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Air France has the unique distinction of being the only airline — out of the 13 to operate the double decker Airbus A380 — where premium cabin passengers should actively avoid the superjumbo jet. While the airline’s A380 first class features the same “La Première” branding as its 777-300ER, the A380 also features a pathetically outdated first and business class cabin. The A380 La Première cabin lacks privacy, modernity and, in many ways, effort.
The same cannot be said of the exclusive first class found on Air France’s 777-300ERs. This product often gets overlooked because of how hard it is to book with miles, so today we’re clearing the air and taking an in-depth look at the Boeing 777 that might just feature SkyTeam’s most luxurious first class.
Air France has 43 777-300ERs in its fleet, though not all of them feature a first class cabin. That being said, you can still find La Première flying to some pretty interesting destinations around the world. Unfortunately, the list of destinations on the official La Première website is out of date, with several routes only receiving this premium service seasonally, once or twice a week, or not at all.
As of now, you can fly in La Première comfort from Paris (CDG) to the following cities:
San Francisco (SFO)
Los Angeles (LAX)
New York (JFK)
Washington DC (IAD)
Mexico City (MEX)
Sao Paulo (GRU)
Yaounde, Cameroon (NSI)
Luanda, Angola (LAD)
Libreville, Gabon (LBV)
Hong Kong (HKG)
While there isn’t as much to do in La Première as, say, an Emirates A380 first class cabin, you’ll ideally want to pick one of the longer routes to fully experience the product. Flights to Beirut (BEY) and Dubai (DXB) are well under 7 hours, and even a transatlantic redeye might feel short given the premium in either money or miles it’ll cost to get you into a La Première seat.
Cabin Layout and Seat Selection
777s simply don’t offer as much space to innovate as an oversized A380, and with the exception of Emirates’ new 777 suite and Cathay Pacific first class, most airlines offer a relatively similar 1-2-1 layout. But there’s nothing “normal” about La Première. While the cabin is arranged in the common 1-2-1 configuration, Air France puts only one row of first class where most airlines put 2-3. This gives the four-seat cabin an incredibly private feeling.
Each seat is 24 inches wide with 79 inches of pitch and, of course, reclines to a fully flat bed.
While I haven’t had the chance to try it myself, TPG looked like he had plenty of room to stretch out when he flew La Première from Paris (CDG) to New York (JFK).
But it’s not just the exclusivity of the cabin that makes it so appealing — it’s the chic, thoroughly French design. From the individual lamp at every seat to the floor-to-ceiling curtains, La Première is a treat for the eyes. Couples will obviously want the pair of seats in the middle, but don’t worry if you find yourself seated next to a stranger, as there’s a large privacy partition between the seats that can be raised. However, if you’re traveling solo, try to get a window seat for maximum privacy.
Of course, you’ll get all the standard first class goodies, including pajamas, an amenity kit and (it really wouldn’t be Air France without it…) some high end champagne.
As the cherry on top, Air France offers one of the most well rounded ground services for La Première passengers departing Paris. The experience includes a chauffeur across the tarmac to the side of your plane, as well as plenty of fine dining options in the lounge if you’re looking to ruin your appetite before the main event.
How to Book
If all these photos have brought your expectations up to 38,000 feet, now’s the time to reign them back in. As aspirational as La Première is, it’s nearly impossible to book with miles. There are three main reasons for this:
- Air France doesn’t release any first class award space to partner programs.
- Even within the Air France/KLM Flying Blue program, only elite members are allowed to redeem for first class.
- Flying Blue elites can only redeem at the “flex” level (i.e. not saver), meaning a one-way ticket between the US and Europe will cost 200,000 miles.
As of March 2018, Flying Blue was not offering status match or status challenge options, but if you’re a regular SkyTeam flier, you can earn Flying Blue elite status by crediting your travel there. Flying Blue overhauled its loyalty program — including switching to revenue-based earning — at the end of 2017. Elite status is now determined by how many “experience points” or XP you earn. For example, the lowest tier, Silver, requires 100 XP.
You earn XP for Air France/KLM and SkyTeam flights at the following rates:
While this obviously won’t work for everyone, two round-trip business class tickets between the US and Europe or Asia on any SkyTeam partner should be enough to qualify for Flying Blue Silver status. From there, simply transfer 200,000 points from any of the transferable points currencies — Flying Blue is a 1:1 partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, and a 3:1 transfer partner of Marriott — and La Première can be yours! However, depending on which currency you transfer to Flying Blue, you’ll probably be spending about ~$4,000 worth of points for a one-way ticket, so make sure this flight really means that much to you.
The other option to consider is using one of the two credit cards that offer solid value when you redeem points directly for flights — either the Chase Sapphire Reserve or The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN. The Sapphire Reserve gives you a 50% bonus on redeemed points — making them worth 1.5 cents each — while the Business Platinum features a 35% Pay with Points rebate when you use points to pay for a first or business class flight on any airline.
However, while these improved redemption rates are useful, they’ll only get you so far against the laughably absurd cash prices of a first class ticket. As an example, the cheapest La Première round-trip fare I could find between New York and Paris was $6,090, and the cheapest one-way fare was $8,000+.
If you were to pay for a round-trip entirely with Ultimate Rewards points from a CSR at 1.5 cents per point, it would come to 406,000 points, or just slightly more than the 200,000 points Flying Blue would charge in each direction. You could wait for a fare sale, but the last time La Première prices were cheap enough to be exciting, it turned out to be a mistake fare and most of the tickets were cancelled by Air France.
Between the intimate four-seat cabin and aggressive restrictions on award bookings, Air France’s La Première on its 777-300ER aircraft remains one of the most exclusive first class products. While I’d love to try it one day, the only way I see that happening is if there’s a massive fare sale at exactly the same time that I’m sitting on a few hundred thousand Ultimate Rewards points. Until then, I’ll keep focusing on good value redemptions,instead of overpaying for a flight that will probably last less than 10 hours.
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