Introduction: A Rare First Class Opportunity

Filed Under: Air Tahiti Nui, Hilton
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There are first class awards that are tough to book with miles through a partner program, like Qantas first, Qatar first, Etihad first, etc. Then there are awards that are generally impossible to book with miles through a partner program, like Air France first and Swiss first.

Back in the day Swiss was one of the most generous airlines out there when it came to releasing first class award space, and I remember many instances where they made all eight first class seats available as awards. That’s why I had reviewed them a few times in the past, at least going back a few years.

Unfortunately that changed in 2013, when Swiss added a restriction to first class redemptions. As of 2013, only elite members in the Miles & More program can redeem miles for Swiss first class. That’s where the motivation for planning this trip started.

Booking flights

Back in June of this year there was a brief period where Swiss first class became bookable with partner miles. I’m not sure how or why this happened, though it did.


This was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, especially given that Swiss has new 777s with an updated first class product, and also given that Swiss has a brand new first class lounge in Zurich, which looks fantastic.

Swiss first class lounge Zurich

So I ended up redeeming 70,000 Aeroplan miles for the ticket, which I transferred over from American Express Membership Rewards. Those are points I primarily earned with The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American ExpressThe Platinum Card® from American Express, American Express® Gold Card, etc.

While Aeroplan imposes fuel surcharges for award tickets on some airlines, Swiss isn’t among them, so the total cost of the ticket was 70,000 miles plus $51.57 in taxes and fees.

Swiss 777-300ER first class

I only had a few days to take this trip, so I needed to find a way to get from Los Angeles to Europe a couple of days prior. As you guys know, I’m trying to review as many new airlines as possible, and I recently shared the next airlines that were on my list.

Based on that, the most logical airline to fly was Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Paris, given that they had award availability in business class on the exact date I needed. I knew they had angled seats and it likely wouldn’t be an amazing flight, but I thought it would make an interesting review. I was supposed to fly Air Tahiti Nui business class from Auckland to Tahiti to Los Angeles a couple of months ago, but due to a last minute emergency had to cancel that ticket.

I booked this ticket using American AAdvantage miles, which cost 57,500 miles plus $5.60 in taxes for the one-way ticket.

Air Tahiti Nui A340 business class

Then I just needed to get between Paris and Zurich. I had a few options for this:

  • I could try to add it to my Air Tahiti Nui ticket, which I booked through American AAdvantage, but that would require an additional connection, and just didn’t seem worthwhile in this instance
  • I could modify my Swiss ticket, which would incur a $90 change fee, plus the difference in taxes (which would be significantly higher out of Paris than out of Zurich
  • I could just book a nonstop economy ticket on Swiss on my preferred flight for $120, which seemed like the easiest and most practical option

So I just booked a paid ticket in economy on that flight. In the end, the routing looked as follows:

11/12 TN8 Los Angeles to Paris departing 11:25AM arriving 7:20AM [Business Class]
Cost: 57,500 AAdvantage miles + $5.60

11/13 LX633 Paris to Zurich departing 9:55AM arriving 11:15AM [Economy Class]
Cost: $120

11/14 LX40 Zurich to Los Angeles departing 1:10PM arriving 4:20PM [First Class]
Cost: 70,000 Aeroplan miles + $51.57


Booking hotels

With my routing I’d have just one night in Zurich. While I love Zurich as a city, I was trying to be realistic, and knew I wouldn’t have time to do a whole lot of sightseeing while there. I was just getting over a nasty cold, I knew I wouldn’t get a very good night of sleep on the flight over, and I knew I wanted to go to Zurich Airport at the crack of dawn in order to be able to review the lounge.

So I decided that the most practical option was booking the Hilton Zurich Airport, which is a short shuttle ride from the airport. My rate for the one night stay was ~$164, which isn’t especially cheap, though for that I’d earn 13,000+ points, thanks to the great promotions Hilton HHonors is running at the moment.

Hilton Zurich Airport

Bottom line

This was another fun whirlwind trip, where I spent just 24 hours in Europe. I’m so happy I had the chance to try Swiss first class again, to see what (if anything) has changed in the past few years. I’m also happy I finally got to try Air Tahiti Nui, given how they’re usually pretty good about making award seats available to Europe, and also are the best airline for flights to Tahiti.

I hope to have this entire trip report published this week. I’m also happy to have a bit of a break from international travel, as this was the last of five big international trips I had planned for this fall.

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  1. Re: staying near the airport. The time of day really isn’t an issue for an airport this close to the city with great train options, right? I understand the getting over a cold and not having energy to sightsee, but I would want to be in the city so I could at least be sure I could get a nice meal. It’s not like you arrived at the airport at night.

    I guess when you travel as much as you do, the value of having things be really simple is valuable because you only have so much mental energy for any specific step. So doing things like finding a hotel in the city, train back and forth, researching food, etc might not be worth it. Especially because you are working when you are at the hotel, right?

  2. Flying to Europe and back for one day for no real reason? You and your environmentalist friends’ heads must be exploding trying to reconcile your beliefs with your actions

  3. It’s not “for no real reason.” The reason is to review airline products. That’s what this blog is all about, it’s his job. It’s awfully hard to review an airline unless you actually fly somewhere on it.

  4. You mentioned that Air Tahiti Nui is the best airline for flights to Tahiti. Isn’t Air NZ still flying that route? I flew LAX to Papeete a few years ago, and t was a pleasant flight. Did a killer return: Aitutaki-Rarotonga on Air Rarotonga, Air NZ from Rarotonga to Papeete to LAX, and connecting to UA from LAX to Heathrow 3 hours later. Ten timezones and two overnights back to back on airplanes – not exactly relaxing

  5. Lucky,

    Your flying and the articles you publish enrich my understanding of this area in a way that I will never achieve on my own. Far from being “for no real reason,” your flying and your writing about it are important to me and to many, many others who read and appreciate your blog. Keep flying and keep writing – please!

    Joe Meboe

  6. Hello Lucky, quiet but long time big fan. Please take your time with the report, been waiting for it a long time.

    I was on the maiden flight of the Swiss 777 last February to test out C class over their standard from A343 and A333 and well I’m quite disappointed. Yes more throne seats on one side (for SEN and HON) but also more without aisle access on the other. As a single C pax you have to seat center and even then one side is right on the aisle. Y is now industry norm 10 abreast so there’s no premium there either (except maybe the chocolate?)

    Swiss does take itself very seriously as a premium brand but consistently and perhaps too cautiously fail to deliver something outstanding.

    No premium economy to standout either so it’s either in C or with all the others. Their WiFi price isn’t attractive and it’s not the, as you mentioned, business class meal that is worthy of the term world class and innovation.

    They “didn’t want to wait” for the A350, they didn’t take any risks on this product with a bar, lounge or anything except filling in more seats.

    It is their choice of “flagship”, so please be honest and objective (as usual) and be very thorough, looking at every detail, considering they want to position themselves in the premium league (price-wise and award availability) where every company out there is putting in a hell of an effort to distinguish themselves in the market.

    Slogan is “our sign is a promise”, did they deliver in first class on their flagship?

    Eagerly awaiting.

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