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Now it’s time to talk United MileagePlus.
Last February, United raised the price of Business and First Class awards to Europe substantially. Business Class awards now cost 115,000 miles roundtrip on United’s own flights and 140,000 miles roundtrip on partner flights like Lufthansa and Air Canada.
First Class awards now cost 160,000 miles on United’s own flights and a startling 220,000 miles roundtrip on partner flights.
The Business Class price compares to 125,000 miles using Delta SkyMiles and 100,000 miles using American AAdvantage, though flights across the Atlantic involving British Airways using American AAdvantage incur fuel surcharges and fees of about $1,000.
At first glance, United’s 115,000 mile award to Europe looks like a great bargain and nice move on its part. But that’s only useful if there are seats available to redeem. And there aren’t many.
If you want to get United awards to Europe for less, arrange your plans to travel via Brussels, Belgium.
That’s the conclusion from checking almost 50 United routes from the U.S. to Europe for award travel next summer to see just how many days actually offer Business and First Class seats on United’s own flights.
The numbers in the table below represent the number of days available with 2 seats in Business or First Class on United’s nonstop flights from June through mid-August, 2015.
|Total||Biz (115k)||First Only (160k)|
Chicago to Brussels in particular looks good, with almost 30% of days from July through mid-August available in Business Class at the Saver rate of 115,00 miles. And Newark to Brussels has a decent cluster of seats in July.
Overall though the outlook is pretty grim.
Most United flights to Europe have no Saver level awards available next summer, which means you’ll be stuck paying 140,000 miles for partner flights, many of which involve extra connections.
Some outliers like Newark to Geneva have a handful of 3 cabin First Class seats open on United’s flights, but at 160,000 miles roundtrip that’s no bargain.
There is an alternative
United as a legacy of its merger with Continental has a benefit that lets you pre-pay the Saver Business Class mileage rate even on flights that have no Saver Business Class seats open.
You then have first priority to waitlist for the seats if they open, and that waitlist even transfers to the airport, so if a seat is empty and unsold you’ll have a shot at it.
You can read about it here. It’s not for the impatient as you’ll have to do a lot of handholding to get it done, but it is an official, documented policy.
It’s something no other airline offers, and it gives you a real shot at sitting in Business Class even when advance award availability is poor. And with United moving to earning flight miles based on the price of your ticket, rather than miles flown, you’ll want to use as few miles as you can for each award if you’re not a big full fare flier.
Because of the waitlist benefit and the terrible availability of Business and First Class seats on American Airlines flights, we recommend United miles ahead of American miles if you’re planning to fly to Europe in Business or First Class.
We also recommend Delta SkyMiles to Europe thanks to better availability trends on its own flights and new partner Virgin Atlantic.
United also still has excellent availability in Economy Class at the base rate of 60,000 miles since the higher partner airline price doesn’t apply for Economy Class tickets. You can fly any of United’s partners in Economy Class for one low price.
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