Cheapest International First Class Flights On Miles
Flying true international first class is a real treat. I will always remember my first time flying United Global First. Some may argue that that wasn’t much of a first class product compared to top-tier carriers. But to someone who didn’t know anything aside from economy at the time, it was amazing. The flight attendants in our cabin were wonderful, even if it wasn’t one of the cheapest international first class options at the time.
The issue with true international first class is the first class price tag. Whether you use cash or miles, first class isn’t cheap. Well…unless you score a crazy mistake fare, like the Cathay Pacific one at the beginning of 2019. But there are still some options and routes where you can fly up front for a reasonable number of miles. Here are some of the cheapest international first class tickets you can book with miles:
Air China First Class to Panama
You’re likely not aware of this route, but Air China operates a fifth freedom flight from Houston to Panama City, Panama. They operate the route three times weekly with a 777-300ER, which has eight first class seats. You can score this 4-hour flight for just 25,000 Turkish Airline Miles & Smiles one-way. The cool thing is that you can add connections on United for no extra miles.
The issue here is availability. With only three weekly flights, there aren’t a whole lot to pick from already. Business class award availability seems to be decent. However, first class is basically nonexistent. I searched a good number of dates at united.com and came up with nothing.
But if Air China does release seats, this is one of the cheapest international first class options out there.
Short-Haul Emirates Flights
Emirates has a number of short-haul routes where they operate first class, including a few fifth freedom flights. While I’m not a major fan of the Skywards program, Emirates Skywards miles aren’t bad for booking their own flights. Here are some route options for Emirates first class and the price for each:
- Colombo (CMB) to Male (MLE) -18,750 Skywards miles + ~$150
- Bangkok (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG) – 27,500 Skywards miles + 750 THB
- Dubai (DXB) to Muscat (MCT) – 28,750 Skywards miles + AED 1,070
- Dubai (DXB) to Kuwait City (KWI) – 28,750 Skywards miles + AED 1,070
- Buenos Aires (EZE) to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) – 35,000 Skywards miles + ~$275
- Christchurch, NZ (CHC) to Sydney (SYD) – 54,000 Skywards miles + 84 NZD
Some of these are A380 routes, while others are only operates by 777s. Be aware of Emirates high surcharges on award tickets. Even the short hops are generally high ($1,000 AED is ~$275 USD). Of these options, the Bangkok to Hong Kong flight is probably the best value. It is blocked for almost three hours and is on their signature A380.
If this still sounds like too many miles for a rather short adventure, I’d opt for one of Emirate’s fifth freedom flights to Europe. These are still cheaper, and they are a more reasonable length for splurging for first.
SWISS Dubai to Muscat
SWISS has one of the most inaccessible first class products in the sky. Most of the time you cannot book with partners, and even if they mistakenly release space, they will likely cancel. You must be a top-tier Miles & More elite to book their product, which leaves your only option as Miles & More miles.
You can sidestep all of that and use cash (or Ultimate Rewards at 1.5 cents each) with your Chase Sapphire Reserve. Prices aren’t bad on the Dubai to Muscat fifth-freedom hop. One-way first class tickets are a hair over $400 (~27,000 UR points).
Then again, the low cost makes sense, given that the flight is only ~400 miles. It’s first class, but you’ll only be flying it for an hour and a half! Not sure that is worth it.
Cathay Pacific Fifth Freedom YVR to NYC
This route is unfortunately not long for this world, but it is still an option if you’re looking to experience one of the nicest first class products in the sky. I’ve found a few dates with first class seats available between Vancouver and New York.
Cathay Pacific first class on this transcontinental flight will run you 35,000 Alaska miles. This isn’t fantastically cheap, but it is excellent for what you’re getting. Alternatively, you could book for 40,000 Asia Miles. I’d probably opt for the latter, as 35,000 Alaska miles have so many other great uses. Long-haul Cathay Pacific first class starts at just 60,000 Alaska miles.
The Cheapest International First Class Option On Etihad
Etihad’s first class is objectively one of the nicest international first class products in the sky. They only fly it on a handful of routes, using the Airbus A380.
While most folks look to American AAdvantage miles as the way to book Etihad first and business class, there is a better option: Asiana miles. You can fly between Abu Dhabi and either London or Paris for just 40,000 Asiana miles one-way. This is an excellent deal, and hands down the cheapest international first class booking option for Etihad.
The biggest issue here is accruing the miles. Your only transfer option is Marriott Bonvoy. There is a little-known Asiana card issued by Bank of America. The typical bonus is 30,000 miles, but with 2x spend at grocery stores, you’re just a bonus and $5,000 in spending away from a first class trip.
Although flying short-haul first class isn’t as glamorous as flying it on a long-haul, you can save a substantial number of miles with these cheapest international first class options. Out of all of them, my favorite is definitely the last, using 40,000 Asiana miles to fly Etihad apartments. Not only is this a longer haul than many of the other options, but it is a very reasonable redemption for what you are getting.
For longer flights, there are still some deals to be had. You can book JAL first class for a reasonable number of miles using a couple programs. Check out our review of Korean Airlines 747-8i first class. It may not be the cheapest option, but it is still an excellent product.