Flying All 3 Big Gulf Carrier Airbus A380s in First Class on a Single Trip

Having wrapped up the British Airways first and business class trip report from my long weekend at Paris staying at the Park Hyatt Vendome, I’m about to commence on my next report: flying all 3 of the major Gulf carriers in first class on their Airbus A380s.

The funny thing is I didn’t even set out to do that, but wound up in Airbus A380 First Class on Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad using miles. But it would be the Emirates onboard shower spa and all-around bling, Qatar — an airline I hadn’t yet flown, and a visit to their brand new first class lounge in Doha, and the single best first class product in the sky the Etihad First Apartment.

I wanted to visit Bangkok for a few days largely for the street food and also to have some new suits made.

And I’ve had visiting the Museum of Islamic Art on my mental list of things I’d really like to do for quite some time. I had a week where it was convenient to travel.

I also had a whole series of reservations I had made in Etihad first class for their New York JFK – Abu Dhabi flight that started operating as the Airbus A380 (and thus offering the new First Apartment) in late November. When the switch was first announced seats were wide open for award booking.

The First Apartment of course is on the upper deck of Etihad’s A380. Upstairs Emirates has 14 suites, configured four-across. Etihad has 9 suites and the Residence, with a two-across configuration. It’s a single aisle on the upper deck of the superjumbo with seats that are large enough you can walk around inside your suite even when you’re in bed mode.

I decided to use one of the Abu Dhabi – New York JFK awards I had booked (for 90,000 American AAdvantage miles + $39.30 taxes per person).

For the outbound I booked an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan award on Emirates for Houston – Dubai – Bangkok in first class (100,000 miles + $19.10 taxes per person). I wound up somewhat worried when Emirates assigned their new high density Airbus A380 without a first class cabin to fly to Bangkok, but it didn’t affect my flight.

I then decided to book Bangkok – Doha on Qatar in first class, one of the few routes with an A380 and thus with first class (45,000 miles + $22.35 taxes apiece). First class awards are highly available on the route.

Incidentally Qatar first class passengers have access to the Thai Airways first class lounge in Bangkok. But it turns out the gate they use is nowhere near the first class lounge, and there’s a tiny satellite first lounge much nearer that I had never been to. And it was pretty strange.

At the time I set up the award back in the fall the only segment I had difficulty with was Doha – Abu Dhabi, so I kept checking and a month or so later seats opened up on Etihad and I called to add the flight. Then a month after that space opened up on Qatar, so I decided to switch: Qatar offered a wide body for the short one hour flight, but more importantly codes the intra-Middle East segments as first class meaning I’d have access to the brand new al Safwa lounge.

For hotels I settled on the St. Regis Bangkok for three nights which was selling suites for about $200.

And I stayed two nights at the W Doha which had cash and points available (6000 points and $110 per night). The W Doha is only one of two W’s I know of with a club lounge (the other being Guangzhou).

It was a fantastic trip, I got to see some things I hadn’t seen before and enjoy some familiar things. I tried new travel products, and learned some tips and tricks about those products along the way. So I look forward to sharing it with you.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. Sounds like quite the trip, Gary.

    When you do write up your full trip report, I’d be very interested in your comparing various aspects of the three airlines’ A380 first class offerings. I was fortunate enough to fly the Etihad version with my wife recently and was absolutely wowed by what must be the best hard product in the sky. But I’ve not yet flown the other two.

    Also, you already offer a hint at this in your comments here, but I (and I strongly suspect other readers) would welcome recommendations on:

    a) which of each of the three airlines’ A380 award routes are most available for award redemption these days, and
    b) which partner airlines’ frequent flyer programs (e.g., Alaska? American? JAL?) offer the lowest miles costs for redeeming on them.

  2. Looking forward to this as well – I have several F and J awards booked with EY and some paid and award QR travel too. I find QR to be great in J (and for a lot of routes out of SE Asia, an outright steal) but their F isn’t that much of a step up compared J (just like AA). Also, QR’s 2-2-2 on the 777 is probably the best last-gen seat around, with tons of space and a surprising amount of privacy. The newer 1-2-1 Super Diamond seat is a likely contender for the rest of the AA fleet and a great reverse herringbone product.

  3. Looking forward to a side by side by side comparison of the three. I likewise have only been on Etihad. Also curious about the al Safwa lounge. From all the pics I’ve seen online, it looks like a cold, impersonal museum.

  4. I have this same return from BKK lined up in coming weeks, so looking forward to the review. When I booked my DOH-AUH segment, I noticed the flight was coded as F, so I was hoping that would grant access to the new al Sawfa lounge.

  5. Very nice review and pictures, thanks for sharing. That’s a nice deal on the suites at the StR!

  6. Hi Gary;

    I’ m extremely interested in your Etihad review. I am flying LAX-AUH-BOM, and could change my flight from AUH-BOM to the A380. (Or maybe LAX-JFK-AUH).

    However, I’ve heard that the First Class Apartments seat has very little recline. Given that I am sitting for at least 50% of the time LAX-AUH, or 100% of the time AUH-BOM, (and suffer when I can’t recline). I am not sure it’s worth it given that a) the connections I have are very efficient (no overnights in AUH needed) and I found Etihads 777 F to be wonderful.

    If you could talk about the seat recline in the review, and how that seat compared in comfort to the 777 seat (while sitting), that would be super.

  7. @beachfan the seat doesn’t have a ton of recline but it is also huge and I find it totally comfortable. There’s no half lying down half sitting up position like an easy chair with the EY Apartment seat though.

  8. Many of the Qatar flights from bike to Doha have 2 f seats available. I need 4. Any idea if after booking the first two, the last two will get released also? Thanks.

  9. Great Gary! I fly the BKK-DOH-AUH-JFK route next week. I’m perplexed about the rules to get into the al Safwa lounge. BKK-DOH is in QR first, but DOH-AUH is on the a320. What widebody routing did you book to ensure lounge access? Detail is much appreciated, thanks!

  10. @mike DOH-AUH was operated by a 777 on the particular flight I took. Regardless, the forward cabin on the route is sold as F. You have access as a departing F passenger.

  11. @Mike I can tell you that QR does add seats closer to departure if that is what you are asking [but they don’t in my experience just add more seats immediately when seats are claimed]

  12. Wondering if you got your suits this time from Raja? I’ve been a customer of Raja and Bobby for years – great work and Bobby has an amazing memory – when you walk in the door, it’s like you were just there yesterday.

  13. Nice recap. The W Lounge in Doha is one of the few accessible spots in the City where people (mainly foreigners) can walk up and have some alcohol to drink.

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