A TravelSort reader writes: "Wondering if you would comment on my strategy for trying to book Lufthansa First Class. My strategy-book the Lufthansa flight that I'm trying to get a first class award on [in coach], using United miles. Then, beginning 15 days before [return date], start checking for first class availability to book the outbound flight [in first] and continue to check for first class availability for the return flight.
1. Is there a certain time 15 days out when availability opens up, so I can be prepared to pounce on it?
2. I read your post about searching for award availability on ANA, first. Then should I book online or call United, since it may not even show up on United.com?
3. If I do find first class availability but on a different flight, does more than one change fee apply for changing both the date and the class of service? And if I change the outbound flight first, then later change the return, is that two change fees?
4. Do you have recommendations for a better strategy? Should I purchase a refundable Lufthansa or United ticket as a backup?
Great questions, and probably relevant for many readers, since Lufthansa First booked with United MileagePlus miles remains one of the best value ways to get to Europe in comfort, without high fuel surcharges. Let me first recap the problem, then answer these questions and a few others I often receive, as a FAQ.
Lufthansa First Class Award Availability and Booking Strategy FAQ
What is the Deal with Lufthansa First Class Award Availability--Can It Be Booked in Advance?
Lufthansa First Class can only be booked in advance by Miles & More members, the frequent flyer program for the Lufthansa group, which includes SWISS and Austrian Airlines. If you're using United MileagePlus miles or Star Alliance partner miles, you'll only be able to book Lufthansa first class up to 15 days in advance.
Is There a Way to Predict How Many First Class Award Seats Lufthansa Will Release?
While there's no guarantee, flights that show "F8" indicating an empty First Class or only one or two First Class Seats booked ("F7" or "F6") are good bets. You can see this info using Award Nexus or a paid service such as Expert Flyer.
How Do I See True Lufthansa First Class Award Space Available to Star Alliance Partners?
Since United.com sometimes shows phantom availability (a Lufthansa first class award appears to be available, but isn't) and sometimes doesn't show award availability that is actually there, you should use ANA to verify true award availability. See How to Use ANA to Search for Star Alliance Award Space
When Does Lufthansa Release First Class Award Space to United and Star Alliance Partners?
The word on the street used to be 14 days in advance, but as I wrote in Lufthansa First Class Award Space Booked 15 Days in Advance, it's sometimes possible to book as early as 15 days out. Flyertalk member UnitedConnection says that he's found that Lufthansa releases some seats at 5pm ET 15 days prior to departure, typically in pairs, and that after that time, there was no discernable pattern to when additional seats were released.
Can I Book Lufthansa First Class with US Airways Dividend Miles?
No--for awhile, US Airways has been blocking Lufthansa first class award booking, and has now made that explicit in its award chart. See US Airways Award Chart Confirms: No Lufthansa First Class Awards.
Book on United.com or Call After Finding Lufthansa First Class Award Space on ANA?
If you've found availability on ANA, I would try to find and book it on United.com to avoid the $25 phone reservation fee (unless you're a United Global Services, Premier 1K or Premier Platinum member, for whom the fee is waived). In Advance Search, make sure to select "50" rather than "25" for results, so that you see more search results. If you can't find it on United.com however, I would call--$25 and even the change fee is a small price to pay for Lufthansa First Class, in my view.
How Can I Tell if the Flight Will Have Lufthansa's New First Class?
You're guaranteed Lufthansa's new first class product (absent an equipment change) on the Airbus 380 and Boeing 747-8. You *may* get new first class on the Boeing 747-400, since some of them have been converted, but this is the interesting version with a separate seat and bed.
Some of the Airbus 330 (A333) and Airbus 340 (A343) planes also feature Lufthansa's new first class, and they all fly out of Munich, so if you're on one of them out of Frankfurt, you'll have old first class.
See this Flyertalk post which is regularly updated with Lufthansa New First Class retrofit progress.
How Are the Award Change Fees Calculated, Are They Cumulative?
First, here's the United Award Fees Chart
What is sometimes confusing is whether the fees apply cumulatively--that is, if you're changing your award to a date within 21 days of departure, and you're also changing the airline and class of service, how many fees do you pay? The answer is: one $75 fee. That said, if you later call back to change the return, that's another $75 fee--it's transaction based, so if at all possible, you'll want to make all your changes at the same time. Of course, that's usually not possible with Lufthansa First Class unless it's a very short trip and availability is there for both your outbound and return, so...
Should I Book a Roundtrip or Two One Ways?
You might be thinking--well, why not just avoid the change fee on the return flight by waiting to book the return until I'm at the 15 day window? That is a strategy, but keep in mind that you could be asked for proof of onward travel, and that could cause problems when going through immigration/passport control. So you probably want to have some kind of backup flight.
The other issue is that you would be giving up a free United one way by not booking a roundtrip, since only United roundtrip awards allow a stopover and open jaw.
What Should I Use for My Backup Flights?
You could certainly use an expensive fully refundable ticket as your backup, especially if you're really focused on getting Lufthansa first class for your return flight, as you would then simply cancel the refundable ticket. In fact, you'd probably cancel it regardless and take an award flight in business or possibly a cheap nonrefundable ticket, since you wouldn't want to actually pay the high cost of the flexible ticket--it would just be in case immigration wants to see proof of onward travel.
I would instead recommend one of two things:
1. Book a United or other award you'd be willing to take, if worst comes to worst and you can't find Lufthansa first class availability; or
2. Use AMEX Membership Rewards points to book a backup, or even actual return, in Singapore First Class or Singapore Suites. Now, for U.S. to Europe flights Singapore only flies between JFK and Frankfurt, so that could require both a positioning flight and connection in Frankfurt assuming that's not your final destination, but the nice thing is that with the 15% online discount, Singapore First or Suites Class is 57,375 miles at the Saver Level, and a little over $200 in fees for First Class one way. AMEX Membership Rewards points transfer 1:1 to Singapore KrisFlyer, and if you cancel before flying and reinstate miles, it's just $30, which is a bargain compared to the $150 United award cancellation and reinstatement fee if you're a non-elite.
Having the flexibility to book backup flights such as this is one of the reasons I recommend that you Diversify Your Miles and Points.
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