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Best Redemptions to Fly on the A380

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Today, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen looks at the largest jet in the skies and how you can use miles to fly it on one (or several) of 13 airlines.

Earlier this month, Airbus CFO Harald Wilhelm told investors that the company was considering discontinuing production of its A380 aircraft by 2018, leading many to speculate about the future of the double-decker superjumbo. However, according to Business Insider, Airbus CEO Fabrice Breiger is committed to continuing the A380 program just as it has begun to break even, so it looks like we should all be able to fly it for a while to come.

The A380 is the biggest plane in the skies, with a range of nearly 10,000 miles.
The A380 is the biggest plane in the skies, with a range of nearly 10,000 miles.

The plane typically carries about 525 passengers, and has a range of 8,500 nautical miles (or about 9,780 miles). It’s 238 feet long and 79 feet (and 1 inch) tall, with a wing span of 261 feet and 8 inches. It can carry up to 84,600 gallons of fuel, and has a maximum takeoff weight of 1.235 million lbs. In other words, this is one big plane.

According to Airbus’s most recent order and delivery data, the company has orders for 318 planes, with 148 already delivered to 13 operators so far—though these numbers might be off slightly because of the recent Etihad delivery. The A380 operates on 86 routes to 41 destinations at last count, and you can find a fun interactive Airbus map here.

Use Airbus's interactive map to find out where the A380 is flying (well, at least 2 months ago).
Use Airbus’s interactive map to find out where the A380 is flying (well, as of 2 months ago).

While no US carriers fly the jet, 13 major international airlines do, and chances are if you’ve gone to Europe or Asia lately, you’ve had a chance to hop aboard one of these beauties. If you haven’t yet, here are the airlines that operate them and how you can use miles to fly each.

Air France: Air France’s first commercial A380 flight was on November 23, 2009 between Paris (CDG) and New York (JFK). It seats a total of 538 passengers: 9 in first class, 80 in business, 38 in premium economy, and 389 in economy. The airline currently flies it from Paris to:

  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • Washington, DC
  • Johannesburg
  • Shanghai
  • Hong Kong
  • Abidjan

If you want to fly it from Los Angeles to Paris, for instance, you have a few different options. Delta SkyMiles members can book a round-trip award for 60,000 miles in economy or 125,000 miles in business class, but Delta does not allow one-ways (yet) or first class redemptions. Delta is also a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, so you could transfer in points from there.

Air France is the largest member of the Flying Blue program.
Air France flies its A380’s to the US, Africa and Asia.

Flying Blue—the mileage program of Air France/KLM—is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Citi ThankYou Rewards. Flying Blue awards would cost 50,000 miles round-trip in economy, 125,000 in business class, or 300,000 in first (if you’re a Flying Blue elite). Flying Blue also offers one-way awards, and periodically changing Promo Awards of 25-50% off from various cities around the world. Current cities include New York and Toronto (50% off premium economy, so 50,000 miles round-trip).

In terms of other partners, Korean Air is another SkyTeam member, and is normally a 1:1 transfer member of Ultimate Rewards if you have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus, though the award booking process is a beast. You could also use 65,000 or 125,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles for round-trip economy or business awards, respectively.

You can search for award space on Air France’s website or on Delta.com.

The Asiana A380 planes will start flying to Los Angeles on July 30, 2014.
The Asiana A380 started flying to Los Angeles on July 30, 2014.

Asiana: Asiana is a Star Alliance carrier, and began flying its first A380 from Seoul Incheon to Los Angeles in August. The airline has a total of 5 planes on order. Its A380 has 12 first class suites, 66 business class seats, and 417 economy seats.

You can use United miles to fly its Star Alliance partner, Asiana.
You can use United miles to fly on Star Alliance partner Asiana.

Your best bet for award tickets (with generally good availability) is to use United miles since United is also a 1:1 Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. Thanks to United’s recent award chart devaluation, however, you’ll need more miles than before. A round-trip ticket from LAX-ICN will now cost you 70,000 miles in economy, 150,000 miles in business, and a whopping 240,000 miles in first class. United and Aeroplan pull in pretty good award searches, but you can also use ANA’s site for complete Star Alliance partner availability.

British Airways: BA has taken delivery of 8 out of an order of 12 A380’s. It has 14 first class seats, 97 business class seats, 55 premium economy seats, and 303 economy seats.

British Airways will begin A380 flights to Los Angeles on October 15, 2013 with roundtrip fares starting at $830.
BA launched its A380 service with flights to Los Angeles.

The airline flies its A380’s twice daily from London to Los Angeles (LAX), daily to Hong Kong, 5 times weekly to Washington DC (Dulles), 6 times weekly to Johannesburg, and 3 times weekly to Singapore, with plans to launch service to San Francisco and Miami in 2015.

If you want to fly from Los Angeles to London, you have a variety of choices. British Airways is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards (with a current 40% transfer bonus through January 31, 2015), Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (with a 5,000-point bonus for transfers of 20,000 points). You need 25,000/37,500/50,000/75,000 Avios for economy/premium economy/business/first class awards each way, respectively. Just remember that BA levies huge fuel surcharges on awards.

If you want to use American or US Airways miles instead, you need 40,000 AA miles for Off-Peak SAAver economy awards from October 15 to May 15, 60,000 miles for economy, 100,000 miles for business class, and 125,000 miles for first class round-trip (you can book one-ways with American).

Alaska will charge you 65,000/85,000/120,000/140,000 miles round-trip in economy/premium economy/business/first class, respectively.

The best place for BA award searches is British Airways’ own site, though American’s site should pull in the same availability.

You can use Delta SkyMiles to fly the China Southern A380.
You can use Delta SkyMiles to fly the China Southern A380.

China Southern: This is another SkyTeam carrier, which began using the A380 between its hub in Guangzhou and Los Angeles in October of 2012. The airline has had all 5 of its A380’s delivered. The aircraft has 8 first class suites, 70 business class suites and 428 economy seats, and is currently flown to Los Angeles and Beijing from Guangzhou.

You could use 70,000 Delta miles for economy or 140,000 for business class round-trip. Alternatively, you could use 80,000 Flying Blue miles for economy or 200,000 for business class round-trip. If you want to transfer Ultimate Rewards points and use Korean Air miles instead, you would need 80,000/120,000/160,000 round-trip in economy/business/first class, respectively.

You can use ExpertFlyer to find award space on China Southern.

Twice the
Want to fly Emirates’ famous Suites? You’ll do it aboard an A380.

Emirates: As Airbus’s biggest A380 customer, this Dubai-based carrier has 55 out of an order of 140 A380’s in service. The A380 flies over 30 different routes around the world, including Dubai to Los Angeles, New York, London and Sydney. Emirates’ A380’s have 14 first class suites, 75 business class seats and 399 economy seats.

As an example, let’s say you wanted to book an award on Emirates from New York (JFK) to Dubai. Using Emirates’ own miles (the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex), you would need 72,500 miles in economy, 145,000 miles in business class, and 217,500 miles in first class round-trip.

Emirates is also an airline partner of Alaska, which will charge you 42,500 miles each way in economy, 72,500 in business class and 90,000 miles in first class, and you can search and book awards directly from Alaska’s site.

Alaska's award chart for Emirates redemptions.
Alaska’s award chart for Emirates redemptions.

Another alternative is to use Virgin America Elevate points. Virgin will charge you 45,000 points round-trip in economy with over $700 in taxes and fees, and 95,000 miles in business class with over $1,400 in taxes and fees, so it’s not a great option.

Korean Air is also an Emirates partner with decent award options of 70,000/140,000/210,000 miles round-trip in economy/business/first between North America and the Middle East. So that could be a good way to use your Ultimate Rewards points.

No need to see other passengers, even in the "Apartments" a step down from the "Residence."
Etihad’s A380’s have its new Residences and Apartments in first class.

Etihad: As the latest A380 customer, Etihad should start operating its first superjumbo on the daily Abu Dhabi-London route December 27, with a second A380 operating this route by the end of the first quarter of 2015 and plans to use three more on routes to New York (JFK) and Sydney. Five of its order of 10 A380’s should be delivered and operating by the end of 2015.

Etihad made waves in the airline industry with the unveiling of its new “Residence Class Suite” on the A380. It’s actually a three-room, 125-square-foot suite on the A380 that has a living room with a 32-inch flatscreen, a separate bedroom with its own 27-inch flatscreen, and an ensuite shower. It’s designed for up to two guests. Passengers are served by Savoy-trained butlers and enjoy meals prepared personally by an in-flight chef. Apart from the Residence, the A380 has 8 first class “Apartments,” 70 business class seats, and 415 economy seats.

Citi ThankYou Rewards recently added Etihad Guest Programme as a 1:1 transfer partner, so if you’ve been racking up those points, you could try using them to book an award. An economy ticket on the Abu Dhabi-London route would run you about 31,115 miles each way, business class would be 44,000-55,000 miles, first class would be 657,000 miles and the ultra-luxe first Residence would be about 2.33 million miles.

You'll just need 2.3 million miles to book one of these...each way!
You’ll just need 2.3 million miles to book one of these…each way!

Etihad is also partners with American Airlines, and would require 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 miles each way in economy/business/first (but no first Residence redemptions).

To search award space, go to Etihad’s own award search page and look for “Guest” awards, since those are at the saver level and should be bookable by American Airlines agents.

Look for "Guest" saver space to search for awards using partner miles.
Look for “Guest” saver space to search for awards using partner miles.

Korean Air: Korean Air is based in Seoul and is a member of SkyTea,m as well as a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards (though that transferability is temporarily offline). Korean has 10 A380’s in service, including from Seoul Incheon to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Sao Paulo.

You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to Korean Air to book awards aboard the A380.
You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to Korean Air to book awards aboard the A380.

The airline’s A380’s are among the most spacious in the industry for passengers, with just 407 seats: 12 in first class, 94 in business class, and 301 in economy. Both Air France and Delta are somewhat decent at displaying award space.

You can redeem Korean miles at a rate of 35,000/62,500/80,000 miles each way in economy/business/first from Seoul to LA. Booking awards using Korean Air miles is a process, but you can find out more about it in this post. Delta will charge you 70,000 miles round-trip for economy or 140,000 round-trip for business class (no first class); and Alaska will charge you 70,000 miles round-trip in economy and 105,000 miles round-trip in business class.

The business class cabin aboard Korean Air's A380.
The business class cabin aboard Korean Air’s A380.

Lufthansa: Germany’s national carrier has 12 out of 14 of its A380’s in hand and operating. You can find it on routes from Frankfurt to Beijing, Singapore, Shanghai, New York, Houston, Miami, San Francisco, Delhi and Johannesburg.

Lufthansa has two versions of this aircraft. One has 8 first class seats, 98 business class seats, and 420 economy seats. The other has 8 first class seats, 92 business class seats, a premium economy cabin with 52 seats, and an economy class with 336 seats.

The airline’s own Miles & More program requires 70,000/105,000/170,000 miles round-trip for economy/business/first awards from North America to Europe, though for US members residing in the USA and starting their trip in the US, economy redemptions are only 50,000 miles round-trip.

Alternatively, you could use United miles (a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner) at a rate of 30,000/70,000/110,000 miles each way in economy/business/first.

If you book with Lufthansa, you will have to pay $465 in fees.
Lufthansa flies the A380 to numerous North American cities.

Malaysia Airlines: This Oneworld carrier is based in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. It doesn’t currently fly to the US, but you can catch one of its six A380’s on routes to Paris CDG, London Heathrow, or Hong Kong. These aircraft have 8 first class seats, 66 business class seats, and a whopping 420 economy seats.

Your best bet for searching Malaysia award space is actually on the British Airways website. BA will charge you 35,000 miles each way in economy, 70,000 in business class, or 105,000 in first class.

American will charge you 35,000/52,500/70,000 miles each way in economy/business/first. US Airways will charge you 70,000/90,000/110,000 miles round-trip for the same cabins, so if you’re flying round-trip, better to use US Airways miles.

Qantas to launch A380 route Sydney-Dallas/Fort Worth
Qantas’ A380 route from Sydney-Dallas is the current longest commercial route in the world.

Qantas: One of the A380’s first and biggest customers, this Australian carrier currently operates 12 out of an order of 20 of them. Qantas uses it on its routes from Melbourne to London via Dubai, and Los Angeles; and from Sydney to London via Dubai, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and on what is currently the longest passenger route in the world, from Sydney to Dallas.

If you wanted to try that one out, your best bet would be using either US Airways or American Airlines miles. American will charge you 37,500/62,500/72,500 miles each way in economy/business/first. US Airways only allows round-trip awards now, and will charge you 80,000/110,000/140,000 miles. That business class redemption is practically a steal!

Business or first class award space can be challenging to find, but recently there were several days in May-August where either was available; just plan to look far in advance.

For example, using AA.com I found this first class award on August 9, 2015 from Los Angeles to Sydney on the A380.

AA Qantas First
Los Angeles to Sydney in August, 2015

Alaska Airlines is another partner, and will charge you 42,500 miles each way in economy from North America to Australia, 47,500 miles in premium economy, 55,000 miles in business class, and 70,000 in first.

Qatar's A380 first class is only 40,000 miles one-way from London-Doha.
Qatar’s A380 first class is only 40,000 miles one-way from London-Doha.

Qatar Airways: This Oneworld carrier based out of Doha currently has 4 out of an order of 10 A380’s in hand. Its planes have 8 suites in first class, 48 business class seats, and 461 economy seats.

The airline currently operates two daily flights to/from Doha-London with the A380, and another flight to Bangkok as its second destination, as well as future routes planned to Paris and other cities.

You can search for award availability on the British Airways or Qantas websites, though space is usually tight. However, here’s how much it will cost you in miles to fly that flagship London-Doha route:

  • American: 20,000/30,000/40,000 miles in economy/business/first each way
  • US Airways: 40,000/60,000/80,000 miles in those cabins round-trip
  • British Airways: 20,000/40,000/60,000 miles each way
Singapore's Suites are aboard its A380's.
Singapore’s famous First Class Suites are aboard its A380’s.

Singapore Airlines: Singapore was the first airline to take delivery of the new superjumbo back in October of 2007. It currently operates 19 A380’s on the following routes (though as with all things air travel, this is subject to change):

  • Frankfurt to New York (JFK)
  • Singapore to Auckland (starting later this month)
  • Singapore to Beijing
  • Singapore to Frankfurt
  • Singapore to Hong Kong
  • Singapore to London
  • Singapore to Melbourne (starting in 2015)
  • Singapore to Mumbai
  • Singapore to New Delhi
  • Singapore to Paris
  • Singapore to Shanghai
  • Singapore to Sydney
  • Singapore to Tokyo Narita
  • Singapore to Zurich
  • Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles

Its planes have 12 first class suites, 86 business class seats, and 311 economy seats.

Most of the airline’s A380 flights are to/from the airline’s hub in Singapore; however, you can also fly it from New York to Frankfurt, and Los Angeles just to Tokyo Narita. Singapore only operates a few non-long-haul routes with this behemoth, including Singapore to Hong Kong, so your best bet is to book an award on one of its longer routes, especially if you plan to travel through Asia via Singapore. There are still some very decent mileage finds here, including using Krisflyer miles as well as partner miles.

However, Krisflyer miles are preferable if you want premium award space, since the airline releases more business class awards to its own members and restricts First Class Suite redemptions to Krisflyer miles.

LAX NRT
A sample First Class Suites booking from Los Angeles to Tokyo

If you wanted to redeem for Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita, Krisflyer would charge you 32,500/77,500/87,500 miles for economy/business/first each way. But if you booked it online through Singapore, you would actually only need 27,625/65,875/74,375 miles in economy/business/first thanks to the 15% online booking discount.

The best place to look for awards using Krisflyer miles is Singapore’s own website. However, if you’re looking to use partner miles like United, you should do a search through ANA’s website, which is the best at pulling Star Alliance partner availability.

Singapore is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, in addition to already being a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. So even if you have never flown Singapore or accrued a single Krisflyer mile, there are lots of ways to get miles into your account.

My seat - 1K. Didn't look like anything too special to me.
A seat in Thai Airways’ A380 first class.

Thai Airways: Thai’s hub is in Bangkok, and from here it flies its six A380’s to Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Osaka, Paris, and Tokyo. Its A380 has 12 first class seats, 60 business class seats, and 435 economy seats.

The best place to search Thai availability is either ANA or on United.com. United will charge you 55,000/85,000/115,000 miles in economy/business/first each way on that Bangkok-Frankfurt route.

Have you flown on the A380? Please share your experiences in the comments below!

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