Tips for Booking Business Class Awards to Europe for Summer 2018

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If you are working with a relatively fixed schedule, getting multiple business class seats from the United States to Europe during the summer probably isn’t the easiest thing you will ever do. This is especially true if you are starting from a smaller US city and aiming to eventually arrive in a specific smaller spot in Europe. Unicorns exist, lighting strikes, and once in a blue moon the stars align to give you exactly what you want on a saver award with the miles you have readily available.

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But most of the time if you are working with parameters similar to those above (especially with constrained peak travel dates), you have to get creative and settle for good enough rather than getting the absolutely perfect Point A – Point B ticket all on one airline saver award.

In other words, you are looking for a big premium cabin international award ticket, you need to not care so much about specific departure and destination cities as you need to care about simply crossing the ocean with something that will work. With domestic saver award availability being quite abysmal within some programs and in some markets, this has never been more true than it is now. Even if you find that perfect overwater segment in business class, the odds are stacked against you getting the perfect domestic segment to your international gateway city to line up.

Right now I am some family members get from the middle of Kansas to Bergen, Norway, for a big, big trip next summer. They have very fixed dates and have learned from experience (thanks to miles) that business class is much, much nicer for crossing the ocean than economy. I’m sure this is especially true as you get into your 60’s and 70’s. I hope to be lucky enough to find out for myself a few decades from now.

Bergen is tough enough as an award destination as it is, but add to that toughness getting a saver award from the middle of Kansas to a major US gateway city, and it just virtually is not going to happen, especially without date flexibility. Heck, even if the availability was there, many airline award search engines will simply error out when that many segments are involved.

However, we are making it work by only focusing on the overwater segment…at least at first. I searched high, low, and upside down to find anything that could work for them next June, and here is what I learned based on the state of award availability as it is today to get to Europe next summer.

Tips for Finding Award Availability for Summer 2018 Travel:

  • Dulles is your rockstar US departure city in terms of saver business class award availability. Admittedly, I didn’t look west of Denver, so maybe there is something better out west, but if you are departing from the middle of the country or the east, check Dulles as your US departure city.
  • Iberia business class availability wasn’t terrible, and with the current 40% Membership Rewards transfer bonus to Iberia and British Airways Avios, booking with Iberia is a solid option if Madrid will work for you as a European arrival city. Also keep in mind that they can book awards further out by a few weeks than most US programs, so you get a hard start of sorts over when that availability will be open via the AAdvantage program.
  • As usual, Brussels and Amsterdam have better business class award availability than many other European arrival cities. I could find United Polaris business class awards from a few cities, largely Dulles, to Amsterdam far more frequently than many other European destinations.
  • Aer Lingus business class award availability is decent next June. I was able to see 4+ seats from Dulles – Dublin on a number of dates. You can check this availability on the United website for (70k miles) or on the Aer Lingus website (60k miles + taxes/fees). You can also book Aer Lingus with British Airways, but only over the phone.
  • Business class FinnAir availability to Helsinki from JFK looked really good via American Airlines, but it was phantom space. This one really irked me with a serious passion there were no fuel surcharges and it would have worked fabulously, but it wasn’t bookable even over the phone.
  • Singapore Airlines Houston – Manchester saver business class space is pretty good, but you won’t be able to book this via United so use your Singapore miles transferred in from Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, etc.
  • When possible, avoid British Airways operated award flights across the ocean like the plague because of the massive fuel surcharges. The fees when leaving the UK in a premium cabin can also be very painful to your wallet.
  • Booking as far out as the award booking schedule allow (often 11-ish months) is still a really good place to start. Availability for the very last days available on the award booking schedule was generally better than even a few weeks before that.

As for us, it is still being booked as we speak, but because they are very date tied, our based on what is available is to secure flights from Dulles to Amsterdam in United Polaris business class using 57,500 United miles, and then use Delta miles to fly nonstop on KLM from Amsterdam to Bergen. It won’t be the best deal of all time as even after all that they still need to get themselves from Kansas to the Washington DC area, but that is where Southwest points and the Companion Pass can help out.

If all works as it should, they will get all the way from Kansas to Norway on the date they wanted with very little out of pocket costs, and the over water segment will be in lie-flat business class. It will not all be on one ticket, so they will have buffer time built-in in the event of flight delays, but there was no way to get an award all the way from small town Kansas to Bergen, Norway, so we got creative and pieced the puzzle together. I still call that a big win for miles and points!

Next up, we just have to get them home…

Is your family looking at business class airline awards to Europe for summer 2018? If so, how is your search going and what is your booking strategy?

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

Pingbacks

  1. […] If you are working with a relatively fixed schedule, getting multiple business class seats from the United States to Europe during the summer probably isn’t the easiest thing you will ever do. This is especially true if you are starting from a smaller US city and aiming to eventually arrive in a specific smaller spot in Europe. Unicorns exist, lighting strikes, and once in a blue moon the stars align to give you exactly what you want on a saver award with the miles you have readily available. LEARN MORE! […]

Comments

  1. I’m waiting to book MCI or ICT to Europe or Israel in the Fall of 2018 but I’m running searches in Summer as that schedule isn’t open yet. We are heavy in AA miles, Alaska miles and a decent amount of UR points.
    The searching I’ve done aren’t really great so far. I hate calling to book so I’d rather find it online. I’ve seen some availability for routes like NYC-Paris or London. I’d prefer to find a connection out of ORD or DFW as it makes the positioning easier on the budget but knowing my luck with AA we’ll end up on PHL sooner or later 🙂 I’m not having much luck at all booking anything into TLV using AA miles.
    My backup plan is to find discount business tickets like I did this last year on Air France.

    If I was you I’d look harder at Denver. There might be some options pop up there on United. If you wanted to pay you could consider some of the low cost options out of Denver but that would likely kill any chance at layflats.

    • I loved at Denver some. Had high hopes for the return of the Dreamliner route to London there, but nada. I did see a little ORD, so hopefully that holds for you!

  2. AA phantom availability drives me super bonkers, too!

    My fiance and I are flying Prague to Bangkok next summer and saw business-class availability on Finnair every single day, but it kept on giving us the “no longer available” message when we tried clicking on our preferred date.

    We called AA but the rep. told us that she wasn’t seeing ANY award availability on her end for Finnair that month (even though I was able to click through on the same Finnair flight leaving a few days earlier). GRRRRRR. We resorted to booking the flight that’s leaving a few days earlier. I re-checked the flight we booked and it had changed to “no longer available.” (There’s a weird joy from knowing that I somehow scored the only two available award flight…^^)

    I’m actually on hold with AA right now double-checking that our booking is REAL (even though my cc was charged and I have the ticket #… this leg of our journey is SO important I’m being a little obsessive).

  3. For such a short flight and sleep time especially (thats after they finally pick up all the dishes) theres only a few hours to actually catch some ZZZs before they wake you for breakfast/landing.Id never blow my miles/pts for anything but Saver Coach

    since BGN is SAS territory, Id base it all on *A and find space to any European Hub and SAS from there. Last yr I flew EWR-OSL(UA Y) then train to BGN, then SAS BGN-OSL (overnight) OS OSL-VIE stayed the weekend and Mon LH VIE-HAM(overnight) UA HAM-EWR.All in coach and Im alive and well.

    I understand dealing with different Alliances only if theres no choice eg my Nov trip UA EWR-HKG, KA (CX) HKG-DAD (BA pts) HUI-HAN VN DL miles, HAN-HKG KA (BA pts4500) and UA HKG-EWR. Reason is the UA EWR-HKG-EWR is a rev tkt that makes me *G on SQ and UA CXed its SGN flights, game was to avoid the 3-4-3 in Y on UA and most flights to Asia are now 3-4-3,, and were more then the $780 (used Flex pts) to HKG so that have meant 50 or 70k instead of 40k.

    I dont get all this Wow with Biz or 1st and Ive been up front more times then I have fingers and toes

    • I don’t know…when I am 70+ and have the miles…I’m not flying coach. Ha! I get what you are saying though.

  4. Booking a trip to Australia and/or New Zealand May 2018. I found a business saver award on American for LAX-SYD, but no saver awards for AUS-LAX (economy or business). I searched nearby cities and found saver business award on IAH-LAX. So I booked IAH-LAX-SYD, all on one ticket with LAX-SYD in a lie flat seat. Now to work on the return – probably will look for a discounted business fare for AKL-IAH flight.

  5. On the United site they keep showing Aer Lingus availability from Dublin. After you book it the reservation goes to pending and then you never get the confirmation. I have called United several times and they just keep saying that Are Lingus is not releasing the award seats. I told them several times that they should take the award seats off their website but they are still showing as available. Be careful transferring points to United from chase to book these flights. You might get stuck with United Miles.

  6. Not sure currently, but we had success before going through Canadian cities, particularly Toronto and Montreal

  7. Just had to cancel our trip from Boston to Dublin for family of four on Aer Lingus due to death in family. Tried to book for next summer and they told me it was peak season and is now 40k avios RT instead of the 25k we booked it for in economy this summer! Any suggestions? We were making a side trip to London also using avios

  8. I am interested in the SQ IAH-MAN route. Houston is not my home. Is it possible to book the connection to IAH on *A carrier via Krismiles as part of the price for the biz transatlantic? (Nice list, btw.)

  9. “when I am 70+ and have the miles…I’m not flying coach”

    We aren’t 70 yet, and when I was much younger I did economy mileage runs to Europe on Winter huge discount fares to qualify for AA Ex Plat. But now, if the only option is trans-oceanic in economy…well, we’ve been there a lot, and we’re not that desperate to go again.

    This Summer will be our 9th year in a row of R/T FC TATL/TPAC award travel. But I’m already starting to sweat it a bit about next Summer, which is still a bit early to book for August 2018. We have enough AA miles (thank you Citibank) to go FC Anytime 2 or 3 times, but I’m trying very hard to put that off as long as possible, since getting another 1,000,000 + miles isn’t going to happen again anytime soon. And frankly, after having flown Singapore Suites several times, AA so-called FC isn’t aspirational anymore. Absolutely a ‘First World Problem’, I know. 😉

  10. I got into the miles game a year ago with the goal of getting my family of 4 from the West Coast to Europe in Summer 2018…. Boy it is impossible to find 4 business class seats for this trek! My solution was to split us up, I’ll fly out one day with our 5 year old and my husband will fly out the next with our 6 year old. Have you ever done that MP? I’m not super thrilled with it but I like it way more than the idea of all 4 of us together in economy! 😛

    • Ashley, we have, though not solely because of availability…more due to schedule. However, for one trip that we ultimately cancelled we were booked home from Europe that way on two different flights the same day.

    • Every program has their own rules, but generally speaking without elite status that answer is usually no. However, booking this far out a schedule change with the airline could happen that would allow for you to cancel for free if you ask.

  11. I did this task last fall for this summer. I used the just get across the ocean strategy. We live in Dallas so that helps. Flew to Frankfurt bclass for 5 avoiding British airways. Paid for intraeuropean flights to get to Dubrovnik and from Split to Venice. Took Aa home to Dallas via Philadelphia- parents bclass and kids in back which they said really wasn’t that bad compared to long domestic flights in coach. We had some flexibility on dates which helped. It was far less expensive to just pay for the flight within Europe than to pay the fuel surcharges in the flights that got us all the way to Croatia but used British airways. The only part that was inconvenient was that I booked out Frankfurt to Dubrovnik flight with a lot of extra time because of having to go through customs and recheck our bags as well as it being “on us” if we missed the flights for some reason. I also spent a little more to get flex flights on the European flights in case of a missed flight- rebooking 5 people day of travel would’ve been very expensive.

  12. I needed 5 seats and I booked IAD-BRU on UA using Aeroplan miles. Other than United, 5 business seats were available on Austrian, Turkish and Air Canada.

  13. We just finished an amazing two week family vacation in London, Italy and Greece. We flew using 4 award coach tickets on Delta. To be very honest, being based at MSP. I rather fly non-stop from MSP to Europe on coach and from there use cheap European airlines to get to my final destination (you won’t be able to fly to Sicily direct from the US anyway) than have to connect somewhere in the US to get a decent business class award from another airline. After two weeks in Europe with kids and ending our trip in London I highly prefer to fly a non-stop 8 hour on coach and get home instead of having to make connections in the East coach in probably an airline that I will need to re-check bags etc.. just to fly business. For a 8 hour flight it is definitely not worth the hassle and amount of miles in my opinion.

  14. Question: what is your general rule of thumb on “buffer time built-in in the event of flight delays,” for positioning yourself? We need to get to Chicago to fly Iberia to Madrid, and I’m trying to decide if 4ish hours (with another flight leaving after that would arrive 2 full hours before the flight) is enough time.

  15. We just did that trip a few weeks ago, probably my favorite European vacation. CAE –> IAD –> CPH –> BGO. Rented a car, spent a week driving around, ended up in Alesund. Then ALE –> CPH. Spent a few days exploring Copenhagen, the castles north of Copenhagen and the coast of Sweden, ending up in Malmo. Then CPH –> IAD –> CAE. All flights on SAS (domestic leg on United), booked via Air Canada.

    Enjoy, Norway is absolutely beautiful. Stayed in a different city almost every night (Bergen, Balestrand, Loen, Geiranger, Alesund), which was a lot of packing and unpacking, but worth it. Driving was easy, roads VERY modern. Driving around was the best part, so much scenery getting from point A to point B.

    Have fun!

  16. Question for folks: we’re looking to go to Prague and Northern Italy next July (2018) via United, but based on what I’m seeing right now, availability is pretty bad in business class. What about just waiting until May or early June 2018 and booking last minute? Availability on United seems to be pretty wide open inside 2 months. I know this is a risk, but if that doesn’t work out for that itinerary, I figure we could get somewhere in Europe last minute.

    Thoughts?

  17. I’m not sure I should give this more exposure, but since I’ve already booked my summer 2018 flights, I’ll share. Iberia allows award bookings on IB metal 361 days in advance and the surcharges are a fraction of BA’s. ORD-MAD-ORD in business is 100K Avios points + $235. Not bad for a round trip.

    I just took a look and I’m still finding some business class availability for four seats in July 2018, although weekends do seem to be gone. I’m finding saver-level economy availability (20K each way) and premium economy for 8 people and business class for 6 people searching 356-361 days in advance.

    The 361 window is a nice way to jump the line ahead of AA (330 days) and BA (355 days) bookings. And IB Avios are pretty easy to get.

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