Before I Rank The World’s Best First Class Airlines & Lounges…
The World’s 10 Best First Class Products
The World’s 10 Best First Class Airline Lounges
How To Use Miles For The World’s 10 Best First Class Products
A couple of days ago I published my rankings of what I consider to be the world’s top 10 international first class inflight products, and in this post I’ll share what I consider to be the world’s best international first class airline lounges.
Before reading this post, make sure you check-out my previous post sharing my overall approach to ranking these experiences. This is entirely subjective, and it’s especially difficult when we’re talking about lounges, since everyone values amenities differently. Some airline lounges have bedrooms that are almost like hotel rooms. That’s valuable if you have a long layover, but worthless if you have a short layover. Meanwhile other lounges have top notch food, but that’s of limited use if you’re between longhaul flights and not hungry. Other lounges can save you time getting through security and to the plane, but it depends on the circumstances.
So I’m going to try and balance the above amenities, though you can shift around which lounge is best based on what you value the most.
Lastly, for those who find this post through Google and aren’t regular readers, let me emphasize that I’ve actually visited every single first class lounge I rank (and paid for the ticket, either in cash or miles), and have visited almost every international first class lounge out there. If you’d like to see more lounge reviews, check out the trip report index.
With that out of the way, here are what I consider to be the 10 best first class lounges, starting with the best:
Air France’s first class is the whole package. Not only does Air France offer the world’s best first class inflight product, but their ground experience in Paris is equally impressive. If you’re connecting in Paris, you’ll be picked up at your plane and driven to the first class lounge, and then later on will be driven from the first class lounge to your connecting flight.
There’s so much to love about the Air France first class lounge, though my favorite thing is probably the restaurant, which has an Alain Ducasse menu. In my experience it’s the best food offers in any airline lounge in the world. It’s not just that the food quality is excellent, but the service and presentation are equally good.
Once you’re done with a great meal, you can get a complimentary 30 minute spa treatment, and can choose between services like massages, facials, etc.
There’s not a first class ground experience in the world that’s as seamless and has as much attention to detail. It doesn’t matter whether you’re originating in Paris or connecting, Air France has all the details covered.
Rather than just offering a great first class lounge, Lufthansa has taken it to the next level with their First Class Terminal. This allows you to skip the main terminal at Frankfurt Airport altogether, and instead drive right up to the First Class Terminal, and then be driven to your plane when your flight is ready to board. All formalities, including check-in, security, and immigration, are handled in the lounge.
The lounge itself is beautiful, with attentive service, a great restaurant catered by DO&CO, a cigar bar, nap rooms, and collectible rubber duckies.
As an aviation geek my favorite part is being driven across the tarmac to the plane. This is one of the few situations where I hope my plane is parked as far from the terminal as possible. 😉
So why doesn’t Lufthansa get the number one spot? Because the experience is inconsistent. It’s fantastic if you’re originating in Frankfurt, but if you’re just in transit, the experience isn’t nearly as seamless. The only time you’ll be picked up from your flight by car is if you’re arriving at a remote stand. Otherwise you’ll potentially have to walk thousands of steps and navigate your own way through the maze which is Frankfurt Airport. The horror. 😉
Swiss’ first class lounge in Zurich is still fairly new, and I visited it for the first time about a year ago. I didn’t come in with terribly high expectations, since I didn’t think their old lounge was that great. Boy, is their new lounge a significant improvement.
In addition to service throughout the lounge, the Swiss lounge has an excellent restaurant, and after the Air France lounge I’d say it’s probably my favorite restaurant in an airport lounge.
But there are two other features that make this lounge exceptional. The first is that the lounge has private bedrooms for those with long layovers. The beds are as comfortable as the ones you’d find in top hotels, not to mention the bedroom has a view of the tarmac and runways, which made me not want to sleep.
Furthermore, the lounge has a large terrace with views of the gates. In summer they’ll even have ice cream out there for guests to enjoy.
In terms of design, Cathay Pacific’s The Pier in Hong Kong is one of my two favorite lounges. The lounge is designed in a way that makes you feel like you’re in a really swanky hotel or even home, rather than at an airport.
The Pier also has a good restaurant with an a la carte menu.
On top of that, the lounge has private rooms where you can relax, or just watch planes pass by outside.
Guests also receive a complimentary 10 minute foot massage, which is a nice teaser.
This lounge nails all the basics. The lounge is physically stunning and spacious, with lots of natural light and panoramic views.
I love the food in Qantas first class lounges. The menu is designed by Neil Perry of Rockpool Bar & Grill, and my favorite is the salt & pepper squid (though nothing on the menu will disappoint).
On top of that, passengers receive a complimentary 20 minute spa treatment, with the choice between a facial or massage.
The Qatar Airways Al Safwa Lounge feels sort of like a museum. The ceilings are probably 40 feet tall, and there’s so much space. Not everyone will love the design, but personally I do. While many other lounges feel crowded, this one feels empty no matter how full it actually is.
The lounge also has a restaurant with solid food, though not to the level you’d find in the Air France or Swiss lounges. One other feature I love about the lounge is that they offer private bedrooms for passengers with long layovers, and they’re the second best airport bedrooms after Swiss’ lounge.
While all of those things are great, the lounge also has some stupid policies. They have a spa, but all treatments are outrageously priced. Want to use the hot tub in the lounge? That will cost you ~$55. Lounge agents will also make up rules about who can and can’t use the nap rooms.
This is a great lounge, though it could be so much better if they didn’t have such inconsistent and illogical policies.
Thai is another airline that does a great job taking care of you every step of the way at the airport. They’ll pick you up at your arriving flight and take you to your departing flight later (typically by buggy).
The lounge has several semi-private living rooms for passengers to use, with more privacy than you’ll get in most lounges. There’s also lots of a la carte food, though I don’t think it’s quite to the level of what you’ll find in some other lounges.
The highlight of the lounge? First class passengers receive a complimentary hour-long full body massage. That’s a great way to relax before a long flight. So as you’d expect, this is by far the best spa treatment offered by any airline.
This is the newest of the first class lounges on the list. The lounge is well designed, with a restaurant, gym (which none of the other lounges have), a spa (where you can receive a complimentary massage, wet shave, etc.), etc.
The food in the lounge was good when I last visited, though it’s my understanding that the airline has been cost cutting significantly in the lounge, so I’ve heard the food isn’t as good as it used to be.
The lounge also doesn’t have any proper nap rooms, other than a relaxation area with seats that recline a bit.
This is an all around very solid lounge.
Th Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai is more of a concourse than a lounge. That’s because the lounge literally spans the entire length of the terminal. On one hand that’s crazy impressive. You have a lounge that’s tens of thousands of square feet, and at times there will only be a few guests.
The lounge also has a restaurant with a la carte dining, a cigar bar, a spa with complimentary 15 minute treatments, and more. One other awesome feature is that you can board your flight directly through the lounge, assuming your flight departs from the “A” Concourse.
The problem? The lounge is so big that it actually feels incredibly sterile and unwelcoming. You feel like you’re sitting in a terminal rather than in a top first class lounge. You miss out on the power of a residential-feeling design, like you’ll find in the Cathay Pacific lounge, for example.
This is probably the first time in history that a lounge being too big has been a complaint.
The Private Room is a lounge within a lounge within a lounge. While it doesn’t have amenities like nap rooms, spa treatments, or offer escorts to/from the gate, it features a great restaurant with a la carte dining (including the ability to customize dishes), and an all around very elegant atmosphere with refined service.
This can’t be included on the list since it’s not technically a first class lounge. Specifically I’m talking about the Etihad Residence lounge at Abu Dhabi Airport, which is exclusively for passengers booking Etihad’s uber-luxurious three room onboard suite, known as the Residence. The fun begins on the ground, as you get a private lounge, a butler looking after you the whole time, whatever meal you’d like, as many massages as you’d like, etc. They also take care of you every step of the way, from the second you arrive at the airport until the moment they introduce you to your onboard butler. You don’t even have to check-in.
Most people dread having time to kill time at the airport, though the above lounges make spending time at an airport a pleasure. From an hour-long full body massage, to being driven to your plane in a luxury car, to getting a private bedroom that makes you feel like you’re in a hotel, these lounges have it all.
I’d like to emphasize that I think anyone would be reasonable to think that the above lounges should be in a different order, but hopefully this is at least a useful list in terms of the 10 all around best first class airline lounges.
I’m curious to hear what you guys make of my rankings! Are there any other lounges that should have been on the list?