Use your travel rewards to book the best first-class seats

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Some travelers like to reminisce about the “Golden Years” of commercial aviation when folks dressed up to fly and enjoyed a roast 35,000 feet in the air. While the early days of commercial travel were glamorous, things have significantly improved in the decades since. Especially when it comes to first-class travel.

Much like business class, the world’s top airlines have consistently strived to outdo one another to introduce cutting-edge first-class cabins that are more luxurious and high-tech than the generation before. First-class cabins now boast enclosed suites, fully flat beds and chef-curated meals. The best part? You don’t have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to fly in one of these cabins. By leveraging travel rewards, you can potentially book a first-class seat for less than the price of coach.

Here are six of the best first-class seats you can book with points and miles.

underscored sqsuites singapore suites lead final

As the world’s most awarded airline, it’s no wonder Singapore Airlines offers one of the best first-class seats in the sky. On board the Airbus A380, Singapore’s first-class Suites offer about 50 square feet of space. These rooms are decked out with a comfortable swivel chair facing a 32-inch television. Next to the seat, you’ll find a fully flat bed fitted with high-thread-count sheets. When traveling with a companion, you can remove the center divider between two suites to create a double bed.

Aside from the incredible amenities to make your journey more comfortable, Singapore Suites offer an outstanding dining experience as well. Guests can pre-book lavish meals like lobster thermidor or order from an extensive menu, including greens that have been sustainably sourced from AeroFarms. You can enjoy a multi-course dinner rivaling the best restaurants on the ground with caviar, a selection of spirits that includes Dom Perignon and Krug and dedicated menus for iced coffee and tea.

The airline’s iconic flight attendants are renowned for providing exceptional service and making guests feel right at home. If you’re looking to travel in style, Singapore Suites on the airline’s A380 is a terrific way to go.

So what does it take to snag a seat to fly in Singapore Suites? Not as much as you might expect, provided you can find award availability. The least expensive way to fly in one of these seats is on the airline’s fifth-freedom route between New York (JFK) and Frankfurt (FRA), which then continues on to its final destination of Singapore (SIN).

On the route between NYC and Frankurt, a Singapore Suite will set you back 86,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles, plus taxes and fees (around $6) each way. Best of all, KrisFlyer miles are easy to earn, as the program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One miles.

You can earn nearly enough points to redeem for a one-way flight in Singapore Suites after earning the welcome bonus offer on The Platinum Card® from American Express. Currently, the Amex Platinum is offering 80,000 points after spending $6,000 within the first six months, putting you well on your way to a Singapore Suites redemption.

emirates first class doors

Emirates’ first class on the Boeing 777-300ER is colloquially known as the “game changer” — and for good reason. In many ways, it’s changed the way we look at first class. The game changer first-class suites on the 777 were introduced in 2017 and offer each passenger their own fully enclosed space. Between the chic decor at each seat, zero-gravity seats, customizable mood lighting and in-suite temperature controls, this seat is in a league of its own.

In fact, Emirates’ game changer is one of the few cabins where being in the middle row might be preferable to sitting by the windows. That’s because Emirates has installed virtual windows in these suites to provide passengers with “windows” in the middle of the cabin, offering a live view outside.

Of course, you’ll also get amenities like noise-canceling headphones, skin care essentials from Byredo, an amenity kit from Bvlgari to keep you feeling refreshed and more. And don’t forget about the food! You’ll enjoy a multi-course culinary adventure, complete with caviar and vintage champagne.

Unfortunately, Emirates doesn’t fly its game changer first class on routes to the US, so you’ll need to position yourself in another city to check it out. (Emirates does, however, fly its equally respectable first class on the A380 to the US, which you can also book using travel rewards.)

For example, Emirates often flies the game changer first class between Dubai (DXB) and London Stansted (STN). If you’re able to find award availability, it’ll cost you 85,000 Emirates Skywards miles, plus taxes and fees for a one-way flight between London and Dubai. Emirates Skywards miles are easy to earn, as the program is a 1-to-1 transfer partner of Capital One miles, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.

If you were to earn the welcome bonus on the Amex Platinum card, which is currently offering 80,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 in the first six months, you’ll be well on your way to redeeming for an Emirates first-class journey on this route. Alternatively, the following cards will help you to earn miles that can transfer to Emirates to be redeemed for a flight using travel rewards:

underscored air france la premiere first class

Air France’s La Première cabin on the 777-300ER is one of the most exclusive first-class cabins in the sky, with just four suites onboard. And it retains its exclusivity because it’s one of the more difficult seats to book using travel rewards — but it is possible.

Air France offers an exceptional experience for La Première passengers that includes a private airport transfer and access to the La Première airport lounge at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). You can receive a complimentary spa treatment at the lounge and enjoy a menu curated by celebrated chef Alain Ducasse. Plus, the lounge is only accessible by La Première passengers, so it’s a very intimate setting to relax in prior to boarding your flight.

Once on board, you’ll have one of four elegant suites across a single row in the cabin — each of which spans four windows. La Première suites are technically not fully enclosed but offer additional privacy with the drop of a curtain. The seat goes fully flat at bedtime and gets topped with a memory foam mattress and high-thread-count sheets. Stay comfortable during your flight with a bathrobe, slippers, socks and an amenity kit from Sisley. To cap off an amazing experience, enjoy restaurant-quality French dining at 35,000 feet.

As previously mentioned, Air France’s La Première first class is one of the most exclusive seats in the sky, and it’s notoriously difficult to book using travel rewards. But, it’s on this list because it is possible. What makes it so difficult is that you are required to have Platinum status directly with Air France’s Flying Blue program in order to book using travel rewards. In other words, you can’t have lower status within Flying Blue, and you can’t book via Air France’s partners.

Even if you do have Platinum status with Flying Blue, you will still need to find award availability. If you’re able to secure both Flying Blue Platinum status and availability, a one-way La Première ticket between the US and Paris starts at 220,000 miles, plus taxes and fees. If you’ve got your eyes set on flying La Première on travel rewards, you can start by crediting your Delta Air Lines flights to partner Flying Blue toward Platinum elite status and saving up your Flying Blue miles. While it’s one of the more difficult redemptions out there, flying La Première on travel rewards is possible.

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All Nippon Airways’ “The Room” is known as one of the best business-class products in the world, boasting enclosed suites that resemble first class on most airlines. As a result, ANA had to go big to distinguish its first-class suites on the 777-300ER from its business class. Enter: “The Suite.”

The first-class cabin has just eight seats, and each features its own sliding door for ultimate privacy. If you’re traveling with a companion, you can lower the partition between the two middle seats to create a larger communal space.

ANA took inspiration from 5-star hotels in designing its The Suite seats, ensuring ultimate comfort. The look and feel of the cabin exude comfort and relaxation, with minimalist design details to give you a luxury travel experience. But, where needed, you’ll get some of the best amenities in the skies, including a whopping 43-inch 4K television.

ANA is renowned for its in-class catering and offers both Western and Asian menus so you can mix and match your meals throughout your flight.

Currently, ANA offers The Suite on a few routes, one of them being between Tokyo (HND) and New York (JFK). The cheapest way to book ANA’s The Suite with travel rewards is through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, as the two airlines are partners.

Virgin Atlantic requires just 60,000 miles each way, plus taxes and fees between the US East Coast and Japan — or 120,000 miles round trip — provided you can find award availability.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is a 1-to-1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Virgin Red is a 1-to-1 transfer partner of Capital One miles. You can earn enough miles for at least a one-way first-class ANA flight with the following credit cards:

  • The Platinum Card from American Express: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $6,000 on purchases within the first six months of account opening
  • Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 within the first three months of account opening
  • Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months
  • American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 within the first six months
  • Citi Premier® Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months. Plus, for a limited time, new cardmembers will earn a total of 10 ThankYou points per dollar spent on hotel, car rentals and attractions (excluding air travel) booked through the Citi Travel portal through June 30, 2024.
Lufthansa First Class

Lufthansa’s first-class seats aren’t exactly cutting edge compared to others on this list, mainly because they aren’t enclosed. However, the airline makes up for it in the amenities it offers to first-class flyers — including the service. For starters, Lufthansa first-class passengers flying out of Frankfurt (FRA) get access to the exclusive First Class Terminal. Dedicated to first-class passengers only, the nearly 20,000-square-foot Terminal offers fine dining, private office space, nap rooms and four shower rooms, some with a bathtub.

A chauffeur will drive you across the tarmac to your awaiting plane when you’re ready to board your flight. On board, the seats are spacious and include some of the most comfortable bedding you’ll sleep on at 35,000 feet. Free lightning-fast Wi-Fi and sophisticated onboard meals contribute to a solid first-class experience, which is capped off by Lufthansa’s iconic red roses at each seat.

Thanks to Lufthansa’s extensive partnerships, including its membership in the Star Alliance, there are many ways to book Lufthansa first class with travel rewards. Because Lufthansa adds pretty hefty fuel surcharges to its award tickets — around $1,700 round trip, plus miles — your best bet is through its partners.

Avianca LifeMiles is a great way to book Lufthansa first-class flights between the US and Europe. A round-trip first-class award between the US and Germany will set you back 174,000 miles and around $104 in taxes and fees — or around 87,000 miles and around $52 in taxes one way. LifeMiles are extremely easy to earn, thanks to transfer partnerships with American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One miles.

It’s worth noting that Lufthansa typically releases most first-class award space to partners such as Avianca within 15 days of travel. So if you’re looking far beyond this window and not seeing award space, that’s normal. Simply wait until closer to departure — especially if you’re flexible with your travel plans.

You can earn enough points for a one-way first-class ticket with the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card. The card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points after you spend $15,000 within the first three months of account opening. Alternatively, the Amex Platinum’s welcome bonus offer of 80,000 bonus points after you spend $6,000 within the first six months will put you well within reach of a one-way redemption in Lufthansa’s first class between the US and Germany.

Read our full review of the Amex Platinum here.

underscored cathay pacific first class

Cathay Pacific’s first class is exclusive and luxurious. The first-class cabin features just six seats, and while there’s no door, you do get the feeling of privacy, thanks to the cabin’s configuration. Combined with the stellar service and onboard amenities the airline is known for, you’ll have a 5-star flying experience at the front of the plane.

You’ll find first class on the airline’s Boeing 777 aircraft, taking up just two rows. Each of the seats is wide enough to comfortably stretch out, and at the other end of the seat is an ottoman that can be configured to seat an extra passenger if you want to dine with a companion or have an impromptu meeting mid-flight.

Like other first-class seats, this one can be fully converted to a bed when you’re ready to catch some sleep. Flight attendants will help outfit your seat with a mattress pad, comforter and pillows, guaranteed to give you some sound shut-eye in the sky.

Cathay Pacific is a member of the Oneworld alliance alongside American Airlines, meaning you can book through some of Cathay Pacific’s partners. In fact, one of the best ways to book Cathay Pacific first-class awards is through Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan program. Provided you can find availability, a one-way flight between North America and Asia or the Middle East in Cathay first will cost you 70,000 Mileage Plan miles, plus taxes and fees. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles, as the only transfer partner is Marriott Bonvoy, which offers a less-than-favorable 3-to-1 transfer ratio.

Thankfully, you have other options like Cathay’s own Asia Miles program. Provided you can find availability, one-way flights between the West Coast and Asia cost 110,000 Asia Miles, plus taxes and fees. If you’re flying from Chicago or the East Coast, you can expect to pay 125,000 Asia Miles, plus taxes and fees each way.

It’s easy to earn Asia Miles, as the program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One miles at a 1-to-1 ratio. The 80,000 points available to earn from the Amex Platinum after spending $6,000 in the first six months can put you well on your way toward a redemption — you’ll just need to earn 30,000 additional points for a one-way flight from the West Coast to Cathay Pacific’s base in Hong Kong.

Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards currently available.