How I ended up flying first class for the price of economy
"QUICK! Check this out, can this be right?" I thrust my laptop at my husband in disbelief. While searching for return tickets to London using Qantas Frequent Flyer points, I've somehow landed on a flight with a truly magical word beside it: First.
First Class doesn't exist in my world; it's a far-off fantasy land, hidden from sight and spoken about in hushed tones. It's the place you send to send all frustrations and anger when you're squashed up against an overpacker who sounds like they've swallowed a water buffalo along with their bangers and mash, down the back in cattle class.
But here, on the screen right now, it's flashing it's mythical unicorn mane as plain as day. In disbelief, we search again on another computer and come up with the same result. We've somehow managed to secure an Emirates Rewards flight that includes a First Class leg from Dubai to London, and Business Class for the entire flight home to Brisbane. For less than it would have cost us for an economy return fare.
There is a caveat: Our flight starts with a schlep in economy from Brisbane to Adelaide and then on to Dubai. Annoying? Slightly. Worth it? Absolutely! There's something to be said for earning your reward and it makes the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2008 in the Emirates First Lounge class in Dubai - after a long, hot shower - taste all the more sweet.
We pass the exclusive First Class-only Duty Free stores and see the chefs and pastry chefs in the glass-encased kitchen before taking a seat in the restaurant. Champagne is poured and a pastry basket placed down on the table in front of us with a perfectly gooey pain et chocolat. As well as the expansive buffet, there's a full a la carte menu and with more time I would have nipped into the spa.
When you fly First Class on the Best Airline in the World, you don't deign walk onto the plane with everyone else. There's a separate gangway for First and Business Class guests directly from the First Class lounge. We're greeted by a gaggle of beaming stewards, eager to show us to our suites.
This is where those oft-dreamt about flight fantasies are realised - the space, the privacy, the lavish attention to detail! Our cabin manager, Anton, introduces himself to each guest personally and asks if we need anything before a procession of champagne - Dom Pérignon 2006 vintage, no less - Arabic coffee, dates, newspapers and magazines, hot towels, menus, and slippers and eye mask are gifted and happily received. Would we like canapés? Nuts?
We're asked what time we'd like to shower and since we're talking life admin, we order meals to be served after our showers, around two hours before landing.
We're flying on an A380-800 with 14 private suites in First Class in a 1-2-1 configuration so everyone has aisle access. As a couple we can slide down the privacy screen in between us in 1E and 1F, though it's really all about being selfish in First Class, anyway.
There's a pop-up mini bar with bottles of Perrier, juice and soda operated with the touch of a button, noise-cancelling headphones, a basket of snacks, hanging space for clothes, plenty of room for carry-on, a drawer holding a writing kit, and a vanity mirror compartment hiding Templespa skin balms and 'sniff boxes' for Focus and Sleep.
We ask for pyjamas, which come encased in a felt folder. It's not an overnight flight but I'm not going to miss the chance to road-test the moisturising, seaweed-infused PJs launched by Emirates in earlier this year, which promise to keep your skin soft and supple.
It's a strictly trolley-free zone in First Class and meals are ordered more like room service, served on demand.
I feel a little peckish before our pre-ordered meals are due to arrive so order the mezze, which covers the entire white tablecloth-covered table.
The menu has a heart icon to mark their Healthy meals options and since I'm ordering my weight in cheese for dessert, I follow up my starter with the grilled kingfish with tomato and olive salsa served with steamed parsley potatoes, green beans and beetroot batons.
Of course, to really bring out the flavour of the fish, it would be remiss of me to skip the exclusive wine list.
We happen to be flying while the Dom Pérignon 2005 Rosé is featured on the First Class menu for three months - the only place you can sip it in the sky, which I happily do while noshing on nuts.
With my generous cheese platter for dessert, I enjoy the 1963 Graham's Colheita Port - crushed by foot, considered one of the best of the 20th century, and not available to buy anywhere else in the world.
I avoid locking eyes with anyone standing at the bottom of the stairs as I slip into one of the two shower suites for fear of copping an eyeful of daggers.
The size is actually incredible - literally larger than the hotel bathroom we will discover we have in London later that day. Underfloor heating can be adjusted to your liking and the shower delivers five minutes of surprisingly strong water pressure. Oversized fluffy towels await and there's even a hair dryer alongside the line-up of amenities.
Like a dream you never want to end, inevitably it has to. Armed with First Class express passes when we land in Gatwick, we breeze through immigration, grab our bags with their First Class priority tickets and stroll out to find a chauffeur waiting to whisk us into the city.
Sorry Economy, but I've left my heart in First Class and I'm not sure if I'll ever really get it back.
HOW TO HACK THE SYSTEM
●Join airline membership programs and earn points any way you can - flying, credit cards, booking via affiliations like Airbnb and Qantas Hotels.
●Transfer from family members who are more flush with points. I 'borrowed' 100,000 points from my dad for this trip.
SEARCH DIFFERENT ROUTES AND DATES
●We looked at Brisbane and Sydney departures and clicked 'flexible with dates' to check the calendar vs. just certain dates.
SEARCH POINTS REWARDS VS POINTS AND PAY
●I couldn't find any Business Class options within my budget when searching Points and Pay, but when I searched 'Classic Flight Rewards' and selected all travel classes there were more options on varying flight options.
WIDEN SEARCH TO ALL AIRPORTS IN BIG CITIES
●Our flights go through Gatwick rather than Heathrow and while at first glance, it may seem a longer schlep into the city, the benefits far outweigh any transit time. There are almost no other non-EU travellers arriving, meaning no queues at customs.
IT DOESN'T ALWAYS HAVE TO BE MONTHS IN ADVANCE
●We booked our flights two months before travel and scored First Class on the first leg, but only Business Class on the way home, eight months down the track. It all depends on the availability of seats.
All in all, our flights cost less than what a sale economy return fare was going to cost us (which also would have left us with no potential to throw our hat into the ring for a upgrade with points).
Total cost: $1339 (for taxes) and 255,000 points each.
When you consider we would have had to fly the Qantas-operated flight in order to potentially upgrade (at 30,000 points just for the Dubai to London leg) to Business Class (around $2400 each at time of searching), we were miles - or 26 seat rows - ahead.
The writer travelled at own expense.