A380 First Class Showdown: Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Singapore
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The A380 revolutionized commercial air travel and quickly became a favorite among passengers for the simple reason that bigger is better. In economy, A380s often feature wider seats and more generous pitch than comparatively smaller jets like the Boeing 777 and 787. In premium cabins, the difference can be even more noticeable, as the sheer amount of extra space has led to some truly incredible innovations. Be it onboard showers, bars and lounges, or fully-enclosed suites with separate chairs and beds, there simply isn’t anything like the A380.
- Video: Which First Class Is the Best on the A380?
- The Best Ways to Redeem Miles to Fly on an A380
- 10 Fun Facts About the Airbus A380
However, not every airline took advantage of all of the space this jumbo jet has to offer. Many carriers opted for larger versions of their standard first class seats, but a small number of A380 operators used this jet to redefine luxury travel. Today we’re going to take a look at how first class on the A380 stacks up between Emirates, Etihad and Singapore.
Before we get started, you can check out these reviews to see some of the most over the top seats in commercial aviation:
- Pursuing Perfection: Emirates First Class on the A380 From New York to Dubai
- A Little Less Lustrous but Still First Class: Etihad’s Apartment on the A380 From Abu Dhabi to New York
- Review: Singapore’s New A380 Suite, the World’s New Best First Class
And here’s TPG’s own video review of his experience onboard Singapore’s new suites:
First impressions matter, which is why each of these carriers has designed its respective A380 first class suites with luxury finishes and eye-catching designs.
Emirates has perhaps the most recognizable cabins in the world, thanks to a stunning amount of gold trim — from the suites to the bulkhead.
The cabin features 14 suites in a 1-2-1 layout, with three pairs in the middle and four seats along each window. Each seat is 23 inches wide with 86 inches of pitch.
You’ll find plenty to do within the confines of your suite, with a retractable mini bar on the side and a mirror/vanity in front of the TV.
If you’re feeling poetic up in the air, there’s even a writing kit (which you’re free to take with you).
The seats feel plenty roomy even with the doors closed, so you’ll have no problem stretching out and getting comfortable.
While Emirates operates A380s on some comically-short flights, you’ll want to pick the longest one possible so you can try everything on board. At the back of the upper deck, you’ll find a walk-up bar for first and business class passengers, and if you ask nicely, they’ll even let you take a photo behind it.
Meanwhile the front of the cabin features a display bar showing off the high-end alcohol Emirates serves.
Toward the end of the flight, the flight attendants will transform this into a soothing tea display.
However, what really sets Emirates apart is the onboard shower. Both of the first-class bathrooms double as shower suites, with each passenger allotted five minutes of water. You can turn the water on and off as much as you like, and while five minutes sounds short, it ends up being more than enough time.
The bathroom floors are heated for your comfort, and you’ll find two different sets of toiletries to pick from during your shower.
For a long time, Etihad held the honor of being the only carrier to operate an A380 with a single-aisle cabin. The cabin features nine first class apartments that are each 29.5 inches of wide with 80 inches of pitch — with the front blocked off as “The Residence.”
Those in the regular first class apartments will still enjoy a ton of space, with a separate chair and bench. Apartments alternate between forward and rear facing and between being closer to the window or closer to the aisle.
Apartments 1H/2H, 3A/4A and 3K/4K can be connected to form a quasi double bed for couples traveling together.
Each seat is equipped with a vanity, allowing you to freshen up from the privacy of your own apartment.
Etihad also technically has two shower suites, though with one reserved exclusively for passengers in The Residence, first class passengers will have to share the other one. Like Emirates, you’ll receive 5 minutes of water time.
Behind the first class cabin is a small lounge area, though many passengers will choose to socialize in their spacious apartments instead.
Singapore’s A380 first class product is better known as Singapore Suites, and the carrier actually operates two different configurations. The older version features 12 suites spread across the lower deck of the A380 in a 1-2-1 configuration, including the first double bed to ever fly.
This is still one of the top first-class products in the world, but never one to be complacent, Singapore has begun retrofitting its A380s with a completely-redesigned Suites class that puts other airlines to shame.
The new design is more intimate, with only six seats spread across three rows in a 1-1 configuration on the upper deck.
Suites in the first two rows can connect to form a true double bed.
Each suite also features a separate chair for lounging, which can swivel to face the TV or windows.
Singapore also redesigned the bathroom into a stunning vanity, giving you plenty of space to clean up after a long flight.
It should come as no surprise that the airlines willing to invest this much into developing industry-leading seats also put a strong emphasis on in-flight food, beverage and amenities.
Emirates has been known to serve some outrageously expensive alcohol, including Hennessy Paradis Imperial, which retails for over $2,200 a bottle — in addition to the “regular” $900 Hennessy Paradis.
You’ll currently find Emirates pouring Dom Perignon 2009 champagne in first class, though the airline has been known to swap in other limited-edition vintages from time to time.
While you’re enjoying a pre-departure glass of bubbly, you’ll find a snack basket waiting at your seat. Note that the flight attendants need to clear this before takeoff, though they’ll bring it back once the flight reaches cruising altitude — and clear it again before landing.
Emirates features a full, dine-on-demand service, meaning you can eat anything you want off the menu, whenever you want it. When I flew Emirates first class, I was incredibly jet-lagged and the flight attendants were happy to switch around the order of my breakfast and dinner.
On most flights, you can start your meal with a generous dollop of caviar and all the usual sides.
You’ll have your choice of main courses, but if you’ve ever wanted to try a perfectly-cooked steak at 38,000 feet, now’s your chance.
Another treat that’s signature to the Emirates experience: While you’re showering, the flight attendants will place a fruit plate with mango dipping sauce at your seat.
Emirates offers top-notch amenities as well, including separate his and hers Bulgari amenity kits and some of the most comfortable airline pajamas I’ve ever received.
You’ll even get an Emirates tote bag to take it all home with you.
Etihad rotates its champagne offering more frequently, often between Billecart Salmon and Charles Heidsieck, both of which are served on some beautiful glassware.
You’ll also find slightly more variation in Etihad’s menu depending on where you’re flying, though the “lounge and grill” section is pretty consistent.
Etihad recently added a caviar service in its A380 first class as well.
You can again expect a five-star dining experience, with perfectly cooked dishes customized as much as possible to your personal preferences by the onboard chef.
Despite some significant cost-cutting measures, Etihad still offers top-notch amenity kits with products by Acqua di Parma. These are similar to what you’ll find in business class, though the first class kits include much larger toiletries and a better-designed case.
While I haven’t had the chance to try it myself, Etihad’s blanket is supposed to be incredibly plush, to the point that several people have told me they wish they could buy one for their bed at home.
Boarding a flight in Singapore first class is a treat, but there are also challenges. Within a few minutes of settling in to your seat you’ll have to decide between Dom Perignon or Krug, as Singapore pours both high-end champagnes in first class.
All right, that may not fit the bill of a “challenge” in most travelers’ minds but does demonstrate just how luxurious Singapore’s soft product is.
Long-haul flights begin with a caviar service, though on shorter services (Singapore flies its A380 on many 4-6 hour flights) you’ll get a satay course instead.
From there, you can either order off the onboard menu or pre-order using the “Book the Cook” feature. This gives you access to dozens of options that aren’t otherwise catered on the flight, including the famous (and delicious) lobster thermidor.
I was also incredibly impressed with the light and fluffy mango cheesecake I was served, which wasn’t nearly as heavy as the name would suggest.
Singapore is a bit stingier with its take-home amenities, not offering pajamas or amenity kits on short- and medium-haul flights. As part of the launch of the new Suites class, Singapore redesigned its amenity kit in connection with Lalique, as well as its pajamas.
Fleet, Routes and Award Availability
Given how luxurious these products are, most of them sell for $10,000+ for a one-way ticket. Thankfully, you have several options to use points and miles to fly each.
Emirates is by far the world’s largest A380 operator, with 112 of the super jumbos in its fleet. You can find them flying to a number of US destinations from it’s Dubai (DXB) hub, including:
- Boston (BOS): daily A380 service ends Sept. 30, 2019
- Los Angeles (LAX): daily flight operated by an A380
- New York-JFK: all three daily frequencies operated by an A380, including the fifth-freedom route to Milan (MXP)
- San Francisco (SFO): daily flight operated by an A380
- Washington-Dulles (IAD): daily flight operated by an A380
These planes are also deployed throughout the carrier’s worldwide route network, from Madrid (MAD) to Melbourne (MEL) and Hamburg (HAM) to Hong Kong (HKG). First class award inventory out of the US isn’t outstanding, but as long as you’re flexible with dates and consider more than one of the above gateways, you should be able to find a seat.
You could book first-class award flights through Emirates’ own Skywards program — a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and a 2:1 transfer partner of Capital One — but that’ll require a significant outlay of miles and will incur fuel surcharges of several hundred dollars. Alaska used to be the best way to book these flights, but a sudden devaluation in 2016 pushed one-way award rates on Emirates from the US to the Middle East to a whopping 150,000 miles.
Your best bet may be Japan Airlines and its MileageBank program. The carrier’s award chart is distance-based, with the required mileage corresponding to the total distance of your award itinerary. While it’s less lucrative now than it was a year ago, this redemption scheme gets progressively more rewarding when you book round-trip flights. As an example, a one-way flight from JFK-DXB falls just under 7,000 miles in distance and would require 120,000 JAL miles. However, a round-trip itinerary on this route — clocking in at less than 14,000 miles in distance — would only need 165,000 miles.
Unfortunately, Japan Airlines requires you to fork over some hefty fuel surcharges, and they’re among the hardest miles to earn in the frequent flyer world. Nevertheless, for a top-notch experience like this, it may be worth figuring out how to make it happen.
Etihad has a much smaller fleet of A380s (ten), so you won’t find them on most flights to the US. Here are the current destinations with flights on the double-decker behemoth — all from the carrier’s Abu Dhabi (AUH) hub:
- London-Heathrow (LHR): three of five daily frequencies operated by an A380
- New York-JFK: daily flight operated by an A380
- Paris (CDG): both daily frequencies operated by an A380
- Seoul (ICN): daily flight operated by an A380
- Sydney (SYD): one of two daily frequencies operated by an A380
With only nine first-class seats, award availability on the JFK route is quite scarce, though it is now searchable on American’s website. Booking through the AAdvantage program would set you back 115,000 miles each way from the US to the Middle East, but if you book one of the European routes, you’d only need to fork over 62,500 miles. Granted that gives you much less time in the air, but it’s still a solid award in a fantastic product.
Singapore’s A380 fleet is much closer to Etihad’s in size, numbering just 19 active aircraft — though just five have the new Suites configuration (tail numbers 9V-SKU, 9V-SKV, 9V-SKW, 9V-SKY and 9V-SKZ). These planes currently fly to the following destinations out of Singapore:
- Hong Kong (HKG)
- London-Heathrow (LHR)
- Shanghai (PVG)
- Sydney (SYD)
- Zurich (ZRH)
However, there’s no guarantee that your A380 on these routes will feature the new configuration, as the older version may be swapped in.
Speaking of the older version, you’ll currently find it flying various other routes around the world — including New York-JFK to Singapore with a stop in Frankfurt (FRA).
As far as award availability goes, you’ll almost certainly be restricted to booking Singapore Suites through the carrier’s own KrisFlyer program, and as you’d expect for such a luxurious product, award availability is quite scarce. The program also increased award rates in early 2019, meaning you’d now need to redeem 86,000 miles for a one-way, Suites award ticket from JFK-FRA — or 132,000 if you wanted to continue on to Singapore from there. However, the program does allow you to waitlist for an award, which can be a fantastic option if your ideal itinerary isn’t available at the time of booking.
The A380 has helped take commercial air travel to a new level of luxury, and Emirates, Etihad and Singapore utilize the massive plane to offer three of the most popular, world-renowned first-class products out there. They also happen to be favorites of TPG. While it’s impossible to determine which one is the “best” given the subjectivity that would entail, all of them provide an incredible experience for travelers.
If you’re hoping to splurge on your next vacation, do your absolute best to snag one of these awards. Just be forewarned: You’ll never want to fly another way ever again.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Brian Kelly, JT Genter, Nick Ellis or Ethan Steinberg / The Points Guy.
Featured image by The Points Guy