Booking the most unusual Star Alliance biz seat in the skies
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While Lufthansa is known for its outstanding first-class ground services, the carrier's business product leaves much to be desired — especially if you're unfortunate enough to land a middle seat on the Boeing 747-400. But there's one Lufthansa business seat I was especially excited to check out, and, thanks to a last-minute swap, actually managed to try.
The carrier's older Queen of the Skies offers some of the least-desirable business seats of any airline worldwide, thanks to a dense 2-3-2 arrangement on the main deck. But up in the nose, the only center seat is positioned all alone — it's the only option fleet-wide where you're guaranteed to not have a neighbor.
Some good fortune landed me 4D on a journey from Alaska to South Africa, on one of the longest legs — a transatlantic redeye from Seattle (SEA) to Frankfurt (FRA).
Minutes before boarding, the carrier's one and only solo business seat became vacant, probably due to a last-minute cancellation. I hopped on Lufthansa's website, completed the check-in process again and grabbed it right away.
Where to find the 747
Lufthansa has two versions of the 747 in its fleet — the much newer 747-8, which offers first class in the nose, and the older 747-400, with a small business cabin up front.
Currently, Lufthansa operates 13 Boeing 747-400s, and while the U.S. routes do vary from time to time, you can often find the plane flying between Frankfurt and:
- Boston (BOS)
- Denver (DEN)
- Miami (MIA)
- Orlando (MCO)
- Philadelphia (PHL)
- Seattle (SEA)
Of course, finding a route flown by the 747-400 is only the first step. Next, you'll want to search award availability — I find United's site to be easiest to navigate for that. Denver tends to offer some of the best business-class award space to Frankfurt, though you could get lucky from some of Lufthansa's other gateways, too, as I did on the Seattle-Frankfurt route.
If you aren't able to find availability on your preferred travel date, head over to United's 30-day award calendar and limit your search to nonstop flights in business class — the site clearly identifies flights with biz inventory, in the "I" fare class, which is also what you'll need if you're hoping to upgrade from economy using your United PlusPoints.
Business-class awards are priced at 70,000 miles with United, or 73,000 miles if booked within 30 days. There are many ways to earn United miles, with your speediest option being to transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards, earned with any of the following cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
You could also combine your earnings from select cash-back cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited with points from one of the above three accounts to enable transfers to partners. Note that transfers processed instantly in our tests.
Alternatively, you can book Lufthansa business class via Avianca LifeMiles, for 63,000 miles each way. You can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards (1:1), Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1) or Capital One (2:1.5). In our tests from Amex, Citi and Capital One, all transfers posted instantly.
As a third option, you can book via Air Canada’s Aeroplan program for just 55,000 miles each way. Note, however, that Aeroplan awards carry significant fuel surcharges, which can easily exceed $1,000 for a round-trip flight. If you have miles with any other Star Alliance carrier, you can redeem for Lufthansa business class through that program, too.
Once you find award availability, you're going to need to make sure the seat you want — 4D — is still open. There are only 13 in the entire world — that means, including round-trips, just 26 passengers get to fly solo in a Lufthansa business-class cabin, unless they're lucky enough to land paired seats without a neighbor, of course.
I find TPG sister site ExpertFlyer to be the ideal platform for identifying open seats. Simply search flight availability, hover over the seat icon on the results page and select the business cabin to see if 4D is open.
If 4D is already reserved, you can easily set an alert — ExpertFlyer will email you if the seat opens up.
You now know how to book seat 4D, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you should. I'm glad I had a chance to experience if for myself, sure, but it did feel especially exposed, and a bit cramped.
Instead, I'd recommend booking a seat on the 747's upper deck, where you'll find a bit more space, and a unique private-cabin feel. All of the seats are paired, so solo travelers may end up flying with a stranger — if you're traveling with a companion, though, the choice is even more clear.
Don't miss my full Lufthansa 747-400 review for more on what it's like to experience the most unusual Star Alliance business seat in the skies.