Flying Lufthansa 747-8 First Class for 62,500 Amex Points and $455
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My whole life I’ve been a plane geek, with a particular attraction to the 747. Majestic and huge (with the original upper deck!), what better way is there to hop across oceans? The third generation 747-8 was announced in 2005 and they started to be delivered in 2012. Lufthansa has 14 747-8’s and when I got invited to DC for an incredible visit to the White House, I had my eyes set on flying it in first class since Dulles is one of the cities with 747-8i service. Lufthansa generally doesn’t release first-class award space to partners more than 14 days in advance, but luckily for me I was able to snag a seat about 48 hours prior to departure.
Washington Dulles to Frankfurt with a 5-hour layover (read: 5 hours of First Class Terminal relaxation) and then business class Frankfurt to Madrid — all for 62,500 American Express Membership Rewards points transferred to Aeroplan (instantly) and $455.80 in taxes and fees for the one-way flight. While Aeroplan has higher fuel surcharges, United charges a whopping 110,000 miles for the same flight, so I’d rather pay a couple hundred more in fees and spend nearly half the amount of miles.
Considering the retail cost of my flight when I booked my award was $12,037.80, I didn’t feel so bad shelling out less than $500 cash (including Aeroplan’s $90 change fee). For comparison, United has a $100 change fee for alterations made fewer than 21 days in advance, which is waived only for Platinum and 1K elites (other elite members pay a reduced fee for changes). On top of all of this, award tickets for Lufthansa first class aren’t terribly hard to come by if you’re flexible. It’s not available for every flight, but with some searching and luck in the days leading up to your flight, there’s a good chance you could snag a points ticket.
One of the best parts about Lufthansa is the wide geographic variety of its service in the US. In addition to the usual major services to Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, the airline also supports some airports with fewer transatlantic flights, like Boston, Charlotte, Denver, Detroit, Miami and Tampa. While there are a ton of different departure options, not all of them are going to be flying this particular product, complete with a first-class cabin. Some notable flights that don’t have first class include flights from Atlanta (ATL), Dallas (DFW), Denver (DEN) and Vancouver (YVR), though if you want to fly Lufthansa first class from these cities you can add on a United domestic segment and connect.
Dulles is one of my least favorite airports for a variety of reasons. It’s just really dated — from spread out terminals to the airport’s love of using people movers (aka buses) to cart people around. In my (albeit limited) experience, security and immigration is always a hassle, and the lounges are lackluster at best.
When I arrived to the Lufthansa check-in there were long lines, even in the Business/Senator check-in, but luckily I was flying first class, which has its own exclusive area on the other side of the check-in desks and there wasn’t a single person in line. The service was great, and it was equally helpful not to be lumped in with elite member check-in (there are MANY Star Alliance elites in the DC area) so I could get my boarding pass and check my bags ASAP.
Then came security … which lived up to all of my expectations of Dulles. In spite of having priority security (I wasn’t selected for TSA Pre-Check), it was rush hour and the agents manning the premium security line merged it in with the general line, making it even longer than the regular line since less agents staffed it. Overall it wasn’t too bad — about 20 minutes from start to finish.
The Senator Lounge
Lufthansa offers two lounges at Dulles — a Senator lounge for elites and first-class passengers and then a regular Business Lounge. The Senator lounge itself was okay, but nothing special. First-class passengers have a dedicated section cordoned off from the other travelers, but no other real perks or special champagne.
The lounge had only a basic bar, but the food was pretty good. In typical Lufthansa fashion, there were gummy bears, as well as pork, chicken, french fries and more — a much better offering than you’ll generally find at domestic-carrier lounges. Nonetheless, I still prefer the American Flagship First Lounge at JFK.
Rather than tucking into a full meal, I decided to just have a little pretzel and some Sapporo as a snack; I wanted to be ready to eat on my flight!
After finishing up in the lounge, I went over to the gate to appreciate the beauty of the 747. It’s such a gorgeous aircraft, and I was in complete awe just taking pictures of it. I also had the opportunity to meet some TPG readers while waiting, and it was great meeting them. (If you ever see me in the airport, feel free to say hi! I love meeting readers.)
On the ground, Lufthansa serves Gosset Champagne, but once up in the air there were some much better offerings, like Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque.
The cabin itself is really nicely done, with soothing colors and huge seats. The first-class cabin on this flight has eight seats — three singles on each side and a pair in the middle. I originally had seat 2A, but 1A and 1K (the front two seats shown in the picture) were both empty, so I moved there and was lucky enough to have my bed in one seat and my stuff in the other. The seats also have a generous width of 31.5 inches and a pitch of 85 inches. Additionally, these are standard open suites, and include a television and AC power.
The flight attendant warned me that the blanket cabinet was located between the front seats and might be a nuisance to me, but it didn’t end up bothering me at all. The cabin is also located in the nose of the plane, which is awesome — because the front is always the first to arrive!
Before we took off I explored the upstairs section of the plane where part of the business-class layout was located. If I were flying in business, I might consider sitting up there for the novelty, but since that area has limited storage, I’d probably prefer the lower level.
Lufthansa’s new business class looked decent, but it still lacks aisle access from all seats, so in order to get up, you’ll have to climb over your seat-mate. Lufthansa does a fantastic job in first class, but business class could use some work.
The Amenities, Food and Service
My first-class seat included an amenity and pajama kit, but it’s pretty basic. They do include some La Prairie products in the amenity kit, but it’s otherwise a plain canvas bag with fewer contents then I’d prefer to have.
What I did enjoy was the nice bathroom nearest my seat, which included a window — a fun perk at 35,000 feet.
Take-off was a long rumble and smooth lift over Virginia and shortly after I was supplied with a glass of Champagne and a sweet-and-savory amuse bouche of watermelon and tomato to start my meal.
Following this was the caviar service. First they take caviar from a big tin to serve you, and then they pour you a tipple from a bottle of Grey Goose vodka. It was phenomenal and absolutely delicious — especially with the vodka, though I prefer Double Cross– an amazing Slovakian vodka.
Next up was the shrimp appetizer. The shrimp itself was nothing particularly special, but the pretzel it came with? Delicious.
My main course was steak, which I had asked my flight attendant to not over-cook (because who wants rubbery beef?). The attendant complied, and the steak, which was served with a flaky puff pastry and a mushroom sauce, was really good — not the best airline meal I’ve had, but certainly very tasty.
In addition to what I chose to drink, there was also a nice selection of red and white wines:
2007 Château Belgrave, Haut-Médoc 5ème Grand Cru Classé, France – $29/bottle
2009 Farnito, Cabernet Sauvignon Toscana Rosso IGT, Carpiento, Italy – $23/bottle
2009 LFE 900 Single Vineyard Cuvée Louis Felipe Edwards, Chile – $31/bottle
2009 Sonoma Valley Cabernet-Sauvignon, Dry Creek Vineyard, USA – $13/bottle
2012 Geisenheimer Rothenberg Riesling Erstes Gewäches, Wegeler, Germany – $48/bottle
2013 Cervaro della Sala, Castello della Sala, Italy – $43/bottle
2014 Lamberts Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Sir Lambert, South Africa – $28/bottle
2013 Casablanca Valley Chardonnay, Wild Ferment, Vina Errazuriz, Chile – $16/bottle
The flight attendants then made up my bed for me — and just in time, as I was more than ready to sleep. Fortunately, the bed was so comfortable that I slept like a baby. There’s an automatic partition that goes up for extra privacy, which was also helpful; it would be especially welcome on a more crowded flight than this one.
I decided against eating breakfast on the plane (I was facing five hours in Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal at FRA), but I did take time for a coffee.
Overall, the crew was super nice. Often I find that with Asian carriers, the attendants dote on you, whereas American carriers seem to ignore you. Lufthansa’s crew has found a nice medium where there’s room for pleasant conversation, but they’re not overly invasive. The senior flight attendants are also great — the purser even went so far as to radio Frankfurt to ask a question on my behalf about getting to the first-class terminal. It turns out you can’t actually get there from my flight, but the attendants on the ground were able to help me get to my destination.
While you generally can’t book Lufthansa first class using partner miles more than two weeks out, there is often excellent availability for last-minute flights. For example, this week there are one or two seats from the following major gateways:
– Boston (BOS)
– Chicago (ORD)
– Los Angeles (LAX)
– New York (JFK)
– San Francisco (SFO)
– Seattle (SEA)
– Washington, D.C. (IAD)
Overall, the flight experience was stellar. For 62,500 points one-way this was great redemption, and possibly my favorite way to get to Europe — even with the roughly $450 in fees. I used to think that Singapore’s JFK-Frankfurt was the best way to get to Europe, but now I think this flight is in my favorite.
Stay tuned for my review of the Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt (FRA)!
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