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5 First Class Awards For An Awesome Luxury Experience

By: Spencer Howard

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1) Cathay Pacific First Class with Alaska Mileage Plan Miles

Cathay Pacific First Class Seat

Cathay Pacific first class should be near the top of your list of amazing flights to try if you like great service and champagne. Courtesy of Spencer Howard

Cathay Pacific really is a luxury experience from the moment you set foot on the plane and are presented with an amenity kit and some extremely comfortable pajamas. And don’t forget the champagne. Who doesn’t like starting off a flight with a refreshing glass of champagne?

It has a well-earned reputation as one of the premier airlines in the world due in large part to their amazing first class product. Not only will you be able to enjoy a massive lie-flat seat, but the service provided by the Cathay Pacific crew is fantastic.

If you’re departing or connecting, you can visit one of Cathay Pacific’s two first class lounges: The Pier and The Wing. If those lounges aren’t convenient for your connecting flight, you can visit one of the business class lounges: The Bridge or The Cabin. Regardless of which lounge you choose, these lounges are a great place to relax before a flight.

You can book a first class flight on Cathay Pacific from one of five US airports:

  • Boston (BOS)
  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • New York City (JFK)
  • San Francisco (SFO)

Regardless of which US airport you are flying out of or into, you can use 70,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles to book your first class award to Hong Kong (HKG). In fact, you can even connect another city in Asia for no extra miles (some of these connections will be in business class). You can also use 110,000 American AAdvantage miles if you have a stockpile ready to burn.

Alaska Mileage Plan even allows a stopover on one-way awards so you could stop in Hong Kong for a few day or even a week or two before continuing to your final destination. For the adventurous, you can even tack on a business class flight to Johannesburg, South Africa for no additional miles!

Earning the required miles for your Cathay Pacific first class experience isn’t too difficult either. You can earn SPG Starpoints from the business and personal versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards issued by American Express and transfer them to either Alaska Airlines or American Airlines at a 1:1 ratio. To top it off, transfers for 20,000 SPG Starpoints earn a bonus 5,000 miles.

Finally, you can also earn Alaska miles directly with their co-branded credit cards provided by Bank of America. If you plan on using American miles, you can earn them directly from one of their co-branded cards from either Citi or Barclaycard.

2) ANA First Class with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles

ANA First Class

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the amazing service in ANA first class. Courtesy of Spencer Howard

One of my favorite redemptions that doesn’t get talked about enough is using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club to fly first class on All Nippon Airways (ANA) to Tokyo.

Once on board, you can settle in with a glass of Krug champagne and explore your first class suite. There you’ll find comfortable pajamas and a hardshell Samsonite amenity kit that looks like a mini suitcase—it’s as cool as it sounds!

Once in flight, you can choose between the western or Japanese meal—try the Japanese meal at least once—and enjoy one of the many drinks they have to offer. If you enjoy sake, you’ll have a few options and if you’re a whiskey fan, you’re in for a treat. ANA serves Hibiki Suntory 21 Year Old Whiskey which is one of the world’s best.

It’s pretty clear that this is an amazing experience, but you might be surprised to know that using Virgin Atlantic to book this flight is a great option. While many Flying Club redemptions incur significant fuel surcharges, this one will only cost about $80 out of pocket.

Without that to worry about, you can focus on earning the 110,000 Flying Club miles to book a round-trip first class award ticket from several airports on the west coast. From the east coast or midwest, it will be 120,000 Flying Club miles.

One thing to keep in mind is that Virgin Atlantic requires more miles if you want to add a connection, so your best bet for this award is to book a non-stop route between Tokyo and one of the following airports:

  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
  • Houston (IAH)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Washington-Dulles (IAD)

To make this redemption even sweeter, you can transfer points from any of the four transferable points programs: Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, or SPG Starpoints.

3) Emirates First Class with JAL Mileage Bank Miles

Perhaps the most talked about first class redemption in the 10xTravel Insiders Facebook group is Emirates first class. Specifically, the awesome way you can book a first class adventure from New York to Dubai to Bangkok to Dubai to Milan to New York with Japan Airlines’ Mileage Bank program.

With this booking, you could stop in each Dubai, Bangkok, and Milan for days or even weeks as Japan Airlines allows three stopovers on award bookings. As I mentioned, this booking is definitely an adventure. Don’t worry, there are plenty of more straightforward ways to book Emirates first class.

If there’s any airline out there with a reputation for glitz and glamor, it’s Emirates. From the Dom Perignon champagne to the design of the interior to the inflight shower on their Airbus A380s, you can expect an over the top first class experience. If you find yourself on one of their new Boeing 777s with their latest first class, you won’t have a shower but you’ll have what might be the best first class seat in the sky.

You can’t book the new product with points yet, but the first class experience on the A380 is still more than worth it. We’ll certainly keep an eye out for award space on their Boeing 777 though.

Now, how should you book this?

The Alaska Mileage Plan program used to be the best way to book Emirates awards in almost all cases, but since their devaluation a couple years ago JAL Mileage Bank is often the go-to program.

Japan Airlines Partner Award Chart

Make sure you check your total trip distance against Japan Airlines’ partner award chart to confirm the miles required before transferring SPG Starpoints.

Since Japan Airlines uses a distance-based award chart for partner award bookings, you’ll want to make sure you check the distance of your itinerary with GCMap. With that info, you can quickly look up how many Mileage Bank miles will be required.

For example, a round-trip booking from New York (JFK) to Dubai (DXB) is roughly 13,700 flight miles. If you look at the award chart above, you can see that this flight would cost 135,000 JAL Mileage Bank miles.

Recently, Japan Airlines has started to impose fuel surcharges on Emirates awards so taxes and fees on this booking could reach up to a maximum of $1,716.09. This is not cheap but, compared to the cash cost of over $20,000, it could definitely be worth it.

If you want to book this award, make SPG Starpoints your best friend as they are the only points that transfer to JAL Mileage Bank. Those 5,000-mile transfer bonuses will really help get you there faster.

Keep in mind that Starwood only allows you to transfer 79,999 points to an airline per 24 hours. To receive the 5,000-mile bonus when transferring 20,000 Starpoints, you can transfer 60,000 miles per 24 hours and receive the bonus 3 times.

This means that some awards (such as the ones mentioned above) will require a couple transfers to get the required Mileage Bank miles.

Bonus: Fuel surcharges are not required on Emirates awards that start in select countries if you want to book a one-way first class award back to the states.

4) Etihad First Class with American AAdvantage Miles

Etihad Apartments Bed

If you want plenty of personal space, Etihad’s Apartments are hard to beat. Courtesy of Spencer Howard

Another first class product that we hear discussed in the Facebook group regularly, is the Etihad Apartments. This particular first class product is only available on Etihad’s Airbus A380s which only fly to New York (JFK) so you have limited options from the US.

If you’ve ever imagined having a massive seat plus a couch that turns into a bed, then Etihad has you covered. Then you can throw in a vanity mirror, drawers for storage, a closet to hang up your clothes and plenty of personal space.

If that’s not enough, the inflight chef will even customize the menu for you. Sure, they have a menu with designed meals, but you can pick and choose to suit your tastes. If you want to get up and mingle with your fellow first and business class passengers, you can just pop into the inflight lounge.

To book this experience, you have options to use miles and points. Perhaps the easiest is to use 115,000 American miles to book a one-way award between Abu Dhabi (AUH) and New York.

The process of booking this one is a little more complicated than others as you’ll have to find Guest First space on Etihad’s site then call American Airlines, but not the US contact center. You can call the Australian contact center (+61 02-9101-1948) via Skype or another service to avoid fees. They can put the award on hold for you and then you can call the US contact center (1-800-882-8880) to complete the booking.

Speaking of putting the award on hold, this is particularly useful if you are transferring SPG Starpoints to your American AAdvantage account. Holds are good for 5 days and it usually only takes about 2 days for SPG points to transfer to American Airlines. This means you can hold the award, transfer the points, then complete the booking.

5) Lufthansa First Class with Asiana Club Miles

Lufthansa First Class Champagne

Enjoy some champagne in Lufthansa first class before trying caviar inflight. Courtesy of Spencer Howard

Last but certainly not least, we come to Lufthansa first class. I don’t see this one talked about nearly as much as it should be. Lufthansa has long been the standard for first class in Europe and for good reason.

If you fly out of or connect at Frankfurt (FRA), you will have access to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal. That’s right, first class passengers have their own terminal. You might be wondering how that works since there are plenty of other passengers that need to board the same flights.

Since the First Class Terminal is completely separate, one Lufthansa’s lounge attendants will let you know when it is time to board your flight and escort you to your ride to the plane. Lufthansa will actually drive you across the tarmac to your plane. If that’s not first class service, I don’t know what is.

Whether dining in the lounge or inflight, you’re guaranteed to enjoy some great food and drink. The bar and food selection in the First Class Terminal is extensive, to say the least, and the inflight food is excellent. It might even leave you with champagne and caviar dreams.

If you aren’t excited to book this yet, that’s on you. For those who are thinking about booking this right now, let’s get into it. First, remember that Lufthansa does not release first class award space to its partner airlines until 14 days prior to departure. This makes it a bit more difficult to plan, but you’ll often find a seat or two.

Second, most award booking avenues incur significant fuel surcharges plus taxes and fees. The total out of pocket cost will be a bit lower if you fly from Europe to the US, but it will still be roughly $500. If your point or origin is Oslo (or one of a few other European cities), the total cash cost could be a bit lower.

A couple final points to remember. You will have to call Asiana to book this and you need to book at least 72 hours prior to departure.

With all that said, one of my favorite ways to book this first class award is with Asiana Club miles. While not a commonly discussed program, Asiana’s partnership with SPG makes this booking particularly interesting. For 50,000 Asiana miles, you can fly first class one-way between the states and Europe.

Now, think back to the SPG Starpoints transfer bonus. To get 50,000 Asiana miles, you only need to transfer 40,000 Starpoints. That’s one heck of a way to book a first class flight.

Bottom Line

I don’t know about you, but just thinking about these makes me want to book one right now. If you have the points and a trip you want to book, give one of these a look. You won’t be disappointed.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of fun first class award booking options—we didn’t talk about Singapore Suites, Japan Airlines, or Thai Airways—but it is more than enough to get you started.

Remember, first class award space is the hardest to find. Don’t expect to book four people on award tickets. If it happens, that’s great but it won’t be the norm. However, if you and your significant other (or maybe a friend) plan ahead, you might be able to enjoy the flight of a lifetime together.

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