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You know the stereotype: German engineering is the best. Heck, even the BBC admitted that the best engineers come from Germany. And true to the stereotype, Lufthansa — Germany’s flagship carrier — has engineered a quintessential German first-class experience: functional, consistent and comfortable, yet without the over-the-top opulence of some of its counterparts (I’m looking at you, Etihad).
There’s no debating that Lufthansa first class is a pleasure to fly, but the ability to secure precious award seats usually requires a combination of Zen-like patience, luck, quick reflexes and a penchant for impromptu travel plans. Let’s first look at the experience, and then at how you can partake.
Planes and Routes
Lufthansa offers first class aboard four different long-haul aircraft: 747-800, A330-300, A340-600 and A380. Lufthansa operates a variety of these aircraft on routes between the US and Germany:
- To/from Frankfurt (FRA): Boston (BOS), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York-JFK, Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington-Dulles (IAD)
- To/from Munich (MUC): Chicago-O’Hare, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, Boston and San Francisco
Note that Lufthansa operates flights to several other airports in the US with the 747-400 or the shiny new A350. Unfortunately, first class is not available on these aircraft or on some of Lufthansa’s A330-300s, so passengers will only have an option of the comfortable (albeit relatively dated) business-class cabin. Keep in mind too that only certain frequencies to the above cities include a first class (and some are seasonal), so you’ll want to make sure you’re on one of the four aircraft types above.
Pro tip: Lufthansa operates regular service connecting both Frankfurt and Munich with Mexico City (MEX) using first-class-equipped aircraft. These lesser-known routes often have better award availability. Some Star Alliance partners may also allow you to add a connection between the US and Mexico City on the same award ticket without charging additional miles.
Amenities and Experience
Regardless of which aircraft you fly, Lufthansa’s first-class cabin will be largely identical. Upon boarding, you can expect a variety of first-class staples: a plush seat with 81 generous inches of pitch/bed length, in-flight entertainment with a 17-inch display, Bose noise-canceling headphones, a luxury amenity kit stocked with high-end toiletries from La Prairie, pajamas and slippers, turn-down service, a caviar appetizer and a high-end selection of wine and liquor (including Johnnie Walker Blue Label for the whiskey aficionados). In fact caviar is such a signature part of the Lufthansa first-class experience that the airline is responsible for about 5% of all caviar consumed globally.
For a deeper dive into the in-flight experience, TPG’s Zach Honig has provided an in-depth look at the on-board experience on several Lufthansa first-class routes, while TPG Editor Nick Ellis didn’t want his experience in Lufthansa first to end. To paraphrase Zach: if you’re sitting in any of these seats, you’re bound to have a pleasant journey.
One of the finest features of flying on a Lufthansa first-class ticket out of Frankfurt is access to the First Class Terminal. This is truly where Lufthansa separates itself from the pack — physically and figuratively. The First Class Terminal has its own entrance and is accessible solely to those few travelers with a first-class ticket in hand or to Lufthansa’a top-tier HON Circle elites. After your “personal assistant” coordinates check-in, you can spend time relaxing in a variety of ways: catch a nap in a daybed, take a shower, enjoy a gourmet meal, chill at the bar with a selection of over 130 different whiskies or unwind in the cigar lounge. In short, the carrier’s First Class Terminal provides no hassle, no lines and white-glove service at every turn, including a private immigration channel. When TPG’s Ethan Steinberg visited the First Class Terminal a few years back, he didn’t even have to hold his own passport; his personal assistant handed it to the immigration officials and handed it back to him with an exit stamp.
After clearing immigration, you’ll be chauffeured across the tarmac in a Porsche or Mercedes directly to your plane. If you’re flying on Lufthansa’s flagship A380 you’ll be put in an elevator directly to the upper deck, skipping the boarding gate entirely. This is truly first-class style.
Another frequently overlooked feature of flying either first class or business class into Frankfurt is access to the Welcome Lounge after landing. Located in Terminal 1’s Arrival Area B just past baggage claim, this lounge has a spa-like shower facility, a selection of hot and cold food (in case you didn’t manage to get enough food on the plane), a business center and even nap pods in case you need a bit more rest before venturing into Frankfurt.
How to Book
The trick to booking Lufthansa first class is finding award space. Sounds simple enough, yet it is, in a word, elusive. But if you understand the quirks of Lufthansa’s most cherished award space, then snagging a seat for yourself may not be as tough as it seems.
In general, Lufthansa does not open first-class award seats to Star Alliance partner bookings until 15 days prior to departure. However, not all routes nor all seats will be released at that time. In the week leading up to the flight, Lufthansa is likely to release additional seats on more routes. In other words, finding first-class award space can require constant monitoring for two weeks leading up to your flight. On rare occasions, Lufthansa may even release availability sooner. While it is more art than science, there are some tricks to make the process of finding award space a bit more predictable.
Further Reading: 6 Tips for Booking Lufthansa First Class Awards
First, several of the Star Alliance partner websites are useful for checking award availability (United in particular is quite user-friendly). But in the weeks prior to my desired flight, I use ExpertFlyer and its Flight Availability functionality to see how many paid first-class seats are available on each flight I may have an interest in booking. Since I am generally looking for two seats, I will keep an eye on all days and routes showing three or more first-class seats available for purchase, as I have found that these routes are more likely to have multiple award seats come available within that magical 15-day window. ExpertFlyer even allows me to create alerts for award inventory, and if I have a premium account, I can have up to 200 at one time covering multiple routes and days.
Second, when my desired flight is about two weeks out (and assuming there are still open first-class seats), I will make sure my points and miles are situated so that I can book quickly. This is one of the many appealing aspects of transferable point currencies. Note that this doesn’t mean I transfer the points at this time, as it depends on which Star Alliance partner I intend to use and how quickly credit card points will transfer to that partner. As you’ll see in a moment, there are many different options for booking the ticket.
Third, be prepared to book the tickets as soon as you find availability. First-class seats are limited and in high demand. Any hesitation in booking could allow someone else to snag the seat(s) out from underneath you.
Pro tip: For cheaper redemptions and better availability, consider nesting your Lufthansa first-class flight into the middle of another itinerary flying between different regions. For example, Lufthansa operates an A380 daily between Frankfurt and Delhi, India (DEL). First-class space is more common there than on transatlantic routes, and fewer miles are required on virtually all Star Alliance partner award charts for flights between India and Europe.
As a member of Star Alliance, Lufthansa flights are bookable via a plethora of partner award programs when you’re ready to pull the trigger. However, not all award charts are created equally. Each partner has different rules that dictate how many miles and dollars any given routing will cost. Here is a quick rundown of what you can expect with each of the major Star Alliance partner programs for flights between the US and Germany (though keep in mind that these amounts will change drastically for flights between other regions).
- Mileage required (one-way): 50,000 miles
- Taxes & fees: High, $500 or more for a one-way flight
- Transfer partners: Marriott Bonvoy
- The skinny: Asiana’s award chart offers incredibly low redemption rates. 50,000 miles for a one-way, first-class Lufthansa ticket between the US and Germany is 29% lower than any other viable option you will find. However, high fuel surcharges dampen the value, and Asiana isn’t a transfer partner of any of the major transferable points programs. Asiana miles can be obtained via transfer from Marriott Bonvoy or through the cobranded Bank of America Asiana Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card.
- Mileage required (one-way): 87,000 miles, though a mixed-cabin award with a connection in business class could be even lower
- Taxes & fees: Low, only $30.60 for a flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt
- Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles, Citi ThankYou Points and Marriott Bonvoy
- The skinny: Avianca LifeMiles will be your best friend or your worst enemy. Redemption rates are low, taxes are low and one-way tickets are allowed. So what could go wrong? Well, a lot. Avianca’s customer service is notoriously bad, and its booking platform can be unreliable. Avianca’s call center is also unreliable; inconsistent information and disconnections are rather common. I have even seen Avianca threaten to cancel a ticket if a passenger did not provide copies of bank statements (apparently to verify identity and solvency) after a Star Alliance partner had already issued a ticket. If your award ticket works out, LifeMiles will be one of the best deals for Lufthansa first class considering the fees and mileage rates. But if something goes sideways, don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Lufthansa Miles and More
- Mileage required (one-way): 85,000 miles
- Taxes & fees: High, possibly in excess of $500 for a one-way flight
- Transfer partners: Marriott Bonvoy
- The skinny: There is one huge benefit of booking Lufthansa first-class awards through the Miles and More program: Lufthansa releases substantially more award space to its own members far in advance of the 15-day time window when Star Alliance partners have access to the space. But the benefits largely end there. Specifically, you cannot even search for Lufthansa award availability unless you have the required amount of miles in your Miles and More account. So in order to use this program, you will need to keep a substantial balance in your Miles and More account just to be able to search for flights (getting 85,000 miles into your account for a one-way ticket will require the equivalent of 210,000 Marriott Bonvoy points). Then, if you are fortunate enough to find availability that suits your needs, you will be greeted with substantial fuel surcharges. In short, I don’t have plans to use the Miles and More program unless I can first find someone with a stockpile of Lufthansa miles to handle the award searches for me. Also note that Lufthansa has announced plans to shift to dynamic award pricing in the future.
United Airlines MileagePlus
- Mileage required (one-way): 110,000
- Taxes & fees: Very low, only $5.60 for a flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt. Just bear in mind that award bookings made within 21 days of departure (which a first-class Lufthansa ticket will almost always be) currently incur a $75 close-in booking fee. However, this fee is being removed on November 15, 2019 as part of the carrier’s shift to dynamic award pricing, and it’s waived for United elite members.
- Transfer partners: Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy (the latter with a slightly higher transfer rate than other partners thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership)
- The skinny: United’s award rates are at the high end of the spectrum, but taxes and fees are very reasonable. Fortunately, United MileagePlus miles are some of the easiest to obtain, be it from opening Chase’s United Explorer Card, transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, using the MileagePlus X app and MileagePlus shopping portal or simply renting a whole bunch of cars (that was me, by the way).
Air Canada Aeroplan
- Mileage required (one-way): 70,000 miles
- Taxes & fees: Extremely high. Air Canada has always levied significant fuel surcharges on Lufthansa-operated flights. Not so long ago, these surcharges were manageable, but they’ve increased substantially in recent months. As of the time of this writing, the taxes & fees on a one-way first-class ticket from the US to Frankfurt incurs a charge of $1,102.10 CAD (equivalent to approximately $826 based on current exchange rates).
- Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles and Marriott Bonvoy
- The skinny: Aeroplan used to be one of the top options for booking Lufthansa first class due to the comparatively low redemption rate. However, the increased fuel surcharges have effectively eliminated the value. Unless the fuel surcharges are re-calibrated to their previous levels, this is a redemption option that I’d avoid.
- Mileage required (round-trip only): 165,000 miles
- Taxes & fees: High, up to $500 for a one-way flight
- Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy
- The skinny: ANA is a niche program with incredible utility, but booking first-class Lufthansa flights is not one of those use cases. The rigidity of only booking round-trip award tickets is typically a nonstarter for these awards because of the last-minute nature of award availability. Additionally, ANA requires all international bookings to be made at least 96 hours in advance. Further complicating last-minute bookings, the delay in transfer times from American Express and Marriott Bonvoy into your ANA MileagePlan account makes last-minute bookings difficult (unless you preemptively keep a balance in your ANA account). High fuel surcharges further dampen value. Lastly, don’t forget to check ANA’s complicated rules and designation process if you plan to book for anyone other than the named member on the MileagePlan account.
- Mileage required (one-way): 107,500 miles
- Taxes & fees: High, up to $500 for a one-way flight
- Transfer partners: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, Capital One Miles and Marriott Bonvoy
- The skinny: Singapore KrisFlyer offers high redemption rates for Lufthansa award flights and high fuel surcharges further reduce the value. Moreover, Singapore Airlines’ website has not recently shown Lufthansa first-class availability, so you will likely have to find availability through another website and then call to ticket. Being able to transfer points from all the major transferable points currencies is a major advantage, but transfer times can be unpredictable (ranging from one to seven days), which can frustrate a last-minute booking for a first-class Lufthansa ticket.
Lufthansa first class is undoubtedly one of the finest ways to cross the Atlantic. It’s also surprisingly attainable using points and miles, relatively speaking at least. By understanding when Lufthansa releases award seats (starting within 15 days of departure and more in the final week) and knowing which Star Alliance partner programs will provide the best value, you may find yourself enjoying some fine German Engineering the next time you head to Europe.
Featured photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy
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