As I mentioned way back in part one of this trip report, I originally booked us flights home from Portugal on British Airways via London using American Airlines miles. These flights cost 57,500 miles plus $350 per person in taxes and fees. Keep those taxes and fees in mind as I describe what we did instead.
To track availability for and changes to award flights, I use an annual subscription to ExpertFlyer. It allows me to set alerts for flight time and aircraft changes, along with availability of award seats, including Lufthansa First Class seats.
Lufthansa opens seats in First Class to their airline partners no more than 15 days before the flight. More likely, it will be less than seven days out before you see any availability. This is obviously based on how many seats are left to sell on the flight. If it’s sold out, it’s sold out. There are only eight seats in the First Class cabins on the 747-8i and A340-600 and not every US route features these aircraft. It’s important to research which routes have First Class for your dates by using Google Flights and setting the options for First Class and Lufthansa to narrow down your potential routes.
About a month before our trip, I started looking at potential available seats on US-bound Lufthansa flights. Based on the seat maps on ExpertFlyer, it became apparent that there were three possible flights that might have two open First Class seats on the day we were flying back from Europe. Those options were: Frankfurt-Newark, Munich-Boston and Frankfurt-Washington Dulles. Other routes were either full or almost full already.
The best way to book Lufthansa First Class seats is via Avianca LifeMiles. I had a lot of LifeMiles in my account as we had planned to book Turkish Airlines business class seats for four of us on our return from a safari in January 2023. Unfortunately, those seats never opened, so I booked through KLM instead. Now I had a big LifeMiles balance in place to use for a last minute booking. LifeMiles charges 87,000 miles plus about $150 per person in taxes and fees for Lufthansa First Class. Air Canada Aeroplan and United also do not pass on any fuel surcharges for Lufthansa First Class, but they do charge more miles per ticket than Avianca LifeMiles.
I set alerts for the three flights and investigated how we might position to Munich or Frankfurt and get home to Atlanta from one of the US cities. My goal was to either use a reasonable amount of miles and points for the positioning or pay a reasonable cash fare that was not more than the amount I would get refunded from canceling our American Airlines award booking on British Airways (about $350pp).
It looked more and more like the Frankfurt-Newark route would be most likely option for us to snag First Class seats. About a week before we left, I set a Google Flights price alert for a Lisbon-Frankfurt flight on Lufthansa that would get us to Frankfurt a few hours before the flight to Newark. I was hoping I could book refundable tickets just in case the First Class availability never opened for us. I also found flights from Newark to Atlanta in the evening a few hours after the Lufthansa flight arrived using 9,000 SkyMiles per person. Main Cabin SkyMiles tickets are fully refundable so no worries there.
A couple of days before we left for Portugal, the Lisbon-Frankfurt morning flight on Lufthansa had a huge price drop to about $350 per person in refundable business class. I went ahead and booked it, figuring that it wouldn’t get any lower and that there was a good chance we would need it if those elusive First Class seats opened up on a Frankfurt route. Remember that $350pp number from our previously booked American Airlines award tickets.
As we left for our trip, our return flights were now 10 days away and no availability was showing for any of the potential flights. However, Lufthansa had opened two seats on several different days on those routes leading up to our flight date of May 31st so I had some hope.
We were having a great time in Portugal as you would know if you’ve read the rest of this trip report. We arrived at the Penha Longa Resort on Sunday afternoon May 29th. I checked my email and lo and behold, ExpertFlyer let me know that two First Class seats were open on the Frankfurt-Washington Dulles flight!
I sprang into action. First, I checked LifeMiles to make sure the seats were showing available on their website and they were. As mentioned above, I had booked a positioning flight from Newark to Atlanta but not from Washington Dulles to Atlanta. However, I found availability on a very late United flight (10pm) also using LifeMiles (7500 miles per person).
I asked my wife about the possibility of a six hour layover in DC on the way home and how open she was to that. Keep in mind that we had a six hour layover in London anyway if we kept the British Airways flights. She reminded me that we could try and meet up with our daughter and her brother’s family for dinner as our daughter is working in DC for the summer and her brother lives in Bethesda. Perfect!
I booked the Lufthansa First Class flight and the United flight using LifeMiles. We now had our LIS-FRA-IAD-ATL itinerary booked. Next, I canceled the American Airlines award tickets (LIS-LHR-ATL) and the Delta SkyMiles award flights (EWR-ATL) as we would not need those anymore. The miles and fees were refunded quickly.
I reached out to Lufthansa via Twitter and got them to link the two separate Lufthansa flights so we could check our bags through from Lisbon to Washington without retrieving them in Frankfurt. I also tried to get us seated together but unfortunately, we got the last two seats on the Frankfurt-Washington flight, so we were sitting in 1A and 3K on opposite sides of the cabin. You’ll see from my review on my blog that it made very little difference to our enjoyment of the flight.
While this all sounds very complicated, it was easy to pull off. You just have to have the positioning flights ready to go if you need more than just the Germany to US flight to get where you are going.
Next up: Getting Home from Portugal
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