Flying First Class To Europe From The West Coast

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If you are passionate about having a non-stop flight to Europe from West of the Mississippi, your options are limited to begin with. If you want to redeem frequent flyer miles for first class, your choices are reduced even further.

We get requests every day from folks wanting to use miles to Europe, particularly in first class, and specifically nonstop from the West Coast. Understandable, as these are some of the rarest awards out there nowadays. So I thought I’d go through the routing options, and provide some thoughts on how best to book each of these.

For the sake of drawing a line somewhere, we’re going to look at everything West of the Mississippi — which in practice means mostly California and Texas. Hopefully this is helpful to some of you, and if nothing else it will give me something to link to. 😉

West-Coast-First

Star Alliance

Lufthansa

Frankfurt from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Mexico City, Seattle*, and Vancouver*
Munich from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Mexico City, and Vancouver*

Lufthansa is really the gold standard for first class travel to Europe using miles, even if certain friends of mine might, ahem, oversell the experience.

Lufthansa-First-1

The caveat is that Lufthansa is converting several routes to two-cabin (or three cabin, if you count premium economy), so some of these cities won’t have first class service going forward.

Lufthansa only releases award space to partner airlines within 15 days of departure. This means if you aren’t using the Miles & More program, you’ll need to wait until just prior to departure to book your flights. Lufthansa is pretty predictable in releasing first class award space close to departure, but California routes are always going to be difficult.

Which miles are best for Lufthansa First Class?

For advanced (and enhanced) availability, Miles & More is the best choice. Otherwise Aeroplan is usually the best value, despite the fuel surcharges:

ProgramOne-way Mileage CostEarn Through
Air Canada Aeroplan62,500 milesAmex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Lufthansa Miles & More85,000 milesStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Miles & More® Premier World MasterCard®
Singapore KrisFlyer80,000 milesCiti Prestige® Card
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
United MileagePlus110,000 milesChase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card

Singapore Airlines

Moscow from Houston

Singapore offers first class to Europe on their fifth freedom routes from Houston and New York, and most of the attention around here typically goes to the New York route.

Singapore-777-First-Class

If you are actually heading to Russia, Singapore is a great option, and availability is decent most of the time. Connection options aren’t fantastic though, so that’s something to consider.

Which miles are best for Singapore First?

Singapore blocks partner premium cabin redemptions, so you’ll need to redeem KrisFlyer miles. Fortunately, those are pretty easy to come by:

ProgramOne-way Mileage CostEarn Through
Singapore KrisFlyer57,375 miles (including 15% discount)Literally every major flexible points currency.

See Ben's post on The Secret Of Flying Singapore Suites

United Airlines

London from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston | Frankfurt from San Francisco

United offers GlobalFirst on a handful of Western routes, though availability at the saver level is terrible. As in, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen space for more than one person at the saver level more than a few days prior to departure.

On the plus side, United doesn’t have any fuel surcharges, so this is a much less costly redemption than something on Lufthansa. United also makes tons of space available at the standard award level — that sounds like a horrible idea to me, but if you have a few million United miles and need a nonstop then it might be worthwhile. Maybe.

united 747 first seat

Finally, it’s worth noting that United GlobalFirst is hardly aspirational. This is a case where it probably makes sense to look at some of the better business class products versus holding out for United first, in my opinion.

Which miles are best for United GlobalFirst?

I’d avoid using Miles & More as they impose fuel surcharges on United awards to Europe, but you still have quite a few options here:

ProgramOne-way Mileage CostEarn Through
Air Canada Aeroplan62,500 milesAmex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Avianca LifeMiles90,000 milesPurchase during promotions
Singapore KrisFlyer80,000 milesCiti Prestige® Card
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
United MileagePlus80,000 milesChase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card

oneworld

American Airlines

London from Los Angeles and Dallas

American currently offers service to London on their new 777-300ER from Los Angeles and Dallas. Many of the notes on United apply to American as well — award availability is terrible at the saver level, and while the hard product is pretty good, the catering and service are… not.

American-Flagship-First-Class-01

That being said, Europe is one of the toughest destinations with American AAdvantage miles right now in my opinion, and those of us on the West Coast are particularly stuck. So if you do see availability at the saver level, or have a seven-figure AAdvantage balance and don’t mind paying AAnytime rates, this could be a possibility.

Given the option, I would redeem for Star Alliance first or SkyTeam business before chasing American first, personally.

Which miles are best for American First?

I wouldn’t redeem anything other than American miles on this route, typically, but there are a few choices:

ProgramOne-way Mileage CostEarn Through
American AAdvantage62,500 milesStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®
Alaska Mileage Plan62,500 milesStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card

British Airways

London from Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Dallas, Houston, and Denver

Ah, British Airways. Their first class is certainly better than American or United, but if you’re looking for an experience on par with Lufthansa or an Asian carrier you’re going to be disappointed.

And I say that as someone who actually really enjoys flying British Airways.

British-Airways-A380-First-Class

Availability out of Los Angeles and San Francisco is pretty terrible unless you’re booking either 11 months out or a few days prior to departure, but it’s not uncommon to see two award seats on the other routes. In fact, of the carriers on this list, British Airways has the best award availability in first class.

That being said, British Airways also has hefty fuel surcharges, which add up quickly. I accrue points on a cash-back card specifically to help defray fuel surcharges, and that’s probably the best option here.

Which miles are best for British Airways First?

Keeping in mind that you’ll pay fuel surcharges regardless of which currency you use, these are the top programs:

ProgramOne-way Mileage CostEarn Through
American AAdvantage62,500 milesStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®
Alaska Mileage Plan62,500 milesStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card
British Airways Executive Club85,000 Avios off-peak
100,000 Avios peak

102,000 / 120,000 for Mexico City
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card and Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
British Airways Visa Signature® Card

SkyTeam

Hahahahahahahahahaha!

Joking aside, very few SkyTeam carriers offer first class to begin with. The only carrier with first class between North America and Europe is Air France, which you typically can’t redeem miles for anyway.

So SkyTeam first is a solid “No” for the purposes of this list.

Flights you can’t (generally) book with miles

Air France

Paris from Los Angeles or Houston

Air France limits first class redemptions to elite members of the FlyingBlue program. They also don’t offer “Classic” awards in first, so those who are eligible to redeem for first must do so at the more expensive rate.

Air-France-First-Class-1

SWISS

Zurich from Los Angeles or San Francisco

Similarly, Swiss limits first class award space to Miles & More Senator and HON Circle members. All Miles & More members can leverage upgrades from business to first, but those looking for a pure mileage redemption are a bit out of luck when it comes to Swiss.

Bottom line

Flying first class to Europe from the West isn’t impossible, but you are going to need to be very flexible. Routes are limited, and award availability even more so, so these aren’t readily available.

Realistically, you are looking at a large cash component as well, as Lufthansa and British Airways tend to have the most space, but with heavy fuel surcharges. Otherwise, standard awards with United and American are the only other real option, and they require an outrageous number of miles.

All that considered, a connection in Chicago or New York might just be worthwhile. The extra connection can be worth it for the better product, or securing an award with a lower overall cost.

Has anyone redeemed for first class from the Western states lately? What did you book?

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Comments

  1. UA GF using UA miles is only 80k each way. Doesn’t exactly make it the best redemption still but at least it’s not 110k.

  2. My most recent Lufthansa First experience was Munich-Los Angeles in First, although it was booked about 8 days out in the middle of winter on a Saturday departure. They are there but you have to be very flexible and lucky (not Lucky, just lucky).

  3. @AdamH and Swiss business or Lufthansa 747-8 business or Turkish business are only 70K – I’d rather take one of those from the west coast than United GF.

  4. Good stuff, Tiffany. That IAH-DME flight is intriguing, because there is usually decent availability, but the problem for USA flyers who aren’t headed to Russia as the final destination or a stopover is the tough visa rules. Split tickets in Russia are really risky unless you want to pay for a transit visa — good luck trying to find reliable anecdotes on what happens if you have a connection in DME on separate tickets and SQ won’t interline your bags. Some say you can be “accompanied” to collect and re-check your luggage without a transit visa, and others say no way. Adding to that, the schedule for the return really stinks — it departs around 9:40 in the morning, so it’s very hard to connect from anywhere else in Europe that morning, and even on a single ticket a delay on the outbound can be a problem if you don’t have a Russian visa. For those planning to get a visa who may want a Russian stopover, though, it’s a really good option given the transfer options to SQ.

  5. It used to be the case that right around now, Air France would start offering some dirt cheap (relative) first class fares from LAX to CDG. The flights were typically for the last quarter of the year, and hovered around $5000. That’s a LOT of money, but comparing it to what it usually is ($8,000-$15,000-sometimes higher), it always tempted me. This year I’m not seeing those fares return, even with the A380+B777+B777 dailies out of LAX. Sad… If it appears though I think I’m going to take it.

  6. To add to the list of “Flights you can’t (generally) book with miles”, Air France flies A380 to San Francisco too… not sure it is seasonal or

  7. @ Noah — Indeed, though I believe they’re no longer selling F on that route? I could be mistaken though!

  8. Any word on taxes and fees when redeeming Lufthansa First with Krisflyer miles? Wondering if it’s better than Aeroplan.

  9. Recently booked my mom on LH first SFO-FRA. Was a little surprised by the <14 days availability (for one seat) from the west coast. She's flying back on BA first but I picked that up in February.

    Would be helpful to have estimated fuel surcharges in the charts. For example, though Aeroplan requires much fewer miles the fees at almost $500. All things being equal I’d transfer MR to Aeroplan and pay the fees but my mom has buckets of Chase miles so it made more sense to transfer to United.

  10. @Amol

    Agreed, did both in May. Was actually very pleasantly surprised by LH seat after reading mixed reviews. Perhaps not the most private but very comfy. TK was also not bad (can’t complain about free wifi), although I will say if I was just going over to Europe for a short bit and not going to Turkey otherwise, you do end up much further out of the way.

  11. If you want to fly and try Lufthansa first class on the 747 (where there is a separate seat and bed), the only route I saw them selling First Class on is the SEA-FRA route until August 5th. Good luck!

  12. How likely are FRA-JFK waitlisted awards on SQ to clear, and how long before departure do they clear? That flight is probably the best option available to me but not sure if I want to be relying on the waitlist clearing…

  13. @Tiffany, great post! There are a few OMAAT readers who are flying blue elites so in case they don’t know, Air France recently devalued their flex awards, including La Première (first class). The cost from LAX to CDG used to be 162.5k but nowadays it is 200k! Yes that is for a one-way flight! 🙁 You can, however, redeem using the old rates if you call Flying Blue by phone before Aug 31st. Just an fyi.

  14. I travel to Europe 6-8x/per year, but being based in LA gives me few options for direct flights. Most my business is in Germany, and connecting in London isn’t terrible. I used to be loyal to United, and would fly either LAX-LHR on United or LAX-FRA/MUC on Lufthansa depending on award availability in Business or First. On a side note, I fly LAX-DEN almost weekly, and have done the DEN-FRA flight on Lufthansa, which you forgot to mention. Since the devaluation of United miles, I have switched to American and much prefer them. Business on the 777-300er on American is far superior to Global First on United, in my opinion. It also beats Lufthansa Business. The service and food on American can be hit or miss, but I find that the case with almost any carrier.

  15. @ Tiffany.

    MEX-LHR on BA actually falls into the same zone (7…?) as the other west cost cities despite it being a shade over 5500 miles. As such it’s 85,000 miles off peak and 100,000 miles peak.

  16. This is helpful! like nem mentioned it’ll be great to also list surcharges when it’s high. Given the limited award availability from west coast, can we get another post on business class also? Thanks!

  17. And speaking of business class, UA also flies nonstop to both FRA and MUN on 777 and 767. If interested!

  18. BA will have F to PHX and LAS again starting when the winter schedule begins (when Europe switches off daylight savings time). Right now on those routes you can book business class and get either the old or new first class seat if you have status.

  19. Surcharges vary though, from being taxes only, about $33 to $500 or more. I’m not sure Tiffany would be able to list charges accurately.

    I saw a combination of flights on Aeroplan with $240 in charges and another combination with $480 in charges. Both long haul segments were the same flight same carrier (LH)

  20. Can someone advise how to buy Swiss business and upgrade to Swiss First – as Tiffany notes is the case for M&M members? Any idea how many miles does it take to do the upgrade? See that as a silver lining for what its worth…

  21. Hi

    Is it possible to also compare the cash component as well? Hard to know whether aero plan is Wilkerson it without knowing their surcharges.

  22. @ Tiffany & @ Larry — I’ve done a transfer in DME without a visa but it was on a single ticket and with a checked-through bag: IAH-DME on SQ F and DME-VIE on OS J (IIRC it was 80K SQ KF miles). FYI, despite some wording to the contrary, some degree of backtracking is permitted as SQ let me route like that but not, for example, to ZRH. FWIW, Star Alliance Routemap shows IAH-VIE via DME while doesn’t show IAH-ZRH via DME so that may be what they are going by.

  23. Aeroplan, Miles & More, and Singapore levy fuel surcharges on Lufthansa and Singapore. They are much higher on Lufthansa. British Airways carries fuel surcharges regardless of which carrier they are booked through, and also levies the charges on American-operated flights.

    Will try to write a post with more detail later, but given the above you can get a general sense of how to determine the taxes and fees on an award here: http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2014/12/08/award-taxes-fees-much/

  24. For what it’s worth: i think the US FF system, which today relies more heavily on CC sign up bonuses than on actual airline loyalty has kind of “disrupted” the system. I’m personally pretty pleased that a company like LH doesn’t reward this aberration too much. I’m since about 20 years a regular LH flyer and renew my SEN status every time, if only by a few miles, by just doing LH group flights. I use these miles every (second) year for an intercontinental flight in first for 2 persons. I’ve been to Africa, South America, Canada, US (East & West Coast incl SFO and LAX), Thailand, China and Australia (via Singapore and Bangkok).Just booked Vancouver for next year, availability every single day you want in F (except the day I’ve taken now:-) Each time 2 persons in first (and second is half price on LH if you’re a SEN). Have flown first on SQ, TG, LX and LH (A330 / 747 / A380). I do plan about 10-12 months in advance, but have ALWAYS found the places I wanted, either exactly on the day I wanted or at +/- 1 day of the date I wanted (although the confirmation did come occasionally only after 1 week by being put on the FC SEN waiting list). I think that this system is absolutely as it should be: real loyal customers, getting their miles by flying on the company where they hold their main FF card, get the reward they deserve without too much hassle, while others that gained the miles by side-ways, get the “left overs”. Honestly, if you would own a shop, wouldn’t you run it exactly the same way ???

  25. IAH-DME on SQ may be headed to the list of flights you can’t book soon … I don’t believe there have been any sightings of First saver awards on SQ’s reconfigured aircraft with only 4 F seats. 🙁

  26. Just snagged 2x BA F DEN-LHR.

    Fuel surcharges and the devaluation of Avios (British Skypesos?) suck, but hey… Planning something months out and finding this was like a gift (timing couldnt have been better for availability).

  27. @ Bgriff — that’s a good point although IAH-DME route wasn’t on the initial list of routes slated to receive Y+-equipped planes with reduced F capacity. Selfishly, I hope they stick with current configuration as long as possible. Not sure of current loads (due to sanctions and competition from Korean Air’s route to ICN) but on our flights it’s been almost full.

    @ Apu — go to Miles & More site, go to Mileage Calculator, plug in your origin and destination airport code, then look under “Oneway Upgrade”. Looking at LAX-ZRH, it looks like a one-way upgrade from Business to First will be 50000 miles (if your business ticket is J, C, or D fare). If you click on the ‘i’ icon, it also makes it seem that for 70000 miles you can upgrade from P and Z fares on Swiss:


    Business Class (J,C,D) to First Class
    Business Class (P,Z) to First Class only possible on SWISS International Airlines (+20,000 miles)

    P.S. Given that one-way first award costs 85000, upgrade pricing isn’t very generous.

  28. @Tiffany,

    Thanks for the very timely article. I’ve been scouring the AA search tool for F seats from DFW to CDG for next summer. There’s almost no F flights except on BA, so I was ecstatic when I found two F seats on AA metal via LHR at the sAAver level. I know… AA… hardly aspirational, but cutting out fuel surcharges is valuable to me.

    There’s absolutely no sAAver F coming back, but I was thrilled to get two J seats on a direct flight CDG-DFW, and on a Friday nonetheless. I appreciate all the tips you guys provide. Thanks!

  29. Lufthansa flies a daily 747-400 from Denver to Frankfurt as well. And Icelandair–the Frontier Airlines of the North–flies a daily 757 Denver to Reykjavik for what it’s worth…

  30. Great article, but it takes 70,000 Alaska miles to book a first class ticket on BA, not 62,500.

  31. Best airline out of LAX for finding premium non-stop, year around seems to be Virgin Atlantic, followed by British Airways. Virgin pretty consistently has 1-2 seats open in upper class if you book 11 months out.

  32. Thanks for the info Tiffany.

    I’m booked in Lufthansa business class on several paid tickets from IAH and LAX to FRA. What is the best way to upgrade to first class using Star Alliance miles?

    Also, BA flies PHX to LHR.

  33. If the passenger is willing to fly business, Delta has flights from Seattle to London, Amsterdam and Paris.

  34. Thanks for this, Tiffany. Any chance you can do one for J class (so that airlines like Air New Zealand and Turkish can be included for comparison?)

  35. Ethiopian Airlines also offers LAX-DUB since June. They used to show Business Class availability on UA, and I know some people who booked it. It doesn’t seen to show up as much as it did in the options.

  36. BA flies out of Austin also. It’s on a 787-8 now, but it’ll be switching to a 777-200ER this fall and then a 787-9 early next year.

  37. Hi Tiffany,

    great article! Since first class is limited, would business class be a lot more feasible? Would you mind writing something about business class travel from West Coast to Europe and the other way around. I’ve been having trouble finding business class flights from Europe to West Coast at the end of Sept/Early Oct of this year.

    Thanks!

  38. I like to use Asiana club for LH F redemptions. 50,000 miles and the same fees as Aeroplan and only $30 fee to change or cancel.

  39. For what is worth, British flies from San Diego to London as well. Not sure of the availability on it though

  40. @ Daniel — Well, business class is a bit more feasible. If you’re looking now for September you’re going to need to either plan on some connections, or locking in something acceptable now that you can change closer to departure.

  41. @ C in CA — Yes, but they don’t offer first. Great option in business class using Aeroplan miles without surcharges!

  42. @ Ole — I believe Lufthansa has stopped selling F on that route, so I didn’t include it.

  43. Hi Tiffany,

    Thanks for the info. How do I upgrade from paid business class to first class on LH using Star Alliance miles? I’m booked on several paid business class tickets from LAX and IAH to FRA.

    Thanks.

    Rob

  44. @ Rob — Well, how did you purchase the tickets (so what ticket stock), and which miles do you have?

  45. Is Aeroflot 107, 777-300ER, LAX to SVO in business a reasonably comfortable way to go? Sure is convenient

  46. @ Jim S – a friend of mine just flew NRT-SVO and she liked Aeroflot In Business. On 773 it’s in 2-2-2 layout so it’s not the top-level product but not the worst way to go to Moscow. I suggest reading some trip reports/FlyerTalk feedback.

  47. Star Alliance is also offering a First Class only service from IAH-SVG, flying a B-737 with 44 pax.

  48. Recently booked LH FC SFO-FRA next April on 380. First time LH. Flown UA FC SFO-CDG never again. Flown BA SFO-LHR FC twice but now never see availability. I think SFO-CDG on AF in biz is attractive. That’s my next goal

  49. @ The Viking – Actually, it’s an all-business service and award tickets are priced accordingly. IAHSVG route is offered by SAS (using the plane & crew provided by Privatair). I flew it a few weeks back as part of AMS-CPH-SVG-IAH ticket. Probably the best way to fly it is by redeeming Aeroplan miles — only 45000 miles from Houston to that part of Europe (one-way business).

  50. Tiffany,

    Hello from San Diego. Ha! Yes, remarkably we sometimes want to leave here.;)
    Although this was a post about first class, I actually was able to snag BA business class from LHR-SAN for my last trip to Europe. It was awesome to just walk off the plane and be in simple San Diego security and then home. My next goal is SAN-NRT on JAL. Although first class from LA would be great, sometimes just in and out of SAN is appealing…

  51. This is very useful! Is there a similar list for business class? Or even a list of flights which go from west coast direct to Europe? The main reason for me is so you have longer to sleep once you’re in the air. From NY you’re barely in the air long enough.

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