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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.
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.