The holy grail of award tickets: Flying Lufthansa first class on the Boeing 747-8
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Editor’s note: TPG paused providing ratings on airline reviews during the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to do so for some time to come. However, we may occasionally rate certain airlines that have brought service levels back to pre-pandemic standards.
There are only four European airlines offering a true first-class product on the transatlantic journey to and from the U.S.
There’s Air France and Swiss, as well as British Airways and, yes, Lufthansa. (Other carriers, such as American Airlines and Singapore Airlines, offer first-class service on some transatlantic routes as well.)
While first-class flights can top $10,000 for a round-trip ticket, points and miles can help unlock this once-in-a-lifetime experience for just a few hundred dollars in taxes and fees.
Of the four airlines with a first-class cabin, only two of them are readily accessible using points — British Airways and Lufthansa. The former’s first-class product is often referred to as the “world’s best business class,” thanks to some lackluster seating options (though there are newer versions on some aircraft).
That leaves Lufthansa as the holy grail when it comes to the best possible transatlantic inflight experience you can enjoy with miles.
Personally, I’ve long been a fan of redeeming points for Lufthansa first class. It’s one of the reasons I try to keep a healthy stash of miles in my Star Alliance frequent flyer accounts.
I was recently in Paris for a long weekend with my wife. When we found a last-minute Lufthansa first-class award for the journey back to the U.S., we jumped on it.
The airline recently restarted flying its first class-equipped jets to the U.S., and the exclusive First Class Terminal also just reopened in Frankfurt, Germany. Having last flown in the pointy end of a Lufthansa jet together in 2018, we figured it was worth the splurge.
And boy, were we right.
As mentioned, Lufthansa first class can be easily accessible using points. We even have a detailed guide to leveraging your miles for a Lufthansa award.
However, there are a few mid-pandemic changes that you need to be aware of.
First, the airline’s first-class footprint is currently limited to just one aircraft type in the fleet, the Boeing 747-8. The airline’s Airbus A380s, as well as its Airbus A340-600s with first class, are currently grounded due to the pandemic.
According to Cirium timetables, Lufthansa’s planning to deploy its Boeing 747-8 on the following U.S. routes from Frankfurt (FRA) in November 2021:
- Chicago O’Hare (ORD).
- Los Angeles (LAX).
- Miami (MIA).
- Newark (EWR).
- New York-JFK.
- San Francisco (SFO).
Once you find a route operated by a first-class-equipped jet, the next step is actually finding award availability. Before the pandemic, and even in the early months of Europe’s reopening, finding an award seat wasn’t too hard — the airline would reliably release unsold seats within 14 days of departure, barring some one-time exceptions, like on the Chicago-to-Frankfurt route.
However, now that travel is resuming, the airline is doing a better job of selling its first-class cabin, and so award availability trends aren’t as predictable. In my experience searching all the U.S. routes through TPG’s sister site, ExpertFlyer, Lufthansa is now generally releasing award seats within two to three days of departure.
We booked using 100,000 Aeroplan points for the one-way journey per passenger, transferred instantly from American Express Membership Rewards. Taxes totaled a modest $200.
We began our journey in Paris with a short flight to Frankfurt. Our first-class experience began once we entered Germany and made our way to the separate First Class Terminal.
As a first-class or a top-tier Hon Circle flyer originating in Frankfurt, you can opt to be dropped off directly at this terminal, where you can clear security then relax in the lounge before going through its customs and immigration checkpoint and being chauffeured to your plane.
I reviewed the ground experience in detail in a previous story, so be sure to check it out for the full rundown.
Cabin and Seat
After leaving the terminal, our limousine driver pulled up directly beside the plane – quite a thrill for this aviation enthusiast, who hadn’t flown on a double-decker since well before the pandemic.
We were the first two passengers to board through Door 1L, giving us a few minutes of privacy to snap pictures before the five other flyers joined us upfront.
The first thing that caught my eye was the branded welcome area, accented by two red roses.
Once inside, the eight seats were spread across three rows — in a 1-1 configuration in the first two rows, followed by a single row of 1-2-1.
Lufthansa has a standardized, eight-seat first-class cabin across its entire fleet, though the seat configuration differs on each of the jets. The 747-8 is the only one with a three-row cabin.
The aviation enthusiast in me would have preferred sitting in Row 1 — thanks to the curvature of the nose, sitting there gives you a great forward view out the window. Plus, the two seats are quite close together, making them a good choice for couples flying together.
However, Row 1 was occupied by the time we booked just hours before departure, so we opted for the two center seats in Row 3.
Fortunately, the window seat on the port side, Seat 3A, remained empty for the flight, so I popped over there for better views from the (four!) windows during takeoff and landing.
The bones of the seats are the same across the entire first-class fleet. Though they might resemble a souped-up version of an office chair, they’re incredibly comfortable — measuring 21 inches wide with the armrests up. Lowering them adds another 10 inches of width to the seat.
When the seat reclines into a lie-flat bed, it measures a whopping 84 inches long, providing plenty of space to get comfortable.
There’s also ample storage. There are two deep compartments along the armrest, as well as an ottoman that opens for storage. It also moves forward and backward at the push of a button and acts as the seat’s footrest.
In addition to the in-seat storage, the 747-8 has overhead bins above the window seats for rollaboards. There aren’t any bins above the center section of the cabin, providing a very airy feeling.
In fact, instead of overhead bins, Lufthansa installed 17 LED lights above the center seats. When illuminated, the lights accentuate the bar area and add a luxurious touch to the well-designed cabin.
Each first-class passenger is assigned a cubby built into the galley at the rear of the cabin. The cubby has space for a standard-size rollaboard, as well as some hangers for your jackets and clothes.
If Lufthansa could change one aspect of the first-class product, it should be the amount of privacy. Though there’s a retractable divider, there aren’t any doors or curtains, and you still feel quite exposed once the divider is lifted.
Another possible improvement would be adding individual air nozzles. Without them, the cabin temperature is exclusively up to the purser.
You can control your seat using the four preset positioning buttons, or via the adjustment panel that opens along the armrest.
While the first-class cabin is largely the same across all Lufthansa jets, the one major difference on the 747-8 is the size of the two lavatories compared to the airline’s Airbus A380.
While the A380 features oversized restrooms with a bench, urinal and changing area, the lavatories on the 747-8 are much smaller, though they’re still appointed with a rose, and have a window and full-size amenities, like Evian facial spray.
While we spent most of our time in the first-class cabin, I made sure to tour the 747 once in flight. I particularly enjoyed walking up and down the stairs on this plane — a thrill that you can only experience on a handful of jets.
In fact, the plane’s main welcome area is right next to this stairwell, and thanks to the large stairs (compared to the now-retired 747-400) and the addition of two windows, it feels bright and airy.
Amenities and IFE
You’ll feel like royalty with all the goodies you receive in Lufthansa first class.
Waiting at my seat during boarding was a pair of Cumuli slippers, along with an amenity kit.
The slippers were added to the assortment of first-class amenities a few years back, and they’re incredibly comfortable. I usually keep my sneakers on during flights because of the custom insoles that I wear, but I always make an exception for these since they’re some of the most supportive slippers I’ve found.
Over the years, Lufthansa has rotated through different brands of amenity kits, including Braun Buffel and Rimowa. This time, it was a Porsche Design bag that included all the usual goodies, along with some cologne and mints.
Once I settled into my seat, a flight attendant brought around Van Laack pajamas. Like the amenity kits, the pajama design has changed throughout the years, with the latest iteration in a solid brown with a white stripe around the collar.
Turndown service is provided when it’s time for a nap. The seat will be topped with a comfortable mattress pad, along with a duvet and a plush pillow. There’s also a day blanket available on request should you need one.
Each seat features a 17-inch personal entertainment monitor, loaded with roughly 170 movies and more than 30 TV shows.
While the cabin largely feels fresh and modern, the inflight entertainment system is definitely showing its age. The screen quality is woefully outdated, and the anti-glare coating isn’t strong enough for day flights.
Other than glancing at the tail camera, I opted to catch up on pre-loaded content on my iPad. Even the inflight map — usually a favorite of mine — could use an update. It just looped through multiple preset screens without any customization options.
To watch the content, you can use the provided Bose QuietComfort 35 noise-canceling headphones. They’re firmly attached directly to the audio jack to make sure they don’t go home with you.
There’s a remote built into the armrest that you can use to control the screen, though the IFE software wasn’t responsive to the buttons.
Each seat also features two universal power outlets, along with two USB-A ports. I don’t love the placement of the outlets, since I inadvertently kicked out my power adapter a few times.
Perhaps the biggest improvement I noticed throughout the flight was the Wi-Fi speed. During my previous transatlantic flights with Lufthansa, I’ve often been disappointed that I couldn’t keep a stable internet connection throughout the journey.
This experience was the exact opposite — the Wi-Fi worked seamlessly from the moment we crossed 10,000 feet all the way until the final descent. As a first-class passenger, I received a free voucher for full-flight access.
Interestingly, Lufthansa added throttling to its Wi-Fi for those paying for connectivity, which could explain the speed improvements I saw with my unlimited access voucher. After hitting 1GB with the 29 euro ($34) full-flight package, your speeds are reduced to 64Kbps, which helps provide additional bandwidth for other users.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
First class isn’t just about the spacious seat or the fancy amenities. On Lufthansa, you’ll also be served a restaurant-quality meal with top-notch Champagne.
Once I settled in, Nina, the first-class flight attendant, came by my seat to introduce herself and offer a printed menu, along with the signature welcome treat: Champagne and a ramekin of warm macadamia nuts.
The contents of the menu weren’t a surprise — I love that Lufthansa publishes its menus online before your flight. This way I can opt to preorder a special meal if nothing on the regular menu fits my food preferences.
Once we hit 10,000 feet, Nina came back around with an amuse-bouche of goat’s milk cheese topped with a chilled red pepper.
Afterward, my oversized table was set. Before the pandemic, the airline used to roll around a cart with caviar and all the fixings, though that’s been replaced with table-side service. Caviar is no longer served in individual tins, but is pre-plated in the galley.
Along with the caviar, I ordered the spiced salmon with cucumber relish and a side salad with tomatoes and mozzarella as appetizers.
The bread basket came around too, and I naturally selected one of my all-time Lufthansa favorites, a soft pretzel.
Notably, the butter is no longer stamped with “Lufthansa First Class” when departing from Frankfurt. That was a fancy touch that I always noticed on previous flights.
The next course was a cream of asparagus soup, which was a great way to segue into the entree. I’ve often said that airlines should invest in serving more soup, which reheats well and keep its taste at altitude.
It appears that Lufthansa has answered my call since my first-class menu from 2019 didn’t include a soup.
For the entree, my wife and I split the turbot bouillabaisse and the ravioli.
Both were tasty. The fish was flaky and the sauce complemented the natural flavor quite nicely, while the ravioli was cooked perfectly.
Despite being stuffed, we also split two desserts — a chocolate tartlet and strawberries and cream — and enjoyed both immensely.
The entire meal was completed about two hours into the flight, giving us plenty of time to relax and catch up on sleep.
Though there weren’t any midflight snacks available, Lufthansa’s latest pre-arrival meal concept offers on-demand dining at any time.
You can choose from more than seven light meals whenever you’re ready, including a burger, soup, salad and sweet treats. We were going straight to an engagement party when we landed so we skipped the pre-arrival meal.
All of our TPG reviews are blind, meaning that airlines and flight attendants don’t know when we’re going to be on board. This way, we can get a true sense of the service flow without any special treatment.
That said, the service on this flight was particularly attentive and polished. It was as if the crew was catering to an entire cabin of bloggers and reviewers.
Nina, the first-class flight attendant, built a rapport with both the English- and German-speaking passengers and attended to all our needs throughout. Whether it was another water refill or clearing our plates, everything was done proactively and with a smile.
In addition to Nina, the purser also helped out with the service — and it was abundantly clear that both of them were genuinely excited to be working once again.
As we descended, Nina presented my wife and I with some gifts, a first for me when flying with Lufthansa. She gave my wife a Lufthansa-branded hot water bottle because she saw that my wife used two blankets when sleeping.
She then presented me with a Lufthansa-branded stylus and pen, along with a stuffed airplane toy and kids logbook. Why? Because she saw me taking lots of pictures and assumed that I was an aviation enthusiast (yes, she was right).
If you’re looking for the best way to get to or from Europe using miles, you can’t beat Lufthansa first class.
Your experience will begin at one of the best airport lounges in the world, where you’ll then be driven to your plane and escorted to a posh, spacious and comfortable eight-seat cabin.
Once airborne, you’ll taste some high-quality dining and top-notch drinks, enjoy complimentary, fast Wi-Fi and relax with a host of premium amenities.
Before long, it’ll be over, and you’ll be ready to do it all over again. Good thing it just takes signing up for a credit card or two to earn the points necessary to book a Lufthansa first-class award.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
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