Booking this was a pain.
Lufthansa (“LH”) only releases first class award space to partners (like United) within 14 days of the flight date. And then it is a crap shoot as to when space is actually released – especially two seats.
This is made worse by the fact that the United site is notoriously bad at showing “phantom award space.” What does that mean? United’s site will show seats as available, but – after you go through the process of filling out all of your information and basically booking the ticket – it will result in an error. That means the seat is not actually available.
One solution to phantom availability it to use ANA’s award site, but it takes longer and is much less user friendly in general. But it is accurate. The problem with ANA’s site is that it doesn’t show award space within 4 days (or 3 – I don’t remember), so once you reach that point (when 2 seats are most likely to be released on the most popular routes) it is useless.
The above factors combined with trying to search for these at night after a day of walking around/eating/drinking/etc. made it a pain. I won’t even mention the unusable internet at the Hyatt Regency Churchill in London and how it nearly caused me to jump off the roof out of frustration while attempting to look for flights.
All that said, I put up with it because I really wanted to make sure we got to fly Lufthansa first class this flight. United’s award chart was destroyed for Star Alliance first class flights as of February 1st, so doing this in the future would be far more expensive. For example, this particular flight cost us 67,500 miles per person. Now, it is 110,000 miles per person; that is a 63% increase. Or put another way, both of our flights only cost 25,000 miles more than what one flight will cost going forward.
Anyway, I secured two flights for us on one of Lufthansa’s new 747 planes, specifically the 748i, about 2 or 3 days before we departed Paris. I had other flights on hold should Lufthansa not open up, so we were guaranteed to get home one way or the other. The exact routing was:
CDG-FRA on a LH A319
FRA-IAD on a LH 748i
IAD-MSY on a UA A320
On to the day of travel…We were up very early (~5:30) to make sure we were on the road for 6:00 a.m. We had ordered coffee and fruit as room service to get a quick snack before we left. The Saints game the night before did not help with our early morning…
Check out was quick and easy. Few things are nicer than hearing “your all set, you don’t owe anything” when checking out of a hotel – especially one that costs north of $1k/night otherwise.
We checked in at a pretty empty check in area, they gave us our boarding passes and took our bags. We were set.
Getting through immigrations was a complete non-event. Security was very lax. When we walked up, no one was around. We kind of stood there and looked confused at each other for about 30 seconds, then someone finally showed up. We were through without issue this time and proceeded to the lounge.
Lufthansa has one lounge in Paris. It was ok – no hot breakfast options. It did have a decent drink selection, but I was passing at this time. Singapore’s equivalent lounge in Kuala Lumpur was better in my opinion.
As is the case with many of the intra-Europe flights, business class is just a regular seat with the middle seat blocked off. You do get better drink service and a minimal breakfast offering (we passed). For a flight that was barely an hour long, I’m not really concerned either way.
So far the ground service was no different as first class passengers than had we been business or even economy class passengers (minus lounge access). But we were about to land in Frankfurt, Lufthansa’s flagship airport. I was ready to experience some of this famous ground service.
It really disappointing.
After getting off the plane, there was a gentleman helping direct passengers. I showed him our boarding pass and asked how to get to the first class lounge. He told us we need to head through immigrations and that there was a lounge on the other side by the gate. So that’s what we did.
One big problem – we get to the gate area and the only lounge is the LH Senator lounge, which is the business class and star alliance partner lounge. It is a world apart from the first class lounge, and not for the better.
I ask the lounge agents where the nearest first class lounge is, and they tell me it is on the other side of immigrations. Welp…that’s something that could have been brought to my attention 10 minutes ago. They further proceed to tell us that we’d be crazy to try to go back through immigrations because we’d likely miss our flight, which departed in just under 2 hours. I was disappointed.
Now I need to explain myself here. I’m well aware that anyone reading this will not feel sorry for us because we were relegated to the “lesser” lounge – as should be the case. But getting to experience all the fancy first class stuff is part of the experience. I spent a lot of late night hours searching flights, and we even took a flight with an extra stop to get home so we could experience this stuff – as opposed to United business class Paris to Chicago direct for 35,000 less miles.
So to be clear, our airport experience was still better than the vast majority of the people who transit through the airport. But it was not what we paid extra miles for, went out of our way to book, and took a longer route home to experience. The vaunted Lufthansa ground service was not living up to expectations at this point.
Anyway, back to the lounge. It was very crowded, moreso than domestic Skyclubs or Admiral Clubs. We couldn’t find seats, so we sat at a bar. I decided that I was going to take the “crazy risk” of going back through immigrations to check out the first class lounge. I told Alyce to just get on the plane if I disappeared into the German abyss. She let me know that she didn’t need to be told that; she was getting on the plane no matter what.
So, the crazy immigration risk…It took about one minute in each direction. And even had it been crowded, there is a priority line for first class passengers.
I made my way in the first class lounge. It was nice, but I really don’t get the hype. There was a dining area, but no one explained if there was a menu or it was just a buffet or what the deal was. So, I sat down and wanted to get a glass of Champagne in my brief visit. Noone had passed by in 10 minutes, so I got up and went to look for some help. I found someone, and they were able to help me out.
The little bit of food I ate was good enough; I still don’t know if there is a menu to choose from as no one ever came and stopped by my table. There was a huge bar selection and a massive selection of different bottle waters – if that gets you excited. Otherwise, pretty blah.
My experience paled in comparison to the Singapore Private Room, Etihad First Class Lounge – even the Emirates Lounge in Singapore and Cathay Pacific’s business class lounges in Hong Kong. Overall, I was pretty unimpressed.
This may have mostly been because my expectations were out of line. I guess some of the people who rave about the Lufthansa ground service may not have experienced first class on some of the carriers I listed above…Or maybe we just caught them on a bad day. Either way, Lufthansa was without a doubt inferior on this day.
Let me clarify again…If this was your first first class lounge experience outside the US, you would have been completely blown away – and rightfully so. I just try to remain objective in my comparisons. I’ll also add that I may have been a little sour because of the fact that LH directed us to the senator lounge as opposed to the first class lounge and then made it sound like I’d be insane to face the one minute immigration lines…and I also guess that I would have been more patient with the non-existent service (literally) had I not been short on time.
Oh well…It is still primarily about the flight. And the flight was fine. Clearly a notch below the top Asian carriers, but a step above the domestic carriers.
As I got back to the Senator lounge, I found Alyce waiting. She gave me some snarky comment about having go through immigrations to see the other lounge. I did not debate that it is dorky – but hey…I wanted to see it because we won’t be burning the excessive amount of United miles required to fly LH first class again any time soon.
We made our way down to the gate and again had another bump in the experience. Business and first class were completely lumped together for boarding purposes. There are 100 business and first class seats on this plane. For comparison, American Airlines A319 seats 128 (that is not a regional jet). So it would be like if they just made one announcement to board the entire plane on a domestic flight.
And again…It’s not a very big deal (at all) that boarding was a zoo and we had to wait in line for 15 minutes….But it is certainly not Singapore’s private Suites gate and entrance or Cathay’s lounge attendant leading us directly on the plane….and that is the proper comparison. Thus it clearly falls short…Just trying to stay objective, which in turn may make me sound like a brat.
We made it on the plane after some waiting. The cabin was a nice, clean looking spacious cabin in the nose of the 747. I’ve heard many people describe it as “classy.” The seats are LH’s new first class product. I found them comfortable to lounge in. I did not have my bed made on this flight, so I can’t comment on that. Overall, I liked the seat, but I’d place it just below Cathay/Singapore/Qantas/Etihad.
Each first class passenger has a locker to store his stuff and hang his clothes. This was a nice touch and held both of my carry on bags.
The first class section had one dedicated flight attendant and another who seemed to come and go along with possibly helping behind the scenes. The lady who served the cabin was very friendly. She offered us a glass of champagne immediately upon entering, which I gladly accepted.
Seat 1A was the only open seat in the cabin, and I asked if I could go sit there for takeoff/landing. She said not a problem. It was pretty neat getting to look almost straight out from the nose of the plane.
I moved back next to Alyce once the Captain turned off the seatbelt sign. The flight attendant came around and took our orders for the meal service. I perused the entertainment selection and was pretty unimpressed. I ended up watching some animals are smart documentary during part of the meal service because there just wasn’t much of a selection.
We did both thoroughly enjoy the macadamia nuts prior to the meal. Macadamia nuts are very good, but we don’t get them too often because they are expensive.
On to the meal service…The food was decent. The caviar course was the best. The soup and meat were ok. I’m sounding like a broken record at this point, but it was below the quality of many of the other first class flights we had taken.
My bigger problem (using the term in a relative sense) with the meal service was that it was very slow. Very slow. The three course service took about 3.5 hours from start to finish. You can’t really do anything else while waiting between courses without a huge pain. I was hoping to edit pictures; Alyce to take a nap….Well, actually she did. She fell asleep sitting up between several of the courses. I think the lone flight attendant was overloaded.
After the meal was finished, Alyce took a very brief nap. I was able to edit some pictures. The problem with first class trans-Atlantic flights (and this is only a “problem” in first class) is that the flights are very short. This one was about 7.5 hours from takeoff to landing. A half hour for ascent and a half hour for descent, combined with 3.5 hour meal service only left a couple hours for sleep or getting some work done.
I’m sure once all this first class business has run its course and we’re back in the back of the plane, I’ll look back and think to myself that I was crazy for ever wishing a flight would be longer than it actually was. But until then, I’ll enjoy it.
After a little picture editing, I had a cappuccino. It was shortly thereafter time for the descent and landing.
Upon landing, the LH ground service again left much to be desired. We were greeted outside of the plane with someone holding a first class sign, so I thought maybe the first class passengers would get a private ride to immigrations – as others have occasionally reported getting. Nope. She just held us up in the middle of the hallway and created a traffic jam, before walking us 20 feet down the hall to the big gate bus…Something that easily could have been done on our own without the hold up.
So we waited for the big gate bus to fill up then rode over to immigrations. It was a zoo. Fortunately with Global Entry, we got to skip the immigrations line. Still, we had about a 45-60 minute wait to get through the post immigrations security. All said and done, it was around 90 minutes from pulling up at the gate to reaching our next gate. That’s as first class passengers with global entry, so I wouldn’t try anything less than a 2 hour international connection (inbound) at Washington Dulles (IAD).
We had about 45 minutes to kill in the United Club, so we called home and caught bits and pieces of NFL playoff games. From there, it was a standard domestic first class flight on a United A320. Nothing to get too excited about; I probably prefer American as a domestic carrier.
At the airport, my parents very graciously met us with my car and Chunk. This saves us at least an hour in our commute back home and is much appreciated. Chunk was happy to see us and seemed pretty worn out. We’d be picking up Moose the following day from the vet.
Home again. Another great trip…We really enjoyed most everything. If I sound critical at times, it is because I like to give honest opinions. But know that we truly enjoyed most things and realize how lucky we are to get to experience them. This Lufthansa flight was the perfect example. I was critical because it failed to live up to my lofty expectations and experiences in other first classes. But, we still really enjoyed the experience. I’m sure everyone else would too.