The cheapest first class awards across all three alliances
International first class is something that many points and miles enthusiasts love. It’s the pinnacle of luxury in the sky, with top-notch food, service and seats that are a step above even the best international business class products.
That said international first class seats are expensive. They can cost over $10,000 round-trip, depending on where you’re traveling to and from. Thankfully, you can also use miles and points to book these tickets with little out-of-pocket expense, if you know where to look.
With so many different airlines, alliances and credit card transfer partners out there, it can be hard to decide how to book these tickets. I’ll walk you through how to get the best deal when booking first class tickets on the world’s major airlines.
Related: The cheapest business class awards across all three alliances
I’ve split the article into four sections: one section for each airline alliance and one for non-alliance airlines. Each section will show you how to get the best deal when booking award tickets on airlines in these alliances using transferable points like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Let’s dive in!
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Booking Oneworld first class award tickets
Oneworld is home to some of the world’s most prestigious airlines, including Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. Here’s how to use your miles and points to book first-class tickets on all the best Oneworld carriers.
Book American Airlines first class with Etihad Guest
American Airlines is the last U.S. carrier to offer a true international first class product. Flights to premier cities like London (LHR) and Hong Kong (HKG) offer this cabin, as well as transcontinental flights from New York-JFK to San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX).
The best way to book these tickets is by using Etihad Guest miles. The airline has great award pricing on American flights — here’s a look at pricing from the U.S:
- U.S. transcontinental: 32,500 miles
- U.S. to Europe: 62,500 miles
- Asia 1 (Japan): 62,500 miles
- Asia 2 (Hong Kong): 67,500 miles
- South America Zone 2 (Argentina, Brazil, etc): 62,500 miles
This is far cheaper than using AAdvantage miles to book the same awards, so we recommend using Etihad Guest for American redemptions whenever you can. Like AAdvantage, you’ll pay minimal taxes and fees when booking American tickets with Etihad Guest.
Earning Etihad Guest miles
You can transfer points to Etihad Guest from American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou at a 1:1 ratio, Capital One miles at a 2:1.5 ratio and Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio. You’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer.
Related: How to fly American Airlines Flagship first class in 2020
Use Alaska Mileage Plan or Asia Miles to book Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines
You have two solid options for booking Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines first class tickets: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. Alaska usually offers the best deal, but it doesn’t have any credit card transfer partners.
On the Alaska side, the airline charges 70,000 miles one-way for flights from the U.S. to Asia in first class on these two carriers. It charges very minimal taxes and fees too, making this one of the best options for booking first class tickets.
Plus, Alaska lets you add stopovers on one-way tickets. This means you can book something like Chicago (ORD) to Tokyo (NRT) and stay for a few days. Then, you can continue to Seoul (GMP) whenever you’d like for no additional miles.
You can book Japan Airlines tickets on the Alaska Airlines website. Unfortunately, however, Cathay Pacific tickets do not show online, so you’ll have to find flights with Saver award space on AA.com and then call Alaska Airlines to book the ticket.
Related: Spa at 35,000 feet: A review of Japan Airlines in first class from New York to Tokyo
Booking Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines with Asia Miles
Award tickets are more expensive when you book with Asia Miles, but there are a few upsides. The first is that you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One and Citi ThankYou points to Asia Miles at varying transfer ratios. This makes them far easier to earn than Alaska Mileage Plan miles.
Further, Asia Miles is Cathay Pacific’s in-house loyalty program. Because of this, Asia Miles frequently offers more saver level award space than what’s available to partners. In turn, you’ll have a better chance of finding Cathay Pacific award space with Asia Miles.
When booking Cathay Pacific awards, you’re subject to two different award charts: Standard and Choice. Standard awards are cheaper than Choice, but you’ll generally find more Choice availability when searching. I recommend sticking to Standard awards whenever possible to save points.
The Asia Miles award chart is distance-based, so longer flights will cost more. Standard flights from the U.S. west coast to Asia cost 110,000 miles in first class while east coast flights cost 125,000 miles. Thankfully, you’ll pay less than $75 in taxes and fees on most tickets.
Partner flights cost more than Cathay Pacific flights, but the partner surcharge is reasonable. A first-class Japan Airlines flight from New York-JFK to Tokyo (HND) costs 120,000 Asia Miles and $13.42 in taxes and fees. This is 10,000 Asia Miles more than a Cathay Pacific flight of the same length.
Earning Alaska Mileage Plan miles and Asia Miles
You can transfer miles from Marriott Bonvoy to Alaska Mileage Plan at a 3:1 ratio. You’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer. Check out our full guide to earning Alaska Mileage Plan miles for more ways to earn.
As discussed, you can transfer points to Asia Miles from American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou at a 1:1 ratio, Capital One miles at a 2:1.5 ratio and Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio. You’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer.
Book British Airways first class with Asia Miles or Avios
British Airways first class may not be the most luxurious, but it’s still a great way to get to Europe. We recommend using Asia Miles to book your next BA first class ticket to save on surcharges.
For example, a one-way flight from New York-JFK to London (LHR) in first class costs 87,000 Asia Miles and roughly $400 in taxes and fees. On the other hand, a British Airways award ticket would cost 80,000 Avios and $697.90 in taxes and fees.
That said, you may want to consider booking with Avios if you're booking on off-peak dates. The same ticket on off-peak dates costs 68,000 Avios with the same taxes and fees. If you value your miles more than the cash savings, it’s in your best interest to pay the lower points cost to stretch your miles.
Earning Asia Miles and British Airways Avios
You can transfer points to Asia Miles from American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou at a 1:1 ratio, Capital One miles at a 2:1.5 ratio and Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio. You’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer.
On the other hand, you can transfer points to British Airways Avios from American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio and Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio with the same bonus discussed previously.
Booking SkyTeam first class award tickets
SkyTeam is home to major airlines like Air France, Delta and Korean Airlines. Unfortunately, first class has either been phased out or is in the process of being phased out from many of these airlines, but there are still a few seats to be found.
A word on Air France La Premier first class
Air France’s La Premiere first-class product is one of the best in the sky, but also one of the most exclusive. Only Air France and KLM Gold and Platinum elite members can book tickets on this product using their Flying Blue miles, which is generally quite pricey.
Recent FlyerTalk data points show that a flight from Europe to the U.S. can run more than 350,000 Flying Blue miles one-way. So unless you’re an Air France or KLM elite status member with a ton of miles, you’re probably not sitting in a La Premiere seat any time soon.
Related: The hardest first-class products to book using points and miles
Book Korean Airlines first class with Korean SKYPASS
Korean Airlines offers first class on most of its North American routes. You can only book them with SKYPASS miles. Round-trip flights from the U.S. to Korea cost 160,000 miles off-peak and 240,000 miles on-peak, so pick your travel dates wisely to save miles.
Unfortunately, you cannot book Korean Airlines first class tickets using Flying Blue miles, Delta SkyMiles or another SkyTeam currency.
Earning Korean Airlines SKYPASS miles
You can transfer points to Korean Airlines SKYPASS from Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio. You’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer.
Booking Star Alliance first class award tickets
Star Alliance is the world’s largest airline alliance by the number of member airlines, with some of the most prominent airlines being Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and ANA. Here’s a look at how to book the best Star Alliance first class tickets using your points and miles.
Book Lufthansa first class (and others) with Avianca LifeMiles
Lufthansa’s first class is one of the best seats in the sky, with an unbeatable ground experience, solid seat and impeccable service. That said, it’s also one of the harder first-class seats to book. Lufthansa only releases award space to partners 14 days before the flight, so it’s only practical for booking last-minute flights.
The best way to book Lufthansa first class is by using Avianca LifeMiles. 87,000 miles will get you a one-way ticket from the U.S. to Europe in Lufthansa first, with only minimal taxes and fees attached. In contrast, booking with ANA Mileage Club or Air Canada Aeroplan would cost fewer miles but add over $600 in taxes and fees per one-way ticket.
Even better, you can reduce the cost of a LifeMiles award ticket by adding a connecting leg in a lower class of service (business or economy). Play around with your dates and destinations to see how low you can get your ticket.
You can book Lufthansa’s first class on the LifeMiles website — just search for your award and follow the on-screen prompts. Consider using Expert Flyer (owned by TPG's parent company, Red Ventures) to create a seat alert if you’re planning a trip.
Earning Avianca LifeMiles
You can transfer points to Avianca LifeMiles from American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou at a 1:1 ratio, Capital One miles at a 2:1.5 ratio and Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio. You’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer.
Book ANA first class with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
ANA’s loyalty program — ANA Mileage Club — offers amazing redemptions in and of itself. Surprisingly, though, you can use Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to book ANA first class rewards for even cheaper.
We’ve included a copy of Virgin Atlantic’s ANA award chart below. Note that all pricing is based on round-trip tickets — unfortunately, you cannot book one-way tickets using this award chart. That said, you can use it to create a mini round-the-world trip using its open-jaw policy.
This is one of the best deals in the miles and points space. Flights from the U.S. east and west coast cost 110,000 and 120,000 miles in first class respectively, which is an excellent deal for one of the world’s best first class products.
Taxes and fees are low too. ANA recently stopped adding fuel surcharges, so you can expect to pay just under $100 for a round-trip ticket.
Related: Using Virgin Atlantic miles for mini round-the-world trips with ANA
Earning Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles
You can transfer points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou at a 1:1 ratio. You can also transfer Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio and get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer.
You can only book Singapore first class with Krisflyer miles
Singapore Airlines’ new Suites first-class product is truly a sight to behold. It gives you a true room in the sky, with a separate bed and seat. Even cooler, the bed turns into a double if you’re traveling with someone else (or if you’re lucky enough to have an open suite next to you).
Singapore Airlines doesn’t open long-haul business or first class awards to its Star Alliance partners, so you’ll have to book them using the airline’s Krisflyer miles.
Thankfully, this loyalty program is remarkably easy to use. The airline has a standard award chart with two award types: Saver and Advantage. Saver awards are cheaper while Advantage awards are easier to find but more expensive.
You can view the full award chart on Singapore Airlines’ website, but here’s a look at first class saver pricing on some of the airline’s popular U.S. routes:
- New York-JFK to Frankfurt (FRA): 86,000 miles
- Houston (IAH) to Manchester (MAN): 86,000 miles
- Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT): 107,000 miles
- San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong (HKG): 104,000 miles
You can book first class tickets on these routes on the Singapore Airlines website — just enter your search criteria and look for dates with open award space. We highly recommend setting an award alert with Expert Flyer if you want to fly on a specific date.
Earning Singapore Krisflyer miles
You can transfer points to Singapore Krisflyer from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou at a 1:1 ratio, Capital One miles at a 2:1 ratio and Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio.
Non-alliance airlines first class tickets
Some of the world’s best international first class products are operated by non-alliance airlines Emirates and Etihad. These airlines both offer incredibly posh first class products with second-to-none service and over the top hard products.
Here’s a look at how to book them.
Use Emirates Skywards to book (most) Emirates first class tickets
Until recently, booking Emirates first class was difficult. You either spent tons of hard-to-earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles to book an award ticket with no fuel surcharges, or spent marginally fewer miles to book with Emirates Skywards, but pay over $600 in taxes and fees on-way.
Thankfully, that changed a few months ago when Emirates removed fuel surcharges from its own award tickets. Nowadays, you can book Emirates award tickets with less than $200 in taxes and fees each-way from most of the airlines’ gateways.
While Emirates Skywards doesn’t publish an award chart, it does stick to standard pricing for its awards. For example, you can book a round-trip first-class ticket from New York-JFK to Dubai (DXB) for 217,500 miles and $362 per person in first class when saver award space is available.
On the other hand, a round-trip ticket from London-Heathrow (LHR) to Dubai costs 135,000 miles and $470 of taxes and fees. From this research, we can tell that the Emirates award chart is distance-based, with longer flights costing more points.
One thing to note, though: you can’t book one-way Saver award tickets, so you’ll need to book round-trip Emirates tickets to get the best deal. Otherwise, you’ll have to book a Flex award ticket which costs marginally more than a Saver ticket.
Earning Emirates Skywards miles
You can transfer points to Emirates Skywards from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou at a 1:1 ratio, Capital One miles at a 2:1 ratio and Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio. You’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer.
AAdvantage is your best bet for Etihad first class
Booking Etihad first class can be difficult. While Etihad Guest is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, the program doesn’t offer great pricing on its own award tickets. Instead, your best bet is to use AAdvantage miles to book.
You can use 115,000 AAdvantage miles and minimal taxes and fees, which is a solid deal for one of the best first-class products in the sky. Better yet, you can book these award tickets on AA.com without having to call-in.
Earning AAdvantage miles
Unfortunately, AAdvantage doesn’t have any credit card transfer partners, but you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus awarded for every 60,000 points transferred. Check out our full guide to earning AAdvantage miles for more earning methods.
Related: The workaround to booking Etihad awards not available through AA’s website
While international first-class tickets aren’t cheap, you can use your miles and points to make them attainable. What was once a $15,000 ticket from the U.S. to Asia can now be booked for miles and less than $200, putting first class within reach of anyone with a stash of credit card points or airline miles.
In this article, we taught you how to get the best deals when booking first-class tickets with all of the world’s major airlines. Make sure to bookmark this page and refer to it the next time you need to book one of these tickets — it may save you time, points and money.
Feature photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy