9 amazing first-class seats you can still book with points and miles
The coronavirus pandemic hit international luxury travel hard.
Months of low demand lead many airlines to retire their flagship A380s and 747s, causing them to discontinue or massively reduce their first-class offerings in the process. This comes after airlines had already been reducing international first class for years, opting to expand business-class products.
But not all is lost. There are a handful of airlines still flying true first class, both domestic and abroad. Some planes are in the sky now, while others are set to make a return in the coming months. Better yet, you can book all of these first-class products with points and miles.
Here, I’ll show you all your options for booking first-class tickets with your points and miles in 2022.
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Emirates first class
Naturally, I’ll start this article with the most over-the-top first-class product in the sky: Emirates first class.
Emirates has an iconic first-class product. On its retrofitted 777-300ER aircraft, you’ll find its first-class product effectively gives you a full room on the plane. There’s a huge lie-flat seat, a large entertainment screen and an en suite minibar stocked with refreshments. Plus, you’ll be treated to delicious inflight food and excellent service.
The older A380 product that normally serves U.S. routes isn’t half-bad either and offers the same top-notch onboard service.
The airline recently started restricting first-class bookings to its own loyalty program, Emirates Skywards. The price you’ll pay for first class varies by route and booking type. But as an example, you can book New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Dubai International Airport (DXB) for as low as 108,750 miles one-way when booked as a part of a round-trip itinerary, plus taxes and fees.
Emirates also operates a fifth-freedom route between Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Athens International Airport (ATH). Each seat will set you back 85,000 miles and $80-$125 one-way depending on the direction, or 170,000 plus around $200 in taxes and fees round-trip.
You can transfer your American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Marriott Bonvoy points to Emirates. If you’re under 5/24, your best bet is to apply for a Chase card with one of these heightened welcome bonuses:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card – Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Related: What it’s like flying Emirates first class during the pandemic
ANA first class
ANA first class is one of the easiest first-class products to book with points and miles.
The airline flies first class on most of its U.S. routes, including flights to Chicago's O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and JFK. On board, you’ll find a great hard product, hospitable service and excellent food and drink options. Keep an eye out for flights operating ANA's new The Suite product — it’s truly a sight to behold.
The best way to book this flight is using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points. First-class awards to its Tokyo hubs start at just 55,000 points one-way from the West Coast and 60,000 from the East Coast. You can view round-trip pricing for all flights in the table below — one-way tickets can be booked at half the cost.
With Japan yet to reopen to leisure travel, you will only be able to connect through Tokyo on these itineraries.
To book, find award space using a Star Alliance search tool and call Virgin Atlantic to book your flight. Make sure to confirm award space over the phone before transferring points to Virgin Atlantic. Most transfers process instantly, so you don’t have to worry about losing award space.
You can transfer points to Virgin Atlantic from American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Marriott Bonvoy.
Related: How to book a $20,000 ANA first-class ticket for just $34
Japan Airlines first class
Japan Airlines — commonly referred to as JAL — is another major airline in Japan. It operates flights to a handful of U.S. cities and offers first class on flights to major cities like Chicago and New York. If you book it, you’ll be showered in luxury from the moment you step into the JAL first-class lounge.
One of the best ways to book JAL first class is with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. A one-way flight from the U.S. to Japan costs 70,000 miles, and you can add a free stopover. You’ll pay marginally more miles if you book a connecting (or stopover) ticket elsewhere in Asia — for example, China to the U.S. costs 75,000 miles one-way in first class. Like ANA, you won't be able to stop in Japan as the country has not yet reopened.
Alaska Airlines miles are among the hardest miles to earn, but it’s not impossible. Your best bet is earning with an Alaska cobranded credit card or transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy to Alaska.
Related: Maximizing redemptions with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Cathay Pacific first class
The Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is one of my all-time favorite airlines. It offers consistently amazing service in all its cabins, but first class is truly amazing. Its first-class lounges in Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) are a great place to relax, and onboard service includes incredible food, Champagne, caviar and even its own custom-brewed beer.
You’ll find Cathay Pacific first class on select 777-operated routes from the U.S., including from JFK and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Hong Kong.
You’ll get the best redemption value with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan as award tickets from the U.S. to Asia cost 70,000 miles one-way in first class. However, you may have better luck finding award space with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
One-way first-class tickets cost 110,000 miles from the West Coast and 125,000 from the East Coast to Hong Kong. Even though this is still a bookable redemption, Cathay Pacific has significantly reduced service to U.S. destinations, so it may be hard to find award space for the time being.
You can transfer Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott points to Asia Miles. If you’re looking to boost your Capital One balance, you can open a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Right now, the Venture card offers 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Related: The ultimate guide to Cathay Pacific first class
Singapore first class
Singapore Suites first class is one of the most well-known first-class products in the sky. The new Suites product features a separate single bed and seat, giving you a full bedroom to yourself. Plus, you’ll be treated to excellent food, drink and service in flight and can access first-class lounges at Singapore Changi Airport (SIN).
Suites first class is available on the carrier’s A380 aircraft, which operates Singapore’s fifth-freedom route from JFK to Frankfurt Airport (FRA). You can either disembark in Frankfurt or continue to Singapore.
Further, Singapore’s 777-300ER and -300 aircraft feature a standard first-class product that’s still excellent. From the U.S., these planes operate routes from LAX to Tokyo's Narita International Airport (NRT) and from SFO to HKG. As you’d expect, you can continue to Singapore if you’d like.
Singapore Airlines is a Star Alliance member but restricts premium-cabin award space to its own KrisFlyer loyalty program. From the U.S., you’ll find the best pricing on New York to Frankfurt. This ticket costs 97,000 miles one-way, which is a pretty solid deal considering paid flights are usually more than $5,000. You can continue to Singapore for more miles.
Although still bookable, I found no saver award availability on the JFK-to-FRA fifth-freedom route through March 2023. Keep a close eye on Singapore awards and be flexible with your travel dates for your best shot at booking this incredible award ticket.
You can transfer Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott points to Singapore KrisFlyer. Here’s a look at the best American Express cards that can help you earn points with your everyday spending:
- American Express® Green Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first six months of card membership. Plus, 20% back on eligible travel and transit purchases in the first six months, up to $200 back in the form of a statement credit. Earn 3 points per dollar on dining at restaurants, travel and transit (including flights, hotels, taxis, tours and ride-hailing services), and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases ($150 annual fee; see rates and fees).
- American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months of account opening. Earn 4 points per dollar on dining at restaurants, 4 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year; then 1 point per dollar), 3 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly from airlines or American Express Travel, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases ($250 annual fee; see rates and fees).
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership. Earn 5 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly from airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel and Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases ($695 annual fee; see rates and fees).
Related: Singapore Airlines resumes retrofitting A380s with new cabins, much-improved suite
Lufthansa first class
Lufthansa first class will always have a special place in my mind.
It’s the first true international first-class product I flew, forever changing my idea of what international travel can be. The ground experience in Frankfurt was amazing in the dedicated First Class Terminal, and the service on board was stellar. I can’t wait to fly it again soon.
You’ll generally get the best deal when booking with Avianca LifeMiles. You’ll pay 87,000 LifeMiles and minimal taxes and fees for a one-way flight from the U.S. to Europe in Lufthansa first class. This pricing is valid if you choose to connect beyond a Lufthansa hub as well.
One thing to note: Lufthansa only opens first-class award space to partners within 14 days of departure. This means you’ll have to book at the last minute if you don’t have Lufthansa Miles & More miles.
You can transfer Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott points to LifeMiles. If you’re interested in earning Citi ThankYou points, consider the Citi Premier® Card (earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening; see rates and fees).
Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Citi Premier
British Airways first class
British Airways has first class on a number of its routes and has continued offering it throughout the pandemic. Some of these flights are operated by planes equipped with BA’s new first-class product — a huge step up from what was previously offered. It’s still not as luxurious as other first-class products on this list, but it’s still a great way to fly transatlantic in luxury.
The best way to book BA first class is with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. You’ll pay a similar number of miles as if you were booking with AAdvantage miles or BA Avios, but you’ll pay fewer taxes and fees.
A British Airways first-class seat from JFK to LHR will set you back 87,000 miles and between $250 and $350 in taxes. This is far cheaper than the $650-plus BA charges when booking with Avios.
Again, you can transfer Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott points to Asia Miles.
Related: Review: British Airways (787-9) first class from London to Santiago
American Airlines first class
American Airlines is the only U.S. airline that offers a true first-class product. You’ll find its Flagship First product on several international routes during normal travel times and transcontinental routes like JFK to LAX and SFO. You can expect upgraded lounge access, seats and service in Flagship First.
Generally, you’ll get the best deals booking these tickets with Etihad Guest. Here’s a look at one-way Flagship First pricing:
- U.S. to Asia: 62,500-67,500 points.
- U.S. to Europe: 62,500 points.
- U.S. to South America: 62,500.
- Transcontinental: 32,500 points.
Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott points transfer to Etihad Guest.
Related: The ultimate guide to Etihad partners
Etihad Airways first class
Finally, we have Etihad first class. The airline operates a true first-class cabin on its fleet of Boeing 787 aircraft. You'll find these on flights from the airline's hub in Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) to Dulles International Airport (IAD). From AUH, you can connect to many international destinations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
U.S.-based travelers have two good options for booking Etihad first class: American Airlines AAdvantage and Air Canada Aeroplan. Both loyalty programs offer significantly lower award costs than Etihad's own loyalty program.
You'll pay 115,000 American miles for a one-way flight from the U.S. to the Middle East in Etihad first class when you book with AAdvantage. On the other hand, you'll pay 120,000 Air Canada Aeroplan points for a one-way first-class ticket from IAD to AUH when you book with Aeroplan.
If you don't live near Washington, D.C., you can add connecting tickets with American's and Air Canada's network of airline partners. Just note that, since Aeroplan is a distance-based program, you could pay more points if you add a connecting ticket. AAdvantage will charge the same amount regardless of if you connect.
You can transfer Amex, Bilt, Capital One, Chase and Marriott points to Air Canada Aeroplan. Meanwhile, you can transfer Bilt and Marriott points to AAdvantage.
Related: The best way to book Etihad award flights with transferable points
International first class isn’t as common as it once was, but several airlines still offer it.
You can use your points and miles to score an excellent deal on the first-class seats outlined in this article. It’s sure to make for a memorable international trip now that we’re back in the sky.
For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
Additional reporting by Ehsan Haque.