Lufthansa’s Shrinking First Class Cabins and What it Means for Award Space

Lufthansa currently offers a first class cabin on 94 out of 100 planes in its long haul fleet. They will be shrinking that down to 75% of their fleet.

Already Lufthansa has been reducing the average number of first class seats in the cabin. Their 747s used to offer 16 first class seats and the retrofitted ones now only offer only 8 (albeit in the same amount of space on the upper deck, with a seat and separate bed for each passenger).

Fewer planes with first class, fewer seats in first class. And they’ve been making efforts to sell those seats rather than letting them fly empty, offering discounted and two-for-one first class fares. All of which makes it more difficult to get those seats on points.

And it has been tougher. Even on routes like Detroit-Frankfurt where first class cabins would go out empty all the time they haven’t been making award seats available until sometime within 2 weeks prior to flight, at least to their partners. Their own elite members of the Miles&More frequent flyer program have had a little bit better luck. Lufthansa is one of the few airlines that offers their own members more space than they offer to their partners (within Star Alliance Singapore Airlines is another).

Their strategy used to be to sell the seats expensively, and let them go empty, releasing plenty of space as awards. Their strategy now is to reduce the number of seats, try their mightiest to sell those, and make it very tough to get awards.

Although they’re still not selling as many seats as they have, meaning it’s often quite possible to get those seats close to departure — something that just makes it quite difficult to plan, although folks wanting first class awards are well-advised to book something else — a backup — and be willing to change the award ticket at the last minute to get Lufthansa’s front cabin.

This was always a challenge with US Airways, which charges for any change made by all but their top tier members — even a change in class of service from business to first on the same flight and when first class miles have already been deducted (most of the time, sometimes call center roulette can solve that) and which doesn’t allow any changes after departure of the first segment on an itinerary (making it very tough to change the return portion of a trip when space has opened up on Lufthansa).

A couple of years ago US Airways started having problems booking Lufthansa first, at the time the problem was limited to transatlantic flights and Europe-Asia and Europe-Africa remained bookable. It was chalked up as an IT glitch which US Airways seemed in no rush to fix. More recently the problem expanded system wide, and then US Airways forbade the booking of Lufthansa first class — although when such seats were almost never available anyway making it odd given the theory that they were doing so because the seats were just too costly.

Aeroplan and United both frequently show ‘phantom’ first class award availability. If you see first class award space on either website more than two weeks out it pretty much isn’t ever ‘real’ and will error out before being able to actually book. I haven’t verified this against Lufthansa’s own availability for the same seats, but assume they’re pulling data based on incorrect point of sale — a problem which corrects itself at booking.

For now, Lufthansa first class award space remains available to Star Alliance partners only close to departure.

And it’s easier to get on some routes of course, those routes which don’t actually sell the seats. Apparently the heaviest demand for paid first class is to Johannesburg, Kuwait City, Riyadh, and Miami. Miami surprises me. It isn’t augmented with connecting traffic. And I would have expected San Francisco to be a heavier premium traffic market (it’s longer, and matches up banking sectors — while New York is a fairly short flight).

Vancouver is going to lose first class. One expects that Detroit will as well. Dallas was always an easy city to get seats for. I’d also have to guess Mexico City and perhaps Atlanta and Charlotte as well would at least be candidates for dropping first class. Boston is another possibility.

I haven’t flown Lufthansa’s new first class product, only their old one many many times. I never found them special in the air, though their ground service for Germany departures is excellent — the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt with car service to the plane, as well as car service from the Frankfurt B lounge and the Munich lounge when departing from a non-gate position are really special experiences.

But there are plenty of better, more attainable first class offerings on other carriers (although not especially so for short hop transatlantics). Using American miles it’s hard to do better than Etihad first class, widely available on the new Washington Dulles flight. Cathay Pacific is among the world’s best, with good availability from Chicago (San Francisco is a tougher get than it used to be though still exists). With United the most available products are Asiana and Air China (better than you think). With Chase points Korean Air’s availability is unbeatable. With American Express points you can transfer to Singapore and grab that carrier’s premium cabins quite easily.. not to mention that airline’s first class on the A380.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Just ran into the problem of phantom LH F space booking on A mgr in Chicago told me that the problem lies with LH, which transmits incorrect info to all SA carriers. This person said that LH does not want to spend the money to correct the problem and that’s why US stopped selling LH F.

  2. The planes aren’t getting smaller though (at least the existing ones) so perhaps the good news out of this might be more J seats, or at least a J refresh for LH to full lie-flats.

  3. Just snagged an F seat using LH miles from MIA to FRA for tommorrow. There were only two F seats to buy and they generously made one available to M/M members. Transferred SPG points a few months back and this paid off hugely. It is well worth the “extra premium” points from SPG and the additional taxes to fly this bird from MIA.

  4. Miami is a popular destination for the wealthy German tourist segment, and I believe also benefits from certain Caribbean+ South American connections as well.

  5. This is one instance of a broad trend: Elimination of premium class seats which do not generate more revenue than (typically) twice the number of seats in the next-lower class. Flying award travelers and upgraders counts as approximately zero revenue in this equation.

    The days of flying up front on low fares or using miles are coming to an end. Enjoy it while you can. Take pictures of it or else 40 years from now your grandchildren won’t believe that it was possible.

  6. At least, as far as I know, the ANA tool shows plenty of availability for LH F on their fifth freedom intra-SEAsian routes even when looking 10 months away… Trying to work in a BKK-SGN-BKK in between my main flights at the end of the year to get my seat and bed, even if it’s only for 2 hours or less!

  7. True. But a SGN-BKK-SYD on LH/TG segment in F (at least) gets buggy treatment and a 1h full body massage… It’s a tradeoff 😉

  8. I just saw 2 seats ORD-FRA on LH FC, this evening for late Sept, I seem to find them. Of course when I go book my flight for our IST trip next year, I wont be able to find seats…. But I have found them, in fact, I saw 2 seats for LAX-MUC too.

  9. Gary on UA site, I was looking for tickets to IST, in May. I was surprised to see this route and LH FC. If this was a Phantom Availability what would happen if I was able to book them does this mean, that LH would not honor them? Why would UA allow this on their site?

  10. Personally, I’m not worried about an impending shortage of F award space.

    US has been selling *A premium seats at clearance prices for years through their constant mileage promotions, and no doubt this was one of the reasons LH and LX restricted F availability to their partners. With US shortly moving to oneworld, I suspect the resulting drop in F demand will offset the gradual reduction in supply – fewer miles chasing fewer seats. If we’re really lucky, LH/LX will even restore some regular F access for those of us with UA or AC points.

    On the other hand, I fear for the future value of my AA miles and Avios since oneworld is a smaller and overall less generous alliance than *A. All of us bottom-feeders from US will be fighting over limited CX F seats or forced to pay huge surcharges on BA. It’ll be a bloodbath, particularly if US/AA continues to sell miles like they’re going out of style.

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