its ways, and it does serve caviar now! Yay!
As to everything else — nonsense! The Etihad suite is huge. It’s big enough to do push-ups if you’re so inclined (I’m not, though); and it’s the only place in the sky ever where I was able to get 6 hours of sound, heavenly, undisturbed sleep!
Seriously, the Etihad bed is perfectly comfortable, the seat recline is good enough for eating, working, or watching TV, the food is delicious, the service is extremely friendly and personable, and the onboard shower is pure ecstasy.
As far as I’m concerned, there is only one problem with Etihad. You can only find the First Apartment on an A380, and the only Etihad A380 route between Doha and North America is from New York.
It’s not my problem, though, since this is where I’m based anyway.
Best way to Book an Etihad First Apartment Award
While you could book your dream flight for ~140,000 Etihad miles and ~$270 in taxes and surcharges (one way), why would you want to? Etihad miles can be very valuable for other things, like booking American flights at pre-devaluation levels.
For Etihad First Apartment you should do exactly the opposite and use American miles: 110,000 AA miles and zero fuel surcharges.
I won’t lie — 110,000 miles is a huge price for even an ultra-long haul, so I suggest you do one better. Fly to South Africa. You probably aren’t that interested in Abu Dhabi anyway, although it can make a nice short layover.
An award to South Africa booked with AA miles will cost you 120,000 miles. Seriously, that is a great deal, with the segment between Abu Dhabi and Johannesburg flown in Etihad Business Class Studio. This is only possible because American has waived its draconian routing rules for Qatar and Etihad by allowing us to fly to Africa via the Middle East for one award. Speaking of Qatar, what an epic journey it could be — flying in one direction on Qatar and back on Etihad for 200,000 AA miles. I said “back” because it’s much easier to find award space from Abu Dhabi to New York than the other way around.
You should be able, theoretically, to book your First Apartment on AA.com, but it’s easier said than done. AA does show award space, but it always errors out when you try to proceed to the booking page, at least on the flights to and from JFK.
You could call the AA U.S. number at 800-433-7300 but if they can’t see availability, try the AA Australian call center (02-9101-1948). You might also want to make sure Etihad’s own website shows availability as well.
There you have it! Those are best and most reasonable First Class flights you can get today. But I’m sure some of you might have a few lingering questions.
Why not Asiana?
Oh, I love that Asiana First Class seat. The doors, the comfort, the mammoth 34″ TV, the food, the service — everything. Some folks think it looks a little shabby (it does), but that doesn’t take away any great points about that fantastic product.
Sadly, Asiana discontinues its First Class service after August 31. You can still book it until the end of August, but come September 1, Asiana will rebrand them as “Business Suites,” and I have no idea how and if we’re going to be able to book them on partners miles.
Wait and see!
Why not American or Qantas?
Because the best First Class deals, they are not. I did an extensive availability search and found zero First Class awards on either airline. Business Class awards to different destinations do exist, though.
What kind of a deal is it when there is no award space? They can price it at 100 miles, and it won’t make any difference.
If you manage to find an AAdvantage award (I’m sure you will at some point), keep in mind that American has completely scourged AAdvantage by raising their married segments strategy to the highest degree of absurdity. You won’t find a nonstop flight between, say, JFK and London in any class of service anymore, but you might find a flight from LA to London routed via JFK. If you want a seat on that JFK-LHR flight, you might have to take a train to Philly, Boston, or Washington to begin or end your journey.
That only concerns American’s own flights. Nonstop flights on partners are still available, but like I said, I simply haven’t found a single First Class Qantas flight. Try for yourself, you might get lucky.
That might be moot anyway, though. There are only a handful of routes where AA maintains international (Flagship) First Class cabins, including transcontinental routes between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco.
Other than that, look for 777-300ER aircraft. You might find AA First Class cabins on routes to Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, London, and Hong Kong, but American can move those planes to whatever routes they see fit.
Why not Lufthansa?
Call me crazy, but I don’t find the Lufthansa First Class cabin all that attractive. From what I can see, it’s designed as one open space, and for someone who likes at least some modicum of privacy, I just don’t see why I would feel compelled to pay the inordinate amount of miles (United or Avianca) or exorbitant amount of cash (fuel surcharges on Lufthansa or Air Canada) for a relatively short flight to Europe.
You know what I think? I think that most of the buzz LH First Class generates is due to that over-the-top Frankfurt First Class Terminal and a Mercedes/Porsche ride to the plane. Seriously, people, grow up! 🙂
Having said that, there is one hack-ish way to cross this item off your bucket list. Scroll down to Gaming Avianca LifeMiles for Lufthansa First in this post.
Why not Emirates?
Oh, Emirates! Glitzy, flashy, and flamboyant Emirates. This is an airline that proudly shared an image of their craft wrapped in diamonds.
Of course, that image was
fake just an artistic creation, but why do you think the artist was inspired by Emirates, and not by — I don’t know — United Airlines? That’s fine, don’t answer this. 🙂
The Emirates First Class suite is glitzy indeed. The food is great. They serve an $800-per-bottle Hennessy Paradis But that’s nothing compared to the shower and lavatories that are simply out of this world.
.But here is the thing. If I get to choose between Emirates and Asiana, I would choose Asiana. The Emirates suite is on the smaller side, and the bed didn’t feel very comfortable to me.
Although that’s probably because I’m on the bigger side, but still. And I remember the service was kind of cold and distant. Although that’s never a big problem for me.
What is a big deal to me is the price. I’ll be damned if I pay 150,000 extremely valuable Alaska miles for a one-way flight to the Middle East (and Alaska is the only easy way to book that flight). Seriously, screw that.
Why not Singapore?
Same reason — expensive.
I flew Singapore A380 in First Class a few years ago, and it was blissful. Everyone was smiling, and the quality of the seat and the bed was above and beyond. I thoroughly enjoyed that flight.
However, Singapore doesn’t release premium class awards to partners (at least on major routes). The only way you can book it is with Singapore miles. That wouldn’t be a problem since Singapore is a transfer partner of 4 credit card rewards program, but after the devaluation a couple of years ago, it’s become prohibitively expensive. Not as prohibitive as Emirates, but close enough.
- USA West Coast to Singapore: 130,000 miles
- USA East Coast to Singapore: 132,000 miles
Is Singapore First Class better than Cathay Pacific’s? Absolutely!
Is Singapore First Class twice as good as Cathay Pacific’s? Absolutely not!
Singapore has come out with a new suite, which looks quite amazing!
The new A380s with these amazing First Class cabins don’t fly to North America yet, but even when they do — thanks but no thanks. 130,000 miles is not my idea of the best or even good First Class deal. I’ll stick to Cathay Pacific, JAL, or ANA for my trips to Asia. and to Qatar or Etihad for Africa or the Middle East. That is, if I dare to fly First Class ever again. 🙂 It does get harder to get new miles for us veterans. Well, maybe if there is a sizeable transfer bonus, but I’m dreaming now. 🙂
Since I don’t subscribe to this earn-and-burn philosophy, a couple of years back I decided to try and preserve my miles by quitting “vendoming” in First Class. I’ve mostly made good on my pledge, but when the price difference between Business and First is not too drastic … well, I’m only human, you know. 🙂
So, how about you? Any recent or planned international First Class conquests? Disagree with my list of the best First Class deals? Share with the group!