The Best Bars & Lounges on Airplanes (A380s, 777s, & More) [2020]

There’s a handful of aircraft out there that take the flying experience to the next level by offering bar and lounge areas for passengers to relax in. There are six different commercial airlines to date that offer true bar experiences on board: Emirates, Etihad, Korean Air, Qatar, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia.

There is a seventh is on its way as well with ANA (other airlines might have mini-bar areas but I’m not counting those.)

Brad and I were able to try out each of these six bars recently as part of one mega, round the world trip that lasted an entire moth. Each of the bars had something special to offer but some of the bars stood out more than others. Here’s my list of the best bars on airplanes and why I thought each bar earned its spot on the list.

Interested in finding out the top travel credit cards for this month? Click here to check them out! 

Things to know about the bars

Before I get into the list of the top bars, I wanted to point out a few things that I noticed about visiting these bars that you should be aware of. Knowing these will hopefully help you have a better day/night/14 hours at the bar.

The bars are usually in the back of business class

If you’re flying first class, chances are that the bar is going to be near the opposite side of the plane from where you’re sitting.

This means it’s going to be a little bit of a hike to get back to the first class cabin as you make your way through a dimly lit, narrow aisle with endless rows of passengers sound asleep. If you get a little wobbly after a couple of drinks, this is something to consider.

Only first class and business class passengers get access

These bars are only available to business class and/or first class passengers. Some bars may allow economy passengers access in the future *gasp* but for now unless you’re flying in business class or first class, chances are you won’t have access to the bar.

There are exclusive first class bars

Some of these aircraft have special areas reserved just for first class. This might be where they store the more premium drinks so if you go to those bars you can self serve yourself some of the most premium alcohol at your own mini (open) bar for hours on end.

Be easy on the self-service

On Virgin Australia, a crew member told us tales of people finding their way behind the bar and bar tending themselves. In most cases, you’re not allowed behind the bar and so you shouldn’t take that as your chance to show off why you should have been a mixologist. Just flag down a crew member for help.

The exception to this would be those exclusive first class bars where self service is encourages. Also, you usually can get a photo-op behind the bar so long as you ask the crew first.

Bring your premium drinks to the bar

If you’re flying first class and have special access to super-premium drinks like Dom Perignon you might want to request for them to be brought to the bar so that you can partake with it at the bar. Just try not to make everybody too jealous.

A little turbulence is okay

If you’re at the bar and turbulence hits, they’ll probably just ask you to sit down (and possibly strap in to the seat belt). If it’s really bad they might clear off the bar and then possibly ask you to return to your seat. But if it’s just a few bumps for a little while, you’ll probably be okay just hanging out at the bar.

The bars can re-up anytime

If you’re at the bar and notice your preferred drink of choice is getting low or empty, you can request for that drink to be taken from the galley and they’ll probably bring it out to the bar for you or at least pour you a glass.

The bars can get crowded

The bars on planes can get very crowded so you might want to try to time your visit.

The bars take a little while to get set-up. Chances are they won’t have the bar set up until about 15 minutes after reaching altitude. If you really want to check out these bars (and get photos) you might want to get there as soon as they open because they can get quite crowded.

You’ll likely want to return to the bar later because they usually adjust the lighting at the bar throughout the flight and I always found the lighting to be better and more interesting later on in the flight.

Don’t be one of those people

A lot of people underestimate how much easier it is to get hungover on a plane. A lot of people are also d-bags when they drink. Don’t be one of those people.

Emirates first class champagne.

So that’s it for the tips and below is the list of the best bars. If you want to find more about how I used miles to book these flights you can follow the links found below.

6. Virgin Atlantic 787

Virgin Atlantic gets some points because they have their bars fitted on multiple aircraft. Whether you’re flying the 747, 787, A330, A340, you’ll find a bar on board (except for the new A330-200s). The design and layout of the bar is a bit different for some of these but we flew on the 787 Dreamliner so that’s what I’m going to focus on.

The bar on the Virgin Atlantic 787 is located at the end of the Upper Class cabin and it’s very open — there are no curtains acting as a divider to the rest of the cabin. This means that bar-goers can create a lot of noise in a hurry and might need to be shushed, which puts a bit of a damper on the experience.

Virgin Atlantic 787 bar.

If you’re taking a day-flight from the East Coast to the UK, the odds are probably higher that more people will be visiting the bar and noise might be an issue. Since we departed LAX on a late flight, most people were snoozing away for most of the flight and noise wasn’t an ongoing problem.

While the bar area is quite small, it’s extremely sleek once the flight gets underway and the cabin crew turns the mood lighting on. There are only a couple of stools to relax on on the 787, so you might be standing if you want to check out the bar.

Snacks are offered at the bar but they were among my least favorite out of all of the bars we tried. So while the Virgin Atlantic bar is pretty striking, it’s my least favorite due to the small size and lack of food and drink options.

Virgin Atlantic 787 bar.
Virgin Atlantic 787 bar.

5. Etihad A380 — “The Lobby”

The Etihad A380 is a magnificent aircraft. While only flown on six routes, it’s a thing of beauty especially its first class cabin which is home to the Apartment (and the Residence) not to mention a shower as well. The bar on the Etihad A380 is known as “The Lobby” and it’s open to both first class and business class customers.

The Lobby reminds me of a booth you’d reserve at a nice lounge or wine bar where you’re there just to relax and chat with colleagues. It’s not a large area, but there’s room for about six people to relax on some comfortable seating and take advantage of power outlets if needed.

There’s no bartender present in the room for the most part so it’s a good place to have a private conversation/business meeting. The crew will come by to serve you up some drinks and/or serve you up some light snacks but you kind of feel like you are on your own at The Lobby and the snacks aren’t very extensive.

The Lobby on the Etihad on the A380.

Overall, The Lobby is a cool place worth checking out but it’s not the most memorable in-flight bar out there. It’s also a bar that’s one of the tougher to find since Etihad only flies the A380 to six cities:

  • New York
  • Mumbai
  • London
  • Paris
  • Melbourne
  • Sydney

4. Korean Air A380 — “The Celestial Bar”

The Korean Air A380 houses the aptly-named Celestial Bar which is one of the most interesting bars in the sky. This cosmo-inspired bar is a pretty spacious area with comfy benches to relax on and a bartender who remains on-duty at all times.

Korean Air A380 Celestial Bar.

The Celestial serves up a whole roster of vodka drinks, which you can order from their special menus. Many of the drinks, served in martini glasses, are pretty satisfying but if you’re not a vodka person, you may want to bring your own wine, champagne, or beer with you from your seat.

They’ll also have a good mix of savory snacks and desserts on a rotation, some of which consisted of tasty items I’d never tried before.

Korean Air A380 Celestial Bar.

The Korean Air A380 actually has two other smaller bar/lounge areas, including one on the bottom deck of the A380 that’s exclusive to first class passengers. In this area, you can have more snacks all to yourself and also fix up your own drink, making it as potent as you’d like.

The first class bar on the A380.

Oh yeah, and I realize it’s not a bar but I felt the need to point out that there’s also a duty-free shop on the Korean A380 as well.

Duty-free shop on the Korean Air A380.

3. Virgin Australia 777 — “The Bar”

The Virgin Australia 777 is home to a beautiful bar area located between the two business class cabins on the 777. This is one of the toughest bars to fly on because LAX is pretty much the only place that these 777s fly to from Australia.

On our visit, the bar tender/flight attendant got the party started for us and the bar ended up being the funnest experience out of all of these in-flight bars during our flight from SYD to LAX. The nice vibe I got at the bar is why I’ve put this bar at number 3 — it was truly an enjoyable bar visit.

There’s a decent selection of beverages to choose from, including a selection of whiskies like Maker’s Mark and Aussie wines, though no truly premium drink is served.

Virgin Australia bar on the 777.

You can snack on chips, chocolates, and some other light bites and check out a nice selection of magazines as well. If you ever find yourself in need of a refill with no bartender in sight, there’s a call button located at the bar you can use to get service as soon as you can.

The back side of the bar has an iconic Virgin Australia logo and makes the bar look pretty epic with the right lighting.

2. Emirates A380

The Emirates A380 is another pretty magnificent aircraft. It’s got an amazing first class complete with tricked-out suites and even showers. But it also has one of the best onboard bars that’s open to both business class and first class passengers.

There’s also a lot of tasty desserts and snacks to choose from like olives, fruits, and even some sandwiches. I really liked this bar because the cabin crew was great, the snacks were on-point, and the crowds never got that bad. It’s also a pretty cool looking bar.

Emirates A380 bar.

The bar area is pretty spacious and I thought it was great for socializing. If you have a middle seat in business or first class, you can come out to the bar and enjoy the views for a while, too.

Emirates A380 bar.

Emirates also has a special bar only available to first class passengers which is found at the front of the plane. This is where they store the high-end stuff like Dom Perignon and Hennessy Paradis, which is a Henny that goes for close to $800 per bottle.

The Emirates first class bar on the A380.

There’s also new version of the bar being rolled out which steps up the elegance game but we really enjoyed this version.

1. Qatar Airways A380

Qatar also has a beautiful A380, including an awesome first class cabin. While there’s no shower on board the Qatar A380, I think Qatar has to win for the best bar. The bar area is just immaculate with beautiful lighting and decor that exudes elegance.

The design of the bar is also seamless and it’s put together in a way that’s perfect for socializing and relaxing. The only problem with the bar is that it’s very popular with passengers and can start to fill up pretty quickly.

The Qatar A380 onboard bar.

Qatar serves Krug in first class but not in business class. However, you can still get served Krug at the bar even as a business class passenger, which is a major plus for this bar.

The snacks, desserts, and canapé offered at the bar are gourmet and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a bar at the Ritz-Carlton. Even the glassware and silverware has an elegant feel to it. For all of the reasons above, I have to give Qatar the nod as the best airplane bar experience.

Qatar doesn’t operate its A380 on many true long-haul flights but you can find it on the following routes:

  • Bangkok
  • Guangzhou
  • London
  • Melbourne
  • Paris
  • Sydney

Final word

Getting out and stretching your legs in a bar is a fantastic way to refresh on a long-haul flight. Some of these bars will amaze you with great drinks and atmospheres so much that you’ll forget your on a plane.

Stack Promos to Fly Virgin Australia Business for ~$1,500

There’s currently a Virgin Australia promotion being offered that will allow you to fly on Virgin Australia’s amazing business class for around $1,500!

There are two versions of the promotion. The first allows you to earn up to a 40% bonus when transferring points from select partners to Virgin Australia until May 31, 2018. To receive this 40% bonus, you need to transfer a lot of points but more importantly those points need to come from Australian-based rewards systems including:

  • Australian American Express Card Members, including David Jones American Express Card Members enrolled in the Membership Rewards program (this offer excludes American Express New Zealand Card Members)
  • NAB Rewards
  • Citibank
  • HSBC Rewards (Platinum and Premier credit card holders only)
  • Diners Club Reward
  • Card Services Rewards
  • Bank of Queensland and Q Rewards (Platinum credit card holders only)
  • Suncorp Bank Rewards

SPG 20% bonus

They are also offering a 20% transfer bonus from the following partners:

  • ANZ Rewards
  • ANZ Business Rewards
  • flybuys
  • Shangri-La
  • Accor hotels
  • Hilton
  • SPG Starwood
  • IHG
  • Choice hotels

SPG is going to make the most sense here since it will allow you to fly The Business for cheap. 

When they offered this 20% promotion last year, I jumped on it accidentally. I needed to transfer SPG points to Virgin Australia and I had no idea this promo was going on in the Land Down Under until I checked my points balance and saw a hefty bonus.

This is exciting because there’s currently a 35% bonus promotion on buying SPG points. (It also ends May 31st). This means that you could purchase 30,000 SPG miles for $682 (plus tax). If you did that twice (you’d need two SPG accounts with the same address to freely transfer the points), that’s be 60,000 SPG points which converts to 75,000 Virgin Australia points.

With the 20% bonus that’s 90,000 Virgin Australia points which is just 5,500 miles short of being able to fly The Business between Sydney and the US. You could use a third account to purchase those miles or purchase them through Virgin Australia.

I recently flew this product and loved it. The tickets can cost up to $8,000+ so you’d be able to get a ticket for somewhere around $1,500 purely by purchasing points. Or you could go for a Marriott card which would earn you 33,000 SPG points and lower your cost.

Either way, this promotion is one of the best ways to fly Virgin Australia’s business class for a fraction of the price. Booking Virgin Australia with partners like Delta is difficult because they usually only allow you to book rewards a couple of weeks from departure so if you’re trying to plan in advance, this is actually a great opportunity.

H/T: Frequent Miler

20% Hotel Transfer Bonus to Virgin Australia, Fly Business for Cheap

I recently transferred 60,000 SPG points to my Virgin Australia Velocity account and then once I logged into my Velocity account I found more points than the 75,000 that should have been there. Puzzled, I looked into it and sure enough realized that there’s a 20% bonus running when transferring points from hotel partners to Virgin Australia. The promo runs until June 30, 2017.

Although I’d already earned my SPG points with the recent 35,000 sign-up bonuses that came out, I realized that for others this could potentially be a good opportunity to just buy points outright in order to fly the “The Business” on Virgin Australia.

The Business is the new business class product on Virgin Australia. I’ve heard great things about it, especially on board the 777 which flies from various points in Australia (Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne) to LAX. If you were to pay cash for this flight it would be roughly $9,000 for a one way.

However, right now you can stack to promotions to fly this route for substantially cheaper for about 20% the cost.

First, you can buy SPG points at up to a 30% discount by taking advantage of the current promo that ends in one week — April 30, 2017.

You can buy up to 30,000, which would cost you $735 right now. (I’m not sure about the taxes.)

If you transferred those 30,000 SPG points out to Virgin Australia, you’d have 35,000 Velocity miles with the standard SPG 25% bonus. Then if you add in the 20% promo bonus that’s an additional 6,000 miles for a total of 41,000 Velocity miles.

However, if you did this twice and paid $1,470 for SPG 60,000 points (you’d need two SPG accounts with the same address to freely transfer the points), you would net 75,000 Velocity miles. Add in the 20% bonus and that’s 87,000 miles which is just 8,500 short of the 95,500 miles needed for a one way business class award.

If you had another SPG account you could always purchase an additional 7,000 SPG points for $220 USD or purchase them through Virgin Australia’s Velocity Points Booster for $233 — I’m not sure if the chart shown below is in USD or AUD but if it’s AUD then that’s $176 USD.

Virgin Australia points booster.

In any event, that’s a total of about $1,800 (inclusive of fees) for a one way business class flight to Australia. If you were able to apply a travel statement credit by using a card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus (worth close to $560, you could potentially knock that price down to around $1,300. Considering the price that those tickets sell at ($9,000) I think this would be a good deal. (As a point of reference a one-way economy ticket would be $843 on Virgin Australia.)

If you’re just transferring SPG points this 20% bonus really helps out, too. You could get a one way award for 68,000 SPG points plus ~$100 in fees, which isn’t horrible. In my case, this is unexpectedly saving me over 25,000 SPG points. (This really helps make up for the unexpected Delta devaluation that hurt other legs of my trip.)

While Virgin Australia flights can be booked with partners, such as Delta (who recently devalued this route), the availability right now only opens up about two weeks prior to departure. So you’d need to have Velocity miles if you wanted to book The Business far out in advance. One of the easier ways to earn Velocity miles is to utilize SPG points and these two stackable promotions are making SPG an even sweeter option to build up Velocity miles right now.

Did You Know You Can Transfer Krisflyer Miles to Virgin Australia?

It’s a rarity that you’re able to transfer points from one airline to another, even when the two airlines are alliance partners or have formed some other official partnership. A couple of exceptions to this rule are transferring Virgin America points to Alaska (due to the merger) and transferring Avios between programs like British Airways and Iberia. Those exceptions notwithstanding, it’s not a common thing.

However, since late 2014 you’ve actually been allowed to transfer Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles to Virgin Australia’s Velocity frequent flyer program, but there’s a pretty big catch.

The transfer ratio is 1.35 to 1.00…. 

And that goes for both transferring points from Singapore Airlines Krisflyer to Virgin Australia and Virgin Australia to Singapore Airlines Krisflyer.

So regardless of which airline you are transferring miles to you will lose points given the transfer ratio. 

Virgin Australia claims that “[t]he conversion rate reflects the fact that each airline program operates in a different reward program currency.” But it’s hard to take that claim seriously because if that’s the case then you’d think they would make the transfer ratio even out the discrepancy in value between the two reward program currencies. But that’s not the case.

I think just about everyone would agree that Krisflyer miles are more valuable than Velocity miles. Thus, Australians with plenty of Velocity miles probably benefit most with this set up since they get opportunities to use miles to book Singapore Suites and also get to tap into Singapore Airlines’ award chart, which has some very valuable redemptions.

Singapore Suites First Class A380
Hanging out in Singapore Suites.

And for many Americans, Singapore Krisflyer miles are extremely easy to accumulate since Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner of the big four: American Express, Chase, Citi, and SPG. So at first glance it seems like a great oppurtunity to transfer points into your Virgin Australia Velocity account. However, that transfer ratio really hurts. For example, if you transferred 100,000 Krisflyer miles you’d only end up with 74,074 Velocity miles. So you retain about 74% of your value.

For that reason, I’d only do this under a few circumstances.

Avoid surcharges

If I really wanted to avoid fuel surcharges on an award then the drop in points when I transfer from Singapore Airlines to Virgin Australia might make sense in some circumstances where Singapore imposed high fuel surcharges.

Let’s say you’re flying one way in business class from Australia to the US.

Virgin Australia would require 95,000 miles and around $90 USD in total fees.

Singapore Airlines Krisflyer charges 85,000 points but fees would be as high as $472 USD.

So if you had 128,925 Singapore Krisflyer miles you could lose out on saving 43,925 miles but save $382 in fees. That’s a deal that some might consider, but I’d probably rather just pay the fees and save the points since I could get much more than $382 in value from 43,925 Krisflyer miles. However, if surcharges were to go up and the exchange rate fluctuated enough, I could see this being worth it to some people averse to paying out of pocket for fees.

Availability on direct flights on Virgin Australia to the US can be quite good, too, so that might be another factor in your decision.

Topping off an account

If I needed to top-off my Velocity mileage account I would consider this option. If we’re just talking about a few thousand points and I don’t have an alternative, then I’m usually okay with topping off points even when the transfer ratio is a bit sub-par.

Avoid expiration

Another reason I’d transfer would be if my Singapore Krisflyer miles were going to expire. One drawback to the Krisflyer program is that there’s no way to extend the life of your Krisflyer miles — they always expire 3 years after accumulating them, regardless of the activity level in your account. So in this case, you’d have nothing to lose by transferring your points if they would otherwise go to waste.

Another option is that you could always transfer points from Krisflyer to Virgin Australia and then back to Krisflyer to not lose your points. For example, let’s say you have 50,000 Krisflyer miles you are trying to save. You would do transfer #1 from Krisflyer to Velocity and be left with 37,037 Velocity miles. And then transfer them back from Velocity to Krisflyer and you’d end up with 27,434 miles.

So you’d only retain 54% of your value but at least you’d have some points rather than none.

Final word 

This is an interesting feature that I didn’t know about,  although it’s not something that I think I would do, aside from special circumstances. Still, it’s always good to be aware of all of your possibilities since you never know what might come in handy one day.