One of the most frequent questions I get via email involves Lufthansa first class. Years ago Lufthansa used to be the most generous airline when it comes to releasing first class award space. Back when they had 16 first class seats on the 747 it wasn’t uncommon to see at least half of them available for award tickets. However, now that they’ve shrunk their first class cabins to only offer eight first class seats on all aircraft types, and now that they’ve introduced a new first class product, they’re no longer so generous.
While Lufthansa Miles & More members have access to first class award space well in advance, Lufthansa now only releases first class award space to partner airlines at most 14 days out. That’s not to say that if they have first class seats for sale they’ll be available for awards at that point, but rather that this is the point at which they start releasing space.
How this fits into your travel plans
I realize I’m in a rather fortunate situation to be able to plan travel on a whim, so the 14 day rule doesn’t really impact me, since I’m just as happy to make travel plans last minute. Of course that’s not practical for most people with “day jobs,” as you get a set amount of time off, and you have to determine those dates in advance. So if you’re set on traveling somewhere, your best bet would be to book backup flights, and then change them within two weeks as first class award space opens up on Lufthansa. United is still somewhat generous when it comes to releasing first class award space, so you can always book them on the transatlantic flight, and then switch within two weeks of departure to Lufthansa. Alternatively you can book Lufthansa business class in advance, and then switch to first class within two weeks of departure.
How to predict whether Lufthansa will open up first class award space
Ultimately there’s no way to know for sure whether (and when) Lufthansa will release first class award space. Nonetheless there are some ways to make predictions. Given that there are only a total of eight seats in Lufthansa first class, you can always look up how full the flight is (since they display up to nine seats per cabin). For example, using ExpertFlyer I just looked up how many seats were left for sale on the Washington to Frankfurt flights on September 28, which is just over two weeks away:
Lufthansa only has two daily flights (the others are codeshare flights on United, which can be identified by the flight number starting with 9XXX). The first flight is “F8,” which means eight first class seats are for sale (in other words the cabin is completely empty), while the second flight is “F6,” meaning six first class seats are for sale. Both of these flights look really promising as far as award space opening up goes. If I had to guess I’d say the earlier flight will have award space open up at the two week mark, while space will open up on the later flight sometime between two weeks and departure.
To paint a slightly less optimistic picture, here are the flights from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, just over two weeks from departure:
As you can see, Lufthansa is only selling two first class seats on the earlier flight, and first class is sold out on the later flight. I wouldn’t expect to see any first class award space on either of these flights.
Finding Lufthansa first class award space
As I’ve mentioned before, United’s website does not accurately display Lufthansa first class award space. Asking my poodle about whether a given flight has Lufthansa first class award space is as useful as querying united.com.
So why isn’t the United website accurate?
- It shows Lufthansa first class award space as being available more than 14 days out
- It shows Lufthansa first class award space within 14 days of departure that isn’t actually available
- It doesn’t show some Lufthansa first class award space that is available within 14 days
In other words, it’s completely and utterly useless. If you try to make a booking with any of the “phantom” space you’ll get an error message saying availability has changed.
The only accurate method for searching Lufthansa first class award space is the the ANA tool. You need to have a Mileage Club account in order to use it, though the space it displays is accurate. As you’ll see via the ANA tool, the above flight doesn’t have first class award space.
I should also mention that I haven’t found a pattern as to the time of day first class award space is released at the 14 day mark, so it’s not that much of a science, unfortunately.
Booking Lufthansa’s new first class
Lufthansa presently has several versions of their first class cabin.
All their Airbus 380s are equipped with the new first class product.
All their Boeing 747-8s are equipped with the new first class product as well.
Roughly half of Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-400s feature the new first class, though it’s a different version than what can be found on the Airbus 380 and Boeing 747-8, given that it features a seat and separate bed.
Roughly half of Lufthansa’s Airbus 330/340 aircraft feature the new first class (the same one found on the Airbus 380 and Boeing 747-8), and they’re all based in Munich. That means you have a great shot at new first class out of Munich on an Airbus 330/340, while you don’t out of Frankfurt.
Aside from the above parameters there’s no way to know for sure whether you’ll have new first class in advance. However, you can make an educated guess based on this FlyerTalk thread. It lists the registration numbers of each reconfigured aircraft with links to the routes it has been flying, and if you study it for a bit you’ll see there are certain destinations that consistently get aircraft with new first class (like Osaka, Newark, and Shanghai on the 747-400, for example).
Why can’t I book Lufthansa first class award space through US Airways, even within two weeks of departure?
While Lufthansa does release first class award space to partner airlines within two weeks of departure, the exception is US Airways, since they block all Lufthansa first class award space. I guess with the number of US Airways Dividend Miles bookings in Lufthansa first class in the past, it was costing US Airways way too much money, and as a result they’ve entirely blocked Lufthansa first class on all routes. Now, you can try to get an agent to manually request the seats which in theory should make them available, though US Airways agents have specifically been told not to do this, so it can take some serious persistence.
What happened to Swiss first class award space?
Going back a few years, Swiss was just as generous about releasing first class award space as Lufthansa. I often remember seeing flights that were “F8 O8” (meaning there were eight first class seats for sale, and all first class seats were available for awards). Then virtually overnight Swiss cut all their first class award space to the US in advance for their partner airlines and only started releasing it about 2-3 days out. It’s worth noting that they continued to release first class award space on other routes heading east, including to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, India, and the Middle East. Unfortunately as of a couple of months ago they seem to have completely stopped releasing first class award space to partner airlines, which is a real shame since they have a great product.
Anyway, hopefully this answers some common questions about Lufthansa and Swiss first class. If you have any other questions about it, ask away below and I’ll do my best to answer.