Book the Most Spectacular First-Class Experiences with Your Miles (2021)

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  Using Your Points for Free TravelAward Ticket Strategies

For many people, the ultimate goal of collecting frequent flyer tickets is to have an opportunity to sample some of the world’s most luxurious first-class airplane experiences.

Getting your own apartment in the sky is going to require a lot of miles. But the alternative is to pay cash ticket prices that can be easily over $20,000 for a single flight. What are some of the world’s best first class airline experiences and what is the best way to book these with miles?


Etihad Suites

The Residence

The most luxurious “seat” in the sky is Etihad’s “Residence”, a three-room suite designed for two people. Each suite has a living room with two dining tables a 32” entertainment center, a bedroom with a double-bed, and its own private bathroom with shower.

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The Residence and First Apartments (discussed below) are only available on Etihad’s A380s. Each plane has nine Apartments and one Residence. From the US, the only available flight is from New York to Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to book space on this flight, especially in the New York to Abu Dhabi direction.

The Residence can only be booked via the Etihad Guest program or with cash. Prices are exorbitant. Expect to pay over 2,000,000 miles or over $12,000 to fly one-way to NYC.  Even the shortest route costs over 500,000 miles or $3,000.

First Apartments

Etihad's step-down “First Apartments” are still amazing experiences. You’ll get a private room with a separate seat and bed and its own vanity. But if you want a shower, you are going to have to slum it in one of the shared first class bathrooms.

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Passengers in both types or rooms receive seven-course meals and have access to a “Lobby”, where you can socialize with other passengers, enjoy a drink, or watch an event on the widescreen TV.

Apartments on the New York to Abu Dhabi flight can be booked with 96,000 Malaysian
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, 115,000 American Airlines
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, 115,000 Air Canada
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, or 136,000 Etihad
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miles. Or you can book a round trip for 160,000 Asiana
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miles. Cash fares for this route are usually above $8,000.

Also consider continuing all the way to the Maldives or India. If you are using American Airlines miles, taking the longer trip won't cost any additional miles.

The cheapest possible flight for these seats is the 3.5-hour flight between Abu Dhabi and Mumbai. An Apartment on this flight can be booked for 32,000 Etihad, 40,000 AA, 42,000 Malaysian (ThankYou partner) miles. Cash fares for this route can be under $1,000.  London to Dubai is another potentially useful route for 62,500 AA miles one-way or only 80,000 Asiana miles round trip.

Emirates Suites

New Suites

Emirates introduced the world's first fully enclosed suites in late 2017. These suites. available on their 777s, include probably the most comfortable seat in the sky, which converts to a large bed. The main part of the "cabin" is more technologically advanced than any other airline experience and probably a nicer "hard product" than anything except the Residence.

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One of the Emirate Suite's unique innovations is a "virtual window" for the suites located in the middle aisle. During your journey, these window-shaped video screens show you the view from outside the airplane.

Unfortunately, Emirates doesn't operate many planes with this configuration and they usually only make one award seat per flight available on these routes. Flights to/from New York have come and gone. There should be some options from Europe that you can book for 65,000 JAL
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, 85,000 Qantas
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, or 85,000 Emirates
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miles. Emirates charges 135,000 miles for a round trip.

Older Suites

Emirates older generation of suites feel less enclosed and smaller than Etihad’s Apartments and both versions of Singapore’s suites, but they are still fantastic. As with Etihad’s apartments, you’ll have access to an onboard shower—and the one on Emirates is even better (if you don’t count the private shower in the Etihad Residence). The suites themselves are equipped with a 32” screen and the world’s best inflight entertainment system.

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Emirates also has an onboard lounge, complete with a bar and large-screen TV.

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From the US, you can fly Emirates A380s from Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Toronto, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. to Dubai. There is also an option to fly New York to Milan (and then potentially onwards to Dubai). The cheapest available route is the 3-hour flight from Bangkok to Auckland.

The reward option that requires the fewest miles is JAL
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. You’ll need 165,000 miles round trip from New York to Dubai or 120,000 miles round trip to Milan. Flights from other gateways are somewhat more expensive because JAL is a distance-based program. For example, LA to Dubai would be 190,000 miles round trip. One-way flights are relatively more expensive requiring 120,000 miles from New York to Dubai or 65,000 miles from New York to Milan. Once you are paying for the base flights, adding additional legs won’t increase the required number of miles by very much.  Emirates
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, Alaska
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, and Qantas
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would each require 250-300,000 miles round trip.

Singapore Suites

New suites

Like Emirates, Singapore introduced an upgraded suite experience in late 2017. The new suites are even roomier than their older suites and include an extra plush, motorized lounger and a 32" flat-screen TV.

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Just like the original suites, you can book adjacent suites and take advantage of a double-bed.

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The new suites are only available on Singapore A380s, on a limited number of routes. Additional routes will be rolled out over time, until all of Singapore's existing A380s are renovated.

Saver-level awards are theoretically available at 37,500 - 115,000 KrisFlyer miles each way (depending on the route), but there is almost no availability. Standard awards would cost significantly more. You can't book these suites using partner miles.

Original suites

Singapore originated the suite concept and the original suites are still one of the world's best first class experiences You get a roomy private cabin, with a a separate chair and bed. Singapore's suites are available on their A380s.

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With adjacent cabins, you can take advantage of the best double-bed in the sky.

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You’ll receive a Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit, Givenchy bedwear, and access to a club within a club, called “The Private Room” in Singapore’s airport.  If you want, you can pre-order your entrees from several chef’s signature dishes with the “Book the Cook” program.

Your flight options from the US are New York to Frankfurt (traveling on to Singapore).  You can only book Singapore Suite awards using Singapore’s own frequent flyer program.  New York to Frankfurt is 76,000 miles one-way, New York to Singapore is 120,000 miles.  You can save a few miles if you add on an additional Star Alliance flight in the US, Europe, or Southeast Asia. This switches you to Singapore’s Star Alliance award chart which would cost require 112,500 miles to Singapore.

The cash price for these flights are well over $10,000. You are more likely to find availability leaving from Singapore than from New York. Make sure to check that your award ticket is on the A380, before booking your ticket.

The least expensive route is Singapore to Hong Kong for 37,500 Singapore miles, or around $3,000 in cash.

Air France

While not a "suite", the Air France first class experience onboard their 777-300ERs is one of the best available. The decor is elegant, the food and service is excellent, the bedding is comfortable, and you still get a curtain for privacy. Like with Lufthansa, if you are flying through their hub (Paris), you get access to an incredible first-class lounge, and a chauffeured car to take you to your flight.

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Unfortunately, first class seats on Air France
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can only be booked by people who have elite status in the FlyingBlue frequent flyer program. Even if you have the requisite status, award tickets are prohibitively expensive, requiring 200,000 miles each way.

Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific suites are another of the world’s best first class experiences. There are only six seats in their First Class and each is 36” wide and converts to one of the most comfortable beds available. You’ll have access to excellent lounges in Hong Kong. Their nicest First Class is on the 777-300ER.

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You can fly Cathay Pacific First Class to Hong Kong from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Newark, JFK, Vancouver, and Toronto. The cheapest route, worldwide, is probably Hong Kong to Bangkok.

Flights from North America to Hong Kong (and onwards to China and SE Asia) in Cathay First Class cost 70,000 Alaska
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miles (and no surcharges) each way. Usually there is one first class seat when the flights become available to book 11 months ahead of time. Additional seats can become available a week or two before departure. If you are using Alaska miles, you can continue to elsewhere in Asia for the same award price. If you don’t have Alaska miles, Cathay Pacific
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is usually your best option at 180,000 miles round trip.

Lufthansa

Lufthansa has one of the best first-class experiences of the European-based airlines. But, what really makes it stand out is the experience at the airport in Frankfurt. Lufthansa operates an entirely separate first-class only TERMINAL. You’ll be attended to by a personal assistant, have access to a fantastic dining area and sleeping rooms, and ferried out to your plane in a luxury car, such as a Porsche. There are even cute souvenir duckies in the showers.

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Partners only have access to award space two weeks before departure, otherwise you need to use Lufthansa’s
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own miles. They require 85,000 miles each way. But Lufthansa points are hard to come by, and Lufthansa charges expensive fuel surcharges.

If you are willing to wait until two weeks before your flight, and there is still award availability available, you have some better options. Note that award space isn't likely to be available during this two week period until the last two days, when Lufthansa opens up some additional unsold seats. Avianca
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is often the best option. They require 87,000 miles each way, but save you about $500 in fuel surcharges. Air Canada
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requires 70,000 miles, passes through the fuel surcharges, and is a partner of Membership Rewards.

Asiana
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miles are theoretically the best deal, only requiring 50,000 miles each way. However, you can only book award tickets at least 3 days before departure, Lufthansa won't let you book the tickets with partner miles until there is less than two weeks to go, and they usually don't have last minute tickets available until 24-48 hours before departure time. Even if you already have Asiana miles, award space usually becomes available too late to take advantage of. Furthermore, if you are transferring points from Marriott, it will take several days for the miles to transfer.

Others

Other top-notch first class experiences are available on:

  • ANA (All Nippon Airlines). Booking with ANA's own miles gives you better availability, but only allows round-trip flights. Virgin Atlantic usually requires the fewest points.
  • Japan Airline Lines (JAL). You can book with miles from any Oneworld program or with Alaska Airlines.
  • Qantas. It is usually very difficult to find a seat. You can book with any Oneworld program.
  • Thai Airways. But they don't operate any flights from the US. Use miles from any Star Alliance program.



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