The coronavirus pandemic hit international luxury travel hard. Months of low demand lead many airlines to retire their flagship A380’s and 747’s, causing them to discontinue or massively reduce their first-class offerings in the process. This comes after airlines had already been reducing international first class for years, opting instead to expand business class products.
But not all is lost. There are a handful of airlines still flying true first class, both domestic and abroad. Some planes are in the sky now, while others are set to make a return in the coming months. Better yet, you can book all of these first-class products with points and miles.
Here, I’ll show you all your options for booking first-class tickets with your points and miles in 2021.
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In This Post
Emirates first class
Naturally, I’ll start this article off with the most over-the-top first-class product in the sky: Emirates first.
Emirates has an iconic first-class product. On its retrofitted 777-300ER aircraft, you’ll find its new first-class product that effectively gives you a full room on the plane. There’s a huge lie-flat seat, large entertainment screen and an ensuite mini-bar stocked with refreshments. Plus, you’ll be treated to delicious in-flight food and excellent service.
The older A380 product that normally serves U.S. routes isn’t half-bad either and offers the same top-notch onboard service. During non-pandemic times, you can take a shower onboard. Emirates’ A380 is expected to make a return to the U.S. this June.
The airline recently started restricting first-class bookings to its own loyalty program, Emirates Skywards. The price you’ll pay for first class varies by route and booking type. But as an example, you can book New York-JFK to Dubai (DXB) for as low as 108,750 miles one-way when booked as a part of a round-trip itinerary.
You can transfer your American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Marriott Bonvoy points to Emirates. If you’re under 5/24, your best bet is to apply for a Chase card with one of these heightened welcome bonuses:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Plus, earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases in the first year of account opening.
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card – Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Related: What it’s like flying Emirates first class during the pandemic
ANA first class
ANA first class is one of the easiest first-class products to book with points and miles.
The airline flies first class on most of its U.S. routes, including flights to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX) and New York-JFK. Onboard, you’ll find a great hard product, hospitable service and excellent food and drink options. Keep an eye out for flights operating its new “The Suite” product — it’s truly a sight to behold.
The best way to book this flight is using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points. First-class awards to its Tokyo hub start at just 55,000 points one-way from the West Coast and 60,000 from the East Coast. You can view round-trip pricing for all flights in the table below — one-way tickets can be booked at half the cost. Better yet, you’ll only pay minimal taxes and fees.
To book, find award space using a Star Alliance search tool and call Virgin Atlantic to book your flight. Make sure to confirm award space over the phone before transferring points to Virgin Atlantic. Most transfers process instantly, so you don’t have to worry about losing award space.
You can transfer points to Virgin Atlantic from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Marriott Bonvoy.
Related: How to book a $20,000 ANA first-class ticket for just $34
Japan Airlines first class
Japan Airlines — commonly referred to as JAL — is another major airline in Japan. It operates flights to a handful of U.S. cities and offers first class on flights to major cities like Chicago and New York. If you book it, you’ll be showered in luxury from the moment you step into the JAL first-class lounge.
One of the best ways to book JAL first is with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. A one-way flight from the U.S. to Japan costs 70,000 miles, and you can add a free stopover. You’ll pay marginally more miles if you nook a connecting (or stopover) ticket elsewhere in Asia — for example, China to the U.S. costs 75,000 miles one-way in first class.
Alaska Airlines miles are among the hardest miles to earn, but it’s not impossible. Your best bet is earning with an Alaska cobranded credit card or transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy to Alaska.
Related: Maximizing redemptions with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Cathay Pacific first class
The Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is one of my all-time favorite airlines. It offers consistently amazing service in all its cabins, but first class is truly amazing. Its first-class lounges in Hong Kong (HKG) are a great place to relax, and on-board service includes incredible food, Champagne, caviar and even its own custom-brewed beer. You’ll find Cathay Pacific first class on select 777-operated routes to the U.S., including New York-JFK and San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong.
You’ll get the best redemption value with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. That said, you may have better luck finding award space with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. One-way first-class tickets cost 110,000 miles from the West Coast and 125,000 from the East Coast to Hong Kong.
You can transfer Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott points to Asia Miles. If you’re looking to boost your Capital One balance, you can open a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. The Venture card currently offers 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening. You can still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Related: The ultimate guide to Cathay Pacific first class
Singapore Suites first class
Singapore Suites first class is one of the most well-known first-class products in the sky. The new Suites product features a separate single bed and seat, giving you a full bedroom to yourself. Plus, you’ll be treated to excellent food, drink and service in-flight and can access first-class lounges in Singapore (SIN).
Suites first class is available on the carrier’s A380 aircraft, which — during normal times – operates Singapore’s New York-JFK to Frankfurt (FRA) fifth-freedom route. You can either disembark in Frankfurt or continue to Singapore.
Further, Singapore’s 777-300ER and -300 aircraft feature a standard first-class product that’s still excellent. From the U.S., these planes operate its Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) and San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong (HKG) routes. As you’d expect, you can continue to Singapore if you’d like.
Singapore Airlines is a Star Alliance member but restricts premium cabin award space to its own Krisflyer loyalty program. From the U.S., you’ll find the best pricing on New York-JFK to Frankfurt. This ticket costs 86,000 miles one-way, which is a pretty solid deal considering paid flights are usually more than $5,000+. You can continue to Singapore for more miles.
You can transfer Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott points to Singapore Krisflyer. Here’s a look at the best American Express cards that can help you earn points with your everyday spending:
- American Express® Green Card: 30,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 3x points on dining at restaurants, travel and transit (including flights, hotels, transit, taxis, tours, and ridesharing services), 1x points on all other purchases ($150 annual fee; see rates and fees).
- American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months of account opening. Earn 4x points on dining at restaurants; 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year; then 1x points); 3x points on airfare purchased directly from airlines or American Express Travel; 1x points on all other purchases, ($250 annual fee; see rates and fees).
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership. Earn 5x points on airfare purchased directly from airlines or with American Express Travel (earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), 5x on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, and Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts; 1x on all other purchases, ($550 annual fee; see rates and fees).
The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related: Singapore Airlines resumes retrofitting A380s with new cabins, much-improved suite
Lufthansa first class
Lufthansa first class will always have a special place in my mind. It’s the first true international first-class product I flew, and it forever changed my idea of what international travel can be. The ground experience in Frankfurt (FRA) was amazing in the dedicated First Class Terminal, and the service onboard was stellar. I can’t wait to fly it again soon.
You’ll generally get the best deal when booking with Avianca LifeMiles. You’ll pay 87,000 LifeMiles and minimal taxes and fees for a one-way flight from the U.S. to Europe in Lufthansa first. This pricing is valid if you choose to connect beyond a Lufthansa hub too, so add it to your European reopening itinerary.
One thing to note: Lufthansa only opens first-class award space to partners within 14 days of departure. This means you’ll have to book at the last minute if you don’t have Lufthansa Miles & More miles. The carrier isn’t currently operating first class-equipped flights to the U.S., but I expect this to change once international travel reopens.
You can transfer Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott points to LifeMiles. If you’re interested in earning Citi ThankYou points, consider one of these Citi credit cards:
- Citi Premier® Card: 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
- Citi Prestige® Card: 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Citi Premier
British Airways first class
British Airways has first class on a number of its routes and has continued offering it through the pandemic. Some of these flights are operated by planes equipped with BA’s new first-class product — a huge step up from what was previously offered. It’s still not as luxurious as other first-class products on this list, but it’s still a great way to fly transatlantic in luxury.
The best way to book BA first is with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. You’ll pay a similar number of miles as if you were booking with AAdvantage of BA Avios, but you’ll pay a lot fewer taxes and fees. A British Airways first-class seat from New York-JFK to London-Heathrow (LHR) will set you back 87,000 miles and between $250 and $350 in taxes. This is far cheaper than the $650+ BA charges when booking with Avios.
Again, you can transfer Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott points to Asia Miles.
Related: Review: British Airways (787-9) First Class From London to Santiago
American Airlines flagship first class
American Airlines is the only U.S. airline that offers a true first-class product. You’ll find its Flagship first product on several international routes during normal travel times and transcontinental routes like New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). You can expect upgraded lounge access, seats and service in Flagship first.
Generally, you’ll get the best deals booking these tickets with Etihad Guest. Here’s a look at one-way Flagship first-class pricing:
- U.S. to Asia: 62,500 – 67,500 points
- U.S. to Europe: 62,500 points
- U.S. to South America: 62,500
- Transcontinental: 32,500 points
Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott points transfer to Etihad Guest.
Related: The ultimate guide to Etihad partners
International first class isn’t as common as it once was, but a number of great airlines still offer it. You can use your points and miles to score an excellent deal on the first-class seats outlined in this article. It’s sure to make for a memorable first international trip once we’re back in the sky.
For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
Feature photo of Singapore Suites by Eric Rosen / The Points Guy.
SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.
And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free.
These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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