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Recently I received an email about the feasibility of getting four business class awards to Europe next summer. Instead of just answering the email, I wanted to offer some ideas here since I think they may help many families with similar questions. The question was from a parent who was planning a trip to Europe for his family of four using miles for next July.
They wanted to know if it was possible or realistic to try and find four business class award seats for their trip, or if they should just book four economy award seats. Specifically, they said “from everything I’ve read the odds of four award seats opening up at the same time are slim to none”.
Well, the good news is that they have been reading the wrong info as it is totally possible to book four business class awards to Europe. The bad news is that some of their other concerns are correct, including that of course four business class award seats will cost a good deal more miles than four economy awards, and that availability for business class awards often does improve as the travel date gets closer (and they want to be able to plan ahead).
To test my “theory” that four business class awards to Europe aren’t that hard to find if you have some flexibility like this family does, I did some searches this morning and have some up-to-date tips to offer as a result.
This is the #1 rule of miles and points redemptions – be flexible. This family told me in the email that they wanted to travel in July of next year and were planning to visit Paris, Barcelona, and one other city that could potentially be Rome, Amsterdam, or a beach town in France of Spain. This immediately made me think that business class awards are much more likely to be found than if they said we plan to travel July 7, 2016 – July 21, 2016 on a nonstop flight from Chicago to Paris and returning from Rome to Chicago on another nonstop flight and we only have X type of miles to use.
The more you lock in specific dates and destinations the more unlikely it is you will find the award flights you want, so this family has flexibility on their side. Since they seem to have a range of travel dates and destinations that will work, I think they have a very strong chance of having their pick of business class and economy awards.
Plan Ahead, and Keep Looking:
Most major US airline booking calendars are now open through late May or very early June 2016, so it is still too early to book July 2016 awards, though it is certainly the right time to start thinking about them.
I did some spot checking for May 2016 business class awards to Europe for four people and saw pretty good availability via all three alliances (Star Alliance, OneWorld, and SkyTeam). However, July is a much more peak travel time than May, so I wouldn’t draw the conclusion that July will look quite as rosy as May when it does open for booking. Still, checking the day the schedule opens is a good thing, but don’t give up then if you don’t see what you want.
Some random checks for four business class awards to Europe for travel this July via Star Alliance showed pretty decent availability, so there is a strong argument to just book something that will work and then keep looking up until close to your travel date for something better.
Know Your Change Fees and Ways Around Them:
I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the award charts and change fees associated with the miles and points you have to work with. You will find that some of them do permit changes from economy to business class without additional fees (other than the additional miles), at least up until at least the last 21 days or so. For example, while it isn’t really documented on their site, American Airlines won’t charge a fee if you upgrade your award from economy to business class. United has a handy trick sometimes called “Plan B” where you can be confirmed in economy but pay business class mileage essentially putting you at the top of the “waitlist” for a business class award seat. Dan’s Deals has written extensively about this and Just Another Points Traveler successfully used it within the last few weeks to fly business class to Spain.
Fly Business One Way and Coach the Other:
Even if business class availability is there, there is still the issue of is it “worth it” to spend the extra miles x 4 (or however many are in your family) for the right to sit in a better seat – read more about how coach really won’t kill you.
Only you can really determine that based on how you value the business class experience, how many miles you have to spend, etc. but one option to “split the difference” is to fly business class one direction and economy the other. Personally I would prefer to fly business class to Europe in order to have a more comfortable lie-flat bed to sleep in, but others might prefer it coming home when they will likely be awake to enjoy the experience.
Search Segment by Segment:
If be flexible is the #1 rule for airline redemptions, the #2 rule is to search for awards segment by segment instead of simply putting in LAX – CDG (Los Angeles to Paris). You are often going to have much better luck searching by flight segment and looking for the over-water segment first. For example, you might not find LAX – Europe in business class all in one shot, but if you were willing to connect somewhere else you might have better luck. As a suggestion, try looking out of cities on the East Coast like Washington Dulles, Newark, JFK, Charlotte, etc. for flights into various European cities.
In some cases you can still have a business class seat across the country if you are starting from the West Coast. Using United as an example, their p.s. flights featuring lie-flat seats from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Newark (beginning in October) have really good award availability currently even when searching for four award seats, so you could theoretically fly in a lie-flat seat across the country on a United p.s. flight, then connect in Newark to your final destination in Europe.
Remember Not All Options Display Online:
This is similar to searching segment by segment to build an award that the computer may not initially display, but remember that not all airline partners display online either. For example, if you wanted to fly Aer Lingus to Europe using British Airways Avios you would not find that availability online on the British Airways website. The same is true for many other partners of many other airlines, especially once you are talking about international travel.
Again, you need to do your research based on where you want to go and what type of miles you have to spend then narrow in on those programs rules and which partners display space online. Googling is really your friend on finding this info as many have probably written about your specific situation before. Once you build the award you want, you will then have to call to book the award by feeding the agent segment by segment. It is some extra work, but it can be well worth it to fly across the pond in comfort!
Is Business Class Worth it for a Family:
As a final note I will add that our family is growing and we have had more flights under our belts ranging from Lufthansa First Class to Spirit Airlines, I really think there is a time and place for everything.
If you have the miles to spend and want a more luxurious flight experience, you should take it, even with kids. My own daughter is certainly more comfortable in a lie-flat seat, just like we are. However, if you can’t find the availability or just don’t want to spend the extra miles to fly up front then don’t worry about it. Economy isn’t going to ruin your trip, and especially when we are talking East Coast of the US to Western Europe the flights really aren’t that long anyway. Personally I wouldn’t trade a nonstop on your desired dates in coach for an itinerary with three connections on less desirable dates just to be in business class to Europe, but then again, everyone is different so just know there is no one right or wrong answer on if it is worth it.
Has your family been able to find award availability for multiple seats to Europe during summer travel? What tips did you use? Did you think business class was worth it, or do you stick with coach?