Airline First Class Thunderdome: Two Blogs Enter, One Blog Leaves

Lucky posted about his rankings of first class airline products.

This followed my ranking of top first class airlines list.

You can see our full rankings, side-by-side, at FlightFox. Click ‘Flight Blogger Ratings’ on the upper right hand side. You can then sort by his and by mine.

He threw down in a couple of places, offering disagreements. And I think that comes down to a few key differences.

  • Lucky has more of a European bias than I do. He over-rates Lufthansa, Swiss, British Airways, and Air France.
  • We may also emphasize the value of different things.
  • And in a couple of cases, we’ve each had different experiences with each product and not enough data points each to resolve the difference.

I asked FlightFox to asterisk the products I haven’t tried, for instance, to flag that my views on those are tentative and based on impressions rather than experience. I have flown most but not all of these, and so the rankings are very much subject to revision.

And I agree with Lucky that it was very hard to do rankings one-by-one of all of the carriers, especially once you get down below the first tranche. So what I did was grouped them in fives, and ranked within each group. That made it far more manageable.

That said, I bet we’d come to some interesting agreements if we negotiated these rankings together.

Although there are a few of his ranking that just make no sense. Looking at his rankings I do not buy British Airways as better than Malaysia and Thai Airways.

He’s called BA’s first the best business class product. I agree with that Malaysia “kind of felt like Singapore Airlines in training.” But that’s also still very good.

Maybe I’m just too partial to satay, I also find Malaysia’s hard product quite good. It could be better, it’s certainly not top five, but it’s an excellent overall experience.

And Thai — if they could combine the ground service with consistently good in the air service, and could avoid swapping out planes, they’d be great. They don’t deserve top 5… but they have a better airport spa than anyone else… And they also served me the second best meal I’ve ever had in the air [yes, they are inconsistent..]

Additionally, I’m chided for my low ranking of Lufthansa. But how does he get them to #7? Implausibly, he’s arging that Lufthansa is better than Singapore Airlines (777-300ER), Etihad, and Qantas. And it just isn’t.

He’s had some disappointing meal experiences on Etihad, I think they have one of the most attractive cabins, a very very good seat, and I’ve had really good luck with the on-board chef concept. Service can be confused at times, I’ll grant.

Qantas’ seat is very good. Their first class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne are very good. They don’t do Asian service, but service is very good in a very Aussie way. I admit I may be partial to that with the family I’ve got down there.

It all comes down to weighting the different elements of experience, I think. So I get we can reasonably disagree within these bands. I don’t dig Swiss the way Lucky does. Sadly I probably won’t ever get a re-do from them, since they don’t offer first class awards except to their own program’s elite members.

And I probably give Transaero too much credit, there’s a certain mystique about them because I’ve never been able to use my miles there. They used to partner with british midland, but bmi only allowed redemption into business class.

Lucky, here’s a public challenge. Let’s get past your view that British Airways first class is better than Thai. Care to explain how American’s first class is better than Air China’s?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My biggest disillusionment flying international F is how mediocre LH F is vis a vis my expectations reading Ben’s TRs.

    I’ve flown Singapore F on the 777 and I actually liked Etihad F better (though my sample size is small with one flight each). Etihad is the favorite F product I’ve flown.

    I’ve not flown BA, QF, or CX F, but will this spring.

  2. Lufthansa’s first class seat on the 747 (a large seat, plus a bed next to it!) is unmatched and the best hard product on the market. The 2 or 3 first class passengers (up to 8 but it’s never full) have the whole second floor of the 747 for themselves. Also, they give you more caviar than you can eat (with refills if you want!) The entire meal is top-notch.
    If those are the things you care about most, LH is the best first class in the world. However, their inflight entertainment is from 1995 and terrible with poor selections. And if you are more fond of Asian food, or if it’s important to you to have more healthy & vegetarian options, then LH food won’t be your favorite.

    The seats on both AA intl first and UA global first are pretty great by the way, and they have excellent IFE, even though they are lacking in service and the food is not that special. I think they get beat up on too much (especially poor UA) My experiences with Air China are very mixed. good seat but the food was not great the time I flew them. Asiana first class was very good. They clean the bathroom before every time you use it and they have a suite product.
    I have not tried Cathay or Singapore first classes yet but hope to, I’ve only heard great things.

  3. Also, I was very unimpressed with Air China F, mostly the quality of the food and the fact that my overhead light button turned on my neighbor’s light and his button turned on my light. After being mystified by our strangely blinking and unworking lights, we figured it out, and just waved to each other whenever we wanted our lights on or off.

  4. I agree that UA and AA F are not nearly as bad as is so often reported–but I also think the hard product seat/bed and IFE are more critical than the food quality and service. I tend to think even the best food is still not that great (even on SQ and CX and OZ, all of which I’ve flown in F several times) compared to anything on the ground, so the lackluster food that is so often otherwise served in F on most airlines isn’t a big deciding factor for me as much as it clearly is for most. Service, too, on UA GF has been pretty good for me, and I don’t care as much about service as much as hard product anyway. Air China’s hard product is not as good to me as UA or AA F. BA’s hard product on the A380 is great, and their others are still solid IMO. Ranking makes people happy, but the fact is that I can only fly F one plane at a time. As long as it gets me from point A to point B well rested and comfortably, with a decent meal along the way, I’m pretty happy. I am flying BA A380 F LHR-LAX again in Oct and EK B777/A380 F CPT-DXB-LAX in Jan so I’m looking forward to both.

  5. Interesting. When arguing that Qantas first class is superior to Lufthansa, one of two talking points you bring up are the lounges in Sydney and Melbourne. For seemingly most in the miles and points blogosphere, the Lufthansa first class terminal is the end all be all of luxurious ground space. Are you implying the Qantas first class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne are superior to Lufthansa’s first class terminal?

  6. Our recent BA First flight included broken seats, food poisoning, awful food, and lackluster service. That doesn’t including smashing our “unbreakable” luggage and the BA First call line. I understand that the BA First phone agents also staff Hell’s hospitality line. Best yet, our FREE tickets only cost $1250 each in fees and fuel surcharges. BA First as the best airline????? Is he serious. Not exaggerating, I have have flown American multiple times in first on the same routes and AA was actually significantly better. Oh, I forgot to mention getting a cabana in the Concorde room and finding the daybed broken and everything filthy! If BA First is the best in the air I’ll throw away all my points.

  7. I think it’s safe to say that United has no vision. Do they actually expect to compete in the market, or what?

  8. @Nick: UA are not installing new global first seats as far as I heard and so I assume they will surely be phased out over the next 10 years. I’m not sure first class really pays — unless you’re one of the couple of airlines that the super-rich flock to (LH, Singapore, Emirates etc)
    Many of the UA Global First seats are used for award tickets, upgrades to global services in Businessfirst, crew rest…

  9. UA has plenty of paying businessfirst customers however, and their product is quite good (even if it’s not the very best) on their 2-class aircraft, and they have the best network of any airline if you’re based in New York City/New Jersey.

  10. Having flown F on both LH and SQ, I have to give it to SQ but only by a very little margin.
    Never tried suites on SQ and suites doesnt exist in LH so one can argue that SQ is better!

  11. @Paul I sort of disagree, first class makes sense on certain routes where it really doesn’t make sense to fly private. I’ve got an uncle for instance who flies (not very frequently, but semi-regularly) sydney – london in paid first for work for instance. First class is a limited but lucrative market. It doesn’t make a ton of sense for most US routes. It can make sense in Asia and to a certain extent in Europe.

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