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One of the biggest differences between flying in first class and in business class on a long-haul international flight is the ground experience. Business-class passengers have access to a comfy lounge to relax preflight, but some airlines pull out all the stops for first-class passengers. This can include preflight spa treatments, restaurant-quality meals, a tarmac transfer to the plane and, of course, some high-end Champagne. Here’s what you can expect when the bubbly is served.
Note that these samplings are usually taken in the main hub lounge of each airline. Many carriers offer different selections in their lounges in other airports or in their contract lounges. Selections can also vary over time.
Access: Singapore Airlines first-class and suites passengers
Champagne: Dom Pérignon 2009 ($180)
Singapore Airlines has one of the most extensive wine programs in the air and on the ground. When you board a flight in first class or suites, you can look forward to being asked one of the most over-the-top questions: “Would you prefer Dom Pérignon or Krug today?” On the ground your selection is limited to just the 2009 Dom Pérignon vintage, but it’s excellent. The Private Room lounge is actually located within the first-class lounge, which itself is located within the SilverKris lounge. You’ll need to walk through two nested lounges before you can redeem your golden invitation for entrance to The Private Room.
Access: Qatar Airways first-class passengers
Champagne: Pommery 2002 Cuvée Louise Brut ($140)
Having an entire first-class lounge might seem a little excessive, given that Qatar only has a handful of planes with a true first-class cabin (the introduction of Qsuites made first class somewhat obsolete). The catch is that Qatar treats the forward cabin on many of its short regional flights as first class and grants them access to the Al Safwa lounge in Doha. According to reports, Qatar has also sold access to business-class passengers for $100 or less, which means you can recoup your entire cost with just a few glasses of the delicious Pommery 2002 Cuvée Louise Brut on offer.
Access: British Airways first-class passengers and Executive Club members who earn over 5,000 tier points in a year
Champagne: Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle ($150)
British Airways doesn’t offer the world’s most refined first-class experience but the Concorde Room lounges at London Heathrow and New York-JFK make visitors feel truly special. The lounges feature private cabanas and complimentary spa treatments, and British Airways serves the same incredible Champagne on the ground that it does in the air. (When I flew British Airways first class recently, my flight attendant repeatedly tried to pour me the business-class Champagne, so check the bottle to make sure you’re getting the good stuff.)
Access: Lufthansa and Swiss first-class passengers and Miles & More HON circle elites
Champagne: Pommery 2004 Cuvée Louise Brut ($120)
The Lufthansa first-class terminal in Frankfurt takes the departure experience to a whole new level, offering passengers a separate building for preflight pampering. Security and immigration are all conducted in this building and when it’s time to leave, a luxury German sports car will drive you across the tarmac to your waiting plane. The food and beverage options in the first-class terminal are incredible as well. It’s hard to pass up the full-service restaurant and the Pommery 2004 Cuvée Louise Brut.
Swiss First Class LoungeThe outdoor terraces and binoculars at Swiss’ premium lounges in Zurich make it easy to pass the time during a long layover
Access: Swiss first-class passengers and HON circle elites
Champagne: Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut ($85)
Swiss first class is one of the hardest products to book using points and miles as the carrier doesn’t release any award space to partner programs and restricts first-class award bookings to Miles & More elite members. If you’re able to snag a seat, the Swiss first-class experience is incredible from start to finish. The lounge in Zurich features a massive outdoor terrace for plane spotting and free binoculars, similar to the business-class lounge. In addition to the delicious Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut, the Senator lounge also features a whiskey bar with more than 220 different varieties from around the world.
Etihad is the only airline to offer a cabin beyond first class, with the three-room “residence” available exclusively on its Airbus A380 aircraft. The residence features a personalized butler service to adjust your onboard food and drink to your personal preferences and it also includes access to a dedicated lounge in Abu Dhabi. There you’ll find Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs 2004 Champagne, which sells for close to $200 per bottle.
US airlines aren’t known for their first-class beverage offerings, but Delta SkyClub guests can enjoy some of the best Champagne out there. Whether you gain your access from Delta elite status, a premium-cabin ticket, or a credit card (such as The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express), you can choose to pay cash or redeem your Delta SkyMiles for a bottle of Champagne to consume before the flight. The current options are:
- Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial 187 mL: $14/700 miles
- Laurent Perrier La Cuvee Brut 375 mL: $22/1,100 miles
- Laurent Perrier La Cuvee Rose Brut 750 mL: $80/4,000 miles
- Dom Pérignon 2009 Brut 750 mL: $250/12,500 miles
While Champagne is certainly an unconventional redemption of your miles, Delta’s pricing is incredibly reasonable. You could buy a bottle of Dom Pérignon 2009 for less at a store, but Delta is offering you the chance to redeem your SkyMiles for two cents each, which is above TPG UK’s valuation of them at 0.9p each.
With all the airlines on this list, the Champagne experience starts well before you get on the plane. Some of them (like British Airways) stick high taxes on their award tickets, so responsibly enjoying a few glasses of Champagne before you board can go a long way toward helping you recoup those costs.
Know before you go.
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