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German Engineering: no other culture is quite as synonymous with the ability to build things. 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 lacking 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, lady luck, quick reflexes and a penchant for impromptu travel plans. Let’s first look at the experience and then how you can partake.

02 May 2018, Germany, Frankfurt am Main: An Airbus A-380 of Lufthansa starts on the western runway of Frankfurt am Main
Lufthansa’s A380 is just one of the carrier’s planes with a first class cabin. (Photo by Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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 United States 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: Chicago-O’Hare, Los Angeles, New York-JFK and San Francisco

Note that Lufthansa operates flights to several other airports in the United States with the 747-400 or the shiny new A350. Unfortunately, first class is not available on these aircraft, so passengers will only have an option of the comfortable (albeit relatively standard) 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 United States and Mexico City on the same award ticket without charging additional miles.

The first class Lufthansa experience includes the carrier’s signature red rose.

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, pajamas and slippers, turn-down service, caviar appetizer and a high-end selection of wine and liquor (including Johnny Walker Blue Label for the whiskey aficionados).

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.

Grabbing a Lufthansa first class duck is just one of the perks of the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt.

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. After your “personal assistant” coordinates check in, you can spend time relaxing in a variety of ways: catch a nap in a day bed, take a bath in the shower rooms, 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 chauffeured Porsche or Mercedes to your plane. 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 tendencies and trends 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.

While challenging, there are some strategies you can use to snag a first class award ticket on Lufthansa.

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 to see how many 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, 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 30 at one time covering multiple routes and days.

Second, when my desired flight is about two weeks out (and assuming there’s 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 necessarily 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 United States and Germany (though keep in mind that these amounts will change drastically for flights between other regions).

Asiana Club

  • Mileage required (one-way): 50,000 miles
  • Taxes & fees: High, up to $500 for a one-way flight
  • Transfer partners: Marriott Rewards
  • The skinny: Asiana’s award chart offers incredibly low redemption rates. 50,000 miles for a one-way, first class Lufthansa ticket between the United States 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 Rewards or through the cobranded Bank of America Asiana Visa Card.
Lufthansa first class redemption rates through Avianca LifeMiles

Avianca LifeMiles

  • Mileage required (one-way): 87,000 miles
  • Taxes & fees: Low, only $30.60 for a flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt
  • Transfer partners: Citi ThankYou Points and Marriott Rewards
  • 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 Rewards
  • 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 Rewards 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.
Lufthansa first class redemption rates through United MileagePlus

United Airlines MileagePlus

  • Mileage required (one-way): 110,000
  • Taxes & fees: Very low, only $5.60 for a flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt. However, award bookings made within 21 days of departure (which a first class Lufthansa ticket will almost always be) incur a $75 close-in booking fee, though that’s waived for United elite members.
  • Transfer partners: Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Rewards (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, using the MileagePlus X app and MileagePlus shopping portal or simply renting a whole bunch of cars (that was me, by the way).
Lufthansa First Class redemption rates through Air Canada Aeroplan
Lufthansa First Class redemption rates through Air Canada Aeroplan

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 United States to Frankfurt incurs a charge of $1,024.60 CAD (equivalent to approximately $780 based on current exchange rates).
  • Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Rewards
  • 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.

ANA MileagePlan

  • 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 Rewards
  • 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 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.

Singapore KrisFlyer

  • Mileage required (one-way): 95,000 miles
  • Taxes & fees: High, up to $500 for a one-way flight
  • Transfer partners: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points and Marriott Rewards
  • The skinny: Singapore KrisFlyer offers average redemption rates for Lufthansa award flights, though high fuel surcharges significantly 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 Chase, Amex and Citi 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.

Bottom Line

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 (within fifteen 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.

Know before you go.

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