The World’s 15 Best First Class Products, Ranked

Last month Lucky from One Mile at a Time updated his list of best first class products. He’s flown more premium products than anyone I have met, and he’s flown a few that I haven’t, but I’m going to quibble with his list and also offer my own.

The key to these rankings is subjective weight that goes into different components of the product. I value personal space more highly, so a first class configuration that’s four seats across isn’t going to rate as well for me as one that’s two or three seats across.

I’d never rate Air France or Garuda as highly as Lucky does — despite phenomenal ground service and attentiveness — because of the lack of real estate each first class passenger gets in the cabin.

Here’s the One Mile at a Time list:

  1. Emirates New First
  2. Air France New First
  3. Garuda Indonesia First
  4. Singapore Airlines New Suites
  5. Etihad First Apartment
  6. Cathay Pacific
  7. Japan Airlines
  8. Lufthansa A380 or 747-8
  9. Swiss 777-300ER
  10. ANA
  11. Qatar Airways
  12. Oman Air
  13. Qantas
  14. Korean
  15. Thai
  16. Asiana

Here he chooses one product from each airline only, but I will take a different tact. I think that Singapore’s older A380 suites are still among the best first class seats in the sky (and on more planes than the new suites) and deserve to be ranked. The same is true for Etihad’s standard first class on aircraft other than their Airbus A380.

Etihad Boeing 777 First Class

The Etihad First Apartment I think gets a bit of a bad rap. I find the Etihad seat comfortable even though it doesn’t offer a true lounging position, and I don’t find the bed hard. Plus though it doesn’t compare to Emirates in this regard it does offer a shower on board for first class passengers, which is an amazing amenity at the end of a long haul flight. I don’t emphasize ground experience as much as Lucky I suspect so Etihad’s lounge cutbacks don’t drive down their ranking as much for me.

Etihad A380 First Class Cabin

Etihad First Apartment Seat

To be fair I haven’t flown Singapore’s new first class suites. I attended the launch event for the product in Singapore back in November, and recently had the chance to fly Singapore’s 10 year old Suites product alone in the cabin. I sat in the new seat, I tried it out, but I didn’t experience it inflight.

New Singapore A380 Suites

Old Singapore A380 Suites

Funny thing is that while Emirates’ old A380 first class does feature the shower (which keeps it on the list, it’s wonderful with heated floors in the lav), strong catering and top notch liquor, the suites themselves are really quite tight.

Emirates A380 Shower Spa

Emirates A380 First Class Cabin

ANA’s catering though is really top notch, especially if you enjoy Japanese cuisine. It’s probably an underappreciated first class product overall (not to mention the amazing value of spending 120,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for roundtrip Midwest or East Coast – Japan in first). The seat is only alright it doesn’t offer much storage space. But the extensive on demand menu and Suntory Hibiki 21 year makes up for it.

ANA First Class

ANA First Class Snack, Ramen is Amazing

I have a hard time seeing Korean Air in the top 15. The best thing about Korean Air first is that it isn’t hard to book using Korean’s miles. However the seats aren’t super comfortable, they’re still flying too many long haul flights without their Kosmo Suits product, language is often a barrier for English speaking customers and their food and beverage program is fair. Their lounges are worse than mediocre.

I’d never rank Korean ahead ahead of THAI despite the latter’s inconsistencies. Qatar Airways has nice lavs for first, and the business class bar, but totally open seats without any privacy whatsoever.

Korean Air Kosmo Suites

Qatar Airways First Class Lavatory

Of course that’s what’s fun about these lists, debating and reorganizing based on the relative value we place on each element of the product. And I applaud almost everyone that tries to pull it off these days, who knows what they’re talking about.

Here’s my top 15 international first class products list:

  1. Emirates new first
  2. Singapore new suites
  3. Etihad apartment
  4. Singapore old suites
  5. Emirates A380 suites
  6. Air France new first
  7. Garuda Indonesia first
  8. Cathay Pacific first
  9. Etihad non-A380 First
  10. Japan Airlines first
  11. ANA first
  12. Malaysia Airlines A380 First
  13. Swiss 777-300ER
  14. Lufthansa A380 or 747-8
  15. Qantas first

My approach allowing more than one product entry for a single airline does move some things down the list. For instance I rank Cathay Pacific 8th and Lucky calls them 6th — even though they’re behind the same 5 airlines. Their seat while old is still one of the most comfortable and offers more personal space than all but 3 or 4 other products. Their lounges in Hong Kong (and business class lounges at outstations) are good. T

heir service is excellent. What Cathay lacks is ground service beyond the lounge, larger lavatories, and better main entrees (but their snacks are good). I still sleep better on Cathay Pacific than almost any other airline.

Cathay Pacific First Class

If I had to offer a 16th best product, since Lucky does, I’d probably opt for Singapore Airlines 777 first class. That seat is vexing, it doesn’t recline into a bed but ‘flips over’ so the relaxation position isn’t all that relaxing. It’s still a good bed, with only modest privacy, but features Singapore’s excellent service and main meals.

The product on this list that disappoints me the most is Qantas, because it’s a good seat (albeit much wasted space) and they have good lounges and I’m partial to Aussie wines. However service tends to be lackluster and the dining uninspired. And (like Cathay) they still lack internet on much of their fleet — including the A380s which feature their first class cabin.

To be sure all of the airlines on these lists are excellent in their most premium cabin. I’m fortunate when I’m able to fly each of them. Overall what makes a great first class:

  • Spaciousness and privacy
  • Well thought out design, there’s a logical place to store your things, a comfortable way to relax, and an even more comfortable way to sleep
  • Good food and beverage program, with plenty of choice that matches the airline and destination, and that’s both customizable and served on demand
  • Effortless travel from curbside when you arrive at the airport to curbside when you land. Thai is outstanding at this in Bangkok, Qatar does a nice job on arrival in Doha. Lufthansa and Air France get this right in their home markets. I don’t think anyone does it better than Garuda, though Malaysia does a nice job too. Ultimately you shouldn’t have to worry about what gate you’re leaving from or where you’re going in the airport, someone takes care of that for you.

And of course there are amenities like an onboard shower, oversized lavatories, and top notch toiletries though I don’t place significant emphasis on the amenity kit.

What’s your top first class? And what’s most important to 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, 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. Now that was along with Lucky’s what we viewers really find informative and interesting. I am a huge fan of EK and booking next on their new FC suites. Sadly flying in two weeks on the AF 380 rather than their 777 but schedule prevented from the west coast.


  2. How do you feel about the newer Singapore 777 first with only 4 seats in the cabin? Have 3 flights upcoming in it. Not a whole lot of reviews that I’ve seen.

  3. Agree with ghost – fantastic article and feels like the old (less cc churn-t) VFTW, Gary.

    Did you do a similar business class version that I missed? would be hugely helpful for those of us who moved to indiscriminate airline choice for biz after the AA merger destroyed loyalty value for the super top tier fliers.

  4. I’m surprised you ranked Cathay Pacific much lower under Emirates old suites even tho you said “I value personal space more highly, so a first class configuration that’s four seats across isn’t going to rate as well for me as one that’s two or three seats across.” I also believe Cathay Pacific First Class Lounges are much nicer than Emirates.
    But again this is a subjective topic. Great post tho, really enjoy those types of posts.


  5. Well, I’m not a high falutin’ traveler like you all. From these lists, I’ve only flown JAL, Korean, and Cathay Pacific. I found JAL superior (but just barely ) to the other two, and as excited as I was to fly CP (and loved their HK lounges) I didn’t think it was better than Korean. I have flown other “unmentionable” (lol) first class products like American, British etc., and they were clearly inferior to these asian products, but I am still happy to fly. American was still pretty good in my book, which I guess shows I am a rube. I am planning a trip out from the Middle East, and trying to decide Emirates vs Etihad vs Q suites, so I find your ranking interesting.

  6. @MH that’s the seat noted here. It’s got more ‘give’ and a bit more recline than the older seat on planes that have it (first introduced in 2013) but it’s still not ideal.

  7. How about a list of the most *impressive* F experiences? I recently helped a friend plan a honeymoon. His wife and him had only flown any premium class a few times. The “this blows my mind” list is totally different from a list based on overall quality – e.g., WiFi availability won’t matter. But things like the Lufthansa Porsche, the Doha and Frankfurt first class terminals, the Emirates liquor list, the onboard shower will all have higher weight. Compared to your list above, for example, I can’t imagine ranking Cathay above Lufthansa, even though Cathay has an excellent F. It is impressive for its service and consistency, not for its ridiculous over-the-top feel.

  8. Have you actually flown all these products?
    I know Lucky has. have you?

    I actually really liked Korean Air F. True, the lounges were nothing special. I flew them this part February SIN-ICN-IAD. I had the new F product all the way thorough. The seats and spaciousness were similar to what I’ve had on EY 777 F. Service was great and food was delicious on both flights. Had no trouble in my interactions with any crew members. I havent flown all these products, but I did like it quite a bit. LH F remains my top choice, mostly because of the elegance and overall solid service I’ve received. Not the blingiest or the flashiest, but the most elegant and best overall service.

  9. @Jason I wrote that there are a couple of products I have not flown, I have flown nearly all of them. eg I have sat in the new SQ F a380 seat and on the bad but I haven’t flown a flight with them. I flag that in the post.

  10. This is kind of hilarious as its more of a brag piece for Gary than useful advice. I bet 99% of your readers will (1) never have enough miles to book the flights (2) never find space on these flights and/or (3) never want to spend this many miles for F when they could fly in outstanding C products offered by many of these airlines. I love Hibiki 21 as much as the next guy but it’s not essential and not worth spending 30k more miles. I am sure the showers are nice too but completely frivolous.

    That being said

  11. @boraxo. It’s an aspirational list. You can fly a lot of these products pretty easily. Eg LH F is often available for 87,000 lifemiles (can buy them for 1.35c); my two kids and I just flew Cathay first to Australia for 75,000 miles (can also buy); etihad first 110,000 Miles to Usa; Ana (as mentioned 120,000 round trip); Singapore suites easy tonfind sin to Syd; jal 70k Miles using alaska

    Point is if you are an enthusiast and you follow the tips (and plan vacations around the flights) it’s not that hard. And therefore prob over the top to attack the post. Ie lot of people enjoying it. But each to their own of course! I can see how comparing showers has a certain w@nk value ….

  12. While I haven’t flown nearly as many firsts as you or Lucky, I gotta disagree on some points. I value privacy immensely, and always favor suites with the doors. Here is my list.

    1. Etihad First Apartment (the best of the best, in terms of space and privacy, seriously). I don’t see how anything else can get even close.

    2. Singapore old suite. Massive and comfortable.

    3. Asiana (aged product, yes, but the suite is massive and comfortable and has a 32″ TV — how can you beat that?).

    4. Emirates (glitzy, yes, but as you’ve mentioned, a bit tight)

    5. Cathay Pacific — massive and private enough due to the small cabin, despite the open suite.

  13. @Boraxo —> While you may correct that some onus will never save enough points for F, it doesn’t apply to all of us. I have no doubt that I will NEVER fly in F on EK or EY…far too many points. But I have enough points¹ right now for my wife and I to fly (round-trip) on either NH or JL in F to Japan; CX or SQ to Hong Kong; etc., etc.

    ¹ Either with transferable points via Amex, Chase, or Citi; or with AS MP.

  14. @Boraxo I have flown Cathay First twice, Swiss once and soon to fly ANA. I have lost count of the business class products, that I have flown. Point is one really remembers the first class experiences. Business, not so much.

  15. I will be flying Korean air A380-800 from Lax to ICN the end of March
    What can I expect ?

  16. Kind of agree with your assessment. Haven’t flown #6/7/12 with Emirates new first suite next week! Had incredible meals on Swiss and Lufthansa, except for the late night meals out of ORD which have been disappointing. All 3 ME meals in first have been fair to bad, 0-3 on Emirates minus the caviar and good wine.

    One that was forgotten, and don’t laugh, BA 787-9. One of my better F experiences.

    I think all things considered maybe SQ old a380 the best for me. Actually don’t like the new suite, poorly designed and much wasted space. The 777 seat is uncomfortable imo. Agree on CX bed.

    For overall consistency, I’d rank the 2 Japanese Airlines best overall.

    Also, Asiana no longer offers F.

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