The ULTIMATE first class award thanks to Aeroplan!

I’ve spent a substantial amount of time over the past couple weeks figuring out how I should blow 240,000 Aeroplan miles. I was looking for a trip for my brother and me in August, and I was trying to make the journey just as fun as the destinations, and hopefully try out a few new airlines. Aeroplan is by far the most rewarding mileage program in the Star Alliance, and I would argue the best all around mileage program if used correctly.

Most Aeorplan award redemption levels are quite good, although nothing compares to a first class award from the US to Asia. At 120,000 miles per seat, Aeroplan allows you two stopovers (pretty cool), and most importantly allows you to route either via the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, or both. Also, while Aeroplan has fuel surcharges on redemptions for Air Canada flights, they don’t when you use a variety of Star Alliance airlines.

Before even doing much investigating I decided we would be going via Europe both ways, for two reasons. First of all, there weren’t any good redemption options via the Pacific. Singapore never releases two first class seats at a time, first class availability on ANA is non-existent for August, and Asiana just doesn’t excite me. Second, and more importantly, there are a couple of products I figured we should try out, which are only available via the Atlantic.

First, and most importantly, we want to try the new Swiss first class, which is featured on the Airbus 330-300, and as of August will be on the New York and Chicago routes. Second, we wanted to try out Turkish Airways between London and Istanbul as well as Istanbul and Asia. Turkish Airways currently leases several Boeing 777-300ER’s from Jet Airways, which is one of the finest airlines in the world. With eight first class suites and amazing award availability, it was a no brainer. Best of all, the ground services in Istanbul are phenomenal: You are literally escorted every step of the way on arrival and departure. If you choose to stay in Istanbul (which we decided to do, since it’s a city neither of us have visited), they even provide a complimentary car transfer to anywhere in the city in a Mercedes. Perfect!

As always, dreaming is the easy part, while actually piecing together an itinerary is the real challenge. My brother and I both had serious time constraints with this award, so we were unfortunately not very flexible. After a ton of research on the ANA tool, along with plenty of help from my friend Steven, we managed to find availability for the following itinerary:

Day 1, TPA-ORD, UA0859, 0909-1055, United First Class, 2hr46min, 752
Day 1, ORD-ZRH, LX0009, 1915-1100 +1, Swiss First Class, 8hr45min, 333
Day 2, ZRH-LHR, LX0332, 1205-1300, Swiss Business Class, 1hr55min, 321
Day 2, LHR-IST, TK1992, 1630-2220, Turkish First Class, 3hr50min, 77W
(Stopover, two days)
Day 4, IST-HKG, TK0070, 2350-1440 +1, Turkish First Class, 9hr50min, 77W
(Destination, three days)
Day 8, HKG-BKK, TG0639, 1845-2025, Thai Business Class, 2hr40min, 333
Day 9, BKK-MUC, TG0924, 0050-0715,  Thai First Class, 11hr25min, 346
Day 9, MUC-ZRH, LX1101, 0930-1030, Swiss Business Class, 1hr, AR1
Day 9, ZRH-JFK, LX0014, 1300-1545, Swiss First Class, 8hr45min, 333

So you’re probably wondering why all the unnecessary connections, but I truly believe that this award maximizes every aspect of both and in-flight services. Let’s start from the beginning:

Chicago to Zurich is in Swiss’ new first class product (video), which looks incredible. They only have eight seats, and I’m a huge fan of their service and food.

When we get to Zurich we can hang out in the Swiss First Class lounge for a while, and will likely be driven to our connecting flight (sorry, but the novelty of being driven on the tarmac never wears off for me).

In London we’ll get on the London to Istanbul flight, which has only eight first class seats. I’ve heard good reviews of first class on Turkish (video).

The ground services are where Turkish really stands out. Upon arrival Turkish has golf carts waiting for first class passengers, as they’re escorted through immigration and to the awaiting car which will drive you anywhere in the city for free.

When departing Istanbul, they once again pick you up at your hotel for free, and when you arrive you’re literally escorted every step of the way, from check-in to the lounge to the plane. Once again the onboard service should be good.

On the return we connect in Bangkok and can use the Thai Airways Spa and First Class lounge. While Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal in Frankfurt is nice, it can’t compete with Thai’s offerings in Bangkok. First Class passengers can get an hour-long fully body massage before their flight. There is NOTHING more relaxing than a massage right before boarding an 11 hour redeye. The rest of the lounge is fantastic as well.

Upon arrival in Munich we’ll be able to use Lufthansa’s First Class Lounge (due to our same day Swiss first class ticket), which is nearly as good as the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt. Chances are we’ll also be driven to the plane.

Upon arrival in Zurich we’ll likely be driven from our arriving plane to the First Class lounge, and then if needed be driven to the plane for our connection, depending on where it departs from. What truly shines with Swiss, though, is the onboard product, especially with their new first class.

I figured I would have problems booking this, despite this routing being well within the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) for our city pair. I lucked out by getting a fantastic agent that confirmed all my flights in a matter of about 15 minutes, only to put my on hold for an hour while she calculated the taxes. The taxes ended up being $185, which is quite reasonable given that we’re transiting Germany and the UK, and plus there was a $30 ticketing fee, for a grand total of $215 per ticket. Very reasonable, if you ask me.

Anyway, I think I did a decent job of maximizing the routing as well as the trip overall, given the limited amount of time we have. My brother has never been to Hong Kong, so I’m excited to show him my favorite city, while neither of us have been to Istanbul.

So for those that like to refer to Aeroplan as “Errorplan,” I humbly ask what the hell you’re talking about. 😉

Filed Under: Air Canada, Awards
  1. I’m a BD Gold, a UA 1K and an AC Elite. I love to cherry-pick the best awards from each and the best routings for each award.

    I agree that there are certain situations where Aeroplan can shine – I did an AC 120K F award to Asia last year. SQ JFK-SIN out, some TG and SQ intra-Asia, NH NRT-IAD in. Booked three days out. Try that on UA.

    Now go on the ANA tool and try to find two seats in AC Biz from YYZ-YVR and back on the days you are crossing the ocean with LX. With up to 20 flights a day each way in August, about half using widebodies, it should be a snap, right?

    Let us know how you make out.

  2. Ben,

    I just did a C award on TK from IST-JNB and thought the service was great. They handed us our menu with out names wirtten on the top. Very nice seats and I liked them a lot more than the angled C seats I got from LX on the JNB-ZRH flight.

    My only beef with TK was my mobile phone. My bother was having cell phone problems from our shared account. I was trying to call T-Mobile from my seat before the flight left and the FA had a fit that I had my phone out. She said you can’t use the phone on the plane. I spend the next five minutes in the jetway taking on the phone.

  3. Lucky – In reporting your flights, you list the departure and arrival times, as seems to be the standard. What drives me crazy? When flight time isn’t listed as well. Often, I don’t know the time differences without referencing them – having the flight time listed would be so helpful (this to me is more interesting that dep. and arrival times).

    Just a suggestion.

  4. @ Sam — They all came from Membership Rewards.

    @ Jeff — Definitely true. Overall Aeroplan has great redemption levels, although it seems to get somewhat expensive/useless when it comes to flights on Air Canada metal. Nonetheless when sticking to partner awards, Aeroplan is unbeatable in my opinion.

    @ mudba — That’s bizarre! Sounds like ANA/JAL, both of which have stupid electronic device regulations prior to takeoff.

    @ Gray — I can’t wait. I love Turkish food, at least the food here in the US. 😉

    @ Eric — EXCELLENT point, especially given how long I spent trying to figure out just how long the flights were prior to booking. I’ve updated the post to reflect the flight times.

  5. Thats a lot of flights to have 2 F award space on..Congrats on getting it all together

  6. > sorry, but the novelty of being driven on the tarmac never wears off for me

    I get really tried of all those tarmac road trips in FRA. I get to “enjoy” that tomorrow again on my way from the CRJ200 to the terminal. What? No, not in the Porsche, it’s by bus 🙂

  7. I can only dream what you are about to experience. I hope one day I will be able to vacation and visit places I have never been. In FC would be a bonus to me as well.

    I hope you and your brother have a peaceful and safe journey.

  8. Is this type of ticket possible using AA miles on oneworld partners? I’d love to hit several places in the Middle East all on one trip without using tons of miles.

  9. @ Monty — Thanks!

    @ whakojacko — That’s why I went via the Atlantic. I’ve never had a problem finding two award seats on virtually any flight via the Atlantic, while it can be a real challenge via the Pacific.

    @ Oliver — The buses, are, well, cozier. 😉

    @ Lisa — Thanks! If you maximize your mileage earning that trip can be a lot closer than you think!

    @ Blankeeta — Unfortunately the recent change rules made that even tougher. You’re not even allowed a single stopover. Basically everything prices out as a one-way, so you’d probably be best off just getting an award ticket to somewhere in the Middle East and buying cheap revenue tickets from there to get around.

  10. Right now I’d love a holiday, but I need to work as much as possible to pay for life’s little unexpected expenses. Next year, I hope!

  11. Thank you for giving Aeroplan the love. I had no idea you could do this and my better half and I are now saving for it for 2010.

  12. Thanks for your post. Because of your post alone, I decided to give it a whirl and booked a trip for my wife, two children, and me from Washington to Chicago, to Zurich to Istanbul (four nights), to Hong Kong (four nights), to Frankfurt (seven nights) and back to Washington.

    It was a nice combination of business class and first class. Unfortunately, Turkish Airlines changed the plane on the Istanbul Hong Kong sector and we were moved from business class to first class.

    I am still deciding whether to stick with this particular selection of cities or try to change the routing to get a try at Turkish Airlines first class.

    Thanks again for your excellent advice.


    …I meant we were moved from first class to business class (Istanbul to Hong Kong sector)…

  14. What did you use to find out seat availability? The Aeroplan site is horrible. I can’t seem to get it to offer me anything other than horrible routes on Air Canada metal.

    Thanks for this post, looks like a great trip!

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