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Air France’s La Premiere is, both on the ground and onboard, one of the best first class products on earth and certainly the best in Europe. It is also devilishly difficult to book with points and very expensive to book with cash. Here’s the best way I know to fly the product for a more reasonable, though still expensive, price.
Why it’s so hard to fly La Premiere
La Premiere tickets can be booked with cash or points, and both are expensive. Cash prices are often more than $10,000 each way and, unlike other airlines, booking with points is generally not a good alternative. There are two reasons for that:
- Award tickets are expensive. A one-way first class ticket from New York to Paris costs 220,000 Flying Blue miles–and that’s the cheapest these tickets get. That number of miles could get you two round-trip business class tickets on the same route.
- Only Platinum members can book La Premiere award tickets. Even if you have the miles needed to book, you’ll need Platinum status, Flying Blue’s highest level of elite status, to book it. Earning Platinum requires earning 580 XP which, for reference, would require flying from New York to Paris and back nearly six times in La Premiere. I figured out what it would take for me to do a Platinum status run and it was wild.
The solution: paid upgrade to La Premiere from business class
If you want to fly La Premiere, I’ve found that paid upgrades from business are the most cost-effective solution, generally reducing the overall ticket price by around 70%. Here’s how to do it:
- Look on Google Flights for days in the next few weeks on which your intended route has three or four available first class seats. To do this, enter your origin and destination, view only Air France tickets, and select “4” passengers on the top left side of the screen. Open the calendar by clicking on the date field and you’ll see all the days on which four first class tickets are available. If you have a subscription, you can also check availability on ExpertFlyer, though I prefer Google Flights, which has a nicer UI and is free.
- If one of those dates works for you, book a business class ticket on points on that day. You can use Air France’s Flying Blue or a partner program to book.
- 30 hours before your flight, check in. If there are still La Premiere seats available, you will be offered the option of a paid upgrade during the online check-in process when you choose seats. You can also complete this process over the phone or at the airport.
A few pieces of advice to maximize the odds of this working and lower your costs:
- Book your flight within two weeks of departure: The closer to the date of travel you book your flight the more likely a La Premiere seat will be available 30 hours before your flight
- Fly to non-US destinations: Upgrades are cheaper on non-US-bound routes. If I’m going back to the West Coast, for example, I’ll book Paris to Mexico City, and then book another connecting flight to the US
- Fly out of Paris: Upgrades are cheaper on routes out of Paris
How much you could save: a real-life example
On a recent flight from Frankfurt to Mexico City, I paid 65,000 miles and $385 in fees for a business class ticket through Paris and paid $1645.20 to upgrade the ticket to La Premiere on check-in. Valuing Flying Blue miles at 1.3 cents apiece, that’s an all-in cost of $2875—not cheap, but a good value considering the same ticket retails for about $9,500. It’s also great value considering this award ticket would cost around 230,000 miles—about $3000 worth of points.
If, like me, you have lucid dreams about La Premier but don’t have the cash to make those dreams a reality, upgrading at check-in from a business class award ticket is probably the way to go. Especially if you’re coming back from Europe to the US, you can expect to save around 70% or more on ticket costs and enjoy a relatively high probability of success upgrading. If, on the other hand, you’re not strangely obsessed with La Premier, there are other excellent, cheaper, and guaranteed-to-work ways of crossing the Atlantic in first class.