Booking Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Osaka!
We had originally booked a business class flight to Tokyo on All Nippon Airways and I was perfectly happy with this option at the beginning. I still think I would have been perfectly happy if it had remained that way. But instead I saw a post by Points, Miles & Martinis about the easiest route to book Lufthansa First Class on – Frankfurt to Osaka. This was conveniently timed with a long discussion about how much time we should spend in Tokyo versus possibly splitting up part of the trip and seeing Osaka/Kyoto.
This will hopefully be relevant to some with the pending United devaluation that will occur in February. If you have United miles you are looking to burn before award rates increase February 1st, 2014 – I HIGHLY recommend Lufthansa first class. Especially as some of the partner (non-United) award flight rates are even doubling!
For those who haven’t heard of Lufthansa First Class – it’s one of those “holy grail” type awards. First class space is only released to partners (like United) within two weeks of the flight. So it’s therefore somewhat iffy, and some routes are basically impossible. What makes it so great? For one, try having your own seat AND a bed on a plane. This is available on Lufthansa’s new first class on the 747-400. Not enough? How about amazing service, pajamas, a Rimowa amenity kit and great drinks and food? Still not enough? How about we pair it with a layover in the Frankfurt Lufthansa First Class Terminal (FCT). In the FCT there is an open bar, restaurant, shower/baths, massage chairs, a cigar lounge…oh, and when you’re done they will drive you to your plane in a Porsche or Mercedes.
A one-way business class flight to Japan on a United award (pre-devaluation) was 60,000 miles. A first class flight is only 67,500 miles. That’s a tiny increase for a large difference in service. I decided to try for it and kept an eye on open Frankfurt – Osaka space.
I began by (obsessively) checking flights daily to see what flights tended to have seats available and which ones I never saw. These corresponded for the most part with Points, Miles and Martinis’ post about Lufthansa US – Frankfurt routes and their difficulty to book and Lucky from One Mile at a Time’s post on Lufthansa first class predictability. For example, I saw Detroit – Frankfurt open several times during my stakeout period, but never saw Miami – Frankfurt. Detroit runs Lufthansa’s old first class, while Miami is an A380. As we’ve never flown first class internationally, and the Frankfurt – Osaka route is new first class on the 747-400, we just wanted a flight to Frankfurt. Didn’t particularly care which one. We were even happy with the Detroit flight as it got us in at 5:45am and therefore meant we’d possibly be able to go into town in Frankfurt for a little bit.
While checking for Lufthansa first class space, another thing to consider is that United.com sometimes shows phantom award space. When you go to book the space it isn’t available. For this reason, it’s recommended to use All Nippon Airway’s (ANA) website to search for Lufthansa. To do so you have to log in with an ANA Mileage Club account. You can sign up for that free on their site. Once you have an account, you can find how to access the partner searches here at MileValue’s post on using the ANA Search Tool.
At 7pm on the night 14 days out from when we wanted to fly I saw the Frankfurt – Osaka first class space open up. I was a little surprised this opened first as it was a full day later than the flight to Frankfurt we needed. But anyways, good sign. I got extremely anxious to start booking. I checked (one might say obsessively – okay, my boyfriend would say obsessively) for a flight to Frankfurt as soon as the Osaka flight opened. But no luck. After several searches, I finally saw availably on one of the flights I expected to open – Detroit – Frankfurt. I excitedly called United to change my existing ANA reservation. The woman was very friendly and confirmed we were booked for first class on the flights we wanted. I was very excited! …So it was a huge letdown when the confirmation email came shortly after I hung up and said “business class”. I quickly called back, and at this point the United rep couldn’t see seats in first on the Detroit flight! He was willing to help search several routes for me- none of which had availability aside from our last choice, Denver to Frankfurt.
Denver wasn’t an ideal flight schedule for us from Florida, and it only gave us from 11-1:45 in the First Class Terminal, which wasn’t quite enough. I figured if I waited other flights would open, but I wasn’t sure if the Frankfurt – Osaka award seats would remain available. So, to be safe, we went ahead and booked the flight. There’s a Lufthansa page to determine which version of first class your flight will have, and I was excited to see both flights would feature the new first class. Lucky from One Mile At A Time wrote more about determining whether your flight will feature the new first class here.
I had signed up for ExpertFlyer, a subscription service that will send out flight alerts when it finds seats available. The week before I needed to start looking they announced they were no longer supporting Star Alliance space alerts. I therefore needed a new plan. I quickly signed up for The Wandering Aramean’s free tool for award searches here. I used the Star Alliance tool and it alerted me which flights were available around noon every day. I highly recommend it if you are not wanting to obsessively check space like I did. That, or hire an award booker. There are many services out there where people will take on clients and book complicated awards for them for a fee.
United charges some hefty fees for last minute award booking or changes. They recently increased their fees back in June, but tickets booked before then still fell under the old fees. My ticket was booked early enough that the old rules still apply. As a United Silver (which I won’t be next year), the change fees were also slightly reduced. It still cost to switch last minute to Lufthansa, so be sure you’re aware of that when you go to book or change an award within 21 days of your trip.
Since we were flying a widely open Lufthansa first class route, had 15,000 miles to use to upgrade and am United Silver it seemed like the right time to go for Lufthansa First Class. That “now or never” thought was validated shortly after when United devalued partner awards. A one-way on Lufthansa first class U.S. to Japan booked before February 1st 2014 is 67,500 miles After February 1st it will be 110,000. If you intend to book Lufthansa First Class using United miles I recommend you do so soon! The price of an award flight on United will be increasing from 67,500 to 80,000 on the 1st of Feb. After flying Lufthansa First Class, I’d probably say it’s still worth it – and can’t really hold it against United for raising the cost!
In summary, if you’re looking to book Lufthansa first class start searching a little bit ahead of time. Use the ANA search tool and Lufthansa’s site to determine which flights have availability and which flights feature the new first class. Use sites like those listed above to determine where availability is likely to be. And then relax on the flight knowing it was all worth the effort/obsession.