Lufthansa Pulls All Business Class Award Flights In Early 2018?

by James

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.

Lufthansa Business Class Seat

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 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.

Lufthansa’s Business Class availability next summer for partners.

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.

Lufthansa’s only allows partners to book flights into business class ~120 days prior to departure.  The random business class seats beyond the 7th are on United metal.

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.

Lufthansa’s Business Class space for Miles and More members.

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.

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CS November 28, 2017 - 5:05 am

Hi James,

Great article. I was wondering if you’d be able to shed some light on how this availability has affected the YYZ-MUC route in J. I am not seeing any availability at all during any period of time that is searchable to me for this route, so not even meeting the bookable when <4 months out status. Was wondering if you had any insight. Thanks

James November 28, 2017 - 6:39 am

Not quite sure about that route specifically but it looks like Air Canada generally releases seats on sporadic dates in that time frame. I’d actually prefer flying the Air Canada dreamliner over Lufthansa simply because Air Canada’s seats are better than what Lufthansa offers (soft product is a different matter but to me, business class is always about the seat).

Valerie March 12, 2018 - 2:52 pm

Any updates on Lufthansa points flights using Aeroplan?

James March 12, 2018 - 3:04 pm

Things have gotten a little better on certain hubs. IF you search flights to non-United hubs, you’ll find some space. However, there’s a reason why those tend to be available further in advance. Demand for those flights are lower since there’s not as many connecting opportunities. Think routes like FRA-SEA or FRA-DTW, from these you can connect to other United or Air Canada hubs, short of purchasing a connection. However, routes like FRA-JFK and FRA-IAD, we’re still seeing the same patterns (those would be more popular given that you can connect to pretty much everywhere without having to do a separate ticket).

Emma March 15, 2018 - 6:15 pm

I’ve been noticing the same patterns on Economy awards. Do you think this is a coincidence or do you think they are limiting awards to all partners now? Looking to fly VCE-IAD in August and have not seen anything on Lufthansa since the seats were released last October.

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Neal April 17, 2018 - 2:42 pm

What do you think the future is between Aeroplan and Lufthansa on award seats in first class and business class? I have over 1 million points and usually transfer American Express to Aeroplan but do you have a better course of action? For 140,000 miles you can get round-trip first-class Lufthansa anywhere in Europe from the states available and that is a pretty big if! to me that seems like an excellent value however

James April 17, 2018 - 2:54 pm

First class (at least for the past few years) has been restricted to redemptions 15 days or less before departure. That’s probably not going to change.
The purpose of this post was to just point out the fact that we can’t redeem Lufthansa way in advance in business class anymore. They seem to have restricted to 4 months before departure, which isn’t the end of the world.

Idrather notsay August 24, 2018 - 11:32 pm

Super interesting and helpful — thanks. I’ve been going regularly in summer business class LAX to Germany for a few years using chase UR via mileageplus, needing to plan at least say four to six months prior. I’ve actually never found LH space this far out. Only tried Swiss, sas, and Austrian. Does anyone know at what points any of these make space available? It would help to know when to check.

LOT sometimes shows space, but that sounds less attractive. I’ve never seen Turkish space but also wouldn’t be my first choice. Happy to be convinced otherwise, or to know about other tips.

James August 25, 2018 - 8:43 am

Generally speaking all airline are super stingy about award flights from the West Coast to Europe. Few exceptions here and there but it wouldn’t be out of the norm for you to never see space on a given LAX-FRA or LAX-MUC (or SFO-MUC or SFO-FRA flight). Generally speaking, we used to see East Coast and Midwest to Frankfurt way in advance but the above post is referencing that even East Coast to Frankfurt was being restricted to 4-6 months out.

The most reliable route for West Coast based passengers is to look from DEN as I see that one released frequently at ~6 months out. That would usually mean paying for a positioning flight from LAX to DEN.

Idrather notsay August 25, 2018 - 8:54 am

Thanks. That makes sense and fits with my limited experience. Given this about LH LAX to MUC or FRA, it makes LH close to useless for my purposes. Never seen business come up on mileageplus on the route I’m seeking at the distance ahead I’m planning. As you reported, totally available on milesandmore, but I don’t have the points there and the fees are crazy anyway. I could always switch to them if something good appears last minute, but since their business is worse than the others, I might only do this to try LH first for a once in a lifetime thing.

I do often see scattered availability on Swiss and austrian. Just not next summer. Could be that Swiss hasn’t loaded availability yet for that time. And hopefully austrian will add more. Flew sas last time, but I see nothing on them for the whole year.

Anyway, thanks! Great article.

James August 25, 2018 - 8:58 am

For this year, it seems like SWISS and Austrian are doing the same thing that Lufthansa is doing (restricting awards to 3-4 months in advance). They’ve been a little generous in the past from LAX but it seems like this year they’re not being quite so generous. This is a TBD situation.

Have you ever thought about the idea of positioning? Generally speaking, when clients are looking for flights from the US to Europe from the West Coast, we often propose routes where clients have to position. Yes it’s not ideal to pay for a flight to Denver or Chicago and book ORD-FRA and DEN-FRA for multiple reasons but sometimes if a client is restricted on dates, that is their only choice.

Idrather notsay August 25, 2018 - 11:58 am

Thanks. Really helpful to have new ideas to play around with. I’ve mostly searched for award space in United, figuring (especially given my United credit card) that it would also show me opportunities with an extra stop, eg Denver. It usually doesn’t. The exceptions are some stuff that starts to show last minute in past experience. E.g. United to DEN and LH first from there sometimes shows in the last 14 days. Sometimes I can save some miles at the last minute going through SF on UA metal, but so far only on that horrible looking, what is it, 8 abreast “business”.

But I get it: maybe I should explore awards just from Denver and get myself there. Playing around is interesting, but I don’t see much that changes things for next summer. I think DEN didn’t look better than LAX at the moment, maybe worse. SEA and SFO were not better but had different dates here and there. I’ll keep checking. And I’d worry about unconnected tickets and a delay. But worth keeping tabs on, and just plain interesting to see. Thanks!


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