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Tuesday Travel Top 10: How to Use Miles for the Best First Class Products

May 08, 2012
8 min read
Tuesday Travel Top 10: How to Use Miles for the Best First Class Products
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On Friday, CNN published a list of the best first class cabins in the sky with contenders from all over the world. Interestingly enough, no US airline made the list. But what good is a list of amazing first class cabins if you don’t know how you can fly in one of them without paying exorbitant fares? That’s why we’ve taken their list a step further and explain how everyday points collectors can redeem to fly in style.

A Singapore Airlines First Class Suite bed on the A380.

1. Singapore Airlines: Unfortunately, Singapore’s much-touted First Class Suites cannot be booked with Star Alliance partner miles (like United or US Airways), so you’ll have to accrue Singapore’s KrisFlyer miles … about 1 million of them for a roundtrip award ticket from the US to Singapore. American Express Membership Rewards is a 1:1 transfer partner with the airline, but there are rarely transfer bonuses and paying 7 figures in points is a steep price to pay considering you can get their non-suite first class product (which is still phenomenal) for a fraction of the price using your miles from United or US Airways.

SWISS's design-award-winning first class seats.

2. SWISS: Swiss flies non-stop from Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Montreal. For US-based flyers, one way to experience SWISS’s designer first-class seats is to use US Airways miles. The airline charges 125,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket from the US to Europe in first class. However, US Airways frequently runs mileage purchase promotions where they sell miles for around 2 cents a piece, making these first class flights only about $2,500 when using miles - not bad since these seats can retail for over $8,000!

Talk to your travel companion...or don't since your Emirates first class suite can become completely private.

3. Emirates: Though we’d all like to experience Emirates’ first class suites (and the shower!) on one of the airline’s long-haul routes from the US to Dubai, if you don’t have the miles to redeem for one of those, you can also hop aboard one of their “tag” flights—like from Sydney to Auckland or Hong Kong to Bangkok—where you can simply buy a first class fare for a relatively cheap amount in the $800-$1,000 range. Colombo in Sri Lanka to Male in the Maldives is another cheap route. Miles-wise, you will be able to use Alaska Airlines miles at some point later in 2012. Korean Air is also a partner of Emirates and a 1:1 transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards, the points program of the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cards. For the Australia to New Zealand flight, it would take 75,000 miles roundtrip, but for the Colombo-Male, it would take just 30,000 Korean Air miles roundtrip for a first class ticket.

Etihad's international Diamond First Class suite.

4. Etihad: The national airline of the UAE is actually a partner with American Airlines, so you can book a ticket in first class using your AAdvantage miles. Per American’s partner mileage redemption chart, You could snag a one-way seat from the US to Abu Dhabi for 90,000 AA miles, or think about taking an Etihad flight from Europe to Abu Dhabi for 40,000 miles each way in first class. AA is not a transfer partner of Chase or Amex, but you can transfer Starwood Preferred Guest points to American with a 25% bonus for every 20k points transferred (for a total of 25,000 points). So that 180,000-mile roundtrip first class ticket would only cost you 145,000 Starpoints.

What it lacks in pizzaz, the JAL first class seat makes up for with extras like tempurpedic mattresses and six lighting settings.

5. Japan Airlines: JAL is another American Airlines partner (in the Oneworld alliance), as is British Airways. A flight from North America to Japan in first class on JAL would require 125,000 AAdvantage miles roundtrip. There is also currently a 50% transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios, so a first class ticket from New York to Tokyo, which would normally cost 210,000 Avios roundtrip, would only require 140,000 Amex points. Not bad for a seat that goes for over $10,000.

Lufthansa's brand-new A380 first class seats.

6. Lufthansa: Lufthansa is a member of Star Alliance, so you can book first class award tickets on the airline for as low as 135,000 United miles roundtrip, though based on a preliminary search, saver award availability for first class is scarce through the summer on routes from the US to Germany. You can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Air Canada’s mileage program, Aeroplan, and book a seat for as low as 125,000 miles roundtrip. Another option would be to transfer Starwood Preferred Guest points to US Airways (another Star Alliance partner) and book a roundtrip first class ticket for 125,000 miles, which would only cost you 100,000 Starpoints thanks to the 5,000-mile bonus on every 20,000 miles you transfer.

Minimalist yet luxurious, Cathay Pacific's first class seats are a TPG favorite

7. Cathay Pacific: Cathay’s spacious first class seats and service have garnered rave reviews. If you want to take one for a test drive yourself, say from New York JFK to Hong Kong, it would require 220,000 Asia Miles. However, since Cathay is part of the Oneworld alliance, you can also use your American Airlines AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios points. A roundtrip ticket in first class using American miles would cost 135,000 miles, and using British Airways Avios would be 210,000 points—though again, there is a 50% transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios until May 31, 2012, so you would only need 140,000 Amex points for this redemption.

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You can use miles from United or US Airways (or even Chase Ultimate Rewards) to book your ANA first class suite.

8. All Nippon Airways: This Japanese airline has been turning a lot of heads lately, especially because it was the first to fly Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner. To try their streamlined first class product out for yourself on a route from Los Angeles to Tokyo would require 160,000 miles roundtrip. The airline charges high award fees, though, so beware getting hit with several hundred (or even thousand) dollars in charges. The airline is also a transfer partner of American Express, so you could use Membership Rewards points to book a ticket as well. However, since ANA is a member of Star Alliance, it might make more sense to book a ticket using 175,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip instead, or transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards to your United MileagePlus account for a Saver Award in first class, which would require just 135,000 miles.

Jet Airways has tons of airline partners whose miles you can redeem for a first class seat.

9. Jet Airways: This India-based airline has myriad airline partners including American, Delta, United and US Airways, so depending on where you have your miles stockpiled, you can use any of the US legacy airlines’ mileage programs to book your ticket. For instance, it would take 180,000 American miles, or 160,000 miles on United or US Airways for a roundtrip ticket from North America to India in first class. Just to note, Delta blocks first class award redemptions, so SkyMiles members are out of luck.

Use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book one of Korean Air's stylish first class seats.

10. Korean Air: The final Asia-based carrier on this list has been very busy lately accumulating a new fleet of planes as well as a host of awards and mentions for its premium services. Booking a ticket in one of their flagship first class Kosmo Suites costs 140,000 miles roundtrip off-peak, or 210,000 miles roundtrip for peak periods. Korean Air is a member of SkyTeam, but unfortunately, Delta blocks first class award redemptions, so if you want to use your miles to fly first class, you have to call Korean Air directly and try to book your ticket with them. They are also a 1:1 transfer partner with Chase, so you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards miles to a SkyPass account with the airline and redeem your miles that way. You could also book a ticket using Alitalia miles or Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles, which are both Amex transfer partners, but they charge hefty fees that might make you think twice about redeeming this way.
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Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.