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TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen recently redeemed a combination of United miles and Ultimate Rewards points for one of the most exclusive experiences in the skies, Lufthansa first class. Here’s his review of the experience aboard the airline’s flagship A380.
I spent the months of June and July traveling around the world, and my final stop was Amsterdam. From there, I was just looking for a way to get back to Los Angeles. Given my points and miles situation, I had my heart set on flying Lufthansa first class, which I think is one of the best ways to fly from Europe to the US.
Booking Lufthansa First Class
I wish I had some Aeroplan miles (or Amex points to transfer to Aeroplan) so that it would have cost just 62,500 miles and about $455 in taxes and fees to fly Lufthansa first class from Europe to North America. However, since I’ve lately been concentrating my points earning with Chase Ultimate Rewards (using my Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus cards) my best bet was to transfer some Ultimate Rewards points into my United MileagePlus account and book a Lufthansa award using those miles.
While the price of a first-class award to/from Europe on a partner is now very steep at 110,000 miles each way, I’d racked up a lot of United miles in the past year, so I only had to transfer about 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points into my account to hit 110,000. Though Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United instantly, I transferred mine ahead of time so that the points would be there when I found the award I wanted.
Having previously booked a few Lufthansa awards, I felt confident that a ticket from either Frankfurt or Munich to the west coast (ideally Los Angeles or San Francisco, but I would have considered Seattle or Houston, as well) would open up; my big concern was finding a United flight within the US if I couldn’t fly directly to Los Angeles.
About two weeks before I was hoping to depart back to the US, I checked United.com every day on various routes to see if there was any award availability on Lufthansa. Finally, about 8 days before I was planning to leave, a seat opened up on the Frankfurt-San Francisco flight, aboard an A380. I couldn’t piece together the itinerary I wanted online, so I called United and tagged on flights from Amsterdam-Frankfurt on August 2; the San Francisco flight on the August 3; and a final flight from San Francisco-Los Angeles, also on August 3. I could get away with an overnight layover in Frankfurt and one final segment in the US thanks to United’s award routing rules.
That last one was tricky, though, because there was a seat on a flight that showed up when I looked at SFO-LAX alone, but not for FRA-LAX routings — probably because the layover was less than two hours. However, the helpful agent I got on the phone managed to find the flight and slotted it into the itinerary.
The grand total came to 110,000 miles, $115 in taxes and a $75 close-in booking fee for making the reservation within 21 days of travel. Not bad for a ticket that would have cost more than $10,000 if I’d been paying cash.
I was technically all set, but I figured that I might as well keep checking award availability to see if a seat opened up on one of the two daily FRA-LAX flights. Although ExpertFlyer no longer searches Lufthansa award availability, you can use it to see seat availability on specific flights, and I saw there were plenty of open seats on both FRA-LAX flights August 3, so I just bided my time.
Sure enough, the Friday before I was supposed to fly (July 31), I found an open award seat on the FRA-LAX flight aboard the A380, and rebooked that segment of my itinerary online. It cost me another $75 to change it, but I actually got $5.60 back because I was cutting out the SFO-LAX segment. I figured it was worth it to save about four hours of time with a layover in San Francisco and the flight to Los Angeles from there.
So yes, I spent a fair outlay of miles and cash on the flight, but given how dynamic my plans had been and the ability to book at the last minute, I was only too happy to shell out for the flight I wanted.
If you’d like to book an award ticket in Lufthansa first class yourself, I’d suggest reading the following posts for some great tips and strategies:
- Tips for Booking Lufthansa First Class Awards
- Flying First Class With Chase Ultimate Rewards
- How to Book Awards With United MileagePlus Miles
Airport and Lounge
TPG recently wrote a comprehensive overview of the First Class Terminal (and spent a lot more time there than I did!), so you can check out all the details in his review here.
As for my own experience, I was greeted outside the terminal’s front door by a desk agent who asked me if I was flying first class that day; she seemed a bit skeptical, possibly because I rolled up in an old Citroën that was being driven as an Uber vehicle. However, when I answered in the affirmative and showed her my boarding pass, she was all obsequious smiles. She had a porter grab my suitcase and escorted me through security herself, taking my boarding pass from me so that she could clear it with the on-site customs and immigration officer and give it back to me when my flight was ready to board.
I didn’t have too long in the lounge, so I headed straight for the little restaurant area and raided the buffet for some eggs, bacon, fresh fruit and a pain au chocolat. My table had an ice bucket with bottles of still and sparkling water, and within moments, a nice young lady had taken my order for a cappuccino with two shots of espresso.
After scarfing down the food, I had a few moments in the corner of the lounge among the recliners facing the windows to plug in my computer and do a little work, then one of the other agents in the lounge came by to tell me my chauffeur was ready to drive me to the plane.
I shared a Mercedes sedan with one other first-class passenger, and we only drove past one 747-8 and an A380 before we came to our plane. We went up in a private elevator to the gangway leading to the top deck and I stopped to take some pictures while the other passenger boarded. When I reached the door, I was greeted by name and shown to my seat.
Lufthansa A380 First-Class Cabin
The first-class cabin aboard Lufthansa’s A380s is in the front of the upper deck. As I mentioned, at Frankfurt Airport, you board directly onto the upper deck of the jumbo and head left. I had seat assignment 1K, which I had chosen specifically. Though it’s on the way to the lavatory, it’s farther away from the galley where there tends to be more noise and activity during the flight.
First class has just eight seats total in a 1-2-1 configuration. The side seats are off by themselves, while the two middle seats in each row are right next to one another. However, they can also be made more private thanks to a sliding partition that you can put up during the flight.
At the back of the cabin, the galley is separated from the seats by heavy curtains, while at the front of the cabin, more curtains hide the staircase and two lavatories. The flight attendants also use the little space between the front of the middle two seats and the cabin wall as a sort of wet bar to hold wine and small plates during meal service.
The first-class seats on Lufthansa’s A380 are the same as those aboard the 747-8i, the A330 and the A340 now that those have been refitted with the latest version. The only aircraft in the long-haul fleet that has a different first class now is the 747-400, which Lufthansa is currently flying to Seattle and Denver (though the Denver plane does not seem to have a first class, only business).
However, the seats aboard the A380 do have a little extra room. Instead of 85 inches of pitch, they’ve got 90. They are also 31.5 inches wide, which is the same as the 747-8i, but wider than those on the other aircraft, which are only about 21-22 inches wide.
While upright, the seats look like large, black armchairs with a leather ottoman/storage bin at the foot, underneath the IFE screen. To the side of the screen was a little vase holding a single rose. It was a cute, classy touch.
Unlike some comparable first-class offerings on competitors like Singapore and Emirates, Lufthansa’s first-class seats are just that: seats. That is to say, they’re not suites, and they’re not enclosed in any meaningful way.
I actually don’t mind that since it does make the whole cabin seem lighter and roomier, as does the fact that there are no overhead bins. That said, there is a privacy partition you can put up that separates the head of your seat from the aisle for more privacy.
Each passenger gets his or her own mini-closet. Mine was directly in front of my seat and easily fit my carry-on bag. It also had hangers and little shelves for hanging my cardigan and eventually the rest of my clothes when I changed into the pajamas I was given.
The seat itself also has two little storage compartments along the window side (or in the middle for those middle seats) for things like your phone and glasses case, and there’s a round bottle holder for storing a bottle of water.
One of the compartments here also held the handheld remote for the IFE system, while the one embedded in the other armrest (the one on the aisle) had buttons for adjusting the seat.
Beneath one of the armrests, there were several power options — including two universal adapters and USB and HDMI ports — so I plugged in my laptop and phone to keep them powered up during the flight.
Though the A380 is a pretty quiet plane, the cabin also apparently has noise-neutralizing floor insulation. When turned down into a bed, which the flight attendants will do for you, the seat is covered with a Paradies mattress pad and dressed with Fleuresse cotton sheets and a throw.
It extends to a full length of six feet, nine inches, more than enough room for me, and just long enough so that even TPG could stretch out for a snooze.
Amenities and In-flight Entertainment
I was greeted by name as Herr Rosen at the door to the plane and shown to my seat by one of the flight attendants, who asked if this was my first time in Lufthansa first class. I said no, and she asked if she could show me any of the seat features, but I declined. Instead I asked where I could put my bag and she showed me my personal closet.
Then she asked if I would like any Champagne or water before the flight, and I said yes to both. The Champagne they pour on the ground is Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, which I enjoyed with a little bowl of macadamia nuts.
She also brought me some pajamas, which included a nice cotton top and separate drawstring bottoms made out of light cotton — not unlike doctor’s scrubs.
I also got a small Braun Buffel amenity kit including the usual toothbrush, toothpaste, eye mask and ear plugs, as well as a shoe horn and brush. I was happy to see a shiny little box with small tubes of eye cream, hand cream and lip balm by La Prairie, a brand that I love.
There are two lavatories at the front of the cabin on either side of the staircase (which is blocked off with a bar for the flight). They are huge and have a large sink area and a bench to sit on as well as a toilet and separate urinal behind a swinging panel for the gents to use if they prefer. Like the amenity kits, the products in here are La Prairie including a nice hand cream, though the facial mister is Evian.
My seat had Bose noise-canceling headphones waiting for me, and the IFE screen was about 17 inches and featured the usual roster of new releases, classics, TV shows, music, games and flight map and details.
In the past, I’ve really enjoyed Lufthansa’s wine program and food, so though I know it sounds crazy to get excited about eating on a plane, I was actually looking forward to meal service being a highlight of my flight.
Unfortunately, this time around, my experience wasn’t quite up to par. When I looked at the wine list, they were serving the Grand Siècle and 2004 Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame, but I was most excited to see they were pouring a 2005 Comtes de Champagne Rosé Brut from Taittinger. This is the house’s flagship label and I’d never tried a rosé from it before, so I was really curious and asked the flight attendant about it. She said that as soon as we were up in the air, she’d open a bottle for me.
And true to her word, as soon as the flight attendants were up, she brought a bottle of Champagne with her. Only it was the Grande Dame, which she proceeded to open at the front of the cabin and pour … then bring to me.
I was a bit confused and asked her where the rosé was. She said they weren’t sure they had it on board so she had brought this instead. She said she’d check again to see if there was a bottle she hadn’t see, though. What confused me was why she had brought a totally different wine than I’d asked for and poured it without telling me either that they didn’t have the wine I had asked for, and that there was no rosé Champagne at all, like I wouldn’t notice. Turns out there was no Taittinger on the flight, so Grande Dame was it.
Was this a big deal? No. I mean, I still got to have a really lovely glass of Champagne. However, this would be comparable to my having ordered a Chardonnay and been brought a Merlot with no explanation — and that’s what bothered me. A few sips in, though, I was over it!
Among the white wine choices were:
- 2013 Hattenheimer Willesbrunnen “Grosse Lage” Riesling from Schloss Reinhartshausen in Germany
- 2012 Puligny-Montrachet AC by Albert Bichot in France
- 2013 Constantia Viognier “3rd Time Lucky” from Buitenverwachting in South Africa
I tried the Puligny-Montrachet since I like white Burgundies, and it was crisp but full-flavored and served as a nice accompaniment to the starters.
The reds included:
- 2007 Chateau Larmande St. Émilion Grand Cru Classé from Bordeaux
- 2008 Luce della Vite, a Sangiovese-Merlot blend from Tuscany
- 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir by Schug in Napa
I had the Pinot Noir with my main course (the chicken), which was a good choice for up in the air because it had lovely but not overpowering fruit aromas and very light tannins, so it didn’t dry out my mouth or taste too bitter, which more tannic reds can at altitude.
Meal service started with a little amuse bouche of smoked salmon with cream cheese, dill and shaved fennel in vinaigrette.
Among the choice of appetizers were:
- Caviar with the traditional garnishes – this course is usually served separately on its own cart with chilled vodka if you want
- Lobster with mango papaya salsa and coconut sauce
- Black Angus beef with mushroom salad
- White tomato mousse with arugula pesto
- Mixed leaf salad with red radish and cherry tomatoes accompanied by mustard and herb, or buttermilk dressing
- Lime curry soup with shiitake mushrooms
I opted for the caviar service …
… followed by a sampling of the first three appetizer small plates — no salad or soup for me.
They were all served chilled, and tasted pretty good but not memorable. I’d say my favorite was the beef with mushrooms, while the mousse was nice, light and tangy.
The mains included:
- Lamb chop served with sautéed spinach, spiced tomatoes and artichokes
- Fried char with smoked fish sauce, creamy savoy cabbage and herb mushrooms
- Corn-fed poularde with Bavarian cabbage and mashed Jerusalem artichoke
- Spinach-and-goat-curd dumplings with cherry tomato and parmesan
Here’s where things went a little wrong … again. I said I couldn’t decide between the fish and the chicken, but I was leaning toward the fish. So the flight attendant said she’d bring me the fish, but would also prepare a chicken in case I wanted to try it either instead of or in addition to the fish. Problem solved!
When she came back for the service of the main course, though, she brought the chicken. Her colleague had made that for me instead, and they could still prepare the fish, she said, but it wouldn’t be ready for another 15-20 minutes. I said it was fine not to prepare the fish, I would just have the chicken instead. It was good, and I really enjoyed the Jerusalem artichoke, so I didn’t really mind.
I skipped the cheese selection, which included choices like Gorgonzola, Bosina, Reblochon and Banon, and went right for dessert instead. The choices included:
- Wild strawberry tart with vanilla sauce
- Champagne elderberry soup with buttermilk mousse
I went for the strawberry tart, which was nice. Sweet and creamy, but light.
After that, I watched part of a movie and went to bed for several hours but woke up in time for the snack before landing. The theme of this meal was “Italian Cuisine,” so the choices began with antipasti like:
- Octopus carpaccio with marinated fennel
- Vitello tonnato with caper berries
- Caprese with buffalo mozzarella and plum tomatoes
- Anchovy filet with toasted pine nuts and raisins
- Green and black olives
- Pecorino cheese
I tried most of these except the olives and the anchovy, and they were all light and tasty.
The two larger options were:
- Arugula risotto with walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, eggplant and spring onions
- Filet of red mullet on saffron rice with herb oil
I’m not a huge fan of mullet, so I opted for the risotto — which was pretty salty, so I basically picked out the vegetables and ate them, leaving most of the actual risotto on the plate.
For dessert, there was a Sicilian cream and candied-fruit tart, which looked terrible — but was actually pretty delicious. I had a cappuccino, as well.
Overall, I’d say the menu was fine, but not as impressive on previous Lufthansa first-class flights — and I still wish I’d gotten to try that Taittinger rosé!
Despite a couple little service snafus, I would still rate this as a pretty great experience, and I think it was worth the miles and the money I spent. The one downside to booking Lufthansa first-class awards is that you have to be very flexible in general and okay with making last-minute plans and changes to your itinerary. But if you can live with a little uncertainty, you are likely to find some great awards on the routes you want within a certain range of dates.
Having flown first class on a few other airlines in recent years, I’d still rate Lufthansa’s as one of the world’s premier products. The staff is professional and efficient, the hard product aboard their planes is phenomenal and very comfortable, and the amenities and food are pretty decent. All in all, the 11 or so hours I was on board flew by … so to speak.
Be sure to see these previous reviews of Lufthansa first class on the following aircraft:
747-400 from Frankfurt to Miami The Points Guy Assessment: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.
747-400 from New York JFK-Frankfurt
A330 from Munich to New York JFK
747-8i from Frankfurt to Washington Dulles
The Points Guy Assessment:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.