Swiss first class awards to be restricted to Miles & More Senator and HON Circle members

Going back several years, Lufthansa and Swiss first class award seats used to be among the easiest of any airline to snag. I remember back in the day Swiss would often make all eight of their first class seats available for awards. Similarly, back when Lufthansa had first class cabins with 16 seats, it wasn’t unusual to see eight or so first class award seats per flight.

Then things drastically changed a couple of years ago, unfortunately. Swiss completely stopped releasing first class award space to partner airlines, so the only way to book Swiss first class was through Miles & More. Lufthansa also drastically cut back on award availability for partner airlines, and began only releasing first class award space to partner airlines ~15 days out at most.

Nonetheless Swiss still releases a fair amount of award space to Miles & More members, often 1-4 first class award seats per flight.


However, today they’ve made a radical announcement, that starting on January 1, 2014, only Miles & More Senator and HON Cirlce members will be able to redeem for Swiss first class:

As a Miles & More member (holder of a blue Miles & More service card) or Frequent Traveller you can redeem your miles for an airline ticket with SWISS in Economy or Business Class as usual. However, from 1 January 2014 it will no longer be possible for you to redeem your miles for a SWISS airline ticket in First Class.

Nevertheless, the mileage upgrade award will still be available to you and with this you can book an upgrade from Business to First Class. In taking this action SWISS is reacting to the prevailing market situation.

From 1 January 2014 you will only be able to book flight awards for First Class by calling the Service Centre.

Look, Swiss first class is excellent — the food and service is generally top notch, and the seats are good as well. But is it so good that only top tier elite members of their native program should be able to redeem for it? I mean, even Emirates and Singapore don’t protect their premium cabins that way. The most puzzling part is that really award availability is entirely up to the airline, so I find it rather arrogant that they wouldn’t even release this space to their own members a day out when the seat would otherwise go out empty.

Swiss first class

While Swiss is usually considered the premium airline of the Lufthansa “family,” what’s puzzling is that nowadays Lufthansa first class is probably better than Swiss first class. Lufthansa’s hard product on many of their planes is hands down better, and Lufthansa also wins with their ground services.

Lufthansa first class

So while we haven’t been able to redeem for travel in Swiss first class through partner airlines for quite a while now, my bigger concern is what this means for Lufthansa first class award space. We’ve gone from seeing plenty of award space available to partner airlines months in advance, to seeing space available to partner airlines only 15 days out at most, and even that’s getting tougher.

What’s next, Lufthansa first class only being available to Miles & More members? Or maybe first class awards only being available to Miles & More Senator and HON Circle members? I hate to say it, but it really wouldn’t surprise me…

Filed Under: Awards, Lufthansa
  1. It really drives away interest in earning miles if they end up only being truly useful on the airline for which they’re earned. Some will say international economy is still an option but the value ratio is terrible as we all know. Why even advertise the ability to redeem to x thousand partner destinations if you can’t actually do that?

  2. Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve been working on my M&M balance just so that I can try out LX F. Now I just have to wait for the SPG points to transfer….

  3. This is getting ridiculous. Star Alliance should clamp down on the airlines and their “CABIN BLACKOUTS”. I can live with LH F being only available -15 days but no seats period, that’s total BS!

  4. Swiss people are very peculiar and they pride about being classy. They don’t want anyone that racks points and miles on a credit card sitting on their first class next to someone that pays $15K for that seat so they can brag about eating fancy food and drinking expensive champagne. This is a way of putting limits on credit card travelers mixing up with their elite paying travelers.

  5. It would be interesting to know whether *A has any sort of reciprocity rules for these sorts of things. It seems like they should. But in the end doesn’t it cost Swiss revenue since an award seat booked using a partner’s miles still makes them a nice pile of cash, no? If they essentially cut off that stream of money it seems really stupid unless they think they have enough people in their own program to book all of the available seats. Which seems doubtful.

  6. I really enjoyed my Swiss ZRH-HKG F flight last year before they shut out partner awards. I’ve been meaning to try the A330 product with my M&M miles, and don’t know if I’ll be able to fit in a trip before 12/31 … unless I can book in December for a 2014 flight somewhere.

  7. I think you answered your own question. If i were someone planning on experiencing LH F and the FCT, i would book it sooner rather than later. And as you always write, miles are a depreciable asset and best to earn and burn.

  8. For those who don’t have enough M&M miles to redeem a ticket, they are selling in september 24k miles for 475 euros. I think it’s the cheapest they are selling in a long time (and it’s also double the amount that it’s usually sold).

  9. Its not just Swiss, I think alot of Airlines would hold back F even if it goes out empty. that brought up another question, that is, UA must pay those partners at deep deep discount for those seats that partners rather not list them at all because it just doesnt make good business sense.

  10. Sad … really need to burn those points and miles sooner than later…

    Lucky, have any recommendations for using up the 50-60 or more M&Ms on LX F ?

  11. I could live with LH F being only available to M&M members (that’s basically the way it is now, unless you have the flexibility to book close in, which I don’t). But if they made it only available to their own elites, that would hurt.

  12. As a lowly base member, if I can’t book first class awards then I also won’t be booking first or even business class paid tickets with them. Being Europe based, there are plenty of other options for my several times per year corporate paid travel and now I probably won’t push back when they push British.

  13. Does LX permit neither partner members nor the lower status Miles & More members from booking F at the last minute when the product will become stale? That seems counterproductive

  14. This is not surprising. If I were a paying F customer, I would be annoyed with all the declasse photo-taking riff-raff in F on miles.

  15. At least United has also protected first and business class awards for its most loyal, frequent flyers! Oh wait…

  16. @ choi — A lot of airlines hold back space, but very few just don’t release any space at all to partner airlines.

  17. @ Apu — Yep, that’s the correct chart. Your best bet is to redeem for first class between the US and Europe for 85,000 miles one-way. You can top off your account by transferring points from Starwood, for example.

  18. @ What Omar — Is it just the award passenger riff raff taking pictures, or do the revenue passengers taking pictures deserve the boot as well?

  19. Thanks for the post. Note to sell don’t pay for a Swiss ticket no matter what. I’ll pay extra to fly someone else.

  20. As you probably inferred from the 1100CHF hotel rooms at the Park Hyatt Zurich, lucky, the Swiss economy is doing rather well. Or at least the banking services and luxury consumption side of it is. Moreover, the fact that the Swiss franc remains above parity with the US dollar despite the interventionism of the Swiss National Bank and the increase in US interest rates clearly signals that Switzerland remains a haven for money launderers.

    But to whom am I referring? Not those from the US and Europe; there is very little Western money parked there, and increasingly little with FATCA implementation looming on 1 January. It’s rather corrupt politicians from India, China, Russia, the Middle East and — surprisingly fashionable in recent years — Africa. (It is estimated that there are 100 billionaires in Africa you’ve never heard of.) Evidently these are the routes that are the most profitable, and Swiss is the beneficiary of this flight of ill-gotten capital to safe havens. Further, recall that when Swiss updated its aircraft, some of the very first routes to receive the new First class were Zurich-Nairobi, Zurich-Bombay, Zurich-Delhi, and Zurich-Moscow. Simply put, Swiss doesn’t need any mileage redemptions because many of these routes are carrying full loads — or at least full enough such that maximizing them by adding award seats for the hoi polloi would hurt their business.

    Swiss engages in this practice because it is well aware that its brand and revenues would be diluted if it were to release award seats, and its wealthy, full-fare passengers would leave if they had to interact with the unwashed masses. It evinces an appalling lack of regard for others and general sense of entitlement. But then again, if we consider that these Swiss First passengers were willing to loot the public purse in their home countries first place, it can’t e that surprisingā€¦

  21. Every time I read a post like this I’m reminded of all those posts that talk about how first class cabins have benefited from becoming smaller and more personalized without bothering to mention the other side of the equation.

    Many first class cabins have been clipped in half or less, running on half or fewer flights as before, and on many routes have been removed entirely.

    Moves like this make it pretty clear that international first class award tickets are no longer considered to be worth the effort, no matter how many miles they’re priced at.

    Extreme difficulty with redemptions is yet another reason first class awards rarely make practical sense, but this fact didn’t seem to enter into the first class award “debate” post with endless pictures of cabins most points currencies don’t even have access to.

  22. I think the Rangoon fiasco was the last drop in that bucket. Those fares, even if paid, caused a lot of problems for Swiss management. This resulted not only in fighting and denying boarding to “low class” ticket holders but eventually restricting access to *A.
    At the same time, they are making sure that only Elite M&M have access to this pseudo luxurious class. In other words, cutting the undesirables according to them.

    The rich and famous and billionaires, do not travel on regular airliners. They fly their own Gulfstream and 777s!

  23. I have NO PROOF for the following but I suspect it is probably true. Poor old SWISS has just had one too many bad experiences offering First Class Award tickets for truly Economy “CLASS” passengers. Too often they can be spotted a mile away can be difficult to serve and otherwise accommodate and for a variety of other reasons, truly do not belong forward of the curtain. I see it erepeatedly on other carrier, but rarely fly Swiss these days. Again, I have NO PROOF, just a good guess.
    On another subject… and I truly hate having to say this, Ben, this original post, above the comments section is probably one of the worst that you’ve ever written. Perhaps you were rushed or the proof reader was out to lunch, but for a college educated travel professional, this post is horrible. I know forth graders who can crank out better product and you usually do. I don’t intend to be rude, but this one does not bring you the credit that you deserve. We’ll hope for better next time…

  24. Nevermind not knowing when to capitalize or perhaps use italics, or how to construct sentences? @Cook get a grip.

  25. @AJ

    The ironical thing about Swiss is they are trading in the “hoi polloi” for the “corrupt-nouveau riche” which are an even crasser and baser class of folks than the camera-toting miles-burning folks here. At least we earned our miles fair and square, legally, without burning forest and raping lands for monetary billions.

  26. Not surprising that they would do this, as much as I dislike the move.

    Given how much cheaper some partner airline programs sell award tickets for flights and do so without the fuel surcharge scam, the LH group needs to whip up some “competitive edge” in comparison to other programs.

  27. Lantean,

    Some billionaires (in USD terms) do fly commercial passenger carriers or have a history of doing so earlier even as billionaires (in USD terms). Not all, probably not even most, but some at least.

    The Swedish founder of IKEA, for example, has been seen on commercially scheduled flights between Denmark and Switzerland.

  28. Has Air France management moved to Swiss Air management recently? AF has a similar policy with its release of AF First/La Premiere awards exclusive only to elite members of its FF program.

  29. @Joey – Surprisingly, Air France just changed its rule this year – now all FlyingBlue members can book La Premiere.

  30. @MileCards, I didn’t know that! That is surprising and who knows… perhaps Swiss may change this policy in the future.

  31. GUWonder – Lufthansa group should collectively offer more competititve fares, then they would see more revenue. Its no surprise they are losing out to the ME carriers. How do you know that the their cut from “partner airlines selling cheaper award space” is any less? And what does YQ have to do with it? AC collects handsome YQ from its members for LH redemptions (not for Swiss though).

  32. Hmm… Would have preferred to find this in a M&M newsletter in my inbox instead of a blog šŸ™ — did anyone get an email about these changes?

    Blocking award space from partners is bad enough but restricting redemptions to highest tier M&M members is very disappointing. Even SQ, infamous for not upgrading J to F, nowadays allows award redemptions in First/Suites to KrisFlyer members.

    Guess if I wanted to experience LX F on a US-Europe flight, better round up some M&M soon.

  33. FYI- travel does not have to be before 12/31/13. I just got my tickets for travel in April with miles.

  34. Having talked with staff at Zurich, I think the main reasons for this continued restriction is the ever improving seat load factors, and the fact that it was just too easy to accumulate tons of miles in North America. Too many mileage millionaires! The way I figured it, from experience, is that SWISS will let the First cabin take off empty IF economy and business isn’t full but will prefer to use the available space in F to upgrade business class passengers to make more room for other paying customers. Case in point, often, the day before take off I can see 5 empty seats in business and 7 in First, but M&M availability in business is 9 seats. That clearly means that if you book 6 seats in business, someone is getting bumped in F. Make complete sense to me. Business class tickets are getting so expensive, points just haven’t kept up. And if you look at the numbers, its clearly working. I don’t see this trend reversing until the economy takes an other major nose dive. But it was good while it lasted.

    I have one question though. If you book an award before december for 2014 travel, will you be able to modify the ticket next year? Or will you loose it?

  35. @ C — The only issue with that argument is that Swiss already wasn’t releasing first class award space to partner airlines, so the “mileage millionaires” in the US weren’t getting access to that space anyway.

    As far as your question goes, I’m not positive, but I suspect that after January 1 you won’t be able to change to other flights with first class anymore.

  36. After my last First Class experience on my flight from BKK to ZRH, I don’t think I will use any SWISS First Class award again. I am still unsatisfied with the miles I burned for the upgrade. The inflight service not felt back after the biz service on my inbound flight, it was ev3n worse than one I would have expected from an airline like Egyptair in Biz. So it’s no loss for me.

  37. Hi, the image shown to be Lufthansa First class is actually an image of Lufthansa Business class, no?

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