We are family of three (2 adults + 1 child) who love to travel. Lately we have travelled mostly in business but would like to try first too. Which airlines, you think, release 3 first class seats? I would like to try them for long haul flights. If I could chose, I would like to try some of the top names like Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa, Singapore, ANA, Jal, Asiana, or Cathay. Any suggestions?
The more seats you need on the same planes, the harder it is to secure awards.
It’s easier to find business class awards for a family, generally, than it is to find first class awards.
- There aren’t as many airlines offering first class seats
- Those cabins tend to be smaller, and shrinking
Selling first class seats can really swing the financial performance of a flight, so holding back those seats until the airline is sure they won’t go to paying passengers makes good sense. And with just a few seats, whether an airline sells 0 or 8 seats can vary a good deal from flight to flight.
As a result, in general, it’s tough for a family to do much advance planning for international first class redemptions, outside of limited periods where there are availability ‘glitches’ (an airline releases more award seats than they normally do, often by mistake).
There are limited exceptions, to this however.
Cathay Pacific. They’re good about releasing unsold first class seats as travel approaches. If you want to take your family in Cathay first class, and you find a cabin that hasn’t sold in the days before travel, you can probably find the seats.
This doesn’t help for advance planning but the approach is to plan your trip with business class awards and be prepared to pay a change fee if you’d like to travel in first and a given Cathay Pacific flight opens in first class. Remember that you have New York JFK, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver to choose from for departure points.
Lufthansa. They generally only release first class award seats to partner airlines within two weeks of travel, so your approach is probably similar to Cathay Pacific in terms of booking something else and then changing to Lufthansa. (You’ll do better with Lufthansa’s own Miles & More miles, which can be transferred in from Starwood Preferred Guest.) You’re much more likely to find 2 first class award seats than you are more than two, but close to departure it’s definitely possible.
Korean Air. This is one of your best bets. Most Korean flights will feature at least 2 first class award seats, but 3 and 4 is common on some routes.. Chase points transfer to Korean Air Skypass. (Note that first class awards book into “A” class)
Singapore Airlines. You’re not going to find more than 2 first class awards on a single flight, except on some anomalous routes like Singapore – India and Singapore – China. Singapore will sometimes release more as time passes. You can book 2 at the saver level and then book a third at the 2nd tier and on average come out pretty well.
Emirates I usually won’t see more than 2 first class awards at a time, although close in things do (sometimes) get better especially on lighter-booked routes.
Etihad I have never seen more than 2 first class awards booked far in advance. However, I have seen more close in and sometimes Etihad will open up additional award space as travel approaches. This is inconsistent and should not be relied upon, since no one is as aggressive as Etihad at upselling passengers to higher cabins. I have much better luck booking parents in first class and kids in business.
British Airways BA first class is first in that it’s a step above United’s and American’s product, but it’s not in the same league as the others on this list. However they cram 14 seats into their first class cabins, which I find really tight on the 747 and somewhat tight on the 777, a bit more spacious on their A380. With that many first class seats, and with tremendous frequency on routes like New York JFK – London Heathrow, you can frequently find more than 2 first class awards.
Japan Airlines JAL doesn’t often release more than two first class seats at a time, mostly when they do it’s last minute or when they’re changing a route over to offer three-cabin first class.
ANA first class awards are hard enough to find at all, when they can be found it’s generally not more than two seats at a time.
Thai Airways won’t show more than 2 first class seats at a time but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more than two first class seats available. There’s usually not more than two, but you can book two seats and sometimes two more will appear. This is most common on Europe – Bangkok routes with more than one flight a day.