Success: Booking Business Class Awards to Europe for 88,000 Miles Round Trip

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A little over three years ago, I was pregnant with our second daughter and Josh and I took our final kid-free trip before she arrived to Jamaica with some friends. We were booked from Houston to Montego Bay and back on Star Alliance partners, including United, for 22,000 ANA miles each based on ANA distance based award chart that was in place at the time. For reasons I never understood, our flights back to the United States just weren’t recognized in the system even though the outbound flights booked on the same itinerary were not a problem. No one was able to fix this apparently very complicated ticketing issue at the airport or over the phone in time for departure, and in the end, we completely abandoned that part of the itinerary and flew home later that afternoon using American Airlines miles on a new reservation.

 

After some back and forth, ANA awarded us with miles to make up for the snafu to equal what we spent with American. A couple months later they introduced a new award chart that eliminated the 22,000 mile round trip to Jamaica, but introduced an 88,000-mile business class award to Europe. That became the plan for our miles, and as we came upon the three-year expiration date for these ANA miles, it was time to finally book that kid-free trip to Europe in business class.

Star Alliance business class awards to Europe without fuel surcharges

Since ANA is a Star Alliance partner, I thought it would be pretty easy to book a business class award to Europe from Houston as we could take one of the United flights from Houston nonstops to London or Amsterdam and connect onwards from there. We’ve taken those flights many times in the past and while they aren’t the best business class seats out there, they lie flat and operate from our home airport. Had I booked a year or two ago, they would have been easy to snag, but more recently United has severely clamped down on making saver business class awards to Europe available for booking, especially from Houston. I couldn’t find any business saver awards from Houston to Amsterdam and very, very few to London for many months at a time.

There were a healthy number of saver business class awards available from Houston on Lufthansa, but those carry with them hundreds and hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges when booking via ANA, so they were off the table. If I wanted to go through Canada, Air Canada had a healthy number of business class awards available too, but again with massive fuel surcharges attached. Update: They were passing along Air Canada fuel surcharges last time I priced one out, but are not now…so that could be another great option! If we were okay routing through Istanbul, there were some business class awards available on Turkish without big fuel surcharges. We considered that option, but it really overshot destination, and I frankly don’t totally trust US – Turkish diplomatic relations enough after what happened in late 2017 to route through Istanbul just because of award availability.

So, what was left? United was not going to get us to Europe with bleak business class saver awards from Houston, I didn’t want to pay huge fuel surcharges to fly on an airline like Lufthansa or SWISS, and routing through Istanbul on Turkish wasn’t ideal. 

Booking business class awards to Europe for 88,000 miles round trip

Our savior ended up being…SAS. While SAS does not fly from Houston, they did have solid business class availability from Chicago to Oslo, Copenhagen, or Stockholm. There are no fuel surcharges when booking on SAS via ANA and their business class seats look really, really good.

The one downside of this itinerary is we will have to get ourselves to Chicago on a separate ticket as United did not have any saver awards from Houston to Chicago that we could book via ANA, but that’s a small price to pay for what will come next. We’ll add in plenty of buffer time for cancellations or delays due to the separate tickets. An added bonus of flying out of Chicago on SAS Business Class is we should get to hang out for the day in the United Polaris lounge that I still have yet to visit.

For just 88,000 ANA miles + $122.71 in taxes each, we will fly:

  • Chicago – Stockholm (SAS Business)

We will spend several nights in Sweden and hopefully even head out of Stockholm to strap on some skis next winter!

  • Stockholm – Copenhagen (SAS Business)

All things being equal, I probably would have taken the train to go from Stockholm to Copenhagen, but including this stopover and subsequent flight on the ANA award didn’t cost any additional miles, so we will fly between Stockholm and Copenhagen for the second part of our Scandinavian adventure in Denmark.

  • Copenhagen – London (SAS Business)

After a couple nights in Copenhagen, we will journey home connecting through London on a very hard to snag United nonstop business class award from Heathrow to Houston.

  • London – Houston (United Business)

If I booked that same itinerary via United it would have cost me roughly the same amount in taxes, but instead of 88,000 ANA miles, it would have cost 130,000 United miles. Multiply by the two of us and that is 176,000 miles vs. 260,000 miles, with ANA being the clear winner.

Via ANA I was able to have open-jaw cities on the departure and arrival within the United States, and open jaw cities in my destination zone of Europe. For those not familiar, this means I didn’t have to depart from and return to Houston, which is good because limited award availability made that impossible. I also was able to arrive and depart from Europe via different cities via Stockholm and Copenhagen.

This was all bookable online via the ANA website, though I will say the ANA award booking tool is far from perfect and takes some patience and practice.

Earning ANA miles is easy

Earning ANA miles even without flying is very easy since they are a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and cards such as The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card, the Premier Rewards Gold Card, or The Business Platinum® Card. It took about 36 hours for my miles to transfer from Membership Rewards points to ANA, so be aware it is not an instant transfer partner.

While I have been to Norway and loved it, I’ve never been to Sweden or Denmark. This will be Josh’s first time to any part of Scandinavia, and we are beyond excited for our 2019 adventure to Europe in business class thanks to ANA miles.

Skiing in Norway was epic

We don’t yet have things lined up on the hotel side, but Club Carlson, I mean Radisson Rewards points, are quite strong in Scandinavia and we have a few stockpiled. SPG also has a few options in Stockholm and Copenhagen and even Choice Privileges points can work wonders in that part of the world.

Our trip is still quite a ways off, but I’ll share more of the planning process as we piece it together. For now, let this serve as a reminder of one of the absolutely cheapest ways to get to Europe on a Star Alliance carrier in business class using your miles. The trick with booking via ANA is avoiding the air carriers that impose fuel surcharges, but as you see, even that can be accomplished if you just keep looking.

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Comments

  1. Sounds like a great trip.
    Are United and SAS the only options for low fuel surcharge airlines when using ANA miles to Europe?

  2. flew SAS from Stockholm to LA few months ago. Decent experience. Food was good but service was so cold. I hated the (air)seat, so uncomfortable to sleep on no matter how firm or soft I tried.

    It was a complete opposite of Air New Zealand flights whenever I go to London. Food there was meh, but super comfortable bed. Service was very sweet and personal. AZ would be my Star Alliance prefer choice- though availability is hard to come by.

    Hope you have a better experience on SAS than I did. Cheers!

  3. Interesting. In the past, ANA has gone back and forth in terms of assessing YQ for US -> EUR on Air Canada. Recently it appeared that they were not. Did you actually select flights and see the charges?

    • I absolutely have seen YQ on Air Canada via ANA, but perhaps it was longer ago than I thought and I just ruled Air Canada out as an option prematurely as you are right – I just priced out a flight without YQ so that is a great option, too!

  4. Awesome.

    If you can transfer ANA points to all their partners, can you transfer the partners points to ANA? For example if you have United points can you transfer them to ANA?
    Or can you only book ANA flights on United’s site?

    • Sadly can’t move from United to ANA, but you can book ANA with United miles through United. In this case I booked a United segment with ANA miles through ANA.

  5. Hi Mommy Points! I have thought about using ANA but I have always been afraid to book round trip tickets. I am afraid that the saver space I see 11 months out one way might not be available 12 months out the other way. Have you had any issues with this, or this just silly paranoia on my part?
    thanks.

    • So a perk of ANA is their award chart books out further than most US carriers. This means you have more options booking on the way far out end of the calendar (from the airlines that release awards that early). It is not silly paranoia, but I do encourage you to play around with it and see what you find!

  6. You mentioned the 36 hour transfer period, but not how that affected your particular booking. Did you put the award on hold or did you transfer the points prior because you knew you were going to use them on ANA somehow?

    • I had a few options to work with so did the transfer and crossed my fingers. I have heard of rare instances where ANA will hold an award if you call, but that seems to be the very rare exception and usually, you have to just cross your fingers.

  7. Very successful booking in my view! We are flying SAS from IAD to Copenhagen in J and spent way more miles than you did using Singapore miles one way and United miles the other way. If I like SAS I hope to emulate you later! BTW, really enjoy posts like this that discuss good redemptions!

  8. This makes no sense. You should have just flown through IST on Turkish. Great airline, great lounge and I would rather overshoot than make another stop and buy another ticket. Relations were restored so that might be rather paranoid for the 1% chance or less than it happening again AND even when there were no relations, you could still connect. I did it twice, it was no problem at all.

    • It was a solid option on the table, but trying out SAS for the first time and not spending a day overshooting and backtracking won out for me. I’ve flown Turkish before and agree it is a great airline with a great lounge, but it just wasn’t the call we made this time. On the relations side, hopefully, that won’t happen again, but if it did, I would not personally feel comfortable connecting through IST and end up stuck in the airport if big delays or cancellations occurred. Just personal risk tolerance.

      • Good point, I forgot you may have kids with you too. I can see how a remote chance of getting stuck in Turkey with kids would change everything.

  9. MP;

    Last year, I’ve stayed in Hilton @Stockholm, good location and for 36k points. There are many US chain hotels there.

    I’ve stayed in Marriott in Copenhagen for 40k. Good location close enough to the central train station to walk.

    I bought Choice hotel points and got fantastic value out of them in that part of the world, so keep that as an option.

  10. ANA’s search seems difficult to pin down SAS flights. Is there a better way to search for SAS availability for a head start? Thanks!

  11. This is a great itinerary! But a few questions. How many airlines does ANA allow on a award booking? Do other airline partners allow for a stayover at their HUB? Is 88K ANA points anywhere in the US as a starting/ending location? Lastly did you search on United website?

  12. You will love Copenhagen! We stayed with points at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel overlooking Tivoli Gardens – amazing location & I highly recommend the breakfast buffet which is discounted a bit for elites. Since our flight was departing quite early, we spent our last night at the Hilton Airport Hotel which was perfect; I understand it’s now a Clarion so you could use some Choice points there if necessary. Have a great trip!

  13. do I need to call ANA to make the booking? So if I go from LAX to Europe on SAS or United or LOT, it would be 88k ANA miles. Is this correct? And if I see the savers award on United.com, ANA can see it too?

    How long it takes to transfer points to ANA?

    • Jan, transfer take about 36 hours. Yes, they should have the same saver availability, but not the ‘extra’ saver awards that United elites or cardholders see for so United operated segments. You can book it online, but their system isn’t perfect.

  14. What an amazing trip! We went to Stockholm and Copenhagen (and Bergen and Bornholm) before kids and LOVED them. I have no points input but you will have an amazing time!

    • The IAH – MAN business class flight can pretty much only be booked directly with Singapore. If you want economy, that is bookable.

  15. Thanks for posting this. Had you booked the trip on LH metal, what was the assessed YQ? We flew RTW last year on business class using ANA miles, ended up spending 105K each. The itinerary was SEA-FRA-ZRH (stop), ZRH-CPH-SVG (stop), SVG-CPH-PVG-NRT (stop), NRT-YVR. The airline mix was LH, LX, SK, NH, and AC. We paid about $900 per ticket on taxes and fees. We attempted to price out the itinerary, and ITA Matrix showed about $19K each cash price. We are planning another RTW next year, also with ANA.

    On SK business, their seats and interiors are aesthetically pleasing, but the service IMO is just so-so. One of their FA is so clumsy that she dropped a breakfast sausage on my seat w/o realizing it. And maybe this is not an issue for you, but the footwell is constricted when the seat is fully reclined to a bed mode, classic problem for the Vantage seat and its variants.

    I was surprised reading that there is minimal YQ on SK. Drew at Travel is Free has a listing of approximate YQ on Star Alliance partners for ANA, and SK was listed almost as high as LH.

    We are planning another RTW next year, so we’ll definitely look at SK as an option.

    • I think YQ is a moving target somewhat with ANA and which carriers get what. I believe the fee would have been around $1,000 each on LH, but that may be off slightly one way or the other. It was really high. Sounds like y’all had an outstanding RTW trip!

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