For several years, Lufthansa was one of the most generous airlines when it came to award space to and from Europe when booking with United and other Star Alliance miles. If I needed to book myself or a Juicy Miles client to Europe with United miles or Aeroplan and ANA miles with fare add-ons in a premium cabin, I could always count on finding space on Lufthansa business class. (and often first as well). Unfortunately, it looks like that has changed.
Up until a few years ago, Lufthansa’s space, even in their first class cabins, was essentially unlimited and wide open. At the time, much of Lufthansa’s fleet offered an angled flat seat, so it wasn’t a desirable redemption. Lufthansa essentially put an end to their generosity, at least in first class, when they decided that partners would no longer be able to redeem for Lufthansa first class until 15 days prior to departure. However, business class remained fairly open and was released in a predictable pattern.
Even as Lufthansa finally updated their fleet to include lie-flat seats on all long-haul routes, Lufthansa generally offered reliable and predictable award space. For those with Chase points or United miles, it was one of the best ways to get to Europe on points in a premium cabin without fuel surcharges (as long as we were booking with United). While they don’t offer the best business class seat to Europe, they did offer a flatbed and decent service.
Up until a few weeks ago, it was pretty much business as usual for Lufthansa and we were seeing wide open business class award availability on Lufthansa for next summer. Lufthansa generally releases award seats ~355 days prior to departure date and we’ve booked several awards on them for travel next summer for our Juicy Miles clients.
Unfortunately, it seems that Lufthansa’s stance on business award space made available to partner airlines has changed. They appear to have limited business class award bookings on partner airlines to 120 days prior to departure and even at that point, it seems that are releasing flights on low demand travel days (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday). Previously, routes from East Coast gateways to Germany, such as New York (JFK/EWR) to Frankfurt (FRA) and Munich (MUC) were fairly wide open, while routes to the West Coast (LAX/SFO/SEA) were not quite as available.
To illustrate what Lufthansa is doing, if you search for nonstop award flights on the JFK to FRA route on united.com for one (1) passenger, you will find that there is not a single date with premium cabin space on the direct flight to Frankfurt from either of the New York airports to Frankfurt.
I searched month by month to see when Lufthansa awards were available and it looks like February 7 is the last day of Lufthansa availability as of October 11, which is ~119 days from now.
Meanwhile, if you search for award space on Lufthansa’s own frequent flyer program, Miles and More, you will find that space on the same flights next summer are wide open.
This does not only impact routes between the US and Germany, but also Lufthansa’s other long haul routes to Asia, South America, and Africa. It is unclear whether this change is permanent or temporary, but as of now, Lufthansa Business class can only be booked with Miles and More miles from February and onwards.
If Lufthansa has decided to restrict advance premium cabin award space to their own members, this would be a fairly HUGE blow to the value of United miles (and to a lesser extent, Star Alliance miles) as these were one of the more reliable premium cabin award redemptions to Europe. Anyone looking to fly on Lufthansa would need to wait until ~4 months prior to departure to book these flights.
This is not the first recent Star Alliance devaluation, as noted by One Mile at a Time last month, Austrian Airlines also has pulled premium cabin award space on their flights while they install a premium economy cabin on their fleet of 767s and 777s.
To be fair, if Lufthansa has indeed decided to limit premium cabin redemptions to members of their own program, they would be following the path of many foreign airlines, including the likes of Air France, Korean Air, and Singapore Air. The unfortunate thing about Lufthansa is that their miles are relatively hard to earn (the only ways to earn them would be via their credit card or via SPG transfers) and there would be no way to avoid significant fuel surcharges.
Fortunately for those heavily invested in United miles, Swiss, Brussels, Aer Lingus, and Turkish Airlines still release a good amount of space (nowhere near as much as Lufthansa offered). However, none of these airlines can offer the route network that Lufthansa does so this would eliminate a non-stop award option in business class from cities such as Denver and Tampa, where direct trans-Atlantic flights are scarce.
For those with Chase points, it may be worth taking a long look at some of the other transfer partners such as British Airways, and Air France Flying Blue.