Book the world’s best first class now. Fly next year.

16

Feeling restless?  If you’re anything like me, you miss the challenge and excitement of planning travel.  Deciding upon an ideal destination excites the imagination.  Finding ideal discounted flights or award flights that get you to where you want to go with the least discomfort is as challenging and satisfying as solving a puzzle.  Finding and booking hard-to-get award flights is like winning a jackpot.

If you’re stuck at home looking for a way to spend your time, there’s no reason you can’t plan travel now for next year.  True, we don’t know that the COVID-19 mess will be done by then, but if we book refundable travel with providers unlikely to go bankrupt, we should be OK.

Or, take it a step less far, and just pretend to book travel…  For fun…  Yes, I’m losing it.

Rather than picking a destination I decided to create a game for myself.  The game involves finding the world’s best first class flights that are bookable with miles, then see which ones are currently available for booking in January or February of 2021.  A bonus challenge is to see if I can build an around-the-world itinerary entirely from these awards.

World’s best first class

Lucky, 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 (2020), Lucky ranked the world’s best first class options as follows:

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

I’ve personally only flown three of these (and in the case of Singapore it was on their old Suites) so Lucky is far better positioned than me to assemble this list.  Even if one were to disagree with the relative rankings, 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, JAL, or Alaska miles
  2. Air France First Class 777-300ER: Bookable only with Air France miles and only for those with Gold elite status.
  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 miles.
  5. Singapore Airlines Suites A380: Bookable with Singapore or Alaska miles
  6. Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER: Bookable with Cathay, OneWorld alliance partners, or other partner miles (Alaska, for example).
  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 AA miles until their partnership ends.
  9. Korean Air First Class 747-8: Bookable with Korean miles (transfer 3 to 1 from Marriott)
  10. Lufthansa First Class A380 Or 747-8:  Bookable with Star Alliance partner miles (e.g. United, Avianca), 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 Etihad miles, transferred 1 to 1 from Amex or Citi, or Capital One (1000 to 750) or Marriott (60K to 25K).

The first class products listed above that aren’t practical to book now for next year are as follows:

  • Air France: I don’t have elite status with Air France.
  • Garuda Indonesia: Garuda is no longer a transfer partner with Citibank. As a result, there’s no easy way to get Garuda miles to book these first class awards.
  • Korean Air: I wouldn’t want to transfer Marriott points to Korean in case I don’t end up flying Korean next year.
  • Lufthansa: Lufthansa charges huge fuel surcharges to their own members, so their first class is best booked within two weeks of departure with either Avianca Lifemiles or United miles, neither of which passes along fuel surcharges. So, we can’t book this now for next year.
  • Swiss: I don’t have Miles & More elite status.

That leaves us with a more manageable “best first class” list to investigate:

  1. Emirates First Class 777-300ER
  2. ANA First Class 777-300ER
  3. Singapore Airlines Suites A380
  4. Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER
  5. Japan Airlines First Class 777-300ER
  6. Etihad Airways First Class A380
  7. Oman Air First Class 787-9

Emirates First Class 777-300ER

Emirates First Class 777-300ER. Image courtesy of Emirates.com.

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.  Unfortunately, it is also arguably the hardest with which to find award availability.  Let’s see if we can find anything…

Traveling for Miles reports that the new first class is available on the following routes to/from Dubai:

  • Brussels
  • Frankfurt
  • Geneva
  • Kuwait
  • London Stanstead
  • Male (Maldives)
  • Riyadh
  • Tokyo Haneda
  • Vienna

I searched all of the above routes for one-way first class awards in either direction (from or to Dubai) for the farthest out 7 days of the bookable schedule.  While I occasionally found first class awards available, it was never with the new first class.

I thought I hit the jackpot with a flight from Vienna to Dubai which showed availability:

I pulled up this flight on Expedia to double check that it had the new first class.  It was encouraging that Expedia confirmed that this flight was scheduled to fly with a 777-300 ER, but then I checked the seat map:

Bummer.  The new first class only has three across, but this seat map shows four across.  Therefore, this flight offers the old first class.

OK, so I struck out with Emirates.  Let’s move on…

ANA First Class 777-300ER

ANA 777-300ER first class: “THE Suite”. Image courtesy of ANA’s website.

ANA (All Nippon Airways) recently introduced amazing new business and first class products which they are rolling out on their 777-300ER aircraft.  Business class is called “THE Room” and first class is called “THE Suite”.

I picked a route where ANA offers this service and where no other Star Alliance carrier offers first class (at the time of this writing): New York JFK to Tokyo Narita NRT.  Using United’s advanced award search, I limited to non-stop first class flights to look for availability:

Dotted lines show business or first class award availability on flights from New York to Tokyo

The dates shown above with the dotted lines are the days where nonstop business or first class awards are available for 1 adult.  As you can see, award availability is pretty good for January and February of next year! Clicking into each date, I found that about 2/3rds of those dates offered first class awards!

When I looked for two adults, though, I only found three days in those two months with business or first class award availability.

United’s search result shows that this flight is bookable only for 1 adult. United would charge 110,000 miles for this award.

I double checked the above flight on ANA’s website to make sure that it really is the new product.  You can see below that it is since the ANA search result (for a cash booking) describes the result as “THE Suite”:

For the record, award flights in the reverse direction (Tokyo to New York) are also readily available on many dates for 1 adult:

Dotted lines show business or first class award availability on flights from Tokyo to New York.  When running the search yourself, click the date to see if first class is available.

The best way to book the above award is with Virgin Atlantic miles.  Virgin Atlantic charges only 120,000 miles round-trip.  Compared to United, which charges 110,000 miles one-way, that’s phenomenal.  You can transfer points to Virgin Atlantic 1 to 1 from Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, or Citi ThankYou Rewards.

Singapore Airlines Suites A380

Singapore new A380 Suites. Photo courtesy of Singapore Airline’s website.

It’s really hard to find award space on Singapore’s new A380 Suites.  One problem is that they don’t release award space in first class suites to their partners (with the possible exception of Alaska), so it’s necessary to use Singapore’s own website to search.

Singapore’s website lets you view a 7 day calendar of availability, like this:

We’re looking for days that say “Saver” (but of course I grabbed an image when none show that — sorry).  “Advantage” awards are much more expensive.  For example, you could fly the new suites from Singapore to Zurich if you’re willing to cough up 220,000 miles for that one-way flight:

To double check whether it’s really the new suites, you can bring up the seat map.  When you see only two seats in each row with a middle aisle, you know it’s the new product:

Another reason it’s hard to find Singapore Suites availability is that often a date will show “Saver” availability but it won’t be for the flight you want.  On most routes where Singapore flies their new cabin, they also fly other aircraft with either the old suites or their regular non-suite first class.

Unfortunately, I failed to find any saver awards on the new first class suites.  That said, the old suites are pretty great too…

Singapore KrisFlyer Miles
Singapore’s “old” A380 suites.

It wasn’t easy, but I found at least one awesome Saver award with the old suite… Singapore to Sydney:

The seat map shows four across as you would expect with the old suites:

I flew the old Singapore Suites in 2013 and loved it.

Singapore’s old suites. Still excellent.

Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER

Cathay Pacific first class.

Via AA’s website, I found that Cathay Pacific first class awards were wide open for one adult between Hong Kong and Chicago or Los Angeles.  If you want to fly with a friend you may have to stick them in business class as I couldn’t find any days where 2 seats were available in Cathay first class to or from the United States.

Cathay Pacific first class awards between Hong Kong and Chicago or Los Angeles are wide open in January and February for 1 adult.

Cathay Pacific first class is best booked with Alaska Airlines miles for only 70,000 miles one-way between the US and Asia.  You can even book all the way from the US to Australia in first class for only 80,000 miles and with a free stopover in Hong Kong.

Japan Airlines First Class 777-300ER

Japan Airlines 777-300 First Class. Photo courtesy of JAL’s website.

JAL currently offers this product between Tokyo Haneda (HND) and:

  • London
  • New York
  • Paris
  • San Francisco

And between Tokyo Narita (NRT) and:

  • Chicago
  • Los Angeles
  • New York
Dates showing “80K” are available to fly first class from Chicago to Tokyo for 1 adult.

On most routes I only found 1 or 2 days per month with award availability for one adult.  However, the following routes had substantially more award availability:

  • Chicago to Tokyo Narita
  • London to/from Tokyo Haneda
  • Paris to/from Tokyo Haneda

Chicago to Tokyo can be booked with 70,000 Alaska miles or 80,000 AA miles.  Flights between Tokyo and London or Paris can be booked with 90,000 AA miles.

Etihad Airways First Class A380

Last year 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.

Etihad awards are no longer searchable on AA’s website.  Instead, I used Expert Flyer to search 7 days at a time.  Etihad’s own website does a good job at this too.  So, I picked a single week (January 24 to 30, 2021) to search for award space on routes where Etihad flies the A380.

Amazingly, I found award availability for 2 adults in Etihad Apartments on almost every day and on almost every route!  The following routes from/to Abu Dhabi had awards wide open on most days:

  • London
  • New York*
  • Paris
  • Sydney

The one exception was that I couldn’t find any awards between Seoul and Abu Dhabi.

* Finding award flights from New York requires a trick.  If you search straight up from New York to Abu Dhabi, you won’t find availability.  However, if you search round trip from Abu Dhabi to New York, you can find award availability for the return (New York to Abu Dhabi).

AA offers great award prices for Etihad flights, but booking with AA can be difficult now that AA no longer shows Etihad awards online.  First make sure that Etihad itself shows “Guest Seat” availability and then call AA’s Australian call center.  If they can see the award, ask them to put it on hold for you.  You can then call the US call center to book it.

Etihad awards can also be booked with Etihad miles, transferred 1 to 1 from Amex or Citi, or Capital One (1000 to 750) or Marriott (60K to 25K).

Oman Air First Class 787-9

First class award flights between Muscat and London are wide open for 1 passenger.

I used Oman Air’s own website to search for first class awards between Muscat and London.  In both directions I found first class available for 1 adult on every day that I looked:

Since you probably don’t have Oman Air miles at your disposal, you’ll want to use 80,000 Etihad Guest miles instead.  You can transfer to Etihad 1 to 1 from Amex or Citi, or Capital One (1000 to 750), or Marriott (60K to 25K).

Will these flights really exist next year?

A number of the airlines discussed here have announced (or probably soon will announce) suspension of service due to the Coronavirus.  There’s no guarantee that they’ll be flying again by January or February of next year.  And even if they are flying well before then, there’s no guarantee that they’ll fly the same jets or provide the same service that has, up until now, made them a world’s best first class carrier.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these carriers drop first class service altogether.

All of that said, if you have the miles, I don’t think there’s much risk in booking now for 2021.  If the airlines drop the flights you booked, they should refund your miles and any taxes paid.

Summary of best first class award availability

Here’s what I found:

  • Emirates: None of the new stuff. Plenty of old.
  • ANA: Plenty of availability for 1 adult.  Some availability for 2.
  • Singapore: I couldn’t find any of the new suites, but some old style suites are available.
  • Cathay Pacific: Wide open for 1 adult between Hong Kong and Chicago or Los Angeles.
  • JAL: Lots of availability between Tokyo and London or Paris.  Scattered availability to US destinations.
  • Etihad: Wide open for 2 on almost all routes I checked!
  • Oman Air: Wide open for 1 between Muscat and London

Your best bet if flying with a second person is to concentrate on Etihad Airways since they had 2 first class seats available on almost all of their routes that include First Class Apartments.  If flying with more than 2, you may be better off looking for business class.

Round the world (ish)

Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

Based on the award availability I found above, I think it would be reasonably easy to put together an all-first-class itinerary like this one, for one adult:

  • ANA: New York to Tokyo
  • JAL: Tokyo to London
  • Oman Air: London to Muscat
  • Etihad: Abu Dhabi to Sydney, Australia
  • Singapore: Sydney to Singapore
  • Cathay: Hong Kong to Chicago

Can you find a better route?

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huey judy
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huey judy

CLEVER, very clever. I am booking real travel for next year, but when I get that all squared away, I’ll start on some fantasy bookings. Keeping the little mind agile in this awful time should be a priority for everybody.

David
Guest
David

This is timely, I just booked a stay in the Maldives for March 2021, now have to sort out the flights around it. Would really like to do first class for a True Trip of a Lifetime!

Mshhdhdh
Guest
Mshhdhdh

Garuda is no longer Citi TY transfer partner

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Could be a Good idea if my May yes and my Sept. trip maybe gets canceled ..Singapore 380 suite Hmmmmm ” Oh How I Hate the Rich !!! ”
CHEERs

Peter
Guest
Peter

Greg; I wanted to confirm if this can be done: You stated “Using United’s advanced award search, I limited to non-stop first class flights to look for availability”:
United award search page has separate tabs in the bottom for Business and First class but, in my experience the result page combines both Business and First class saver seats. You have to then click on each of the round dotted days to look for any First class seats.
I would love to limit the search for only First class to look for ANA nonstop flights.
Please let me know if I am doing anything wrong!

Mel
Guest
Mel

why no Qatar??

A K
Guest
A K

It was based on Lucky’s list. Qatar was an honorable mention.

Christian
Guest
Christian

ANA: New York to Tokyo
JAL: Tokyo to London
Oman Air: London to Muscat
Etihad: Abu Dhabi to Sydney, Australia
Singapore: Sydney to Singapore
Cathay: Hong Kong to Chicago

Can you spot me the miles?