Is First Class (Using Miles) Worth It?

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A JAL flight attendant was recently lamenting the fact that I had finished all of the Cristal 2009 champagne (£175 a bottle) on a flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo. As she was offering to open a bottle of slightly less expensive champagne, an odd thought struck me… “is First Class really worth it?”  I suspect that none of my readers would really be willing or able to pay cash, but what about when using miles…

I suspect that you could ask 10 people and receive 20 different opinions. (make sure to add your comments below!) I’m sure that most readers have friends or family who would reply “of course not, I just need to get from Point A to Point B as cheaply as possible”. We also might admit to knowing (or being) somebody who replies “of course… whatever’s the best… I must have it!”

Even amongst travel hackers / mileage collectors, you will find a variety of situations, ranging from… those who simply want to reduce the cost of a family vacation (in economy most likely)… to those who aspire to luxury that they couldn’t otherwise afford. It is also easy to imagine that some mileage collectors have more miles (or 2-for-1 vouchers) than they can realistically spend, whilst others are constantly struggling to earn enough miles for that annual holiday.

But which First Class cabins are readily accessible using miles, and are they worth it?  (assuming that you can find award space and aren’t down to your last £100) To remain consistent, I’ll look at the incremental cost of booking Business Class versus booking First Class.

How to Fly British Airways First Class

Whether using “Upgrade Using Avios” or simply booking a reward ticket using miles, you will pay at least 17,000 additional Avios for First Class. (London to Moscow off-peak)  The longer the flight, the more Avios the upgrade will cost you, topping out at 35,000 Avios for something like London to Singapore on a peak date.  (no cheeky comments about Sydney… you know perfectly well that F rewards to SYD are as rare as unicorns)

Hopefully you are familiar with the Avios reward chart and that you only pay the price difference when upgrading a paid ticket by one cabin.

Is It Worth It?

Controversy beckons…  I don’t think that too many people honestly believe that British Airways offers a First Class cabin/service that is competitive with some other airlines. More would say that “it’s like a nice Business Class”. Of course, those same people might say that Club World is “a really poor Business Class”. Is Club World bad enough that I would pay £350 for a one-way upgrade to First? (35K Avios @1p) Probably not… but it’s also relatively easy to accumulate Avios in the UK…

For a status-less passenger, the First Wing at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 (along with the Concorde Room) can be the difference maker.

For a Gold member departing from an outstation or LHR T3 (i.e. same lounge) with a pre-selected seat on the upper deck of a 747…  it might hardly be worth the effort to upgrade…

What do you think?

How to Fly Etihad First Class

An easy way to access Etihad’s First Class product is using American Airlines AAdvantage. You’ll pay an additional 20,000 miles each way to fly in First Class between Europe and the Middle East / Indian Subcontinent. (you cannot upgrade using AA miles and you cannot realistically afford a Etihad reward to any region other than the Middle East)

Is It Worth It?

Almost definitely! The only proviso is that it can be difficult for UK-based readers to accumulate AA miles, especially given the demise of the MBNA credit card and Starwood Preferred Guest. But assuming you have the AA miles (or are willing to buy them during AA’s frequent promotions), London-based readers could fly in the Airbus A380 and Etihad’s “Apartment”. I know that there have been some service cutbacks, but the hard product is still amazing. And if you depart from Abu Dhabi, you will hardly pay any tax and no pesky surcharges!

Have you tried it?

How to Fly Cathay Pacific / JAL First Class

Regular readers will be well aware that InsideFlyer UK LOVES Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. And one of the main reasons for this is the opportunity to fly in First Class between North America and Asia (and potentially beyond) for 70,000 miles.

Is It Worth It?

When travelling to Japan, as I was, it definitely makes sense to pay 10,000 additional miles for JAL First Class. Especially since you can buy Alaska miles at a reasonable price (click here for the latest promo) Undoubtedly I drank the difference, even though I would never buy Crystal champagne back at home…

For Hong Kong, I might pause to think about it, but only because Cathay Pacific’s Business Class product is outstanding, so paying 20,000 additional Alaska miles might not be truly necessary.

But either way, I occasionally enjoy winding up my North American friends and family by “flying home” the long way round!

How to Fly ANA First Class

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club offers relatively few sweetspots, but one of the main ones involves All Nippon Airways flights to Tokyo. These can only be booked through Flying Club on a return basis.

Is it Worth It?

It is hardly worth asking the question. 25,000 additional Virgin Atlantic miles (worth roughly £250) to fly in First Class versus Business Class… RETURN!

This reward is one of my main targets for 2019 as I’m inching towards 95,000 Virgin miles. But I have no doubt that I will buy those missing 25,000 miles, at regular price (1.5p) if necessary!


There’s a reason why this post has focused on those airline / loyalty programme combinations where First Class rewards are possible. It’s because the likes of Air France, Swiss, Lufthansa, etc. make it close to impossible to book First Class rewards. So, as much as I’d love to try Frankfurt’s First Class Terminal (and individual Porsche transfer to the airplane), I haven’t quite figured out how…

But once a First Class reward becomes possible – and First Class is gradually dying, except on airlines where the difference is noticeable – the incremental cost (versus Business Class) isn’t usually substantial. So yes… I believe that First Class (using miles) is worth it!

What do you think? How many First Class products have you tried?


  1. Ross says

    Nice article thanks. Have just gotten wife and I first class BA seats with avios from the Iberia promotion. If they were points I normally earned sorry but I’d find it difficult to use them for either BA’s first or business class. Helsinki on Finnair’s A350 was a different matter….

    • VK says

      out of curiosity, what did you book? did you have more miles on IB to book overpriced F partner redemption o nBA or did you transfer miles to BAEC (and risk the possible neg balance catching up once BAEC and IB merge avios?).

      I am in a similar situation as I would rather fly direct fro mLHR than trek to MAD but I dont want to fly BA business. I would rahter fly F (normal business!). else its the trek to MAD for me.

    • Craig Sowerby says

      Delamotte. Didn’t catch the vintage however. It might have been stolen from Business Class. I certainly enjoyed both, but as they say… serve the best wine first, then the plonk and your guests won’t notice.

  2. Scottydogg says

    With regards to Air Alaska flight , looking at booking Seattle to Alaska through British Airways with Air Alaska . Is it worth the extra Avios for their version of biz/first ? the flight is only a few hours so im unsure if its worth the Avios

    • Craig Sowerby says

      Unless you book Alaska on the same ticket as British Airways, you won’t receive any checked luggage allowance. You also won’t receive food, a decent seat such as exit row, etc.

      Of course US domestic First Class is nothing special, but I would probably be tempted to spend the extra Avios.

  3. David S says

    Interesting article. Have flown Emirates, Qatar, Etihad and BA first and business. First was all on points apart from Qatar which was a free upgrade at Gate from SYD- DOH.
    I would definitely use points to upgrade to the Etihad A380 since the difference between business and First is massive. On BA, definitely not since the use of Concorde room and a larger business class seat despite the excellent Grande Siecle is not enough temptation to waste my avios since I am ok with Club World despite its short coming. QR business is excellent and so no need for redemption for First. Haven’t tried Cathay or JAL yet.

    • Craig Sowerby says

      If you can tell me how to book it with miles… 🙂

      Every time I’ve looked at Skywards I’ve decided there’s no value there and the Alaska pricing is ridiculous…

      (plus I’ve never really understood the fascination with an onboard shower. I’m happy just to use an arrivals lounge…)

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