FCF’s Europe First Class First Aid Kit


Our Guide for Knowing How Unpredictable Euro-Bound First Class Fares Work.

These are strange days for First Class flyers. And given we’re called First Class Flyer, we’re particularly interested in the subject.

There’s no doubt that international First Class cabins are on the decline. Some airlines, such as Delta, haven’t offered it for many years, while others (American, Lufthansa, Singapore, and United, among them) are reducing the number of routes with First Class cabins.

But we believe there will always be a place for First Class.

As always with change, there are winners and losers. So let’s get down to business on the state of First Class, as of June 2017.

For First Class Flyers, the News is Good.

Ten years ago, you’d never see First Class discounted. Fares of $15,000+ were commonplace. Now though, with lower Business Class fares and a much better Business Class seat product, the demand for First Class is down, but not as much as seat inventory. Translation: Discounting.

The good news is that for those paying cash for tickets, there’s never been a better time to travel to Europe in First Class—you just have to know the (gold) ropes. For those rich in miles, the story isn’t as promising. Airlines are squeezing mileage accumulators who are keen to get into First Class because they’d rather sell the seats.

As always, the airlines want it both ways.

Airline Personalities and What it Means
for Flying First Class to Europe.

Airlines have personality traits, just like people. Here’s a quick character assessment with regard to Europe-bound airlines and their First Class fare behavior. We also peel a few layers back to discover some deals that must have resulted from some very happy childhoods (in other words, they’ll make you happy.)

American Airlines

What do you say about someone that hugs you while stabbing you in the back? American and its partner British Airways are frenemies in the truest sense of the word. American only offers a First Class cabin to one destination in Europe: London. The Brits say, “Jolly good, as we fly First Class to a range of cities from the U.S. Thanks, old chap.” And then American kneecaps its ally with short-notice First Class fares that undercut it. That’s sociopathic airline behaviour you can take advantage of, and here’s how.

On Short Notice, Book BA Flights Via AA.com: We call this the British Airways Backdoor, a nice little work-around. Book British Airways First Class via American as a code-share flight, because BA First Class fares are high when you book inside of 14 days. With this backdoor you can save up to 50% on the same flights.

Save Your Miles, Advance-Purchase Travelers: If you can book 150 days out, don’t use miles for an upgrade from Business Class to First Class because the return on miles is very low once you figure in the co-pay ($1,100) plus the miles used for the upgrade (50,000). It’s better to buy a First Class ticket.

$500 Round-Trip Upgrade to London on AA: For the short-notice traveler or those booking less than 14 days in advance, American Airlines offers an upgrade from Business Class to First Class for only $500 round-trip. This is a much better deal than using miles, given the co-pay.

Best Use of Miles: An upgrade to First Class on a 50-day advance purchase fare. The fare difference can be about $3,000, so the return on miles is good.

British Airways First Class

British Airways

BA are the good guys of the sky right now when it comes to First Class. It’s still the only airline that offers low First Class fares on non-stop flights to its hub, London, if you book 150 days in advance ($4,400+). Other carriers, such as Lufthansa, Air France, and SWISS, all protect their hub cities, meaning non-stop First Class service on these major airlines to cities like Frankfurt, Paris, and Zurich will be high ($6,000 to $10,000).

Air France

An airline that looks down its nose cones at the bourgeoisie, Air France simply doesn’t allow common people to access their First Class with miles. That pleasure is reserved for Air France Elites, even though accumulating miles with the airline is easy. Quelle horreur! The other thing is, they skin you when paying with cash if you only go to France, but if you travel to lands beyond, there are good deals to be had. For example, non-stop service Los Angeles-Paris will cost $9,195, but if you fly to Barcelona the price drops to $5,997, a difference of $3,198.

Lufthansa First Class

Lufthansa & SWISS

Similarly to the French, you get cooked like a sausage (or melted like a chocolate) if you only go to Germany or Switzerland, but if you go further, such as Copenhagen or Oslo, for example, you can get fares starting at $4,400+ if booked 90+ days out. But what makes this even better is that both airlines allow a free stop in their hub cities, so it’s a lower First Class fare plus a second destination for free. So in effect, you can knock off a bucket list destination for nothing.

Put it this way: Business Class from Boston to Frankfurt goes for $4,161 round-trip (First Class is $6,800). But if you book a “low fare destination,” such as Boston to Oslo, you can get First Class for $4,488. So, for just $163 more each way you can upgrade to Lufthansa’s First Class and get a free stop in Frankfurt.

United Airlines

United is kind of a split-personality airline when it comes to flying First Class to Europe. They have cheap upgrades to London, even to the point of undercutting British Airways and American. To there, United still offers cash upgrades from the lowest Business to First Class starting at $800 round-trip from the East Coast to $1,000 from the West Coast, but to most other Euro destinations, the prices can be high. So, we say: use miles.

Using Miles: For travel to other destinations in Europe, such as Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, and more on which United flies a First Class cabin, the fare difference between Business and First Class can be high. So, use your miles to upgrade. For example, non-stop Newark-Frankfurt will cost $7,558 in First Class, but if you upgrade from Business Class, the cost is $2,064 for the ticket and $1,100 co-pay and 40,000 miles, a difference of $4,394 and a good use of miles.

General First Class Fares

Non-stop routes in First Class will cost you more (apart from London), while smaller cities that do not offer a First Class service for inter-Europe flights, such as Copenhagen, Madrid, Oslo and Stockholm, to name a few, are priced lower. For example, non-stop service Boston-Frankfurt will cost you $6,830 on Lufthansa, but if you fly to Barcelona the price drops to $4,440, a difference of $2,390.

London Fares Are Falling Down, Falling Down…

If you are looking to get a low First Class fare either because you’re traveling on short-notice or want a non-stop flight, then your best option is London. For example, non-stop service New York-London will cost you $4,433 on British Airways, but if you fly to Frankfurt on Lufthansa the price increases to $7,558, a difference of $3,125.

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