Earlier this week, I posted about an incredible award redemption I booked: a 9-hour flight in Thai Airways first class for just 40,000 United miles. That’s less than the current sign-up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (and points transfer instantly to United), so you can book a similar experience after meeting the minimum spend for a single credit card — with thousands of points to spare. How crazy is that!
So, considering how incredible this deal was — and the fact that this was one of my most enjoyable flights to date — I wanted to run through some of the highlights before I dig into all of the details in a full review…
I covered this in much more detail here, but Thai Airways first class represents an incredible value when you redeem United MileagePlus miles for a flight between Australia or New Zealand and Southeast Asia. For just 40,000 miles (or 40,000 Chase points), I was able to book nine hours in the nose of Thai’s 747-400. And we got all of the amenities that come along with a paid ticket, including access to the phenomenal Singapore first-class lounge in Sydney, a VIP escort in Bangkok and an hour-long massage before our connecting flight to Hanoi.
2. The first-class cabin was completely empty.
The first-class cabin on this version of Thai’s 747 has a total of nine seats, and only two were occupied on our flight — I was in one and my friend was in the other. I can’t even begin to tell you how special it was to have the entire nose of a 747 all to ourselves — the loads are often pretty light on flights between Sydney and Bangkok, and I’ve heard from readers that have had a similar experience flying Thai. While it’s not typical to score an entirely empty first-class cabin, there’s a good chance you’ll be flying with several open seats. And that also means you’re more likely to see first-class awards open up just before departure.
3. We had Singapore’s lounge to ourselves, too.
The check-in agent in Sydney directed us to the Air New Zealand Lounge before departure, but there’s something way better: Singapore’s new first-class lounge, which is accessible to passengers traveling in first class on partner airlines, too. Singapore’s Sydney flights depart at 7:55am and 11:00am, so there weren’t any SQ passengers in the lounge when we visited a bit after 9. and And because none of the other passengers on our Thai flight were traveling in first class, we ended up being the only travelers in the Singapore lounge during our 20-minute visit. We had a personal attendant who took very good care of us during our short stay — as you’ll see in the full flight review later this week.
4. Caviar and Dom Perignon
If you’ve only flown first class on US-based airlines, you’ve probably never had caviar or fancy Champagne in the sky. After all, the only addition on United’s own flights is a soup course, while on some international carriers (like Asiana and Lufthansa) you can expect much improved service and catering in first class — compared to the experience passengers receive back in biz. Thai Airways is no exception, offering Dom Perignon Champagne (even on the ground), top-shelf liquor like Johnnie Walker Blue, a full caviar spread and a dozen dishes you can order ahead of the flight.
5. Large, comfy seats. And lots of amenities.
A lie-flat bed has been a must in first class for years, but a couple top airlines (Etihad in particular) have really stepped up their in-flight comfort game, with onboard showers, on-demand dining and (relatively) large private suites. While Thai doesn’t have those perks, the airline’s 747 still offers a very comfortable ride, thanks to amenities like high-quality pillows, mattress pads and blankets, hard-shell Rimowa amenity kits, a decent amount of in-seat storage space and more. So while Thai doesn’t offer the very best first-class product, it was very comfortable, especially considering I redeemed just 40,000 miles for the flight.
6. A free hour-long massage at BKK.
First-class passengers get a free one-hour massage while transiting Bangkok Airport, while business-class travelers get 30 minutes. Because we were arriving on a first-class flight we got the full hour, even though our connecting flight was in Thai business. The massage was fantastic — I opted for a 30-minute foot massage and a 30-minute neck and shoulder massage. It might seem a little silly to get so excited about an hour-long massage, given that a comparable experience would run you, say, $10 in much of Southeast Asia, but I still think this is a tremendous perk — it really helps you wind down before or after a long flight.
Given how fantastic this experience was, I would have been happy redeeming 80,000 miles or more — to get all of this plus two business-class flights (Auckland to Sydney and Bangkok to Hanoi) for just 40,000 United miles was absolutely incredible, especially when you consider that all this could be had for less than the 50,000 points you’ll earn once you meet the minimum-spend requirement with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.