Review: Air France (A380) La Première from New York to Paris
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TO THE POINT: La Première is one of the most exclusive first-class products out there because it’s nearly impossible to redeem points for an award flight. The experience is decent on the ground in NYC, but pales in comparison to other products in the air. The pros: friendly staff, a private room for La Première passengers at JFK’s Air France lounge and comfortable pajamas from Givenchy. The cons: an outdated seat that lacks privacy, a lackluster food and wine experience, no caviar and no Champagne service on the ground.
I’ve wanted to fly Air France’s La Première product for a long time now — although it’s nearly impossible to redeem miles and points to do so. In order to book an award flight in La Première, you need to be a Flying Blue Platinum member and then, even when you are, it’ll cost you 162,000 Flying Blue miles for a one-way flight.
With that in mind, I’d constantly been looking for a reason to fly it or score it at a somewhat reasonable price. I’d seen prices starting at more than $10,000 round-trip between New York and Paris, so when I knew I was going to Paris last month, I looked up flights and was surprised to see round-trip fares between the two cities for around $5,731.
Besides it being a below-average price for the ticket, it also meant that I would earn a ton of miles as a Delta Platinum member.
So, I decided to go for it. While it’s certainly not cheap, this is one of those products that has only been reviewed a couple of times, so I had to do it. And if you follow me on Snapchat, you’ve already experienced La Première right along with me. Here’s the full review.
As I’ve already mentioned, the round-trip ticket between New York (JFK) and Paris (CDG) cost me $5,731.
I booked the ticket using my Amex Premier Rewards Gold card, which earned me 3x Membership Rewards points on travel because I booked through the airline’s site. In total, the purchase earned me 17,193 Amex Membership Rewards points, which are worth around $327 based on my most recent valuations.
I decided to credit my miles to Delta, which earned me 50,508 SkyMiles — worth around $606 based on my most recent valuations. If I’d decided to credit them to Flying Blue, I would have earned less than half the number of miles I did.
When booking this ticket, I noticed there was an option to fly to Paris on either an A380 or Boeing 777. I chose the former because it was the earlier flight, which meant that I got to Paris early enough to seize the day. I knew going into it that La Première on the A380 was dated and not nearly as nice as it is on the 777, so I made sure to book that for my return trip to the US.
The A380 has nine lie-flat seats, and the 777 has four that offer more privacy and have curtains. If you have a choice, hands down and without a doubt go for the 777. Stay tuned for the full 777 review, coming soon to TPG.
Several days prior to the flight, I called Air France to see if I could get a chauffeur — a service that’s normally offered to La Première passengers — but because I’d booked through Delta and it was a discounted ticket, Air France didn’t include chauffeur service to the airport, which I thought would have been a nice touch.
Instead, I opted to catch a BLADE Bounce from Wall St. to JFK, which cut the unpredictable journey from Manhattan to JFK to just six minutes. I went from the heliport in downtown Manhattan to JFK — I documented the entire trip on Facebook Live, which you can watch below. The helicopter trip starts at $895 per person; sign up with BLADE and get a $100 discount on your first trip when you enter promo code THEPOINTSGUY in the BLADE app.
Today we BLADE bounce Wallstreet to JFK in 6 minutes. France trip begins!!
Posted by The Points Guy on Tuesday, July 12, 2016
When I got to the airport, I checked in at JFK’s Terminal 1. From that moment until I was in my seat, I had my own personal escort through the airport and in the lounge. Even though I didn’t have TSA PreCheck to go through security, since Air France isn’t a participant in the program, my Air France escort brought me to the front of the security line. Everyone in line was staring at me, but it probably saved me about 20 minutes, so I couldn’t really complain.
After security, I was escorted through Terminal 1 and straight to the lounge. The Air France representative was very friendly and explained to me the special benefits that were available to me in the lounge, like spa services.
At JFK, I had access to the Air France/KLM lounge, which reopened in 2014 following renovations, and now includes two levels of lounge space in an area of more than 9,500 square feet.
If you go upstairs and to the left, there’s a separate room just for La Première passengers. It’s not too big, but you can still get full dining service, which I did. Note that the soup in the separate La Première room was the same soup that they were serving downstairs.
I ordered the sautéed loin of sea bass with leek fondue and lemongrass, which was fine. The wine selection was also decent.
The upstairs room for La Première passengers is flush against floor-to-ceiling windows — even thought I was only in there for a short amount of time, I noticed it did get a little bit warm.
Knowing that there was a spa in the lounge, I had to check it out. I made an appointment at the Clarins wellness area, which anyone who has access to the lounge can do — not just La Première passengers. I think they might give slight preference to La Première passengers when making reservations though.
The spa only offers 15-minute treatments, so I decided to go for a facial. It was really nice and relaxing, especially right before my flight.
Air France actually gives La Première passengers the option of boarding first or waiting in the lounge so you’re the last to board, which most La Première passengers choose to do. Because the aircraft is an A380, it can take 45 minutes or so to board all the passengers, so staying in the lounge is probably the better of the two options.
However, knowing that I wanted to take pictures of the cabin and enjoy as much of my time in La Première as possible, I decided to be one of the first to board. My Air France escort accompanied me on the trip from the lounge to the gate.
I was really excited to finally be boarding the plane. I had a glass of wine in the lounge, so I asked for a glass of Champagne when I took my seat. The flight attendant told me that unfortunately, Air France doesn’t serve Champagne on the ground due to customs, which means that the carrier is too cheap to pay the duty for opening wine on the ground in the US. I thought this was ridiculous, considering all other major carriers do it for the most part.
And, on top of that, to be in La Première, I think it’s not very high end. That being said, once they closed the door after boarding was complete, the flight attendants did come around filling glasses twice with Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Champagne. To me, it was just weird that during boarding itself, passengers aren’t offered anything. I mean, come on, even the cheapest US carriers will give you something.
Food and Beverage
Much to my surprise, the food was actually not very good. For starters, there was one choice, which I chose: Maine lobster served over mango carpaccio with Espelette chili pepper, which was pretty decent.
For my main course, I opted for the tomato braised chicken with four bean medley and basil, which was so bland that I didn’t really eat it.
Because I didn’t like the first one, I chose a second main course to try: a Maryland crab cake with New England sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, buttered asparagus and baby carrots. The crab cake had a lot of filler in it and was very dry. I was disappointed with both of my dishes.
I was also pretty surprised that La Première didn’t offer caviar service, which would have been a nice touch.
For dessert, I opted for the lemon sorbet and vodka, which was different — and really strong.
The wine list was impressive and included Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2004 (~$150 per bottle), Chateau Suduiraut Premier Cru Class de Sauternes 1998 (~$29 per bottle), La Chablisienne Chablis Premier Cru Beuroy 2013 (~$22 per bottle), Côtes de Provence 946 de Chateau Gassier 2015 (~$43 per bottle), E. Guigal Hermitage 2008 (~$26 per bottle), Chateau Lascombes Margaux 2006 (~$70 per bottle) and 2011 Chateau Lascombes Grand Cru Classe Margaux (~$108 per bottle).
However, the other beverage list for beer wasn’t impressive at all. In fact, there was only one single type of beer offered — Heineken.
The service was excellent — from the Air France escort in the airport to that of the on-board attendants. Not only were they friendly, but the service was quick and efficient.
I also had turn-down service when it was time to sleep. The bed, overall, was pretty comfortable and I got a good amount of sleep — more on that later.
Although I wasn’t that impressed with the food and beverages, I have to say the amenity kit and pajamas — both from Givenchy — were really nice.
The facial moisturizer in the Givenchy amenity kit was black — when you put it on your face, it’s completely black and eventually rubs in clear — but very interesting. Although it caught me off guard by its color, it smelled and felt good.
The Givenchy pajamas were comfortable and I was able to get some sleep. That being said, the eastbound service between the east coast and Europe is so short — this flight was less than seven hours — so I really only got about four hours of sleep after meal service.
Because you are paying a premium amount of money to sit in La Première, you probably want to take advantage of everything. Because of this, I would highly recommend flying La Première on the westbound flight back to the US because it’s a longer ride and you get to experience the Air France lounge in Paris.
When you land in Paris (CDG) coming from the US, another Air France escort picks you up at the plane and takes you to a car. When I was picked up, I asked the escort if we could stop at the Air France First Class lounge first, but to my surprise, that wasn’t allowed. It turns out you can’t access the First Class lounge when you’re coming in from the US — only if you’re continuing to your final destination from Paris.
Instead of stopping at the First Class lounge like I’d hoped to, the escort took me through immigration. Again, here, like at the TSA line in New York, I was brought to the front of the line so I was through it in no time.
After getting through immigration, she brought me to another car waiting outside security, which then continued to the arrivals lounge, which was very basic — it’s basically like a dormitory with just a couple of snacks out and a row of showers. After briefly seeing it, I declined to go in because I’d rather shower at my hotel (Les Bains Paris — full review, coming soon!) than at a tiny arrivals lounge.
Overall, Air France La Première is a good product. That being said, I don’t think the one on the A380 lives up to the exclusivity of the price tag and miles redemption that comes with it. If you have the choice, I’d recommend going with the 777 instead of the A380 — it’s much more private and comfortable.
My A380 experience in La Première was comfortable and the service was pretty good. However, after this flight, I think that I can say with confidence that I prefer Lufthansa First Class over Air France’s product — and Lufthansa’s is much easier to book using points and miles. In fact, it’s one of the biggest steals out there — last year, I flew Lufthansa First Class for just 62,500 Membership Rewards points transferred to Aeroplan, and $455. The rate is now 70,000 Aeroplan miles, but that’s still very good.
Air France La Première was still a good experience, and I’m glad I was finally able to test it out. If you do have the choice, I would pick the 777 instead of the A380. Stay tuned for more reviews from the trip!