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There are a number of international premium cabin products that are well worth getting excited about. Some offer something reasonably unique (like Etihad’s First Class suites), some offer fantastic service (like Cathay Pacific First Class) and some offer a pretty amazing all round experience (like Singapore Airlines Suites Class) but all of these are reasonably accessible to everyone as long as you can pull together enough miles/points for an award.
But there are a handful of premium cabin offerings that stand out above the pack because they have the magic combination of being both very good indeed and incredibly hard to book. One such example is the SWISS First Class offering on the airline’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
SWISS 777-300ER First Class
Under normal conditions SWISS First Class awards are only bookable by elite members of the Miles & More program but, for reasons I’m not entirely clear about, these awards briefly became available to all and sundry a couple of weeks ago.
While I already have most of my flights for 2018 booked and paid for (that’s what you call advance planning!) I still have an LA – Europe trip that I need to take next year and, amazingly, Aeroplan was showing availability for SWISS First Class in one direction on the exact date I need to fly.
My Aeroplan account shows a big fat zero as my account balance but I had the option of transferring Amex Membership Rewards points over to Aeroplan to cover the cost of the award.
Membership Rewards points convert over to Aeroplan in a ratio of 1:1….
…and, more importantly, they convert over instantly so I could book the award before it disappeared.
I have never flown SWISS First Class and it’s something I’ve wanted to try out for a few years so you can probably imagine how tempting it was to go ahead and make the booking….but I didn’t.
I agonised for quite some time but, in the end, two things stopped me from pulling the trigger.
1) I was worried about phantom award space showing on Aeroplan
Aeroplan was showing First Class award availability on SWISS but United was not (neither was LifeMiles but that didn’t surprise me).
I know that sometime Star Alliance partners appear have access to different inventory and that United.com isn’t always right, but this looked a little strange.
What was even more strange was the fact that the Aeroplan site was displaying something odd for the outbound leg of my journey.
For the LA – Zurich portion of my trip Aeroplan was showing no Business or First Class availability on SWISS – the only flights available were on other Star Alliance partners and they all involved a stopover:
When I searched for Los Angeles – London Business Class award availability on exactly the same dates, Aeroplan showed this:
Suddenly there was award space available on SWISS and on a non-stop flight between LA and Zurich as well.
On top of this United.com wasn’t showing any non-stop Star Alliance availability between LA and Zurich either:
I don’t book Star Alliance awards through Aeroplan very often so the thought of transferring over 110,000 Membership Rewards points only to then find out that the awards I was seeing online weren’t actually bookable wasn’t one I enjoyed entertaining.
On top of that I had another reason to be cautious.
2) I’m planning a big trip for Joanna, Mini-Joanna and I for 2019
I’m actually breaking one of my own rules here (the “don’t stockpile points” rule) but, as I know that I’m going to be needing a good arsenal of miles and points for the trip I’ve got planned for 2019, I’m loathed to fritter away any of my hard-earned balances.
I’m spending quite a bit of time outside of the US right now so I don’t get to manufacture points with any regularity…and that makes me value the points I already have even more.
Even leaving aside the possibility that I was seeing phantom award availability on Aeroplan I still had to ask myself if this was a good use of points or just me being a bit self-indulgent.
Did I really need to book a First Class ticket when I know that I’ll be needing all the miles and points I can lay my hands on when I start booking the 2019 trip in a few months time? Probably not.
How I Got Lucky
The SWISS First Class award availability disappeared pretty quickly and, a few days later, those who had actually booked the awards suddenly noticed that their reservations were being cancelled.
Apparently, SWISS hadn’t meant to release the award inventory that appeared and the airline systematically cancelled most (all?) of the awards that had been booked. There was no right of appeal.
Aeroplan has since offered mileage refunds or offered to open up Business Class award space on Air Canada to get travelers to their destinations…but neither of those would have been much use to me. I would have booked the award specifically to fly on SWISS.
Had I gone ahead and booked the SWISS First Class award I would have ended up with 110,000 miles stuck in an Aeroplan account that may or may not have been any use when it comes to booking flights for the 2019 trip.
Thankfully my self-restraint paid off and I still have the points in my Amex account from where I can transfer them to any of 16 airline transfer partners….and that’s a lot better than being limited to Aeroplan/Star Alliance.
I really, really wanted to book the SWISS First Class award (or at least try to) and I came very close to doing just that a couple of times…but I think common sense prevailed and I got lucky because of that.
At the time I didn’t enjoy passing up the chance to book a cabin that I know I will very rarely get the chance to book but at least I believed I was doing the right thing.
The irony here is that, ultimately, none of my concerns actually came to fruition – it was a very arrogant and customer-unfriendly act by SWISS that turned this opportunity sour…..and I didn’t see that coming.