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The best cards for your travel: Europe – First / Business Class

by on Wed January 1, 2014 • No Comment

Best cards for your travel - EuropeGetting to Europe in a luxurious seat that turns into a bed is a dream that most of us have yet to experience because it costs about $3,500 on average for even the lowest fares.

But it’s something some savvy mile hobbyists do regularly without ever paying for a seat and you can have a shot at it if you put your effort into the right programs.

There have been a lot of changes recently in the number of miles required to get to Europe, but as a rule of thumb expect to pay about 125,000 miles – sometimes less – around 100,000 miles. It won’t be simple – nothing this valuable is – but it is possible to get the big seat for next to nothing.

1. American AAdvantage

For now, American has the most favorable rates to Europe in Business Class among the big U.S. programs – 100,000 miles roundtrip. It’s heading up to 115,000 – 140,000 miles for the entry level on Delta and United in 2014.

You have to be shrewd to use these miles properly, but if you do you have a good shot at landing a seat for 100,000 miles. The key is avoiding British Airways flights. If you take those across the Atlantic, you’ll be comfortable, but you’ll be charged about $1,000 roundtrip in fuel surcharges. That’s a deal breaker.

The way to get around it is book American’s own flights (which can be tough – they are stingy) or sleuth around for partners Iberia, Air Berlin, or Finnair. You’ll find the best luck with Iberia for Central / Southern Europe via Madrid and Barcelona, and Air Berlin via Berlin and Dusseldorf for Northern Europe.

Use our CardFinder to see all cards that can earn American AAdvantage miles

Tip: You won’t find Iberia on American’s own website – use or to search, then call American to book.

2. Delta SkyMiles

If you are trying to go to Italy then Delta, a program that is often loathed by frequent flyers, is not a bad choice. It will cost you 125,000 miles roundtrip starting this summer, but its partner Alitalia tends to have good availability on its flights to and from Rome and Milan.

The trick to finding them is to not trust what you first see on the calendar with You’ll need to click on all dates to see the actual flights available. Then, Alitalia flights will show up. You will also have better luck checking Alitalia’s gateway cities from the U.S. – we have a list of Alitalia gateway cities.

Delta also has decent availability on its own flights to London thanks to its newly beefed up flights in partnership with Virgin Atlantic. And its partner Aeroflot is great for getting to Russia. You’ll need a subscription to to see availability on their flights, or just call Delta and ask.

There are more cards to earn Delta miles than any other airline. Use our CardFinder tool to see cards that earn Delta SkyMiles.

3. Pro alternatives

ANA MileageBank

If you’re willing to lay out some cash upfront as a way to get in the big seat, then this opportunity may be valuable. ANA is a member of Star Alliance, which includes United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss, and more. It charges for awards based on the distance flown, but it also passes on hefty fuel surcharges on awards unless you book on United Airlines or LOT Polish airlines.

These surcharges work out to about $500. See here for how much their mileage amounts compare for Business / First Class awards.

It’s also a member of American Express Membership Rewards so it’s easy to earn lots of ANA miles – use our CardFinder to see cards that earn Membership Rewards.

British Airways Avios

British Airways has healthy availability of award tickets to Europe, but it comes at a big price – large fuel surcharges of about $1,000 roundtrip on award tickets. That’s not a great value when you’re already spending nearly 100,000 points for that ticket. But there is an instance where it can be a better value – when you use a British Airways ‘Travel Together’ ticket.

If you spend $30,000 in a calendar year on a British Airways Visa you will be eligible to book a 2 for 1 award ticket. That means if the award you want costs 80,000 points and $1,000 in taxes, you can bring along a companion for no additional points plus the extra $1,000 in taxes. So for about $1,000 plus about 40,000 points a piece you can get Business Class tickets to Europe, which often run $3,500 or more.

(The information related to the British Airways Visa Signature credit card has been collected by and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.)

Where is United in all of this?

After raising its award prices and imposing a new award chart for partner flights that costs 140,000 miles for a Business Class ticket, United has become uncompetitive to Europe. So far, it’s very difficult to find Saver level awards on United’s own flights for 115,000 miles roundtrip, forcing you into the 140,000 mile level most of the time.

Even then, the availability is more spotty than it ever has been, so while this used to be a great choice for Europe in Business Class we’re cautious about banking points here for premium flights to Europe.

Another way to take advantage of United awards for less is to use Air Canada Aeroplan. They offer a 90,000 mile award from the US to Europe on United flights. You can earn Aeroplan miles by transferring from Membership Rewards cards.


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