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It all began with a crazy idea: How many first-class flights can I check off my bucket list in a week? I’ve been on a mission to try all the first-class products out there, and what better way than to fast-track it by doing 4 in just over a week?
- Singapore Airlines Suites
- Qatar Airways First Class
- Oman First Class
- Lufthansa First Class
This trip made me on the move daily and challenged me to experience the no-jetlag effect, which I’m convinced occurs when the body constantly changes time zones.
So how did this trip all come together? It was December 2021 just as Covid-19 Omnicron variant was beginning to take hold, and there was a plethora of award space available. I had been speculatively booking trips non-stop during the pandemic as it was the golden opportunity to fly aspirational products. I was fortunate to have been rewarded with some fantastic experiences already, including an Emirates First Class extravaganza twice. You can read more about that adventure in an upcoming review of Emirates First Class.
This trip was far more challenging than priors as I’d have to adapt just like the virus and stay one step ahead of it. From November 2021 to May 2022, country restrictions were constantly in flux, airline equipment would often be swapped, and airline schedules could not be relied upon. Country hopping was difficult enough pre-covid, but in early 2022, the stakes were much higher. Despite these risks and possible wasted time and effort, I still pushed ahead. I assumed that I would likely cancel this trip just like dozens of my other speculative trips.
Surprisingly, over the 6 months, global travel slowly began to recover and turn for the better; I felt comfortable giving the trip the green light with contingencies in place if something went astray.
The Flights – Singapore Airlines Suites
Why did I choose these First-Class products? Well, the availability of Singapore Airlines Suites at the Saver fare from New York-JFK kicked it all off. I had flown this product in 2019 but only for a short distance of 6 hours from Singapore to Mumbai. There was no caviar nor pajamas offered for such a short flight. However, I was treated to a lovely birthday cake.
After that flight, I was determined to fly the longest route possible in Suites one day. To accomplish this, I had to accumulate points, precisely Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer points, the only currency that can be used for Suites (and First) class redemptions. I would require in total 132,000 KrisFlyer points to fly from New York (JFK) to Singapore via Frankfurt. Fortunately, by October 2021, I had saved up enough HSBC reward points to take advantage of a 15% transfer bonus. I transferred 350,000 HSBC reward points to Krisflyer, which netted me close to the 132,000 points required for the booking. HSBC reward points can be transferred to KrisFlyer at a 25000:9000 ratio.
This was a speculative transfer during the pandemic, but I chose to risk it anyways. I felt confident that I would make good use of the KrisFlyer points before they expired in 39 months. The pandemic had to end someday right? Luckily, just 2 months after doing the transfer, KrisFlyer released first-class saver awards on the New York-JFK to Singapore route. Finding first-class saver awards on this route is exceptionally rare. I had to lock in a booking ASAP. I recall waking up my friend in the middle of the night to book with me so we could get the opportunity to try out the double suite. By the morning, all the blogs had blasted the news, and award inventory was drying up quickly as the hours passed. There was still a problem, the equipment was earmarked to be the old first-class product on the A380 rather than Suites.
However, I knew that Singapore Airlines was nearly done refreshing all their A380 interiors, meaning there was a high likelihood that a swap from First to Suites could occur. The real concern I had was that travel to Singapore was impossible until many months later, which is why many just booked the 5th freedom New York JFK-Frankfurt route (or vice versa), but this wasn’t going to cut it for me. I had to do the entire route or not do it at all. I wasn’t going to risk the possibility of not having caviar and pajamas again for a “short” red-eye transatlantic flight.
The Flights – Qatar Airways First Class
Once the Singapore Airlines flight was booked, I incorporated Qatar First-Class into the trip. The A380 had just been reactivated and was flying select routes. This included Bangkok to Doha, which fit perfectly into my travel plans after Singapore. I booked the flight using my Qatar Avios points for 82,500, including a connection from Doha to Muscat.
I planned to enter Doha during my 22-hour layover, but this would mean a Covid PCR test was necessary to enter Qatar, be lucky enough to submit it, and have it approved before landing in Doha. Otherwise, I’d spend 22 hours in the Al Safwa First Class Lounge, which would not be so bad let’s be honest. Getting the PCR test done in Singapore was too risky given the strict quarantine rules if I tested positive. I chose to play it safe and head to Bangkok early to get my testing done. To get to Bangkok, I booked a Singapore Airlines Business Class flight for 20,000 Aeroplan points.
With an 11:00 am arrival and a 2:30 am departure, everything had to work like clockwork in Bangkok. I allocated time for testing, exercise, eat, rest, and shop. I had no intention of sleeping on the Qatar First Class flight overnight. After all, my circadian rhythm would be so out of whack by this point that what is night or day anymore?
My plan in Doha would be similar to Bangkok except I would attempt to explore in the 48C heat, and head back to the airport 6 hours early to enjoy the Al Safwa First Class lounge. I would have first-class lounge access since all intra-middle east flights on Qatar are marketed as First Class and I was headed to Muscat.
The onward flight from Doha would be on Qatar Airways A350 Qsuites. This is my favorite business class product on my favorite aircraft. I find Qatar’s A350 superior to their 777 and 787 aircrafts.
Sadly, this Qsuites experience would only last a short 1h 35min. Arriving in Muscat, I allocated just over 34 hours on the ground before the next flight.
The Flights – Oman Air First Class
Oman is a country I’ve long sought to visit, especially after Anshul’s adventure there. The Oman Air partnership with Aeroplan opened the possibility of flying a new First-Class product; this was exciting! Given that we were amid the pandemic, there was a plethora of space available, so I booked the Muscat-London flight. Frankfurt was my first choice, but given the lack of availability, I settled with London. I booked the flight for 73,000 Aeroplan points with the intention to add on a flight to North America.
Given that I would not be permitted to stay in the United Kingdom for more than 24 hours without undergoing Covid PCR testing, I needed an onward flight home within that time. I booked a separate Air Canada flight to Montreal, but the hope was to avoid this as I had no interest in being succumbed to Air Canada’s covid era dining experience, which included their famous cold rock-solid bread served in plastic, no thank you. My target was set on Lufthansa First Class out of Frankfurt.
The Flights – Lufthansa First Class
Booking Lufthansa First Class can be surprisingly easy and challenging simultaneously. Easy because Lufthansa consistently releases First Class award space close to departure. Challenging because you need to be proactively set up to grab the seat quickly the moment it opens. Fortunately, there are tools out there to provide such alerts.
Lufthansa First Class is only available on the 747-800 that flies to select cities in the United States. I had a strategy place to be alerted to book any First-Class award space that becomes available to either Newark, Washington, or Chicago. Newark was my ideal choice as it would allow adequate time to get from London to Frankfurt and spend some unrushed time in the Lufthansa First Class Terminal. It would also allow sufficient time to grab an onward flight the same day home to Ottawa.
When I got the alert that an award seat had become available from Frankfurt to Newark, I quickly booked using 90,000 Aeroplan points just as my Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to Bangkok began to roll down the runway for takeoff, what timing!
Now I had to get to Frankfurt from London and due to Aeroplan’s fare bucket matching rules, I was unable to add the early morning Lufthansa flight from London to my existing booking. Luckily, I had already speculatively booked this flight weeks prior just in case I needed it. Unfortunately, this short 90-minute flight ended up costing 20,000 Aeroplan points; only business class was available, and I had booked a flexible ticket.
Lastly, to get home from Newark, I used my United Travel Bank to book a revenue ticket to Ottawa. Unlike Air Canada, United has affordable refundable fares, so I had speculatively booked the Newark-Ottawa flight weeks prior as well. This was booked directly in United First as it was only an extra $100 so why not.
The Upcoming Reviews
This 4-part series aims to present my opinion on each first-class product: Singapore, Qatar, Oman, and Lufthansa as I experienced them back-to-back in quick succession. I will present the specific pros and cons of each product that stood out to me and not regurgitate a list of features each product offers, as this can be read on any other blog.
I will touch on each of the following categories in the upcoming reviews:
- Ground Experience
- Check-in, security, and customs
- Flight Experience
- Hard product (“the seat”)
- Meals & Drinks
- Inflight Entertainment (IFE)
- Aircraft and Lavatory
8 days, 7 countries, 4 first-class flights. What could be more challenging than trying to book and do a fast-paced country-hopping adventure during a global pandemic? Such a challenge is what excites me. The bookings, rebookings, cancellations, and if-then scenario analysis may appear as overkill, but it’s also how my best trips have come to fruition nearly worry-free.
This trip would exemplify the power of award travel and I look forward to sharing its details as well as many others to come.