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Flying with your family can add extra challenges to the already stressful experience of travel. You have the added expense of multiple seats on the same flights and the anxiety of wondering whether you’ll even be able to sit together. You have to manage travel plans for multiple people, including children. Plus, there’s all that extra packing. Then you all have to contend with the crowds and hassles of the airport.
Trying to find multiple award seats for family travel adds yet another wrinkle to the planning process, although there are mileage programs that make this easier by letting family members pool their miles.
With all of those elements at play, why not treat yourself — and your whole family — to a much better experience by booking business class awards? This is obviously more expensive than booking coach. But if you have the points or miles to do so, booking everyone into business class ensures a much more pleasant experience both in flight and on the ground thanks to the perks, such as priority boarding and lounge access, premium travel confers. This is especially true on international airlines known to be more family-friendly than others.
Many business-class seats, including those we have rated most highly, are designed for … well, business travelers looking for privacy and productivity. However, the same qualities that make them suited to busy single travelers are also boons to parents flying with young children. Namely, the privacy they provide from the rest of the cabin and the space to lay down and sleep tight. The space allows parents to create a private flight experience for themselves and their children without disturbing other passengers. The space affords the opportunity to get better rest and reach the destination in better shape. Plus, the food and entertainment systems are better than in economy, which can make long flights with young ones go a lot faster.
The Best Airline Business-Class Cabins for Families
With all that in mind, TPG came up with this list of the best business-class products for families. These rankings are based on a number of factors, including seat configuration (many of them feature Solstys seats by Stelia Aerospace), the availability of award flights and a few on-the-ground experiences like lounges with facilities specifically for children.
1. Qatar Airways Qsuites
Qatar Airways revolutionized business class when it put suites with closing doors into service back in 2017. One of the most impressive hallmarks of the design, however, was the fact that groups of suites in the center section can be combined into double beds or even four-person blocks for co-working or families traveling together.
That’s thanks to the 1-2-1 pattern in which they’re laid out. There are also seats facing forward and backward, and center seats are alternately closer together or separated widely by the suites in the row ahead of them. Parents traveling solo with a child can book the so-called “sweetheart” seats that are closer together, while larger families can try to snag a four-seat section to themselves for a more “flying private” feel.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that passengers are treated to soft touches like The White Company bedding, Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio amenity kits and can preorder menus, heading off the protests of any picky eaters. On the ground in Doha, the airline’s Al Mourjan business-class lounge has areas specifically designed for families as well as a game room for older kids. The Qsuites are not only our top pick for families, but they took the award for Best International Business Class Seat in the recent TPG Awards.
Finding awards: Qatar’s Qsuites are still only available on a limited number of routes being flown by a number of Boeing 777-200LR and 777-300ERs, a number of the airline’s Airbus A350-900s and the A350-1000, of which Qatar Airways has just a few, so far. The airline announced it would begin flying a modified 777-200 with Qsuites on board from Doha to Los Angeles starting in February, and award availability is pretty great on that particular route in March–May. Beginning March 31, 2019, you’ll also find Qsuites operating out of Boston.
In terms of other routes, you can find Qsuites on planes flying to more than a dozen other destinations including Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH), New York (JFK) and Washington, DC (IAD). However, you’ll need to double-check the seat maps of the flights you’re thinking of booking since several of them are also flown by aircraft without the new suites.
You can now search for Qatar Airways award space on American Airlines’ website, which also makes it easy to redeem your AAdvantage miles from cards such as the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard directly for these awards at a rate of 70,000 miles each way between the US and the Middle East or India, and just 5,000 more miles if you’re continuing on to Africa. If you’re thinking of booking, you might want to do so sooner rather than later since the airline has been grumbling lately about leaving Oneworld.
Emirates seems to put a lot more attention into its first-class offerings than business class, but it still earns a place on this list for a few reasons. The seats on its 777s are in an old-school 2-3-2 pattern that might be good for smaller families who want a row to themselves.
However, the seats on the airline’s workhorse Airbus A380s are laid out in a generally more family-friendly 1-2-1 pattern with seats in alternating rows spaced closer or farther apart. Not only that, but the A380 is also the only Emirates aircraft with a bar area in the back, in case kids need to get that energy out in a slightly more open space on a long-haul flight.
Young flyers are also treated to the airline’s Fly With Me toys and amenity bags, specially designed kids’ meal trays and one of the most extensive child-dedicated in-flight entertainment systems in the skies.
Finding awards: This is the other reason Emirates makes our list — the preponderance of awards bookable not only with Emirates Skywards miles (an Amex transfer partner) but also the miles of its main US partner, Alaska Airlines. While awards are expensive, they are plentiful. Plus, you can search for and book them directly on Alaska’s website.
It’ll cost you 82,500 miles per ticket each way between the US and Dubai, like this sample award from Washington, DC (IAD) to Dubai (DXB) in January.
Like Emirates, Etihad fields a staggered 1-2-1 layout in business class on its long-haul fleet of aircraft. Those on the 777-200, 777-300ER, A330 and A340 are all front-facing, like Emirates’. However, those on the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 have the airline’s newest business class with more privacy, storage space and cool touches like desert-inspired lighting fixtures.
They also have front- and rear-facing seats, with a number clustered closer together and thus better for families who want some privacy. The ones that are farther apart might be better for siblings who need a little separation (no fighting over the armrest). What with 18-inch entertainment screens to keep the older kids busy and “flying nannies” to help out with younger ones via some arts and crafts, even the longest long-hauls are a little bit easier.
It also helps that the airline offers dine-on-demand service in business class so younger flyers can eat at mealtimes more conducive to their schedules, and parents don’t have to be so diligent about packing snacks.
Finding awards: One of your two main options here is Etihad’s own Guest miles program, which is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and cards like the American Express® Gold Card, as well as Citi ThankYou Rewards. You can also transfer points from the new Marriott loyalty program at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer. Award rates vary but are around 100,000–120,000 miles each way from the US to Abu Dhabi, depending on your origin.
Etihad is partners with American Airlines and AAdvantage will charge you 70,000 miles in each direction from the US to the Middle East. You cannot search for awards on AA.com. Instead, you will have to use Etihad’s search engine to look for “Guest” space and then call American’s mileage desk to book.
There’s another trick to this that you should be aware of. If you look for award space for three or four tickets all at once, you’ll usually come up empty. But it seems like the airline releases additional award space once current space is booked. So you might have to book your tickets one or two at a time.
4. Singapore Airlines
While the long-haul business class options on much of Singapore’s fleet are pretty standardized, the specific seats I’m talking about are the ones on the airline’s newest A380s. Like those on the airline’s earlier versions, which you’ll find aboard A350-900s flying to the US, these are arranged in a 1-2-1 pattern. They are ultra-wide at 25 inches across, fold over into beds that are 78 inches long and have 18-inch HD entertainment screens.
What’s so family-friendly about them is that the divider between the seats in the center section can be mostly lowered to combine into a double bed, virtually creating a mini-suite for people traveling together with plenty of privacy from the aisles.
So far, these seats are only on a handful of planes so far that fly from Singapore (SIN) to London (LHR), Zurich (ZRH), Sydney (SYD), Shanghai (PVG) and Hong Kong (HKG). But expect to see them on more planes flying to additional destinations as the airline overhauls its A380s. Barring that, the best seats to book are the bulkhead ones on the airline’s A350-900s from San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN) and the A350-900ULRs from Los Angeles (LAX) and Newark (EWR) since they have extra space around the foot area and are where flight attendants will set up the bassinet, so the airline tries to keep them open for families.
Finding awards: Like first-class awards on Singapore Airlines, your best bet is to use Singapore’s own KrisFlyer miles to book awards. The number of miles you’ll need will depend on the route you want to fly. However, for the routes currently in service, here are the miles you’ll need each way:
- Hong Kong (HKG): 27,500 miles
- Shanghai (PVG): 35,000 miles
- Sydney (SYD): 58,000 miles
- London (LHR) and Zurich (ZRH): 85,000 miles
The other bit of good news is that it’s much easier to book business-class awards on Singapore than first-class ones, though you can usually waitlist for awards if the one you want isn’t available when you search. This is a good strategy anyway since you might have a hard time finding three or four seats on the same flight right off the bat, but you can waitlist awards individually and book them as they become available.
That way, you also don’t need to have the miles for all the awards you want on hand. Instead, you can accumulate enough for a single award and put as many awards as you like on hold, and then book further seats when they open up by transferring in additional points from your various linked accounts.
Asiana mostly flies Airbus A350s, A380s and a number of Boeing 777-200ERs to the US that feature its best business-class seats. Like the ones on Emirates and Etihad, these are spaced out in a staggered 1-2-1 pattern, where the seats in the center are alternately closer to one another or farther apart depending on your row. It’s those close-together seats that are probably best for parents traveling with young children. Not only are they cozy but they are also cocooned from the rest of the cabin, in a way, by the seats that are closer to the aisle. They are also relatively roomy at 21.3 inches wide and up to 80 inches long, with entertainment screens that are 15.6–18.5 inches wide, depending on the plane.
Finding awards: The other reason Asiana ranks here is that award availability is easy to come by on its flights from Seoul (ICN) to a half-dozen cities in the US. The airline is in Star Alliance, so you can use a number of different frequent-flyer programs to book tickets.
United, which is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, will charge you 80,000 miles each way from the US to North Asia (including China and South Korea) or 90,000 miles to Southeast Asia.
Air Canada’s Aeroplan program, which is a transfer partner of Amex and now Capital One Venture Rewards, will charge you just 75,000 miles each way, though taxes/fees on a round-trip ticket are a little high at $463 CAD ($352).
You could use ANA miles, another Amex transfer partner. The program does have a few quirks, including the fact that you must book round-trip awards and can only book awards for yourself and family members within two generations of you. Still, for family travel purposes, that should be just fine with a little paperwork. Awards are a relative bargain, at just 95,000 miles each round-trip from the US to Seoul, though taxes and fees are about $350 per ticket.
6. British Airways
We tend to brush off British Airways’ Club World business class because of just how tightly the airline packs in premium passengers and the fact that the airline hasn’t updated its seats in more than a decade. Well there’s that and you can also expect to pay fuel surcharges that can push past $1,000 even on award tickets. However, this airline still makes our list for one simple reason: award availability is great, so you can pretty much guarantee you’ll be able to book a seat when you need to. If you earned the Travel Together Ticket available via the British Airways Visa Signature Card, then two people can fly for the mileage cost of one (plus taxes and fees).
Though the airline recently announced plans to revamp Club World, we have yet to see exact plans for the seats, which will debut on the airline’s forthcoming A350-1000s in July 2019. Regardless, it will take years to update the rest of the fleet, so it looks like we’re stuck with the current design for now.
That might be just fine for families, though, since the 2-3-2 and 2-4-2 layouts that other passengers find too close for comfort can be downright cozy for families traveling together. Especially on the A380 and 747, those center seats are right on top of one another. Alternating seats face each other as well, meaning parents can keep an eye on kids throughout the flight just as Mommy Points did with her two young daughters in these very seats.
Finding awards: Although British Airways’ Avios program is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Marriott, and allows “households” to pool their points, you may want to use either American AAdvantage or Alaska Mileage Plan miles to book flights. Lately, I’ve been finding that Alaska Mileage Plan seems to have much less access to British Airways awards than American AAdvantage, though if you do find them, it will charge you 60,000 miles each way from the US to Europe.
AAdvantage, by comparison, seems to have BA award space right and left these days, including on sought-after routes like Los Angeles (LAX) to London (LHR), such as in this calendar from January.
I was able to find four award seats on the same flights on most days in January–April this year for just 115,000 miles each round-trip.
One final caveat: Fuel surcharges alone range from $300–$700 each way in business class per ticket, so you’ll still have to shell out some cash.
Spain’s major carrier only flies to six US airports, but it earns a place here for a few reasons. The first is that its planes feature those sweetheart seats that seem to be so popular for couples and families traveling together. Just be sure you study your aircraft’s seat map to make sure you select one of the rows that has them. Each should be up to 26 inches wide, recline to 78 inches and have a 15-inch in-flight entertainment monitor. Second, these awards can be downright affordable.
Finding awards: Though it can be hard to pinpoint awards during the summer high seasons, availability tends to be pretty good for the rest of the year, especially if you’re using Iberia’s own Avios program. You might want to do so anyway because it’s a transfer partner of Amex, Chase and Marriott. Not only that, but the taxes and fees tend to be much lower on award tickets using Iberia Plus Avios instead of British Airways Avios. If you already have British Airways Avios, then you can also create an Iberia Plus account and transfer Avios between the two for free.
Here’s a sample round-trip award from Boston (BOS) to Madrid (MAD) on Iberia in February on days where there were four award seats on the same flights open. Each ticket costs just 68,000 Iberia Plus Avios plus $205 per round-trip.
Compare that to British Airways, which would charge the same 68,000 Avios, but an astonishing $1,198.31 in taxes and fees.
By contrast, American AAdvantage would charge 115,000 round-trip plus around the same taxes and fees as Iberia.
Truth be told, AA’s searches of Iberia flights turned up different award availability than using Iberia’s site, so if you do plan to use AA miles, only refer to the availability pulled in on American’s own site.
Lufthansa inexplicably went with an outdated 2-2-2 pattern when updating its fleet’s business-class cabins a few years ago. While it will be years before we see the next version of Lufthansa’s business class seats, the current ones are at least good for people traveling with companions or families. What solo travelers seem to resent — the fact that there’s little personal space and that some of the seats angle toward one another — might just be the closeness families want. What’s more, the airline flies to nearly 20 destinations in the US from its hubs in Frankfurt (FRA) and Munich (MUC) and award availability tends to be very good.
Finding awards: Your best bet is to use United MileagePlus miles. That’s because the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It will cost you 140,000 miles round-trip (70k one way) per ticket to fly from the US to Europe on partners including Lufthansa, but you won’t get hit with fuel surcharges. As you can see from this sample set of four one-way awards from New York (JFK) to Munich (MUC), taxes and fees tend to be quite low.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the mileage programs of some of Lufthansa’s other Star Alliance partners. Aeroplan, which is a transfer partner of Amex and now Capital One Venture Rewards, will charge you 110,000 miles round-trip. That’s a big discount. However, the taxes and fees are $1,656.50 CAD ($1,260) — ouch.
ANA has even better mileage rates — just 88,000 miles round-trip from the East Coast. However, look at those taxes and fees: 141,570 JPY ($1,255).
Neither is particularly worth it, so you’re better off sticking with using United miles if you can.
Have any other international business class favorites when it comes to flying with your family? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Featured image courtesy of Qatar’s Qsuite business class on the A350-1000. (Photo by Zach Honig)
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