We used to recommend redeeming Star Alliance miles for Lufthansa First Class on award trips to Europe or going through Europe en route to Asia. Lufthansa's First Class product is excellent (although not without its flaws–see our Lufthansa First Class Review) and importantly, there used to be very good availability–see Airlines and Routes with First and Business Class Availability for Europe). The problem is that recently, Lufthansa has basically eliminated advance first class award availability to Star Alliance partners (although not for its own Miles & More frequent flyer members).
Why has Lufthansa eliminated first class award availability? Well, because they're rolling out their new first class product, reconfiguring their 747s to have 8 first class seats on the upper deck, half of the previous 16. In the meantime, on upper decks that still have 16 seats, they've been blocking half the seats. While just a few weeks ago it was still possible to book first class awards using Star Alliance miles well in advance, that's changed. So what to do?
There are no silver bullets, but here are the main options:
1. Be willing to do a last minute trip to snag a Lufthansa First Class award
If you're able to book just a few days or weeks out, then you may still be able to get Lufthansa First Class. For example, I was able to see a Lufthansa First Class award available January 17, 2012 from Newark (EWR) to Dusseldorf (DUS). To search for this or other Star Alliance awards, check out How to Find Star Alliance Award Space.
2. Book Swiss Airlines for the transatlantic, from Montreal to Zurich
If you want to book well in advance, definitely want first class and are flexible in terms of routing and exact dates, this could be a good option, since Swiss First Class is a great product. Just keep in mind that Swiss First Class isn't the easiest to get, so you will need date flexibility and good luck if you're trying to get 2 tickets. You may even have recently gotten Swiss First Class or Business Class at a discount, thanks to Discount Aeroplan Awards (which they said was an unpromoted sale, but may have started as an IT glitch).
3. Book Swiss Airlines Business Class
Similar to the above, this is really only available on the Montreal to Zurich route, so you'll need routing as well as date flexiibility, but it can be booked in advance. And this could be one way to get a companion on the same flight, since it's unlikely you'll manage to get 2 first class awards.
4. Book using British Airways using Avios points or Oneworld miles
You probably didn't want to hear this, since you may have long ago said “Adios” to Avios, but the fact remains that British Airways has some of the best award availability out there, especially if you need more than one award on the same flight. And the Business Class product is comfortable enough that you may not feel compelled to book First Class. Also, the required Avios points from the East Coast of the U.S. to London has been reduced from 100,000 BA miles to 80,000 Avios points (or 40K points for a one-way award). Unfortunately there's no getting around the high fuel surcharges. But if you use a companion voucher (which you earn if you spent $30K on the BA Visa card) at least you're getting 2 business or first class award tickets for the points of one, plus the fuel surcharges/taxes for the two tickets. See How to Maximize the British Airways Companion Certificate on Award Tickets.
5. Change your destination
Ok, so this isn't practical if your heart is set on Europe. But if flying first class is absolutely key, consider redeeming for first class on Asiana, ANA or Cathay Pacific on an award to Asia instead. If you do decide to this, check out Airlines and Routes with First and Business Class Availability for Asia.
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