Chasing the A380: Introduction

Introduction
Swiss First Class Lounge Chicago
Swiss First Class Chicago to Zurich
Swiss First Class Lounge Zurich
Lufthansa Business Class Zurich to Frankfurt
InterContinental Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa A380 First Class Frankfurt to Tokyo
Park Hyatt Tokyo
ANA First Class Lounge Tokyo Narita, Lufthansa A380 First Class Tokyo to Frankfurt
Westin Grand Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt, Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Orlando


Back in May I had the opportunity to fly first class on the Qantas Airbus 380 (see this trip report), and ever since I’ve been obsessed. I remember first seeing pictures of the Airbus 380 when it was in production and thinking “okay, what’s the big deal?” It wasn’t until after I flew it that I realized just how passenger-friendly the plane is. Not only is it spacious and does it usually have cutting edge first class products, but what really sets it apart for me is how quiet the plane is and the awesome tail camera, which takes the flying experience to a whole new level.

The thing is, I’m not just obsessed with first class, miles, and travel, but my first passion was actually aviation and planes. I started working on my private pilot’s license at the age of 14, and my love for planes hasn’t died off one bit since.

So I’ve made it a personal mission to stalk fly the Airbus 380 every opportunity I get, at least in a premium cabin. Hell, if there were an Airbus 380 with first class award availability flying to Topeka with a forced six day layover I’d take it in a heartbeat.

Which brings me to this trip. With the exception of Qantas, no airline consistently releases first class award space on the Airbus 380 to partner loyalty programs. That doesn’t stop me from looking hourly every now and then to see if there’s a mistake or change in policy. During one of my late night sessions with the ANA tool and Continental award search tool, I happened to stumble upon some Lufthansa Airbus 380 first class award space between Frankfurt and Tokyo. It was a complete coincidence, though woke me up pretty quickly. I was actually shocked to see that most dates in late December and early January had multiple first class award seats on the Airbus 380.

I assumed it was a glitch, so opened a different browser to verify availability with ANA, Aeroplan, and Continental. Yep, the space was actually there.

Now, admittedly there’s probably a reason there was first class award space to Tokyo right after Christmas — Tokyo isn’t exactly the warmest place that time of year. But still, this trip was about the Airbus 380, and even if it would be cold in Tokyo, I’d deal with it and still enjoy the city.

After playing around with availability I found a flight from Frankfurt to Tokyo with first class award space, and then two days after arriving a flight from Tokyo to Frankfurt with first class award space. Since there were two seats, I convinced a friend to come along.

I should mention that this all occurred just three days before departure, so there wasn’t all that much time to plan. Now the challenge became finding award space between the US and Germany. Since I was only planning a few days in advance I was confident the space would open up, as Lufthansa is great about opening up unsold first class seats to awards last minute. So for the time being I just held the flights between Frankfurt and Tokyo using US Airways miles. They allow a three day courtesy hold, so I left the reservation like that until Christmas Day, the day before I knew we’d have to depart.

And sure enough, award space did open up that day between the US and Europe. For the outbound, Swiss had space between Chicago and Zurich in first class (their new product no less!), while Lufthansa opened up award space from Frankfurt to Orlando for the return. I really lucked out with that, since US Airways doesn’t allow any changes after the original departure flight, and that return award space opened up literally the night before I was leaving. The stars had aligned and it was meant to be… or something like that.

In the end my itinerary looked as follows:

12/26 Swiss 9 Chicago to Zurich departing at 7:10PM and arriving at 10:55AM (+1 day)
12/27 Lufthansa 1191 Zurich to Frankfurt departing at 1:45PM and arriving at 2:50PM
12/28 Lufthansa 710 Frankfurt to Tokyo departing at 1:25PM and arriving at 8:35AM (+1 day)
12/31 Lufthansa 711 Tokyo to Frankfurt departing at 10:25AM and arriving at 2:15PM
01/01 Lufthansa 464 Frankfurt to Orlando departing at 1:35PM and arriving at 5:55PM

Given that we were looking at travel the day after Christmas, it’s no surprise that there was no award space to Chicago. However, as some of you may remember, I was 13 miles short of requalifying for Executive Platinum with American, so this worked out perfectly. While American charged $200 for the one-way ticket from Tampa to Chicago, it was well worth it to lock in Executive Platinum status for the following year.

My favorite thing about the whole trip was the cost. I used just 120,000 US Airways miles, which I had purchased through one of their mileage purchase promotions for under $1,800. Taxes and fees were roughly $200, so I paid about $2,000 for four longhaul international first class segments on some of my favorite airlines, including two on the Airbus 380. I always live in fear of US Airways devaluing their award chart, so this was a nice way to burn some miles guilt free.

As far as hotels go, in Tokyo I redeemed 22,000 Gold Passport points per night for the Park Hyatt Tokyo — an absolute no brainer, given the number of good things I’ve heard about this place (and it didn’t disappoint). We also had two overnights in Frankfurt, one in each direction. I decided to book the InterContinental for our outbound stay at a rate of 107 Euros, and the Westin Grand Frankfurt on the return at a rate of 129 Euros.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy, and see you in Chicago tomorrow.

Comments

  1. “With the exception of Qantas, no airline consistently releases first class award space on the Airbus 380 to partner loyalty programs”

    Cf. EK A380 F seats with JL miles.

    (Yes, I’m a smartass.)

  2. I’m curious on the award… USAirways charges 120k for an asia trip in F, going over the atlantic OR pacific? any stopovers allowed?

  3. @ Jay — Yep 120,000 miles for going via the Atlantic or the Pacific. It’s pretty funny, because if you just go to Europe they charge 125,000 miles, while if you go to Asia through Europe (and stopover there) it costs you only 120,000 miles. So you save 5,000 miles by flying an extra 20+ hours in first class. I’m frugal. 😀

    And yes, you’re allowed one stopover at a Star Alliance hub, though even that is only loosely enforced.

  4. Ben,

    On expert flyer there are SU flights available in first but when I call USAIR to try to redeem them, she says they are not there. Do you keep calling representatives until you find one who sees it or is there some trick I’m missing?

    LAX to EU shows C and F on LX! I would fly LX C over LH

    Flight Stops Depart Arrive Aircraft Frequency
    Reliability Available Classes
    Description Code Seats

    0 Connections

    LX 41 0 LAX
    10/03/12
    7:35 PM ZRH
    10/04/12
    3:45 PM 343
    Unavailable
    92% / 25m First – Awards & Upgrades O 1

    1 Connections

    UA 942 0 LAX
    10/03/12
    11:00 AM ORD
    10/03/12
    4:54 PM 752
    Unavailable
    69% / 24m

    LX 9 0 ORD
    10/03/12
    7:25 PM ZRH
    10/04/12
    11:00 AM 333
    Unavailable
    97% / 19m First – Awards & Upgrades O 1

    1 Connections

    UA 840 0 LAX
    10/03/12
    12:00 PM ORD
    10/03/12
    5:58 PM 320
    Unavailable
    58% / 23m

    LX 9 0 ORD
    10/03/12
    7:25 PM ZRH
    10/04/12
    11:00 AM 333
    Unavailable
    97% / 19m First – Awards & Upgrades O 1

    1 Connections

    AA 1563 0 LAX
    10/03/12
    4:50 PM SFO
    10/03/12
    6:05 PM 738
    Unavailable
    NA / NA

    LX 39 0 SFO
    10/03/12
    7:35 PM ZRH
    10/04/12
    3:40 PM 343
    Unavailable
    89% / 23m Business – Awards & Upgrades I 3

    1 Connections

    DL 4780 0 LAX
    10/03/12
    4:50 PM SFO
    10/03/12
    6:11 PM CR9
    Unavailable
    84% / 23m

    LX 39 0 SFO
    10/03/12
    7:35 PM ZRH
    10/04/12
    3:40 PM 343
    Unavailable
    89% / 23m Business – Awards & Upgrades I 3

  5. @ Michael — This is because the availability you see on Expert Flyer for Swiss is what’s available to Miles & More members, and not what’s available to Star Alliance partners. Swiss and Lufthansa release a LOT more award space to their own members than partner airlines, though close to departure they often open up more award space to Star Alliance partners.

  6. @ Michael — Don’t lose hope completely, as that space may very well open up a few days before departure.

  7. @ Ken — LOL, yes, I actually was (well, 6F, but who’s counting?). Were you on the flight?

    @ Carl — Loved the Westin, it’s my new favorite hotel in Frankfurt (though Frankfurt has one of the worst selection of hotels for a major city, in my opinion).

  8. sorry to bug you guys again, but how can I also have access to the graphical maps tracking your itinerary? I am talking about the globe with the red flight paths. Thank you.

  9. lucky, what tool do you use to check last-minute availability? ANA only shows available flights more than 7 days prior to departure… Thanks!

  10. @Jake: For a flight departing today, put in 1/15 for the departure and return. Reverse the routing to ZRH to SFO, submit, ignore the error and look down. And if you’re not looking at your lap you’ll see: OK OK OK.

  11. Awesome! Thank you, Simon. And US Airways will issue a Star Alliance award ticket that close to departure (e.g. 24h prior to takeoff), right?

  12. Lucky, great report as usual!

    One question though, how did you manage to scoop up such a good deal? I mean the whole trip just costs 120,000 miles.

    I briefly checked for an award flight from NRT to FRA on Business Class, it’s costs 60,000! By the time I add a return ticket it’s would be well over 120,000!

    Could you break down miles you used for each segment of the flight?

    Cheers

  13. @ TG — US Airways charges 120,000 miles for first class from the US to Japan, and allows you to route via Europe. So there was no per segment cost, but rather just a cost for the entire itinerary.

  14. Lucky,

    Yep, you’re right, it was 6F. I thought that was you. I was sitting way in the back and I recognized you on my way in. I’m taking advantage of the DEQAA and DEQ11 routes ORD-SFO for EXP thanks to your post a couple weeks back. I’ve noticed about 5 or so FTers on those flights typically; there were at least a couple of us on that one.

  15. @ Johnny Mac — As long as you’d like within the ticket validity. Tickets are valid for a year from the date of issue, so as long as you can complete travel within that time period, you’re good to go. So you could stop for 11+ months if you wanted to.

  16. hahahahaha AWESOME! Thanks for the response! So if you schedule a ticket from New York to Tokyo, you could stop in Paris for a month and if you get a good agent, you could go to Berlin on the same ticket and stay there for a week and a half, and then go to Tokyo for 2 weeks? haha But you have to make sure you get on the partner airlines…? and then on the way back..I wonder if you could go from Tokyo to Hawaii and then stay there for a month..and then go from Hawaii to New York…That would be an awesome trip! I wonder if you have to take the same routing on the return?

  17. @ Johnny Mac — The limiting factor would actually be the number of stopovers you’re allowed. Many airlines (including US Airways, United, Delta, etc.) only allow one stopover of over 24 hours enroute to the destination. So while you could return via a different routing (even via a different ocean), you couldn’t stop for more than 24 hours along the way if you already had a stopover.

  18. Oh..I see. Thanks! Well, If it was convenient, it would be kind of fun to do a fast visit of Berlin. I love the site btw. I love reading about the trips. I was looking to read the whole story of “Chasing the A380” but I ran out of clickable links. I also really like the break down at the beginning of it. The old way has it’s pluses too. Do you think you could go from New York to Paris to Berlin and not stay longer than 24 hours in Berlin, and then to Tokyo. Then Tokyo to Hawaii to New York on one ticket?

  19. @ Johnny Mac — Absolutely, as long as your stops are for less than 24 hours, you should be able to do that through a program like United/Continental. I’ve done plenty of trips where I visit a handful of destinations for less than 24 hours each, and they can be quite fun.

  20. Would trip to Bangkok as a final destination through Frankfurt/Tokyo with the flights in this itinerary be allowed by US Airways? Also, do you pay fees for changing the flights at the last minute?

  21. @ Panda — Absolutely, though keep in mind that Bangkok is South Asia, so would cost 160,000 miles in first class instead of the 120,000 miles required for North Asia. US Airways does impose a $150 change fee for any changes to award tickets.

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