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There are a lot of amazing first class products in the world, though they’re not all created equal in terms of how difficult it is to redeem miles for them. Some first class products are wide open with miles, like Korean Air first class. Others are quite difficult to redeem miles for, like Singapore first class and Lufthansa first class.
Then then there are products that are almost completely off limits when redeeming miles. For example, Swiss first class is only available to Miles & More Senator members and above, while Air France first class is only available to FlyingBlue elite members, and only at the flex cost (which is expensive).
However, earlier I wrote about how I really want to try Air France’s new La Premiere product, as I think it’s the only great first class product I haven’t yet flown. With that in mind, in this post I want to take a closer look at the best ways to snag a seat in Air France La Premiere.
Air France’s 777-300ER La Premiere First Class cabin
Why SkyTeam is restrictive with first class awards
In the case of Air France, they’re choosing to make first class awards available exclusively to elite members of their own program. It has nothing to do with their alliance as such, and instead it’s similar to how Swiss treats their first class product, despite being in Star Alliance.
However, for a bit of background, SkyTeam actually does approach international first class redemptions differently than oneworld or Star Alliance. In oneworld and Star Alliance, members of all loyalty programs can redeem miles for international first class awards, assuming the airline makes it available to partners.
That’s not the case in SkyTeam. While SkyTeam has common economy and business class award availability, international first class awards can only be booked as part of a bilateral agreement. For example, Korean Air SkyPass members can redeem miles for Saudia first class and China Eastern first class, though that’s about it. That’s because they have a special agreement with them, while Delta SkyMiles members, for example, don’t have access to those seats.
Air France limits first class awards to elite members
Not only does FlyingBlue limit first class awards to their own members, but they limit them to FlyingBlue Silver, Gold, and Platinum members. FlyingBlue elite members can book first class awards out of their accounts for anyone, though do keep in mind that the FlyingBlue fraud department is very, very aggressive, so I’d be careful if redeeming miles for someone else.
You can earn FlyingBlue Silver status with just 25,000 elite qualifying miles in a year. I actually have a pretty easy opportunity to do this. In December I flew Garuda Indonesia first class from London to Jakarta, and I haven’t yet credited the flights anywhere. FlyingBlue awards 175% miles for Garuda Indonesia first class, which means I’d be at just over 25,000 elite qualifying miles for the roundtrip, which would get me Silver status (as far as I know). So I’d potentially have easy access to Air France first class awards…
How much does Air France charge for first class awards?
Assuming you’re an elite member, you can find the cost of first class awards through the FlyingBlue mileage calculator. The amounts vary by city, though the awards are expensive. To give a few examples of one-way first class redemption costs:
- Paris to Dubai costs 160,000 miles
- Paris to Los Angeles 200,000 miles
- Paris to Hong Kong costs 320,000 miles
- Paris to Sao Paulo costs 320,000 miles
- Los Angeles to Paris to Hong Kong costs 320,000 miles
So at a minimum you’ll be paying 160,000 miles for a one-way ticket, which is sort of insane.
The good news is that Air France first class award availability is excellent. They use the “F” bucket for first class awards, which should be available on just about any flight.
Still, 200,000 miles for a one-way first class ticket between the U.S. and Europe is pretty painful. A few years back FlyingBlue charged 125,000 miles for a one-way first class award between the U.S. and Europe, though they then raised the price to 162,500 miles. Now it’s 200,000 miles, and you have to be an elite member. Ouch….
If you do go this route, the good news is that Air France FlyingBlue is transfer partners with all four major transferrable points currencies, so you can pool points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, Citi Prestige® Card, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, etc.
A better way to redeem points for Air France first class?
When you consider that a roundtrip first class ticket between the U.S. and Europe would cost you 400,000 miles, or that a roundtrip first class ticket Europe and Asia would cost you 640,000 miles, there’s an option to get more creative, given that Air France has some semi-reasonable first class fares.
For example, you can fly roundtrip first class on Air France between London and Hong Kong for ~$4,350:
There’s a way to leverage points to take advantage of the above — if you have The Enhanced Business Platinum® Card from American Express, you get 35% off first & business class redemptions when using Pay With Points. So you could book that ticket for ~435,000 Membership Rewards points, but then you’d get ~152,250 Membership Rewards points back, plus you’d earn miles for the ticket.
If crediting to FlyingBlue without status, you’d receive ~54,000 FlyingBlue miles, not to mention you’d get instant status.
If you valued those as much as Membership Rewards points, that’s like paying ~228,750 points out of pocket for a roundtrip Air France first class ticket. That’s a lot less offensively expensive, if you ask me.
Air France first class is one of the most costly product to book using miles. While having to be an elite member as such isn’t necessarily a huge barrier, the award costs are still prohibitive. Roundtrip first class awards out of Paris range between 320,000 miles and 640,000 miles — ouch!
If you have a ton of points and don’t want to part with cash, that’s not a horrible option. However, personally I think the best value is to find a discounted Air France first class ticket, and leverage the 35% off Pay With Points feature offered on The Enhanced Business Platinum® Card from American Express.
If you can find a decent Air France first class fare, this is an opportunity to try Air France first class at a decent price.