United Global First Lounge Washington Dulles (IAD)
Lufthansa Business and Senator Lounge Washington Dulles (IAD)
ANA First Square Class Washington Dulles to Tokyo Narita
ANA Suite and Business Class Lounges Tokyo Narita (NRT)
ANA Business Class Tokyo Narita to Beijing
IBIS Beijing Capital Airport Hotel
Air China First Class Lounge Beijing (PEK)
BGS Premier Business Class Lounge Beijing (PEK)
Business Traveler’s Lounge Beijing (PEK)
Lufthansa A380 First Class Beijing to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt (FRA)
Lufthansa B747-400 First Class Frankfurt to New York JFK
United PS Business Class New York JFK to San Francisco
So how did this all go down?
My final routing was SFO-ORD-IAD on United domestic business, IAD-NRT on ANA First Square, NRT-PEK on ANA regional business, overnight layover in Beijing, PEK-FRA on Lufthansa First on the A380, FRA-JFK on Lufthansa first on the 744, overnight layover in New York, and finally JFK-SFO on United domestic business.
As stated in my introduction, my main goals were to 1) fly Lufthansa first class, 2) get access to the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, and 3) fly ANA First Square on their 77W. Anything else was bonus, but I also tried to minimize my out-of-pocket expenses and not miss too much time at work.
Goal #1 is a bit redundant given goal #2, as the most straightforward way to get access to the First Class Terminal is to depart on a flight from Frankfurt in Lufthansa first class. Personally, I think that goal #3 is the hardest to accomplish, just because Lufthansa flies to enough destinations that it’s almost guaranteed for there to be first class award space available on some route, but ANA is quite stingy releasing award space on their 77W (but award space in the old first class config is relatively accessible out of Chicago).
So since I thought that ANA space would be the hardest to get, I started with that search. ANA flies their new first class config to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Frankfurt, London, Chicago (one of the two flights), and Washington DC. Of these destinations, it seems like the best chance of snagging first class award space is to/from ORD or IAD.
While the most exhaustive way to do this award search would have been to use ANA’s website to search 7-day availability (searching backwards since I was looking so close-in) for each of these nonstop routes individually, since it was likely that I was going to leave later that night, I mostly just used United’s website. It wouldn’t have been fruitful to try searching for routings of SFO-NRT since the website doesn’t like it when you backtrack east before heading across the Pacific, but searches of ORD-NRT generally will also provide routings that connect in the east coast. As luck would have it, there was space on IAD-NRT the next day on the 77W, and I could find domestic availability to fly a red-eye to IAD from SFO that night to make the flight (the red eye ended up being two flights, largely because award availability kept changing so close in).
To get from Asia to Europe, there are a lot of options. But I thought that it might be more feasible to get award space on the Lufthansa A380 out of Asia than to some of their other destinations, so I started with A380 destinations first. Beijing is one of them (although it’s no longer flying to Beijing starting in December 2013; the others desinations are Shanghai, Houston, Johannesburg, Miami, and Singapore), and I found space on the A380 in first class the day after I arrived in Tokyo. Intra-asia award space in regional business was plentiful on ANA, so the connection was no problem, and I chose to overnight in Beijing rather than Tokyo mostly because it was a lot cheaper to get an airport hotel in Beijing.
Having found space on the A380 to Frankfurt from Beijing, I ideally wanted to find space on a Lufthansa 747-400 route to the US to get a different seating config (I believe this is the only aircraft config that provides all first class passengers a seat and a bed). In general, it seems like IAD and ORD again are some of the easiest routes to find first class award space from, but those cities are both served by the 747-8. Luckily, I found space to JFK, giving me a 2.5 hour connection in Frankfurt, which was plenty of time to visit the First Class Terminal and an overnight layover in New York to visit a friend, and I was able to find award space from JFK to SFO on United to round out the trip the following morning.
For planning an award trip like this, my main tips are to know your goals, know your routes, and know what’s most likely to be available. Finding first class space out of SFO or LAX is generally more challenging than finding first class space out of ORD or IAD (unless you’re talking about Cathay Pacific for SFO), so oftentimes, I start my searches pretending that I’m flying out of ORD to get a better sense of what’s possible. Similarly, it helps to do a little bit of research beforehand to know which aircraft serve which destinations if you’re looking to fly specific planes to help narrow down your search.
For what it’s worth, I ended up constructing a number of possible itineraries that I didn’t use. One was SFO to IAD on United, IAD to NRT on ANA First Square, NRT to BKK on the Thai A380, BKK to CDG on the Thai A380, CDG to FRA on the Thai A380 again, FRA to EWR on the Lufthansa 744, and EWR to SFO on United. This itinerary would have been nearly nonstop flying (no overnight layovers, with most layovers being ~2 hours) and given me access to the Thai First Class Lounge and Spa, but I opted for the itinerary through Beijing because I’m scheduled to fly Thai First class twice next year with one of those times being on the A380, so I thought it’d be better to try Lufthansa’s A380 instead.
I hope this post helps and wasn’t too much word vomit. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve slept for more than 4 hours straight since leaving for this trip on Friday, and I still have one more segment to go. If you have more specific questions or want advice, feel free to leave something in the comments or send me an email at efficientasianman (at) gmail (dot) com.