Before I Rank The World’s Best First Class Airlines & Lounges…

Filed Under: Advice

Before I Rank The World’s Best First Class Airlines & Lounges…
The World’s 10 Best First Class Products
The World’s 10 Best First Class Airline Lounges
How To Use Miles For The World’s 10 Best First Class Products

This is long overdue. All the time I see mainstream media articles ranking the world’s best first class products. There’s only one problem — the person writing the story typically hasn’t actually flown any of the products, and just uses airline-provided images  and marketing bullets for their rankings. One of the main things I do on the blog is review airlines, and for years my focus was on reviewing first class, though lately I’ve been reviewing more business class products.

I’ve reviewed almost all the world’s first class products. I think I can safely say I’ve flown all of the world’s best first class products, as the only remaining first class products are fairly random ones that I think have no chance of topping the list (like TAAG Angola’s first class, lovely as it may be).

In June I finally flew Air France’s new first class product, which was the last great first class product I hadn’t reviewed.

After that I promised I’d provide an updated ranking of what I consider to be the world’s best first class products. After all, it has been a while since I’ve done that:

A lot of readers have asked where my updated rankings are. I’m sorry for the delay, but the reason I haven’t posted them yet isn’t because I haven’t been thinking about it, but for a very different reason. Let me explain:

Why I’m struggling with ranking the world’s top first class experiences

For the past several months I’ve sat down at least once a week to try and rank what I consider to be the world’s 10 best first class experiences. I feel comfortable with the 10 airlines on each list, but the issues comes with ranking them from #1 to #10.

Every time I’d rank them, I’d question myself and say “meh, did airline X really deserve to be ahead of airline Y?”

Let me also say that these rankings are highly subjective. When I share my rankings, I’d note that I think anyone would be completely justified in ranking my #10 choice as #1, and ranking my #1 choice as #10. We’re all looking for different things in our flight experiences.

For example, some people will appreciate how consistent Garuda Indonesia is — they take care of you from the second you arrive at the airport to the second you leave the airport, their flight attendants are consistently exceptional, and the onboard product is remarkably well rounded.

Meanwhile Emirates first class has surprisingly tight first class suites and a lackluster ground experience, but has an onboard shower and bar, which are so fun. Everyone will value stuff like that differently.

The same is true of lounges. The Swiss Lounge in Zurich has incredible private bedrooms overlooking the tarmac. If you have a long layover, that might be a reason to consider this the world’s best first class lounge.

But most people connecting aren’t planning super long layovers, but rather value the ease with which airlines make connections happen. So the Air France Lounge Paris doesn’t have any sort of bedrooms, but they do drive you to and from your planes.

And even when you take out that we’re all looking for different things, there’s a huge amount of variance with each experience.

For example, taking a Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class late night flight out of a non-hub (where they have fairly limited catering) with a not-so-great crew will be a completely different experience than taking a lunch or dinner flight  out of Singapore with them when you have an exceptional crew.

Similarly Emirates has a lot of flights departing at 3AM, though they have surprisingly limited meal options, even in first class. Compare that to a daytime flight, where you have an incredible menu.

How I’m approaching these rankings

Some might say “well you should make this as objective as possible and use a scorecard to rank them.” I certainly could, but I don’t think that does justice to the special touches that some airlines offer, and also the variability in the experience from flight-to-flight. A lot of what makes a first class experience great isn’t something you can rank on a scorecard, but rather is this intangible feeling you get when flying an airline, where you feel “wow, they really get it.” As far as I’m concerned, airlines also deserve bonus points for consistency across various flights, because it’s nice to know exactly what you’ll get.

The other issue is that the top 10 first class products are all really exceptional. On a 100 points scale, I suspect all of these airlines would score a 90+ from me.

To give an example of the issue with a scorecard approach, wifi is something I personally value, but a few of these airlines don’t offer it in first class. So if I said wifi was worth 10 points, that would automatically put any airline without it in last place, and that doesn’t seem right, since it’s something that many people don’t care about.

Again, I’m admitting my rankings are subjective, and what I rank #1 may be #10 for you, and vice versa. And that’s totally fine — I don’t think that makes anyone wrong.

I’ve taken flights on every single one of the airlines on my top 10 list and said “that’s one of the best flights I’ve ever taken.” So maybe the list should be more about the airlines that I consider to be top 10, rather than focusing too much on which airline is in which spot.

There are two amazing first class products being introduced shortly

It’s about time I provide my updated first class rankings, given that in the first half of November two of the world’s most promising first class products will be introduced:

I’d be shocked if these two products didn’t rank at the top of my list once they’re out. But that’s why it’s important I get my rankings out now, since it will be a few months before I actually get to fly these new cabins.

Bottom line

I’m sorry it has taken me so long to publish what I consider to be the world’s best first class experiences. I feel the above disclaimer is necessary, and I’m in no way suggesting my rankings are scientific, or anything. Heck, even in my head I’ve been going back and forth about where different products should be ranked.

However, I feel comfortable publishing my rankings now. I wrote down my top 10 list last week, and between last week and now, my opinions haven’t changed. So I feel like that’s good enough. 😉

Stay tuned!

  1. “…the person writing the story typically hasn’t actually flown any of the products, and just uses airline-provided images and marketing bullets for their rankings.”

    Pretty sure certain TPG contributors are guilty of this (airline lounge rankings come to mind), hence I stopped reading them a long time ago in favor of OMAAT. Keep doing what you do, Lucky!

  2. Why not just publish your top 10 in alphabetical order instead of ranking them, and include a short pros and cons with each airline?

  3. Who cares? Everyone has an opinion. This list is only what you agree with…it’s too subjective for the numerical list to be of use to anyone except you and you are too biased/xenophobic to provide a fair ranking.

  4. List the airlines on a grid showing which features are included with sub catagories for redeye vs day, hub vs non hub, etc. Narrative can fill out the picture. Thanks.

  5. Oh you are a tempter!! We have saved hard to travel Buisness Class to South Africa to a wedding as we are nearing 80 so probably won’t go again how do we get an upgrade??

  6. I also think time may be another confounding variable. An airline you flew, say, two years ago, may provide a different experience now.

    In the the end does it really matter which airline comes at 4 or 5? I think it’s a fun list and project, but like you said it’s very subjective.

  7. I think you should rank them by category — the best hard product — i.e., the seat/suite, the best food, the best amenities, and the consistently best crew.

  8. “these rankings are highly subjective.” – yea there is no way to really review this stuff unless you are flying each product several times (on different routes) to account for discrepancies in service etc. This is always going to be a problem because you may get a good crew on one flight but the next day someone gets a bad service experience. Even when it comes to the hard product like seat quality etc, what you prefer may be different than someone else. In the end your point is well taken. I flew LH in first and had a layover in first class terminal in Frankfurt. Meh. It was alright but I think the pier in hong kong was much much better.

  9. I hate to say it, but The Point Guy had a cool ranking of Best/Worst US airlines (google “The Best and Worst Airlines in the United States”). They did the score card thing and came up with their ranking. However, based on what they scored each airline, you can interactively adjust the weights of each category. So now your 0 for WiFi doesn’t mean anything if I weight it 0%.

    Just a thought.

  10. Isn’t the main problem with this exercise the fact that you’ll be ranking on the basis of a tiny and clearly insignificant sample size? Your 1 or 2 flights on each product provide you with no evidence of whether that experience was typical of, or an outlier to, the norm of that airline’s first class experience, in the round. So, other than providing and comparing specific factual details and contrasting the range of luxury elements provided (which doesn’t require you to have flown the product in order to offer comment on), your ranking will essentially be meaningless.

  11. I only hope you don’t weight WiFi too heavily in your rankings (because in general you really worry about speed and connection quality!). First class should be about how wonderful the experience is and not whether you can get work done or can watch your own streaming service. These products are truly aspirational for a lot of your readers, so we want to know how truly above any beyond they are compared to each other. Looking forward to the posts!

  12. @Kevin:

    Clearly you’re not a fan of this site and literally EVERYTHING it supports and reports on. Given it’s a blog and not a research paper, hence everything being subjective, perhaps you’d be best served by not reading it at all. That would save you a lot of time and heartache, and everyone else a lot of eye rolling.

  13. You haven’t tried out Oman Air’s First class product yet, which could very well be in the top 10 as their business class is one of your favourites… perhaps you should give it a go

  14. As you and others noted, consistency is a huge part. I would really like to see you list how many times you’ve flown the product. Could be as easy as: 1, 2, 3-5, 6-10, 10+… that’ll give us an indication of how much weight should be put into the rating as you may have had a +3 Sigma or -3 Sigma experience if it’s just 1 time.

  15. Lucky, I do believe it all comes down to consistency. And therefore, for me personally, the best First Class is Swiss/Lufthansa. There was never a bad experience the 30+ times I have personally tried them. And I love Frankfurt First Class Terminal, and also the new Lounge in Zurich…

    Yes, the Bling-Bling of Emirates is amazing the first time, and as a matter of fact, they do offer the very, very, very best Wine selection in my mind, but their crews are different in attitude every time. The food sadly also very inconsistent, more to Business standards, which it basically is anyway (except at the First Class Lounge at Dubai, they do offer fantastic Sushi!).

    Also, I have tried Etihad First a few times now, even The Residence. Every blog puts The Residence above everything else, I personally disagree: while on pictures The Residence is the very best (and it is pretty cool to sleep in that separate room), their Wine selection is laughable at best!! Not even close to Business Class standard. They have so many compromises, like their horrible blanket from Zara Home in The Residence…. And it is downward creepy once the Butler compliments me on stuff he reads on the internet about me… Also, as you know, when you connect on flights coming from Australia for example, you are not allowed to use the Residence Lounge. Anyway, Etihad in its current form will not be around for much longer anyway (apparently, according to my sources, it will soon join forces with a certain carrier from the Middle East before too long…).

    I do look forward to your point of view! Singapore First Class, even at the Lounge in Singapore, has never really impressed me (especially on the 380’s), but I am excited to learn more about the new First on Emirates, because I have a soft spot for them.

    Until then, Lufthansa/Swiss First is my personal favorite! Sadly, Lufthansa is continuing to cut back. Sehr, sehr schade!

  16. Waiting to see. We have flow on Emirates 1st on A380, and Singapore Suites on A380.

    And the rare 1st on 23 class UA A330 or 777 – forget which and does not matter. NOTHING like the other two and of course will not be in top 10 anyways.

  17. Might it make more sense to rank your top 10 first class experiences (and let people draw inferences accordingly), as opposed trying to come up with the top 10 first class products in general?

    I imagine that some of the products on your list (e.g., Emirates or Etihad A380) you have flown multiple times, whereas others (e.g., Air France 77W) you have flown only once. Wouldn’t that further bias an already subjective and biased list, especially since you admit that consistency is important to you? I agree with the above poster that you should at least let us know how many times and how long ago you have flown each product.

    That being said, I am looking forward to your rankings. 🙂

  18. Lucky, if you can forgive me, but a relatively unrelated question: Can Flying Blue Ivory Level ever get into “La Premiere?”
    Looking forward to the rankings.

  19. Lucky, here’s how I rank them based on my past two years of flights (Emirates is the only the major I haven’t flown since 2015):

    1. Ethiad, the residence
    2. Air France
    3. Garuda
    4. JAL
    5. Lufthansa
    6. Ethiad, first
    7. Cathay
    8. ANA
    9. Singapore
    10. = Qantas, Swiss

  20. @Lucky, one thing you do really well on is detail. I think a simple list wouldn’t really do justice to the precise way you have recorded your journeys — the main reason many people are here.

    I really agree with @Therese_Taylor above, who suggested listing features across a grid, allowing readers to make their own judgement based on the combination of things that matter most to them, or even for a particular trip.

    @Billieken had a good idea, which was to rank them by feature.

    If you put the two together, a grid with a simple ranking or scoring system, then this would be a really powerful tool for your readers.

    Some readers have commented that you may have flown each product only once or twice (I suspect it may be more) and they are right that every flight experience is unique. To help, you could give a best and worst case scenario (e.g. dinner flight from hub vs. 3am start from non-hub).

    You have clearly been giving this a lot of thought, but I think deciding for yourself will be less valuable for your readers than giving them the tools to try and judge for themselves.

    Some have commented that all the experiences are so close that you may as well just list then arbitrarily. But a combination of the above approaches would let someone like me, who rarely gets to travel in first, really get the best experience for a specific trip and its own circumstances, rather than just chancing it that I’d get an experience like yours.

    Or maybe if listing in no particular order, a best and worst (least good?) features of each would be really helpful too.

  21. “Andy says:
    …Everyone has an opinion.”

    How true. Andy, your post especially, reminds me of am old saying: “Opinions are like (…armpits), most people have one, and they usually stink.”

  22. Instead of ranking the ten, why not list the alphabetically? And declare these 10 the best 10 in the world.

  23. As others have said, I really like the idea of categories, with maybe a best and worst in each category. That way we can focus on what’s most important to us.

    Also, what about airline #11? If 1-10 are so close, how can #11 not be?
    Thus a best and worst for all airlines you are evaluating.
    you should also consider the three major groups. As a Delta Medallion I focus on the Skyteam, so I’d love to see how they perform within that grouping.

    I look forward to seeing what you think?

  24. I’m disappointed that the trolls spew their venom on something so light-hearted. Hope you can write a post some time about how you rise above their drivel. You have caught a ton of flak far more often than deserved!

  25. I flew a lot of the first class products out there. I don’t think there is ONE single best first class experience. I think some airlines do better certain aspects better than others where if you take certain parts(service and seats) to create a franken airline, you’ll have the single best first class experience.

  26. Lucky,

    Don’t feel like your listing is the “Official” Top 10 here. These are all opinions and there will truly never be an “Official Top 10” list. All subjective here. But a top 10 will do. You might be struggling with the 8 to 10 spot which is understandable.

  27. Lucky

    I agree with a couple of the readers above that you are trying to achieve a very difficult objective. Thus, rather than a “pure or hard” rank ordering a cluster rating approach might be more in order. I commute from the USA East Coast to the Middle East and have only flown up front on Emirates, Air France, BA, Saudia, Qatar, Virgin Atlantic, American, Delta and Oman (within Middle East) and thus have not had the pleasure of using the Asian carriers such a Singapore. On most of these carriers I have flown multiple times at differing times of day.
    The above being said there are very clear differences in the air and on the ground between them. For example like you I am blown away by ate quality of service and comfort of Air France la Pemiere but find the First Class lounge of BA at Heathrow (the Concorde Room) really nice but the actual cabin ho hum. Like others Emirates is indeed claustrophobic and not up the level of professionalism on Air France. Actually the seats in Saudia are really comfortable and food very good no matter the time of day but this is a “dry” airline and the quality of service is not up to say Air France or Qatar. I do actually look at some little things such as the quality and how cold the champagne is (good quality on Qatar but never cold enough).

    With the above factors in mind, I think a cluster approach using a letter grade A+ down to most likely a B or B+ would make more sense. I would consider the ground experience lounge and transfer as a factor but attach more emphasis on the comfort in the air which is a combination of seat comfort, quality of service, food, wine, and entertainment. Moreover there are trends to consider such as consistency (Air France is a good positive example) or improvement (Saudia another example of a positive trend) or slipping (Emirates is unfortunately an example as the quality and inexperience of its youngish cabin crew due to its business model).

    You travel a lot, are passionate about this and have many followers on the blog. I am sure you will arrive at a good solution.

    Thank you for your efforts on all or our behalf.

  28. I recently flew 3 times Swiss first in the past 12 months, and twice LH first. All long haul of course.
    In my opinion Swiss has now a rock solid first class product on their new 777. If you are unlucky to get or fly a route with the old A340 you will be shocked.
    The new product closes like on Emirates or Etihad which in my view is the best and main feature of any first class product. Privacy.
    I agree with all comments saying you eat great when you fly out of the HUB and not so great when you are flying from your destination to the Hub.
    But there is a few additional points where airlines could improve a lot more.
    1. Ground: Swiss & LH only drive you to plane if the plane is not docked to airport, even if it means walking miles between the two, fighting queues at passport control etc.
    2. Ground: when you land in Hub and have no connecting flight you are an economy passenger again. Get off the plane and good luck with airport walk, customs, luggage & exit. Paradoxically you are treated better in Bangkok with VIP arrival on first with Swiss then when you return to their main base Zurich.
    3. Food & drinks: I can see the marketing guys thinking: OMG these passengers eat caviar & the best food all the time, let’s give them some Swiss or German sausage instead. Well when I fly first I want to get michelin star food, and the matching wines. For this Emirates in 10x better or Etihad with their chef on board who served me a rare filet mignon when I asked for…
    4. Last but not least: entertainment quality & choice, Swiss here again great with the biggest screen I saw so far but such a poor choice of movies/TV shows compared to the Emirates product. If you get first on LX A340 you are back 20 years in time with a tiny screen which on my seat didn’t work at all.

  29. @ John

    I’m afraid your credibility as an expert is undermined by the fact that you misspell the name of your “favourite” airline not just once but twice.

    Not sure I now believe you’ve ever actually flown them…

  30. I thought your website has a review of Jet Airways 777 first class BOM to LHR? Was that not you who flew it?

  31. @ VSK — I’ve flown Jet first. The previous post which first class products I haven’t flown was published earlier this year.

  32. @ the nice Paul. Leave it out mate, when you’re playing professional sport your spelling won’t matter either. Let me know, and I’ll be there cheering you on

  33. Lucky youre such a perfectionist!!!!!! RELAX! We all know in the end its your opinion reflected in the article- dont worry we know that. Just follow your gut and rank them however you remember loving the experience. Also second what someone said up there- think: “if i could only fly one last time and had to pick one of these, which one would it be?” and then scratch them off one by one!

  34. if one flies F on a regular basis – the key consideration is consistency. For all their bling EK is terribly inconsistent in the F cabin across flights on same/similar sectors (DXB to North Am) and definitely inconsistent on flights in disparate sectors (DXB to South Asia for e.g.) The airlines with the most consistent product in F across multiple sectors are LH/LX and SQ. But even these “consistent” airlines fail miserably on the ground experience at several locations whereas they are brilliant at others. Compare LH F Class lounges in FRA (the terminal, in B or in A) with EWR and its night and day. At the end of the day, for me personally, the best F Class is the one that provides the most consistent – and efficient – service across the most categories. And one has to accept that its never going to be perfect all the time. Neither are we!

  35. Can we also see a post ranking the three major airline alliances? That would be fun. And maybe major airports or something idk just branching outwards here…

  36. I fully agree with Jay Jay on all the points. Interestingly there is a factor that is never mentioned here: For me by far the most important factor is being able to dine face-to-face with my significant other. So Swiss, Garuda and Etihad are fantastic while Emirates not so much. For me that is the main difference between F and C

  37. @Martin, for sure this is a personal opion but I don’t see how you can place BA behind United Global First? BA has direct lounge access from check in at LHR, better food, (slightly) better lounges in LHR, better seat, more consistent service, and their special services team are consistently amazing. They’re nowhere now where near the top ten, but they have to beat United and American in most people’s book.

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