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Want to book Lufthansa first class? Focus on these routes

Sept. 13, 2019
11 min read
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The Points Lab is TPG's newest team, dedicated to using data and leveraging technology to create resources, tools and analyses to help readers more effectively and efficiently use their points and miles. Today's post looks at award availability trends for booking Lufthansa first class using partner miles.

Lufthansa first class is many an award traveler's dream redemption. From luxurious in-flight amenities to top-notch service and even a dedicated terminal in the carrier's Frankfurt (FRA) hub, it's hard to go wrong by aiming to redeem miles for this incredible product.

Unless, of course, you try to find availability from certain airports.

Today we're pulling back the curtain on one of the best products in the sky to help increase your chances of using your hard-earned miles to fly Lufthansa first class on your next trip to (or from) Europe.

The methodology

Before getting to the good stuff, let's start with exactly how this analysis was conducted. It all starts with ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG's parent company, Red Ventures). In case you're not aware, this platform allows you to search award availability across dozens of airlines, and you can even set alerts if your desired flight isn't available on your preferred date(s). The site is an award traveler's dream, empowering you to know exactly when a given flight can be booked using miles.

The data below represents every search conducted on the platform for Lufthansa first class from the U.S. to either Munich (MUC) or Frankfurt (FRA) and back. The results span roughly five weeks — August 1, 2019 through September 5, 2019 — but are limited to searches that took place within 15 days of departure, since Lufthansa is known to not release award space to partners until this time. In all, this covered 39,177 searches for the routes with a first-class cabin between the U.S. and Europe.

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The goal? Identify which routes were most likely to be available for first-class awards.

Which U.S. city had the best availability?

Let's begin looking at the overall numbers for flights in both directions based on US departure gateway. In this chart, we'll consider all flights that depart or arrive from a U.S. airport in a single bucket — so for New York-JFK (as an example), the overall percentages would include the following individual flights:

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Here's what the data showed:

For starters, note that just 4.1% of total searches came back as successful. That's (obviously) quite low. If you extrapolate that out and assume that it's reflective of overall award availability, it means that you have a roughly 1 in 25 chance of successfully finding Lufthansa first-class awards available through partner programs like Avianca LifeMiles or Air Canada's Aeroplan.

However, you probably noticed that some cities performed much better than others.

  • Detroit (DTW) had a 23.7% success rate.
  • Chicago-O'Hare had 10.8% success rate.

West Coast residents, on the other hand, were in rough shape. San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) had horrendous success rates — just 0.6% and 0.7%, respectively. That's not to say awards don't exist from these gateways; they're just exceptionally rare.

Does Frankfurt or Munich have better availability?

For U.S. airports that offered nonstop flights to both Frankfurt and Munich over these dates with a first-class cabin, we dove deeper to see which of the two German hub cities had better availability. Here's what our research found:

U.S. Departure AirportSuccess rate to FrankfurtSuccess rate to MunichBetter option
Boston (BOS)8.1%5.3%Frankfurt
New York-JFK2.1%3.4%Munich
Chicago-O'Hare (ORD)8.7%17.4%Munich
Los Angeles (LAX)0.3%1.3%Munich
San Francisco (SFO)0.3%1.4%Munich

As you can see, Munich was almost always the better option (with the exception of flights to or from Boston), and in several cases, the differences were striking. The success rates to MUC from ORD were double that of FRA, while for LAX and SFO, they were more than four times higher.

This also matches the aggregate success rates for all flights into or out of the two German hubs:

  • Frankfurt: 4%
  • Munich: 4.7%

The data shows that searches were more likely to find first-class award availability to or from Munich over the dates we analyzed.

Is flying to or from Europe better?

Another fascinating breakdown of the data is by individual flight. Some may want to book Lufthansa first class to rest on a flight to Europe, while others may want to enjoy the full experience on a day-time flight back to the U.S. Is there a clear pattern of successful award searches related to the direction of the flight?

Here's what the data said:

RouteUS to EuropeEurope to US
Better option
Boston-Frankfurt5.9%18.3%From Europe
Boston-Munich3.9%9.4%From Europe
Detroit-Frankfurt22.3%26.5%From Europe
Newark-Frankfurt4.5%6.8%From Europe
JFK-Frankfurt2.2%1.3%To Europe
JFK-Munich3.7%1.7%To Europe
IAD-Frankfurt12.6%4.9%To Europe
Miami-Frankfurt3%4.9%From Europe
Houston-Frankfurt3.5%3.2%To Europe
ORD-Frankfurt11.2%6.2%To Europe
ORD-Munich12.3%37.2%From Europe
San Francisco-Frankfurt0.4%0.1%To Europe
San Francisco-Munich1.7%0.7%To Europe
Los Angeles-Frankfurt0.3%0.3%Tie
Los Angeles-Munich0.6%1.6%From Europe

This information showed an even split, with seven routes offering better award success rates coming from Europe and seven with higher rates going to Europe (plus one with equal percentages). However, note the success rate for first-class award searches on the Munich to Chicago-O'Hare flight — an incredible 37.2%.

Important notes

Now it's worth mentioning that this analysis isn't a perfect predictor of future Lufthansa first-class award space to or from the U.S. for a few important reasons:

  • It doesn't consider truly last-minute awards. This data set is limited to searches that took place between four and 15 days prior to departure. That being said, a manual search for the upcoming four days of travel using popular Star Alliance award booking tools revealed anecdotally similar results, with DTW-FRA having the best availability. Flights to or from JFK were next — a notable outlier compared to the above — but routes from ORD and BOS followed, much more in line with the historical data. Most notably, LAX and SFO had zero first-class awards over those dates.
  • It's only based on searches, not all flights. The nearly 40,000 data points used in this analysis were collected through manual searches and automatic alerts on ExpertFlyer, but since it's just a sample of flights operated, it's not perfectly representative of all Lufthansa award availability.
  • It's a limited window of time. As noted above, this data was based on searches conducted from August 1-September 5, so it doesn't cover a wide swath of the calendar. However, as the data continues to accumulate, we should get a better feel for overall award availability over time and identify possible trends in seasonality on specific routes.

JOIN NOW: Beginner's guide to award searches on ExpertFlyer

Overall takeaways

Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy

We've thrown a lot of data and numbers at you, but what are some of the overall conclusions you can draw from this information? Here are a few key thoughts:

Lufthansa first class is hard to book using points and miles.

The overall success rate for Lufthansa first-class awards: 4.1%. Put another way, for every 25 searches from August 1-September 5, only one was successful. Those aren't great odds, though they aren't as dismal as other top-notch, first-class products that are hard to book using points and miles.

That being said, the data shows that some gateways may be much better than others ...

Detroit appears to offer the best chance for finding first-class awards on Lufthansa.

As far as trends go, Detroit (DTW) appears to be the king of Lufthansa first-class award availability, as nearly a quarter of searches out of or into DTW came back successful. And amazingly enough, the success rate for two seats from August 1-September 5 (25%) was higher than searches for one seat (21.6%). Indeed, just a quick search of the next week and half shows several days with first-class award availability for multiple passengers — including some flights with four or more tickets:

Of course, not all airports are nearly as conducive to booking these awards ...

West Coast flyers will be hard-pressed to book nonstop, first-class Lufthansa flights using points and miles.

If you're based in San Francisco or Los Angeles, you may struggle to find first-class award availability at all. Success rates for flights starting or ending in SFO and LAX were quite dismal, and looking out at the immediate 15 days from today, I don't see a single, first-class seat available using points and miles on any of these routes (in either direction):


MUC-LAX, meanwhile, has just one seat available at the time of publication — on September 16:

Now, it's worth noting that this current search window (through September 28) does creep into Oktoberfest, but with multiple other gateways still showing availability during one of the world's most popular beer festivals, one can assume that it isn't just a function of high demand.

Bottom line

Lufthansa first class is one of the most sought-after products in the frequent flyer world, and tips abound for booking it with points and miles. While the above conclusions aren't hard-and-fast rules given the limitations of the data, hopefully this analysis has shed some light on the best options for snagging Lufthansa first-class award space to or from US cities.

Be sure to check out the following guides for additional details, including how you can book these awards using points and miles:

This is just the beginning of these analyses as the Points Lab gets into full swing. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and sign-up for our daily newsletter to be the first to hear about new launches.

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