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A few weeks ago, I used 27,500 Asiana miles (transferred from 22,500 Starpoints) to book myself a Business Class award from Honolulu to Bogota, Colombia. Now I’ll tell you how to change an Asiana Club award.

I chose to use Asiana miles because it has a number of ridiculously cheap sweet spots including from Hawaii to South America. United would have charged me 45,000 miles for the exact same flights.

At the time I booked, there was only economy award space on one of the two segments that made up my award.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 7.21.03 PM

I booked anyway and tried to set up an automatic email alert to let me know if premium cabin award space opened up on that flight. Award space did open up on that flight, so it was time to change my award.

Changing the Asiana Award

I had the United award space up in front of me, and I called Asiana at 800-227-4262.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 2.37.33 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 2.37.47 PM

The change process is identical to the annoying two-step process used to book a ticket. First you have to talk to Reservations, then Asiana Club.

I told Reservations that I had booked my Business Class award a few weeks ago, and that award space had since opened up in Business Class on the first flight, so I wanted to change it from economy to Business Class. (Note that United calls its premium cabin on two cabin planes “First Class,” but partner phone agents call it “Business Class” because United uses the Business Class award space code “I” for that space, reserving the First Class code “O” for international three-cabin First Class award space.)

The agent said he made that change and then connected me to Asiana Club.

The Asiana Club agent said he would ticket the award and send me an email with the changes.

While I was on the phone, I was logged into my united.com account, refreshing my award to see if changes had been made. While I was on the phone, the “Fare Class” on the first flight changed to “United First (I).”

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 2.23.31 PM I never did get a change email, but I can see the changes in my United account, and I was able to select a First Class seat for the first segment, so I know that the change was made.Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 2.23.38 PM

I was not charged a change fee. As far as I can tell, Asiana has no award change fee. Award cancellations cost $30.

Bottom Line

Other than having to talk to both Reservations and Asiana Club, changing my Asiana award when United First Class opened up was easy and free. Now the award is perfect and complete, and I can’t wait to fly it next month as part of my End of 2015 Travel.

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Last week I used 27,500 Asiana miles + $38.30 to book myself a Business Class award from Honolulu to Bogota that I’ll fly next month.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.26.02 PM

This is a steal of a deal because United would have charged 45,000 miles for the same ticket.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 7.20.42 PM

While I am ticketed, one of my two legs is in economy, so I have set an automatic alert to let me know if Business Class space opens on the leg on which I’m currently ticketed in economy.

  • Why use Asiana miles?
  • How to get Asiana miles and transfer time
  • Route planning
  • Award Search
  • Award Booking
  • Setting alerts to improve cabin

Why Asiana Miles?

Asiana has a super cheap award chart that I’ve mentioned before for awards to Europe like 50,000 miles one way in Lufthansa First Class. Here is the roundtrip award chart for awards originating in Hawaii; one way awards are half price.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.09.57 PM

In general Asiana’s awards to South America are very cheap. Asiana only charges 27,500 miles one way in Business Class to Northern South America and 35,000 miles to Southern South America. United charges 35,000 and 55,000 miles respectively.

Plus United charges extra miles if you start in Hawaii instead of the continental United States. In this case, Asiana doesn’t.

Asiana collects fuel surcharges on awards except on United, Copa, Avianca, and TACA flights, making Asiana miles ideal for awards to Latin America.

How to Get Asiana Miles

The only reasonable way for Americans to get Asiana miles is to transfer SPG Starpoints. Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles.

Plus for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, you get 5,000 extra Asiana miles. That means I’d need only 22,500 Starpoints (=27,500 Asiana miles) to book Honolulu to Bogota in Business Class.

In the past, transfers from Starpoints to Asiana have taken me two weeks. My most recent transfer, initiated last week, took a few hours less than seven days.

For this award though, I already had Asiana miles sitting around from a transfer I made in May, in anticipation of possibly booking an award from the United States to Europe with Asiana miles that I never booked.

Route Planning

I prefer to fly as few segments as possible because it means less chance to mis-connect, less time spent on layovers, and longer individual segments, which is what you want when you fly in the comfort of Business Class.

There are several ways to get from Honolulu to Bogota with one stop. On American, you can stop in Dallas. On United, you can stop in Houston. With a combination of United and Avianca, you can stop in several places including Los Angeles.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.26.02 PM

The Los Angeles option was the best because of the short layover time. The layovers in Texas would have been all day layovers–no thanks!

To figure out possible routes, start on the Wikipedia pages of your starting and ending airports and look for common connection cities.

Award Search

I could have just plugged Honolulu to Bogota into united.com, but I would get a lot of long, terrible itineraries. I wanted to isolate itineraries with award space from Los Angeles to Bogota, so I started by just searching that segment. There is very little award space on that route, but there is some if you’re flexible like I am.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.09.37 PM

Since this flight leaves in the morning, I next searched for Honolulu to Los Angeles flights for the night before.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.11.05 PM

Award space is very good on United’s many Honolulu to Los Angeles flights, but there is a lot more economy award space than First Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.10.40 PM

When flying international Business Class, you are entitled to hook it up to domestic First Class for no extra miles, but there just wasn’t space on the day I wanted to fly.

I decided to book the mixed cabin itinerary anyway.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 7.21.03 PM

I figure that a good itinerary with one stop, a short layover, and 7 of the 13 flying hours in Business Class for only 27,500 Asiana miles is better than not booking the award or booking the award in economy 17,500 miles one way.

I noted the date, flight, and cabin of each segment and moved on to booking.

Booking the Award

Booking the award is straightforward though not as streamlined as it should be. Always call the airline whose miles you’re using, so I called Asiana at 800-227-4262.

Here’s where it gets weird:

  1. First you need to reserve the ticket with reservations.
  2. Then you need to pay for the ticket with Asiana Club.

So I followed automated prompts to reservations. I gave the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each segment. (Remember to call domestic First Class “Business Class” though in this case I was flying domestic economy.)

The agent put the award together and gave me a confirmation number, then transferred me to Asiana Club. I gave them the confirmation number and my credit card. They ticketed the award for 27,500 Asiana miles + $38 in taxes. (There is no phone fee, and there are no fuel surcharges on either of my flights.) I got an email receipt a few hours later.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.23.34 PM

The miles came out of my account immediately.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 7.22.21 PM

Setting an Alert to Move Up to First Class

If United opens up award space in First Class on either of its Honolulu to Los Angeles redeye flights, I want to make a change and get that space. Asiana charges $30 or 3,000 miles to make a change. I would pay the $30, which is a steal to “upgrade” almost six hours from economy to domestic First Class.

I could frequently check united.com to see if space opens up in First Class from Honolulu to Los Angeles, but there is an easier way. Set up an alert on Award Nexus.

Will space open up for me?

[Award space did open up for me, and I am now booked in United First Class on the first segment.]

No one knows for sure, but I think it will. I’d give my chances of flying First Class from Honolulu to Los Angeles at 80%.

As I said in “Will You Find Last Minute Space? Here’s How To Estimate Your Chances,” the best way to estimate is to look at space on the route for the next few weeks.

Space is really good in United First Class from Honolulu to Los Angeles for the next four weeks with 25/28 days having First Class space. That tells me that in a few weeks, space on the flight I want might open up!

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 3.02.19 PM

It is instructive to click a day to see which flight has First Class award space because I need one of the two redeyes. Those are not particularly popular flights, so they have good award space.
Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 3.02.27 PM

Bottom Line

I booked Bogota to Honolulu for 27,500 Asiana miles, transferred from 22,500 Starpoints, plus $38. United wants 45,000 miles for the same flights.

I couldn’t find both segments in a premium cabin, so I booked economy on the first leg and Business Class on the second. I then set an alert, so if the premium cabin opens on the first leg I’ll know, and I can make the change for $30. I do expect that award space to open up for me, but there is no guarantee, and I am happy with my award as is.

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United is offering tons of Business Class award space for the next 11 months on its flights to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Santiago, Chile.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.39.01 AM

Both routes will soon be flown by United’s brand new 787-9 Dreamliners with flat beds in Business Class. You can book either route for as little as 35,000 miles one way.

United 787-9 Dreamliner

The United 787-9 Dreamliner has 48 beds in Business class in a 2-2-2 configuration. I would choose a middle seat, since both have direct aisle access. If you choose a seat on either side of the plane, you’ll either need to climb over your seatmate or be climbed over during the flight.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.14.20 PM

Each seat converts to a fully flat bed with 6’6″ of sleeping space.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.14.40 PM

Miles Price

Between the United States and Argentina, United charges 30,000 miles each way in economy and 55,000 miles in Business Class.

But you don’t have to book the United award space with United miles. You can book the space with miles from any Star Alliance partner. If you want to book with another partner, search united.com without signing in. Note the date, cabin, and flight number of any Star Alliance flights with a blue button in its Saver award space column; then call the airline whose miles you’re using to book the award.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.13.14 AM

Here are the prices charged by some other Star Alliance partners (economy/Business one way) with their transfer partners in parentheses:

UR = Ultimate Rewards, MR = Membership Rewards, TY = ThankYou Points, SPG = Starpoints

  • Asiana (SPG) : 25k/35k
  • Air Canada Aeroplan (MR, SPG): 30k/47.5k
  • Singapore (UR, MR, TY, SPG): 30k/50k
  • Lufthansa Miles & More (SPG): 30k/52k
  • United (UR): 30k/55k
  • Avianca LifeMiles (none, must buy): 30k/60k

United flights to South America do not have fuel surcharges, so no matter what miles you use you’ll just pay taxes of $53 roundtrip to Chile and $60 roundtrip to Brazil.

Award Space Picture

All the calendars below are for direct flights to and from Houston for two people. It is zero extra miles to start your award anywhere else in the continental United States, Alaska, or Canada and connect to Houston as long as you find Saver award space on united.com for those connecting flights.

Yellow dates have Saver award space for two passengers in economy. Blue dates have Saver award space for two passengers in Business Class. Green dates have Saver award space for two passengers in both cabins.

Houston to Rio de Janeiro

The 787-9 Dreamliner starts flying on August 18, 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.19.28 AMBusiness Class award space is available over the whole schedule except Christmas, New Year, and Carnaval (February 5-9, 2016). Award space is particularly good in March and April , 2016.
Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.19.15 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.20.08 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.20.27 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.20.49 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.21.05 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.21.23 AM

Rio de Janeiro to Houston

The northbound flight is a slightly longer redeye.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.28.10 AM

Return dates show similarly excellent award space in Business Class.
Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.27.47 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.28.19 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.28.32 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.28.46 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.29.00 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.29.13 AM

Houston to Santiago

The 787-9 Dreamliner takes over this route on January 5, 2016. Just like Rio de Janeiro, both directions are redeyes.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.26.21 AM

Award space is fairly available in January, February, and March 2016, summer down there. April through June have plenty of economy award space.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.26.09 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.26.32 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.26.45 AM

Return space is more widely available in Business Class.

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Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.31.15 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.31.45 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.32.01 AM

More People

All the calendars above were for two people. I did one search for eight people from Houston to Rio in April and May 2016. Many of the dates have award space for eight people in flat beds!

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.33.45 AM

Other Houston Dreamliner Routes

United is also placing its 787-9 Dreamliner on several other routes from Houston over the coming year: Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Buenos Aires. None have very good award space in Business Class with Buenos Aires space particularly abysmal.

Bottom Line

There is excellent award space for two people in economy and Business Class from Houston (or elsewhere in the United States) to Rio de Janeiro and Santiago. United puts its 787-9 Dreamliner on the Rio route in a few weeks and on the Santiago route in January.

Just because the space is on United planes doesn’t mean you should use United miles to book. You can use any Star Alliance miles.

  • Asiana charges only 35,000 miles one way in Business Class, compared to United’s 55,000 mile price. You can transfer SPG points to Asiana miles in about two weeks.
  • Promiscuous transfer partner Singapore Airlines, a transfer partner of Chase, AMEX, Citi, and SPG, offers the routes for 50,000 miles one way in Business Class.

The best cards to get Singapore miles?

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also earns 3x points on travel and gas and 2x points on dining and entertainment. The Citi Prestige® Card also offers 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also comes earns 3x points on airfare and hotels and has a host of benefits like lounge access and $250 in free airfare per year.

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21

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Updated June 3: The Asiana miles showed up today, meaning the transfer took 14 days. My last transfer in September 2014 took 17 days. In the interim, I’ve decided not to book Lufthansa First Class from Europe to the United States in June, but the Asiana award chart is so good that I don’t mind have 60,000 points on hand. That’s almost enough for Business Class one way USA to Argentina (35k) + First Class USA to Hawaii (27.5k).

You can book Lufthansa First Class for 50,000 Asiana Club miles–40,000 Starpoints–one way. This is Asiana’s award chart from the mainland United States for roundtrip awards. One ways are half price:

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.39.26 PM

There are a lot of STEALS on the chart. This post will focus on Europe for 40,000 miles one way in Business Class and 50,000 miles one way in First Class. How good of a deal is this?

  • United charges 57,500 to 70,000 miles one way in Business Class to Europe
  • United charges 80,000 miles one way for its First Class and 110,000 for Lufthansa First Class.

Even with the mild fuel surcharges on Asiana awards of Lufthansa flights, these are great deals. And if you want to avoid fuel surcharges, book United flights with Asiana miles.

Test #1: Lufthansa First Class

I wanted to call Asiana and price out awards to see whether I could get agents to follow the award chart and to see what the taxes and fuel surcharges would be.

I’m considering flying Tallinn, Estonia to Washington, DC next month, so I took a look at that routing though there’s nothing special about it.

Lufthansa First Class would be awesome to get into the Lufthansa First Class Terminal again, and to enjoy the luxury onboard.

First I found this award space on two Lufthansa flights.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.28.59 PM

In case you’re not adept at reading united.com (which is where I searched because Asiana should have access to all Star Alliance space found on united.com):

  • There is award space in Business Class from Tallinn to Frankfurt
  • There is award space in Business and First Class from Frankfurt to Washington DC

I noted the date, flight number, and cabin of the award space. I called Asiana and these are the prices I got:

  • For Business Class on both flights (what United is charging 70,000 miles for), Asiana charges 40,000 miles + $311.44.
  • For Business Class on the short hop and First Class on the long one (what United is charging 110,000 miles for), Asiana charges 50,000 miles + $311.44.
  • Drop the short hop altogether. For just Lufthansa First Class from Frankfurt to Washington DC, Asiana charges 50,000 miles + $348.34.

A few notes:

  1. I can’t quite figure out how they got that amount of dollars though each agent was consistent.
  2. One agent priced Business + First at 75,000 miles, but two priced it at the 50,000 price quoted above.
  3. Taxes and fuel surcharges vary by country and route, so fewer flights actually can actually result in higher charges.

1. The Dollar Amount

I would expect Lufthansa to collect the taxes and fuel surcharges of an equivalent paid ticket. Here’s the equivalent paid ticket to Tallinn to Frankfurt to Washington DC in Business and First Class.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.38.03 PM

That’s 223.37 euros ($248) of taxes and fuel surcharges. Asiana wanted $311. I don’t know why.

2. Differing Miles Prices

I called Asiana a few times, and I got different miles prices. Two out of three agents priced the short hop in Business plus longhaul in First Class at 50,000 miles total. One said 75,000 total. When pressed she explained that it was because I had the shorthaul Business Class segment, which was another 25,000 miles on the Asiana chart. Her computer was adding inta-Europe Business (25k) to Europe-to-USA First (50k.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.45.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.45.53 PM

I believe she was wrong and that Asiana agents should price your Lufthansa First Class award, even if there is an intra-Europe segment, at 50,000 total miles.

The agent who said 75,000 miles said the computer had priced it like that. That might be because I had first priced Business/Business with her and then switched to Business/First and for that reason the computer saw my trip as two awards.

Bottom line: please report if a connecting segment in Europe drives up your miles price in the comments, but I don’t believe it will happen.

3. Taxes and Fuel Surcharges Vary

The dollar price went up by dropping the Tallinn to Frankfurt segment. That’s just because airlines price fuel surcharges by origin/destination city pair and taxes and vary by country.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.46.48 PM

Play around with your country of origin if the taxes and fees are very important to you.

Test #2: United Premium Cabins

Asiana doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on United award flights. I tested that out by pricing out this itinerary on the same route.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.29.10 PM

I tested out:

  • Lufthansa Business Class TLL-FRA + United Business Class FRA-IAD (57.5k United miles above)
  • Lufthansa Business Class TLL-FRA + United First Class FRA-IAD (80k United miles above)

The agents all priced them at:

  • 40,000 Asiana Miles + $133.71 for the all Business Class award
  • 50,000 Asiana Miles + $133.71 for the mostly First Class award

The short Lufthansa flight had slight fuel surcharges plus the rest is taxes. Overall, these are steals.

Searching

Asiana is a member of Star Alliance. You can book any of these partners with Asiana miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.14.50 PM

Almost all of these are searchable on united.com very quickly, so that’s where to search. Here’s how. When you find award space in the Saver column, note the date, cabin, and flight number.

You will pay a different number of miles and dollars than the amount shown on united.com.

Booking

Booking, or pricing out awards is a bit of a hassle. You have to call Asiana at 800-227-4262 from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM Pacific Time Monday through Friday.

First you need to talk to reservations and have them piece together and price the award. Then you are transferred to Asiana Club to pay.

When the phone connects, hit 2-5-# to get to reservations. You need an Asiana Club account. If you have zero miles, just tell the agent you want to know the price in miles and taxes and fees before transferring points to Asiana Club. There is occasionally a language barrier, but you can usually get done what you need to.

Asiana can only ticket departures that are more than 72 hours in the future.

Pay your award taxes with the Citi Prestige® Card. The first $250 in award taxes, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the award taxes and fees.

Getting Asiana Miles

SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles with the customary 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points transferred. At that rate:

  • 35,000 Starpoints transfer to 40,000 Asiana miles
  • 40,000 Starpoints transfer to 50,000 Asiana miles

Unfortunately, in my experience, SPG points take 14-17 days to show up in my Asiana account.

The bonus on the SPG card is 25,000 Starpoints, and the minimum spending requirement just dropped to $3,000 in three months.

Bottom Line

It’s a bit of a hassle to book Asiana Club tickets and tough to get the miles, but you can’t argue with 40,000 miles + $131 for United flat bed Business Class to Europe or 50,000 miles + $311 for Lufthansa First Class.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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Ethiopian Airlines will begin flying Los Angeles to Dublin to Addis Ababa on June 18, 2015 with a 787 Dreamliner. Ethiopian will have fifth freedom rights, meaning you will be able to fly any single segment of the flight, including Los Angeles to Dublin.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 9.37.36 AM
Source: gcmap.com

Normally direct award space from the West Coast to Europe is tough to find. (Solution: route via Canada.) This is such an exciting addition to the Star Alliance’s transatlantic routes because the route has great award space for two passengers in economy and Business Class.

The flight will be bookable with United miles and any other Star Alliance airline’s miles. Crucially, with United miles, you can connect Los Angeles to Dublin with the rest of Europe by using United’s non-alliance partner Aer Lingus.

Right now, if you search united.com, Los Angeles to Dublin is showing 2+ economy seats and 2+ Business Class seats in both directions from next month until late March 2016. Unfortunately a lot of that award space is phantom award space.

  • How do I know the space is phantom? Where can you see real award space?
  • How much does the award cost?
  • How is Ethiopian Business Class?
  • Connection possibilities?
  • How can you book award space?
  • A full example of a roundtrip award with a (nearly) Free One Way

Phantom Award Space and Real Award Space

If you search united.com for two passengers from Los Angeles to Dublin on days on which the Ethiopian Airlines flight operates, you’ll see a lot of this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.04.58 PM
Apparently there is award space for 2+ people in each cabin on this flight

Nearly every flight has award space.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.02.11 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.02.37 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.04.25 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.04.44 PM

Unfortunately if you try to book the space, you may see this error:

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 1.44.22 PM

And other Star Alliance search engines like Aeroplan and Avianca don’t match up with the space on united.com. Other sites are right, and united.com is wrong, showing “phantom” award space.

I called United to try to book the space shown online on June 27 from Los Angeles to Dublin; it doesn’t exist. I asked about July 25, which online shows two economy and two Business Class seats. The agent only saw two Business Class and zero economy seats.

The upshot is that united.com is unreliable about this Ethiopian Airlines award space. There is award space on the route, and I suggest searching it on aeroplan.com, which matched award space seen by United’s agent.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 1.59.02 PM

Unfortunately sites like aeorplan.com don’t let me show 10 months of award space in five images, so I can’t as easily show you the award space. Just go search the dates you want.

Award Price

You can book the Ethiopian award space you find on aeroplan.com with any Star Alliance miles. The one way prices (economy/Business):

  • United: 30k/70k
  • Aeroplan: 30k/45k
  • Asiana: 25k/40k
  • Lufthansa: 25k/52k
  • Singapore: 27.5k/65k
  • LifeMiles: 30k/63k

United and LifeMiles never charge fuel surcharges. Aeroplan doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on this route. I didn’t test Asiana, Lufthansa, or Singapore, but I would expect them to collect fuel surcharges on this award. That’s about $124 one way in Business Class from Los Angeles to Dublin.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 2.00.08 PM

Ethiopian Business Class

Ethiopian’s Dreamliner has economy and Business Class. Business Class is in a 2-2-2 configuration. Choose a middle seat, so you and your seatmate both have aisle access.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 2.17.29 PM

Business Class is angled lie flat. Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 2.17.52 PM

Here is a full trip report from One Mile at a Time.

Connection Possibilities

United charges 30k/70k miles each way in economy/business between the United States and Europe on partner flights. You can connect to non-Star-Alliance-partner Aer Lingus flights in Ireland to the rest of Europe for zero extra miles on a United award. Aer Lingus flies to the following cities from Dublin:

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.03.27 PM

Dublin isn’t a Star Alliance hub, so other Star Alliance airlines that do not partner with Aer Lingus will have fewer connection options. Of course, you can always hop a super-cheap Ryanair flight from Dublin, its hub, to the rest of Europe.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.02.50 PM

If you fly all the way to Africa on the Ethiopian flight, United charges 40k/80k miles each way in economy/Business. From Addis Ababa, you can connect to the rest of Africa. The Star Alliance has the best network in Africa with Egyptair, Ethiopian, and South African.

Book Award Space

If you are booking with Aeroplan miles, book right on aeroplan.com after searching. You can also book the United and LifeMiles awards online on their respective websites.

For other types of miles like Singapore, Asiana, and Lufthansa, you book by calling the airline whose miles you’re using. Note the date, cabin, and flight number of all the award space you find on aeroplan.com, and call to book.

Pay your award taxes and fuel surcharges with the Citi Prestige® Card. The first $250 in award taxes, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the award taxes.

Full Roundtrip with (Nearly) Free One Way

What I like about this award space between Los Angeles and Dublin is that:

  1. it is available for the heart of summer and bookable right now
  2. Ireland is a very low aviation tax country.

Most award space to Europe in premium cabins is currently unavailable for the summer and will only open up within a few days or weeks of departure. A lot of that award space returns from England ($300 one way in taxes) or Germany ($150.)

To take advantage of these benefits of the Ethiopian space, I put together an award that has last second award space in Business Class on United to England but returns in Business Class from Dublin (get between the two on a separate ticket). For fun, I added a Free One Way in First Class from Los Angeles to Maui for next year. Except, it is not free; it adds 5,000 miles to the total award price for reasons that are obvious to anyone who has read Master Thread: Free Oneways on United Awards.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.22.39 PM

The roundtrip in Business Class plus the First Class to Maui eight months from now costs 132,500 United miles + $52 in taxes. Since the departure is less than 21 days from now, there is a $75 fee (that is reduced or waived for elites.)Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.22.33 PM

Bottom Line

Ethiopian begins its Los Angeles to Dublin to Addis Ababa route in a few weeks with good award space in economy and Business Class that you should search on aeroplan.com because of phantom space on united.com.

I like that the route is bookable in advance for the next 11 months including over the peak summer season and that departing Dublin has very low taxes.

You can book the space cheaply with Aeroplan or Asiana miles or use United miles if you want to connect within Europe on its partner Aer Lingus. If using United miles, consider adding a Free or Cheap One Way.

Hat Tip Gary Leff for reminding me about the route which I wrote about last October

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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I just booked myself a trip to Cuba with miles. One direction I am flying on a single award from the United States to Cuba. On the return, I am flying two awards: Cuba to Colombia and Colombia to the United States.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 1.11.07 AM

I used American Airlines, Asiana, and Lufthansa miles, all of which are easily available to Americans.

Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Here is the State Department’s page on visiting Cuba.

I am going to travel to Cuba on a general license as a journalist. A “general license” means that I do not have to contact any government agency in advance to receive permission. Here are the 12 categories of general licenses:

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 1.35.54 AM

I’ll need a valid passport and a tourist card to enter Cuba. I can buy the latter for $20 in Panama before boarding my flight to Havana.

It is still technically illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for the purpose of tourism. Figure out for yourself whether you can fit one of the 12 general licenses, so you can legally travel to Cuba.

Awards

In a previous post, I ruled out charter flights to Cuba because they’re impossible for folks traveling to Cuba on a general license, and I ruled out paid flights via third countries as very expensive. I was determined to book my trip to Cuba with miles.

But booking a trip to Cuba with miles is not 100% straightforward.

If you go to united.com and type Havana into the search box, you get no results. The US-based airlines are not going to let you use their miles to fly to Cuba for the time being, even if you just want to use the miles to fly from Panama to Cuba.

Any awards you book to Cuba will have to be with foreign miles. There are a lot of options:

  • Avianca LifeMiles, Singapore KrisFlyer miles, Asiana Club miles, Lufthansa Miles & More miles on Avianca or Copa to Cuba
  • Air France Flying Blue miles from Mexico City to Havana, flying AeroMexico

I looked into using Singapore, Asiana, Lufthansa, and Avianca miles. Here was my experience.

Searching for Award Space

I tried to use the miles of four Star Alliance carriers, all of which have equal access to Saver award space released by Avianca and Copa on their flights to Cuba. As I mentioned, not all award search engines will display award space to Cuba, but lifemiles.com will. Search for Star Alliance award space to Cuba on lifemiles.com.

There are several routes to Havana from the Americas on Star Alliance carriers: Copa, Avianca, Air Canada, and Air China.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 1.59.25 AM

 

There are also routes to Cayo CocoCayo Largo del SurHolguínSanta Clara, and Varadero on Star Alliance carriers.

To search for any of these routes on lifemiles.com, click on Air Tickets under the Enjoy tab.

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You may need to log in to a LifeMiles account to search. Sign up for a free account here.

On the search screen, next to “Preferred carrier,” select the carrier that serves the route you’re searching. Not specifying an airline will cause the search engine to miss results.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.28.22 PM

My Searches

I was interested in combining Cuba with Colombia. I need to start and end my trip in Washington DC. I searched:

  • Washington-Dulles <-> Havana on Copa
  • Havana <-> Bogota on Avianca
  • Bogota <-> Washington-Dulles on American and Avianca

I searched all three itineraries in both directions because I was willing to visit Bogota and Havana in either order. I let my search results dictate my order.

In the end, I found much better award space on my dates from Havana to Bogota than vice versa, which sealed my plan to fly USA to Cuba to Colombia to USA.

Spending an Afternoon in Panama City

Here are sample results for economy awards from Washington to Havana.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.28.55 PM

All of the options go from Washington to Panama City to Havana on Copa with varying layovers in Panama City. I decided to choose a seven hour layover in Panama City. From a quick search, I learned that I can visit the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal with a five hour layover. That sounds fascinating, and I plan to save money by hiring taxis instead of a tour company.

American Airlines Space to the United States

I was hoping to book Avianca’s direct flight from Bogota to Washington-Dulles for my return. There is award space on the flight in economy on many dates (yellow on the calendar below), but I couldn’t make it work for my trip.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 2.39.05 AM

My back up plan was American Airlines miles with one stop in Miami. The benefit is that American Airlines charges only 15,000 miles one way between the United States and Northern South America for much of the year. United would have charged me 20,000 miles one way for the Avianca flight.

American Airlines award space is wide open between Bogota and Miami, and from there to anywhere else in the United States or Canada for the same 15,000 mile price.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 2.37.54 AM

I noted the date, cabin, and flight number of the award space to Cuba on Copa, to Colombia on Avianca, and to the United States on American Airlines. Now it was time to book.

Booking the Award

I wanted to get all three of my awards or zero. The first step was to put the American Airlines award on a free five day hold while I investigated my booking options with Star Alliance miles for the Star Alliance flights.

Avianca LifeMiles

Selecting the Copa award flights from Washington-Dulles to Havana brings up a price of 17,500 Lifemiles + $31.85. Or you can toggle the “More money” button to book the award for 7,500 Lifemiles and $181.85.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.29.42 PM

The problem is that I don’t have LifeMiles. Getting LifeMiles is a bit of a challenge. You basically need to buy them. They are often on sale for 1.65 cents each, though not currently. Once you have 7,500 LifeMiles, you can book the award for another $181.85.

I would consider buying the 7,500 miles when they are on sale for 1.65 cents each which happens every few months, but right now they cost 3.3 cents each.

The Havana to Bogota award was only 10,000 LifeMiles, but that was 10,000 more than I had.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 11.12.33 AM

I went looking for other foreign Star Alliance options to book the flights.

Lufthansa Miles & More

Lufthansa is also a member of the Star Alliance, so it partners with Copa and Avianca. The Miles & More award chart shows a great price of 17,000 miles one way from the United States to Cuba or Colombia to Cuba.

I called the Miles & More call center for the United States and tried to book Washington to Havana. The agent said he could not book flights to Cuba.

Next I called the British service center at  +44 371 – 945 97 37 for 1 cent per minute via gmail. I fed the agent the Copa flights from Washington to Havana and she priced them at 17,000 Miles & More miles and 4.5 GBP ($7.) These were the same flights that the agent at the US call center couldn’t price.

She priced Bogota to Havana at 17,000 miles + $15.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 12.24.21 PM

Fantastic! I had 18,000 Lufthansa miles, so I could book one of the awards with Lufthansa miles.

I continued my research.

Singapore KrisFlyer

The Singapore award chart shows a price of 17,500 miles from the United States to the Caribbean. Havana to Bogota would be 25,000 miles.

I called KrisFlyer and tried to price my Copa award. Three different agents priced it at 35,000 miles one way. For whatever reason, the computer wanted to collect Washington to Panama and Panama to Havana as two separate awards.

I didn’t bother to price Havana to Bogota because I knew it would be cheaper with Lufthansa miles, but I am confident it would have cost 25,000 Singapore miles.

Asiana Club

The Asiana chart shows Colombia to Cuba costing 17,500 miles and the United States to the Caribbean at 17,500 miles also.

I priced out Havana to Bogota at 17,500 miles + $15.

I didn’t bother to price out Washington to Havana because I had all the information I needed.

How I Booked

I had the perfect amount of Lufthansa and Asiana miles to book the two Star Alliance awards. If I hadn’t had those perfect amounts, I would have transferred Starpoints to Lufthansa miles. Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Singapore, Lufthansa, and Asiana miles. And every 20,000 points transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus.

When the Asiana agent priced Havana to Bogota at 17,500 miles one way, I immediately booked. I got the following email a few minutes later with my confirmation number.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 3.02.29 AM Next I called Lufthansa back. Because of the time of day, I called the Australian Miles & More center at +61 1300 – 655 727 for 2 cents a minute through gmail. I booked Washington to Havana for 17,000 miles + $7. My confirmation came quickly via email.Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 3.02.42 AM

 

Last I signed into my American Airlines account and ticketed Bogota to Washington, which I had held earlier in the day. It cost 15,000 miles + $95 (though I’ll get about $35 back upon check in.)

Bottom Line

Lufthansa, Avianca, Singapore, and Asiana are all willing to ticket award tickets to Cuba, even if they begin in the United States. Copa has several destinations in America from which you can get to Cuba with only one connection in Panama. If you don’t live in one of those cities, you can connect on United and Copa flights to Panama and then to Havana on your Miles & More award.

Search for the award space on lifemiles.com and call the non-US call center of the airline whose miles you want to use. You can book a roundtrip for as little as 34,000 Lufthansa miles, which is 29,000 Starpoints.

To get Starpoints, open the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5,000 in the first six months. Just meeting the minimum spending requirement gives you more than enough points for a roundtrip award to Cuba.

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Asiana Airlines is a member of Star Alliance–United’s alliance–based in Seoul, South Korea. I flew Asiana First Class on its A380 last year and was very impressed.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 12.25.22 AM
Business Class on the Asiana A380

 

Since Asiana is a member of Star Alliance, all the award space it releases is bookable with United miles. Until recently the award space showed up on searches of united.com also. For whatever reason, Asiana award space no longer displays on united.com. My prediction is that this will be a short-lived glitch.

But in the meantime, it is very useful to know where to search and find Asiana award space since United is holding a sale this month for 2015 award travel to Asia and Europe.

Search Aeroplan.com

Here’s how to search award space on aeroplan.com. It’s very intuitive once you sign up for a free Aeroplan account.

I searched aeroplan.com for Business Class award space on Asiana’s Los Angeles to Seoul flight, which is fairly wide open at non-peak times.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.32.35 AM

I found award space on October 21 on aeroplan.com. Any Asiana award space that shows up at aeroplan.com is bookable with United miles. Ignore the miles price listed if you plan to use United miles because you will pay the price on United’s chart, which is 80,000 miles one way normally in partner Business Class to North Asia (though only 70,000 miles currently during the sale.)

I went to united.com to pull up the same flight, and united.com isn’t showing it.Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.33.23 AM

The only award space it sees on the route is on the Thai Airways flight, and all that space is in economy.Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.33.29 AMHow to Book Asiana Space with United Miles

Call United at 800-UNITED-1 and feed the agent the date, flight number, and cabin of the Asiana award space you found on aeroplan.com.

If you prefer to have United call you, use this call back form.

Ask to have the phone fee waived, since you couldn’t ticket this online because of United’s glitch.

Bottom Line

While Asiana award space has disappeared from united.com, the space still exists and is bookable with United miles. Find it on aeroplan.com and book it by phone with United.

Hat Tip View from the Wing

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Asiana has the best award chart in the Star Alliance. That means that you can book any of the 27 Star Alliance airlines, including United, for fewer miles on many routes with Asiana miles than with better known programs like United, Lufthansa, LifeMiles, Singapore, and Air Canada.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 2.48.37 AM

Asiana is a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints. As usual with Starpoints transfers, you get 5,000 bonus Asiana miles for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred.

If you can get your hands on Asiana miles, you can book insanely cheap awards like:

  • Lufthansa First Class between the United States and Europe for 50,000 Asiana miles one way vs. 110,000 United miles
  • United First Class between the continental United States and Hawaii for 27,500 Asiana miles one way vs. 40,000 United miles
  • United Global First between the United States and Southern South America for 45,000 Asiana miles one way vs. 70,000 United miles

Unfortunately some Asiana awards have fuel surcharges, and it took 17 days for my transfer of Starpoints to reach Asiana miles. Continue reading for:

  • Comparison tables of United award chart versus Asiana award chart
  • Fuel surcharge info on Asiana awards

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How long does it take to transfer Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints to Asiana Club Miles?

An astounding 17 days.

Why would you want to transfer Starpoints to Asiana Miles?

Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles. As with all 1:1 Starpoints transfers, you get 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points transferred.

Asiana has an incredible award chart. Asiana miles can be used to book any Star Alliance airline, often for cheaper award prices than United, Lufthansa, Avianca, Singapore, and Air Canada miles.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 2.48.37 AM

  • What is the transfer procedure?
  • What are the Asiana sweet spots?

Transfer SPG Points to Asiana Miles

Sign into your SPG account and head to the airline-miles transfer page.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 10.55.11 PM

I made my 20,000 Starpoints transfer on September 15 at 11 AM ET. It was simple.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 11.54.01 PMOne screen in the process tells you how many miles you’ll receive. In this case 20,000 points becomes 25,000 miles.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 11.54.16 PM

After making the transfer, I got an immediate email to let me know the transfer was done and that my miles would appear in “up to four weeks.” My Starpoints were deducted immediately.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 11.56.47 PM

I checked my Award Wallet account every day to see if my miles had appeared. They didn’t arrive until 8 PM ET on October 2, 17 days after the transfer.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 2.32.50 PM

Seventeen days is entirely too long. My Starpoints to US Airways miles transfer took two days, which I thought was too long.

I had actually initiated this transfer because I wanted to use 17,500 Asiana miles to travel from the United States to Colombia. While I waited for the transfer, I ended up buying a cash ticket for various reasons I might discuss in a future post.

The 25,000 Asiana miles will not be orphaned though because Asiana has an incredible award chart.

Asiana Sweet Spots

From the Asiana Star Alliance chart:

  • Mainland to Hawaii: 35k/55k roundtrip in economy/business. I have investigated this one, and these prices are only available on nonstop awards. Awards with a connection price at this price PLUS the price of an award within the continental USA.
  • USA to Southern South America 50k/70k/90k roundtrip in economy/business/first
  • USA to Europe: 50k/80k/100k roundtrip in economy/business/first. I have investigated this one. These awards allow connections. Fuel surcharges are lower than I feared. Europe to USA in Lufthansa First Class is 50k miles + $311.
  • Plenty of other deals far cheaper than other Star Alliance award charts:

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 11.07.13 PM

I have not had a chance to investigate Asiana award bookings, but that will be the next step. I believe one way tickets can be booked for half the miles, and that fuel surcharges will apply when they would apply on cash tickets.

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I just arrived in Los Angeles after 10 hours flying Asiana First Class on its brand new A380. I booked my seat last month for 70,000 United miles (at pre-devaluation prices using this trick.)

This is a really important trip report because Asiana First Class is a true luxury product that is extremely easy to book with miles!

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 3.37.47 AM
Champagne wishes & caviar realities in Asiana First

Award space on the Asiana A380 is wide open in Business Class and First Class between Los Angeles and Seoul, especially at the last minute. Here’s a search for 4 passengers between Seoul and Los Angeles for the next two months. The blue and green days all have award space in Business or First Class or both for 4 passengers on the same flight.

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This flight has 4+ Business Class and 4+ First Class award seats on the same Asiana A380.

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I very much enjoyed my Asiana First Class experience, though there are some things the airline can improve.

  • How was the seat, bed, food, service, lounge, and airport experience?

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I’m sitting in the Asiana First Class Lounge in Seoul, about to fly one of the newest and hopefully best First Class products in the world on the Asiana A380.

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First Class Suite on Asiana A380

I booked the ticket for 70,000 United miles and around $150 all in because you can still book awards at the old pre-devaluation United award prices.

On a whim, I checked the cash price for the ticket. United is selling today’s Asiana flight for 3.7 million Korean won, about $3,560 one way in First Class.

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 12.58.45 PMI am actually surprised that the flight isn’t much more expensive. This year I flew Cathay Pacific First Class from New York to Hong Kong for 67,500 American Airlines miles and $27.50. A similar flight goes for $11,271 one way if you buy it from American Airlines (oddly $5,000 cheaper than buying the Cathay Pacific flight from Cathay Pacific.)

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 12.53.52 PM

These eye-popping prices made me think: How rich would I need to be before I bought these flights with cash?

  • How rich would you need to be before you bought First Class with cash?
  • Why do I redeem miles for First Class instead of economy?

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If award space isn’t available on a flight you want, keep checking. Award space changes all the time. This is a truism, but I have never tracked one route and flight for a few days to show exactly how true the truism is until now.

I’ve tracked First Class availability on the brand new Asiana A380 this month and next for the past few days. There were changes every day.

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Enclosed Suite for First Class on Asiana A380

I started tracking the award space for selfish reasons. I have a United award from Seoul to Los Angeles next month to return to the United States from the Asian vacation I’m taking with my brother.

The award goes the long way and features Asiana and Lufthansa First Class. Since booking the award, I’ve flown Lufthansa First Class and been to the Lufthansa First Class terminal, so I think I’d prefer to change the award to a direct flight to Los Angeles on Asiana’s stunning new product.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 12.25.08 AM

I’ve started checking every day to see if award space opens up on a day that works for my schedule. I am also checking award space patterns right near departure to estimate the likelihood that award space will open up for me right before departure.

  • How much has award space changed daily?
  • What is the pattern near departure?
  • Can I automate my search?

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Asiana has started flying an A380 between Seoul-Incheon and Los Angeles. The daily flight includes fully enclosed suites in First Class and fully flat beds in Business Class.

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First Class on Asiana A380

Asiana is a member of the Star Alliance, so Asiana flights are bookable with United miles and Avianca LifeMiles without fuel surcharges.

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Business Class on Asiana A380

Award space is wide open in summer 2015 on the route in all cabins. Award space for this summer is less available, but if you are flexible, you can be among the first to fly the Asiana A380 in any cabin you’d like.

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  • How many miles does United charge to fly Asiana First Class and Business Class?
  • How many miles does Avianca LifeMiles charge?
  • How is the award space?
  • How does the product look?

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This review is a continuation of my huge US Airways redemption that I wrote about back in this post. I reviewed Swiss Business Class: Boston to ZurichThai First Class: Paris to Bangkok on an A380, and the Thai Royal Orchid Spa in Bangkok already.

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After a relaxing night at the Park Hyatt Seoul (a great value at 15,000 Hyatt points/night), I took the coach bus from the Gangnam bus terminal to Incheon airport at 10:00 a.m. The trip was long, but the comfortable bus saved me plenty of won over hailing a taxi.

How was the seat, bed, food, service, and entertainment in Asiana First Class? How does Asiana First Class stack up against its competitors?

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My friend, Ryan from MA, recently took a trip to Italy and Taiwan during which he flew Lufthansa First Class, Asiana First Class, Thai First Class, ANA First Class and entered some of the world’s nicest lounges. I’ve asked him to do a series of trip reports, so we can all be inspired by some of the otherwise out-of-reach experiences miles can afford us. This is the first trip report on Lufthansa First Class.

After 5 days in Rome and 1 day in Bologna, my wife and I took a short Lufthansa business class flight from Rome to Frankfurt. I really enjoy flying Lufthansa business class because their food is always delicious even for an hour long flight. American airlines should really step up their food offerings especially for domestic first class passengers.

Delicious cured meat, hot toasty breads, and panna cotta

When we arrived at Frankfurt Airport, we went to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge. The Lufthansa Senator Lounge is the main lounge for all first class passengers that are not flying Lufthansa First Class. This was my first time in this lounge, and I knew it wouldn’t be as nice as Lufthansa First Class Lounge or First Class Terminal but looked forward to trying a new lounge out.

Lufthansa Senator Lounge

How was the Lufthansa Senator Lounge? How was Asiana First Class?

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