Anatomy of an Award: Lufthansa First Class Europe to USA for 40,000 Points

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I’m mentally preparing for the Cigar Room, bubble bath, “First Class” stamped butter, Porsche rides, and the rest of the Lufthansa First Class Terminal and First Class experience because I just booked Lufthansa First Class from Zagreb to Washington-Dulles for 50,000 Asiana miles + $442.

This month I’ll get to spend a day in Munich at Oktoberfest with my sister and then luxuriously fly back to the United States. And I booked the ticket for less than half the miles United would charge for the identical ticket.

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I did have to start planning my trip a month before booking and wait until within 15 days of departure to finally book. Plus I had to endure a 30 minute phone call that doubled as a free lesson for the Asiana employee on how award tickets work and pay a few hundred dollars in fuel surcharges. But I still think I came out way ahead!

Asiana Miles

Asiana Airlines is a Seoul-based member of Star Alliance. Its miles can be used to book any Star Alliance airlines’ award space. Some of its award prices are terrible, but between the United States and Europe and the United States and South America, Asiana’s prices are incredibly cheap.

  • 27,500 miles one way in United First Class from US mainland to Hawaii
  • 27,500 miles one way in Business Class from US to Northern South America
  • 35,000 miles one way in Business Class from US to Southern South America
  • 40,000 miles one way in Business Class from US to Europe
  • 50,000 miles one way in First Class from US to Europe

Asiana collects fuel surcharges on flights that have fuel surcharges, except United flights. Flights to South America don’t have fuel surcharges, though, so those awards can be a great deal.

Flights from Europe to the United States have much lower fuel surcharges than vice versa, so I have recommended using Asiana miles to book Lufthansa First Class to the United States in the past. For as little as $150 in fuel surcharges, you can book Lufthansa First Class for 50,000 miles one way instead of the 110,000 miles one way United charges (with no fuel surcharges.)

Preparation

Lufthansa First Class is only ever made available to partners, like United or Asiana, within 15 days of departure. Transfers from SPG Starpoints to Asiana miles can take a few weeks.

About a month before you want to fly Lufthansa First Class with Asiana miles I recommend searching for award space on the route that interests you to see if you are reasonably likely to find it in a few weeks, and if you are, to transfer Starpoints to Asiana miles.

I did that a few weeks ago, and I detailed the process here.

Award Search

Once I got within 15 days of departure, I started award searching. I was looking for a very specific set of flights:

  • The 6:45 AM flight from Zagreb, where I’ve been most of the last few months, to Munich, where I had convinced my sister to meet me for a day of Oktoberfest.
  • The 7:00 AM flight the next day from Munich to Frankfurt because it takes off 23 hours after I land in Munich and because it gives me a 5 hour 15 minute layover in the First Class Terminal before…
  • The afternoon Lufthansa flight on a 747-8 from Frankfurt to Washington-Dulles

I could have instead looked for the quickest itinerary from Zagreb to DC. That would have been a one stop award with the layover in Munich or Frankfurt. If I’d chose Munich, though, I’d miss the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, and if I’d chosen Frankfurt, I’d miss Oktoberfest in Munich. So I wanted this more convoluted itinerary.

The first two flights have economy and Business Class. Like almost all intra-Europe Business Class, you get no extra legroom compared to economy; you just have the middle seat in your row blocked off for more elbow room. I’d slightly prefer that, but I was almost indifferent between finding economy and Business Class award space on those flights.

For the longhaul flight, I needed to find First Class award space for maximum enjoyment in the air and all the attendant benefits of flying Lufthansa First Class out of Frankfurt: namely access to the First Class Terminal and car rides over the tarmac to and from my flights.

I searched united.com for the award space because it is an easy place to search Lufthansa and Croatia Airlines award space, and any award space for those airlines on united.com is bookable with Asiana miles. (Miles truism: in almost all cases, airlines release award space equally to all partners.)

The rarer space was the Lufthansa First Class award space, so I started by searching for that. I was looking for this exact itinerary, and after a few days of searching, it became available for my preferred dates. I noted the flights times, flight numbers, and cabins.

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Then I searched for Zagreb to Munich for the day before the First Class flight, and found award space on the morning flight like I needed. I noted the date, cabin, and flight number.screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-8-43-17-pm

Award Booking

To book, always call the airline whose miles you’re using, so I called Asiana. Asiana has a weird two-step system for award booking. You have to call reservations Monday through Friday between 8:30 AM and 5:30 PM PT to reserve the ticket, and then you have until 5:30 PM PT the next day to ticket the award with Asiana Club.

I called Asiana at 213-365-4500 and followed automated prompts to reservations. The agent asked for my date and cities of travel. I gave them to her, and her computer spit out some convenient one stop First Class itineraries that I didn’t want because I wanted the complicated one discussed above.

I asked her to to look up the three flights I wanted by date, cabin, and flight number, and she said she couldn’t do it on one ticket. She could only ticket the options her computer gave her.

I said, “Fine, let’s just look up all three of these flights separately and see what they cost.” She had no problem finding the award space I fed her from united.com.

She confidently quoted me a price of 90,000 Asiana miles and $442.

I had no idea where 90,000 came from, and I told her that my reading of Asiana’s award chart and award rules indicated that the price should be 50,000 miles one way. (I wasn’t 100% sure I was right because maybe Asiana has a maximum layover time other than 24 hours, which is the award ticket standard but is not universal. But I figured it might pay off to be polite and confident.)

She put me on hold and came back to quote me a price of 75,000 miles. I knew where this price came from. The intra-Europe Business Class price is 25,000 Asiana miles and the Europe-to-USA First Class price is 50,000 miles. The ticket was apparently pricing as two separate awards, presumably because of my 23 hour layover.

I pushed back again and said, “I don’t understand. Flyasiana.com shows a price of 50,000 miles. Can you double check this?” She put me on hold for 10 more minutes and came back with good news.

“The [I forget what she said, maybe “Asiana Club experts” or “Star Alliance desk” or something] confirmed that the price is 50,000 Asiana miles and $442.

At this point she offered to connect me to Asiana Club to ticket the award, but this 30 minute call had made me late for something else, so I just took down the 8 digit reservation code to call Asiana Club back the next day before 5:30 PM PT.

A word on the $442

I have discussed how you can limit the out-of-pocket price of a Lufthansa First Class award booked with Asiana miles to $203 by returning to the US from a city with low taxes on a route with low fuel surcharges.

I didn’t have flexibility on my return city, though. A normal Lufthansa First Class ticket from Zagreb to Washington-Dulles has 1,860 Croatian kuna ($276) of taxes and fuel surcharges according to ITA Matrix.

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My ticket has $442 because the taxes and fees are being calculated as Zagreb to Munich plus Munich to Washington-Dulles because of the long layover in Munich.

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I considered other options like taking a seven hour bus ride to Munich for 20 euros and then starting the award there, but that would actually have only saved me about $60 on the award because awards from Munich have high taxes and fuel surcharges.

So I could have spent a lot less than $442 out of pocket, but I paid that high of a price to get the exact cities I wanted. This $442 out of pocket is ripe for the use of a Travel Statement Credit from the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which gives you a $300 credit per calendar year to offset any travel expense, including fuel surcharges and award taxes. That’s in addition to the card’s 100,000 point sign up bonus.

Ticketing

I called back the day after I reserved my Asiana award to ticket. This time I followed prompts for Asiana Club and gave my reservation number. The agent found my award, quoted me the 50,000 miles + $442 price, and took my credit card number.

A few hours later, I had my ticket by email.

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Seat Selection

To double check that the airline I’m flying sees my ticket, and to get the seats I want, I always contact the airline I’m flying to select seats.

In this case, I entered the six character “Reservation No.” from the email Asiana sent me into the home page of Lufthansa.com to manage my reservation. I was able to select seats or special meals for both the Croatia Airlines flight and Lufthansa flights.

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First Class on the Lufthansa 747-8 as three rows in the nose of the main deck. The first and second row just have two window seats each. The third row has window seats and a pair of connected middle seats, ideal for people traveling together. I chose seat 1K to be right in the nose.

Getting the Miles

Asiana miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of SPG Starpoints, which you can get from the American Express SPG personal and business credit cards. For every 20,000 Starpoints transferred, you get 5,000 bonus Asiana miles, so this award cost me 40,000 Starpoints.

Additionally, Bank of America just increased the sign up bonus on its Asiana credit card to 30,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.

Bottom Line

I had to plan ahead, use obscure miles, wait until the last 15 days before departure to finally ticket my award, pay fuel surcharges, and endure over 30 minutes on the phone.

But all that was worth it to pay 40,000 Starpoints (50,000 Asiana miles) to fly Lufthansa First Class from Zagreb to Washington DC with a 23 hour layover at Oktoberfest and a five hour layover at the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt. For the same ticket, United would charge 110,000 miles.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t understand why they charged you such high taxes, your long layover is still just a connection (albeit a long one) and not an actual stopover because it’s under 24h. It should be what ITA is quoting you, no?

    • I can’t bring up my itinerary on ITA Matrix. Can you? If so, let me know the advanced routing codes. I do know, however, that the rules for taxes are set by governments and are not the same as award tickets. For instance, a layover longer than 4 (or is it 6?) hours in the US triggers a second $5.60 tax but it can still be on one award. (Search united.com IAD-HNL one way and look at the longer itineraries with $11.20 in taxes, and you’ll see what I mean.)

      • How to buy this ticket
        Tickets cannot be purchased directly from ITA Software.
        Provide this information to a travel agent to help them match the fares found.
        Make sure to provide the exact booking and fare codes shown.
        Fare for 1 adult
        Fare 1: Carrier LH F77OW ZAG to WAS (rules)
        Passenger type ADT, ONE-WAY-ONLY fare, booking code C, J, F
        Covers ZAG-MUC (Business), MUC-FRA (Business), FRA-IAD (First)
        $6,582.93
        Germany Airport Security Charge (DE)
        $10.20
        USDA APHIS Fee (XA)
        $3.96
        US Immigration Fee (XY)
        $7.00
        US Customs Fee (YC)
        $5.50
        German Passenger Service Charge (RA)
        $23.70
        LH YQ surcharge (YQ)
        $174.10
        US International Arrival Tax (US)
        $17.80
        German Passenger Service Charge (RD)
        $22.70
        Croatia Civil Aviation Authority Ccaa Tax (MI)
        $1.50
        OU YQ surcharge (YQ)
        $48.00
        LH YR surcharge (YR)
        $17.90
        Croatia Passenger Service And Security Charge (HR)
        $26.50
        Subtotal per passenger
        $6,941.86
        Number of passengers
        x1
        Subtotal For 1 adult
        $6,941.86
        Fare Construction (can be useful to travel agents)
        ZAG OU X/MUC LH X/FRA LH WAS M 6690.06F77OW NUC 6690.06 END ROE 0.881606 XT 26.50HR 1.50MI 10.20DE 23.70RA 22.70RD 5.50YC 7.00XY 3.96XA 17.80US 222.10YQ 17.90YR
        Total Airfare & Taxes
        $6,941.86

        i just pulled it for a random day next week.

  2. Scott – Any other good uses on the Asiana award chart if one were to transfer points and not find LH F availability, Asiana start blocking LH F etc to prevent orphaning points?

  3. Scott-

    We have been looking at a FRA – LAX/SFO routing in F next spring. Checking the equipment flown on each of those 2 routes we found LH uses 747-800s, 380-800s, 777s, 340-600s and I think we even saw a new 350-300. In what order would you rank the equipment in terms of desirability? We notice you chose the 747-800.

    -g

    • FRA-IAD is only on the 747-8, so I chose it for the route not the plane. I haven’t flown any of the other planes in Lufthansa First, so I can’t help much. Google trip reports for each one.

    • personally, i prefer the LH F on A340… I find it to be most open. followed by A380 because it has the best bathrooms and also is on the upper deck. 747-8 is my least fav LH F… when I do fly it i would only select seat 2A or 2K as a solo traveler.
      i’m probably the minority tho.

  4. Thanks for the rundown.
    One question though. Does Asiana allow to book from your miles for family/friend, or only for the account holder as is the case with Korean?
    Thanks

    • A cursory search told me that you do have to fill out a form online if you want to request to book an Asiana award for someone else. Not sure what the process is, but if you’re interested I would call 1-800-227-4262 (Asiana Club) for details.

  5. Hey Scott,

    Just like -g above, we’re looking at a FRA to west coast flight next spring. I’d rather not leave the flight so much up to chance–do you know what the change fee would be if we booked a UA flight now and then changed it to LH if availability came up last minute?

    Thanks!

    • $100 a ticket, but you don’t want to book this with United miles at all. Just wait until the last minute, you’ll find plenty of award space in all cabins in the Spring at the last minute.

    • That is cheap for this. Way cheaper than 110k miles and $100. And way more value than 30k + $100 for economy.

  6. Thanks for the rundown.
    One question, does Asiana allow to book for friends and family, or only for account holder like Korean?
    Thanks.

  7. I just want to point pout something… for those that are looking to use this for LH F to Europe…

    with current AeroPlan promo if you transfer 160k SPG you will get 260k AP miles (160k +25% +30%) which will yield 3.71 LH F one-ways to Europe.

    now, 160k SPG transferred to Asiana yields 4 LH F one-ways to Europe… so slightly more but with much more hassle to book. With AP you can book most awards online, any time, and YQ is calculated correctly. Plus Asiana award chart on this route is so cheap it is almost certain it will devalue.

    just something to keep in mind.

  8. Scott, I think a fairly important point is worth mentioning when it comes to Asiana award bookings. AWARDS CAN ONLY BE BOOKED MORE THAN 3 DAYS OUT FROM DEPARTURE. This effectively limits a large amount of Lufthansa first class awards, especially on the longer routes from the west coast since LH usually releases these seats within 2 or 3 days of departure. For East coast flights there is going to be more options at 15 days out, but once you get inside 4 days you can’t book with Asiana

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