How I Flew Asiana First Class on the A380 From ICN to JFK for Just $1,300
The A380 is my favorite aircraft by a long shot. It's a big beast — and certainly not the best looking — but for long-haul travel she's a dream — quiet, smooth (the bigger the plane, the less turbulence you feel), and most importantly, spacious. After a relaxing stay in the Maldives, I found the perfect flight that would allow me to check off a new A380 — Asiana's A380 in first class from Seoul (ICN) to New York (JFK). Asiana doesn't fly between Male and Seoul, but Korean does, so I transferred 57,500 Ultimate Rewards points to Korean Air SkyPass to book a first-class ticket to get me to Seoul, where I had about a four-hour layover before making my way to New York.
Paid tickets on this particular route usually sell for around $5,000 each way, but I was able to use miles — and get great value in the process. Back in the fall of 2017, I purchased Avianca LifeMiles while the program was running a promo that offered up to a 145% percent bonus. I purchased 38,000 miles and got a bonus of 55,100 miles for a grand total of 93,100 miles. All in all, I paid about $1,305, which means I paid about 1.4 cents per mile.
I was able to find Asiana award availability through Avianca, and it actually seems that there's quite a bit of Asiana space available there. I booked the one-way first-class ticket for 90,000 miles and $63 in taxes and fees. In the end, the ticket cost me $1,370 total, which represents a savings of about $3,600 considering the cash price of the ticket is usually around $5,000. Plus, I have a few miles left over!
Booking my award ticket online through Avianca's website was straightforward enough, but in order to select my seat I had to call Asiana, and that took a couple of tries — the first few agents I spoke with had trouble finding my confirmation and basically gave up trying. However, I kept at it, and finally found a rep knowledgeable and helpful enough to reserve my seat.
Had I booked with United, I would have spent 130,000 miles plus taxes and fees, so I got a much better deal using LifeMiles. This is a situation where buying miles can make a lot of sense — especially since Asiana often releases multiple first-class awards.
The Asiana first class lounge at ICN was a bit of a disappointment. It looked more like a cigar parlor than a lounge. It was fine, but really nothing special. Seating was plentiful and the lounge featured a business center with several computers as well as shower rooms which were large but not especially luxurious. Champagne was Moët & Chandon Champagne, which I suppose is a bit better than what business-class lounges serve, but overall it wasn't a memorable experience.
I also noticed that despite how early it was, the lounge was serving beef bourguignon... odd. Considering the Seoul (ICN) airport has some pretty awesome amenities (an ice skating rink, a casino, a golf club and a movie theater), I probably should have just wandered around the airport and skipped the lounge. Ice skating versus beef bourguignon at 7:00am? Decisions, decisions...
Cabin and Seat
Boarding was a breeze since first class boards through a separate jet bridge. Asiana's first class cabin features twelve enclosed suites in a 1-2-1 configuration.
The first-class cabin is at the front of the lower deck, with business class upstairs. Although the cabin was rather bland when it comes to design, the suites — and the seats themselves — were gigantic. Finally, seats made for someone my size!
Each seat was 25.2 inches wide and sported pitch of 84 inches.
When fully flat, the seats measured 81 inches — or 6'9", just enough for my 6'7" frame. The cabin was only half full, so I claimed a window seat to sit/sleep and then used the suite across the aisle to store all my belongings. That certainly helped the cabin seem even more spacious than it already was.
Although the suites were large, the cabin is not as blinged out as some other airlines. The design was plain — all the surfaces were tan or beige. Korean's baby blue cabins are often compared to dentist offices, so I guess this would be... an insurance office? However, the privacy was unparalleled. The suites were fully enclosed, and the middle seats have privacy partitions which can be put up or down — a win for solo travelers and couples!
The suite doors slid open and close quietly and were easy to operate. There was a small pop-out coat rack you could hang your jacket just inside your suite.
The seat reclined fully to become a flat bed — I was clearly very comfortable here.
I never felt short on space and ended up sleeping for eight of the 13 hours that we were flying.
Maybe it was because of those "stars" that were on the ceiling?
The first-class cabin had just one lavatory, and while it was slightly larger than average, it didn't have a shower. I did notice some Evian facial mist, though, as well as some L'Occitane amenities. There was a small padded seat which can be lowered over the toilet if you wanted to freshen up or, say, put socks on. There was also a window, which is always a fun #AvGeek feature.
Food and Beverage
Cuisine is where Asiana first class really shines. And, the airline offers its first-class passengers the option to pre-order meals on select routes. I had to inquire via email about whether I could make my meal selection before my flight, and I received a response from the airline with the full menu. I selected the Galbi Jjim (braised short ribs) knowing that I'd receive exactly what I wanted thanks to pre-ordering.
The meal began with some delicious Ars Italica Caviar, served with a single red rose laid dramatically on the table (unlike Lufthansa's upright rose in a mini-vase).
I also ordered a glass Champagne Barons de Rothschild — which I had never had, but quickly fell in lust with — to pair with it. The wine list was extensive and after the so-so food on my previous Korean Air flight, I was happy to see Asiana's food offerings were already way better. Next, my pre-ordered short rib dish was served, with a bunch of other small sides and sauces — it was quite the feast!
The beef was delicious and even though I wasn't totally sure what all the sides and sauces were (save for kimchi, which I love), I enjoyed sampling them. To drink, I selected Chateau Fleur Cardinale Gran Cru Classe 2012, a complex red which paired perfectly with the short rib. Then, I had some cheese and fruit, followed by a glass of Hungarian dessert wine — Chateau Pazjos Tokaj Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2006 — as well as some chocolates.
I enjoyed some ramen as a snack later on in the flight, which was delightfully salty and hit the spot.
For breakfast, I opted for the Western option: eggs, fresh fruit, Danish pastries and yogurt. Sometimes eggs on a plane can be rubbery, but these were actually pretty good.
In-Flight Entertainment and Amenities
My suite came outfitted with a large pillow and blanket, as well as slippers and pajamas for sleeping. I loved the Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit, which feaured earplugs, socks, an eyemask, hand cream, perfume and even a small shoe horn. A small duffel bag was also provided so I could easily carry everything with me.
The suite featured a 32-inch IFE screen, which was positively enormous. The bad news was that the content options were pretty limited. For such an awesome screen, I was disappointed to find only 20 or so new movies — there were no Academy Award winners and at least 10 were run-of-the-mill action flicks. I put on the provided Bose headphones and settled on watching Victoria and Abdul, but I was bummed to have such a large screen and nothing great to watch on it. The movie was far from remarkable as well.
Wi-Fi was not offered on the flight either, so I wasn't able to do much work. Without Wi-Fi or good entertainment, it was no surprise I slept so much. Upstairs, by the business-class section, there was a small lounge with a large TV that I visited briefly.
Throughout the trip, the flight attendants were helpful, friendly and attentive. Overall, I found the service to be refined and on par with some of the best carriers in the world.
Although Asiana's cabins weren't the newest or chicest, they were solid and spacious, making for a comfortable ride in first class. The food was excellent and I loved the pre-order option, but the airline really needs to up its game when it comes to Wi-Fi and entertainment options. Since there's typically plenty of award availability, it's definitely a fantastic option if you need to get between Asia and the US. I would definitely fly Asiana first again, though I'd be sure to come prepared with my own movies or Netflix options.