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As part of a recent United round-trip award, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig managed to book three separate Lufthansa first-class flights. Here’s his review of the (incredibly consistent) experience.
If you fly any of the US-based airlines in a premium cabin, you may get to travel with a fantastic crew and an excellent seat, but you’re just as likely (if not more likely) to end up with a less-than-stellar experience, regardless of whether you’re traveling in business class or first. The great thing about frequent flyer programs from American, Delta and United, however, is that you can use miles to fly much better products on foreign airlines, which often offer excellent availability and reasonable redemption rates.
One exception to that rule is Lufthansa first class — a one-way flight from the US to Europe will run you 110,000 United miles, and you generally can’t book more than 15 days in advance of departure. But if you do manage to snag a coveted Lufthansa award, it’s certainly worth the miles and effort. In my opinion, Lufthansa offers the industry’s most consistent first-class product — whether you’re flying an A380 from San Francisco or a Boeing 747-8 from Bangalore, you’re going to have a fantastic flight. Based on four recent Lufthansa flights, I’d like to give you an idea of what that experience will be like.
Booking Lufthansa First Class
I typically search for Lufthansa award availability on United’s site. This process used to return some “phantom availability” — award seats that simply didn’t exist — but that issue seems to have been corrected. Searching for awards is incredibly simple — head to United.com, input your origin, destination and dates, then check the box “Search for award travel.” You should then see all of the flights available to Lufthansa’s partners (note that Miles & More members have better availability when booking with those miles). LH opens up first-class award space to partners at most 15 days before departure — there are some tricks to keep in mind, which I’ll detail in a future post.
Within 15 days, availability is usually quite good. In the example above, you can see six seats for sale and two available for award bookings. As we get closer to departure, Lufthansa will likely open up even more award seats. United charges 110,000 miles (plus a $5.60 security fee) each way between the US and Europe, with slightly higher co-pays on the return. Because United’s chart is zone-based, you’ll get an even better return for your miles when continuing to another region, such as Africa, Asia or the Middle East. United permits stopovers in Europe on round-trip awards — we stopped in France for a week on my return from the Philippines for no extra charge.
But enough about booking — let’s dig into the flights. (I’m presenting all four legs in alphabetical order, rather than chronologically.)
Airbus A330-300 (Munich to Newark)
We flew the A330 on the final segment of our three-week trip, bringing us from Munich to Newark. Lufthansa’s first-class cabin has a total of eight seats spread between two rows, so they’re arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration (as you’ll see, this is a theme with LH).
This flight happened to be at the tail end of a major economic conference in Munich, so the other six seats were filled with high-ranking government officials and a billionaire, and their aides (really). My girlfriend and I were definitely the only passengers traveling on an award ticket, but for the nine hours or so we spent on the plane, we received more or less the same treatment and experience as our new billionaire friend, so that was pretty neat.
Like the rest of the seat, each aircraft’s cabin has identical 17-inch displays. Considering some airlines now offer screens up to 32 inches, Lufthansa’s display is definitely on the small side. The content selection is also fairly limited when it comes to new releases, but I had no problem staying entertained on back-to-back long-haul flights.
Shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant set up a small bar at the front of the cabin, though it wasn’t really self-serve. Lufthansa serves a variety of upper-top-shelf liquor, including Johnnie Walker Blue Label (about $200 on the ground).
You’ll also receive a caviar spread, served alongside toasted bread and garnishes on a plate rather than the tin some airlines use — I much prefer ANA’s presentation, but the caviar service is still a nice treat.
After caviar, I was offered a selection of appetizers — I decided to try them all, since that went so well on my recent SAS 737 flight. At that point I was stuffed, though, so I decided to skip the entree.
Another unique attribute of Lufthansa’s first class is that the lavatories have windows on each aircraft. I’m not sure that’s anything more than a novelty, but it does make the bathroom experience feel a bit less cramped (just remember to lower the shade on the ground!).
I also stopped by the business-class cabin, which has recently been updated across Lufthansa’s fleet. All business-class passengers now receive a flat-bed seat on long-haul flights, just like the one above. I also helped myself to a business-class amenity kit.
Overall, this was a fantastic flight — it was an excellent way to round out my round-the-world first-class experience, which actually began three weeks before with…
Airbus A340-600 (New York-JFK to Frankfurt)
As we had originally booked the itinerary, we only had one segment with Lufthansa — Frankfurt to Los Angeles, which we didn’t end up taking at all. We intended to fly first class on Asiana’s A380 to get to Siem Reap, Cambodia, but a major storm was scheduled to hit NYC, so I called United to change our routing to Lufthansa instead. Our original flight ended up getting canceled (after we had already rebooked) — as much as I had wanted to try Asiana, it just wasn’t meant to be on this trip.
This very long journey to Cambodia began with a delicious dinner at Lufthansa’s First Class Wining and Dining facility at JFK. Boarding was delayed a bit due to the aircraft’s late arrival, but we eventually made it out — we were one of the very last flights to depart before the record-breaking blizzard.
Like the A330, first class on the A340 consists of eight seats spread between two rows. When we had booked the flight, the cabin was completely empty, but we ended up going out full after Lufthansa canceled all of the next day’s flights.
We started with Champagne, and a flight attendant came by to offer amenity kits and pajamas, along with slippers.
I was stuffed after Wining and Dining, so I ordered the dinner entree for breakfast. The crew clearly thought this was an unusual request — they asked me on three separate occasions if they had understood the request correctly — but it definitely beat the breakfast options, in my opinion. Oddly, it was served all at once with caviar (which I was to eat with my pretzel roll, apparently).
I asked a flight attendant to prepare my bed just after takeoff, which he did after assisting a couple of other passengers (who had previously requested turn-down service). Lufthansa’s seats also have a middle and aisle partition that you can raise just after departure.
While it wasn’t available on other flights, this particular aircraft offered free live TV (just four channels, including CNN). I spent the last two hours of our journey watching blizzard coverage — I’m still amazed that we made it out just in time!
Lufthansa’s economy cabin is fairly up to date as well, with headrests and seat-back entertainment. The A330 and A340 are a good choice for coach, since each aircraft offers pairs of seats on both sides of the plane, so seats are in a 2-4-2 configuration throughout.
The A340-600 also has what in my opinion is the coolest feature of any older aircraft — toward the rear of the economy cabin there’s a staircase that leads downstairs to a bank of lavatories. Because of their placement, the lavs also offer a bit more space to move around.
After landing in Frankfurt, we walked through immigration and went outside to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, where we bathed, ate, smoked cigars and enjoyed a pretty fantastic whiskey tasting. Then, we were driven to our 747-8 when it was time to depart for Seoul — but before we get to that…
Airbus A380 (Frankfurt to Los Angeles)
I actually have yet to fly Lufthansa’s A380, and while we did plan to on this trip, I changed the routing a bit and ended up on the A330 instead. Fortunately, TPG Contributor Eric Rosen recently flew on the A380 on the same route I had booked, Frankfurt to Los Angeles, and his experience on that flight was consistent with all three of mine — minus some confusion over the wine list.
Lufthansa operates its A380s out of Frankfurt, with regular flights to Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco, along with Delhi, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore. I would have loved to fly LH’s double-decker, but Thai’s A380 managed to fill that void on this trip.
Once again, Lufthansa offers eight seats in first class, spread between two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.
You get the same comfy turn-down service, in-seat rose holder (with rose!) and decent in-flight entertainment system. Lufthansa also offers Bose noise-canceling headphones in all first-class cabins. As you may have noticed above (and in the first pic in this post), LH also has “real” blinds on its A380 and 747-8.
All Lufthansa first-class seats have power outlets and USB ports for keeping gadgets charged. There’s also satellite Wi-Fi on most long-haul aircraft, and it works decently well, with affordable rates — I purchased a four-hour pass for €14 (about $15) on the flight to Seoul (below).
Eric received the same Champagne and macadamia nuts before departure — unlike US-based airlines, Lufthansa uses “real” glassware even while on the ground.
Eric’s caviar spread looked better than any I received, but only by a hair. He got the exact same accompaniments (I ordered mine without the minced onion).
While the main-course options can be a bit hit or miss, Lufthansa’s appetizers are usually very good, and the airline’s desserts can be exceptional, such as Eric’s strawberry tart with ice cream.
Boeing 747-8 (Frankfurt to Seoul)
Now, on to the grand finale. The latest addition to Lufthansa’s long-haul fleet, the Boeing 747-8, operates flights between Frankfurt and Chicago and New York, along with Bangalore, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. If you’re boarding from the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, Lufthansa will drive you directly to the plane.
Once again, there are eight seats in the first-class cabin, but the layout is a bit different on this plane. Rows 1 and 2 have two seats each (A and K), while row 3 has four seats. If you’re traveling with a companion, I’d recommend seats 1A and 1K, or 3D or 3G. Seats 2A and 2K are probably the most private, though the cabin is still fairly open.
As with the other flights, this leg began with a flight attendant offering Rimowa amenity kits, pajamas (in various sizes) and slippers.
The seat looks the same as what we found on Lufthansa’s other aircraft, with a large recliner that folds flat into a bed, and a small storage ottoman that can slide forward. Unfortunately there’s no seatbelt on the ottoman, so you can’t dine with a friend, as I’ve done on Cathay Pacific.
After dinner, I opted for turn-down service, which had the same pillow and comforter as my other two flights.
The two first-class lavatories were kept clean throughout the flight, which likely wasn’t much of a chore with only four passengers to look after.
The in-lav rose was a very nice touch.
The entire third row was open on this flight, so after napping for a few hours I decided to move back and get some work done without disturbing the passengers ahead.
For my snack, I had a croque-monsieur sandwich with crispy (or not-so-crispy) potatoes and asparagus. It tasted great, but it was a bit too soggy.
Then, shortly before landing the flight attendant passed through with a variety of appetizers. And some more roses.
Lufthansa’s first class isn’t out-of-control luxurious, but it’s consistently very good, and the ground services in Frankfurt, Munich and abroad really cannot be beat. 110,000 miles is a lot to redeem for a one-way flight to Europe, but even if you aren’t able to continue on to another region, this is an option worth considering to hop the pond. You can save some miles (when flying to Europe specifically) by redeeming from Air Canada’s Aeroplan program (for 70,000 miles plus ~$450 each way) or Avianca LifeMiles — the latter of which offers frequent buy miles promos, but very poor customer service, which can be an issue if you need to change or cancel an award flight.
Of course, you can also pay cash (for as little as $5,000 round-trip, though often twice that amount), but where’s the fun in that?
Have you flown Lufthansa first class?
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