There are very few people I run into who don’t aspire to travel to Europe at some point. And who can blame them, there is so much amazing culture, sights, and food to be experienced.
Unless you can find a smoking deal or an error fare, a typical round-trip to Europe is going to be in excess of $700 in economy. Not to fear, with the right strategies you can use fewer points and keep your fees under $100 per person. These are my favorite options to get to Europe for under 30,000 miles one-way in economy (the standard rate for United, Delta, and American)
No, you aren’t crazy, Alaska Airlines does not fly to Europe, but their partners do, enter: America Airlines. You can redeem 20,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan points for a one-way on AA metal during the off-season. Off season is from October 15th – March 15th, half of the year!
American Airlines award flights CAN be searched and booked on www.alaskaair.com, just click “use miles” when searching for award flights. In addition to a great deal in the off-season, you can also book a stopover on your way to Europe (and on the return). Just click “all search options” and then “multi-city”.
For 20,000 Alaska miles + $24 in fees, you can fly one-way from Seattle to Rome with a 7 day stop in San Francisco. This would be great if you have friends or family in the Bay Area as it makes for extra “free” travel! For return flights, you will pay the departure fee depending on the airport and return country (IE: $55 in Amsterdam, $200 in London)
Now, American doesn’t fly to every major city in Europe, so that is a bit of bummer. Seasonally however, they do fly to Milan, Venice, and Athens, which is nice.
American international hubs to Europe (where you must connect on your last leg):
New York – JFK
Philadelphia – PHL
Charlotte – CLT
Chicago – ORD
Miami – MIA
Los Angeles – LAX
Dallas – DFW
Raleigh – RDU
Tip: You can transfer your SPG points to Alaska at a 1:1 ratio. Better yet, SPG will add a 5,000 point bonus for each 20,000 point transfer initiated.
This is another example of an airline program which is best used with their partners. British Airways uses a distance based award chart while also factoring on and off-peak.
Since the total distance of each flight determines the amount of Avios required, East Coast flyers will have the cheapest options. One-way award costs shown below, per segment.
Use this flight distance calculator, IE: JFK to TXL, then reference the one-way award chart below.
|Off Peak (only applies to British Airways and Iberia operated flights)||Peak|
|Zone 1 (outside North America)
Award table courtesy of TPG
If Ireland is on your list, you can fly one-way from the East Coast and Chicago for just 13,000 points in the off-season on Aer Lingus. From the West Coast you will need just 16,250 Avios one-way. (fees are around $130 round-trip, not terrible) You can read more here on finding Aer Lingus award space with British Airways. These are the off-peak rates, but Aer Lingus allocates roughly 8 months of the year to off-peak.
As mentioned before, British Airways is distance based. This means you will be charged individually for each segment you book. If you take a flight from Nashville to New York on American, then New York to Berlin on Air Berlin, you will be charged for each segment. And yes, you can book American Airlines “saaver” awards using your British Airways Avios. (Alaska low-level awards as well, but you’ll have to call to book)
In this example, you’d burn a total of 27,500 British Airways Avios from Nashville to Berlin in economy (plus $11.20 in fees). Since you are booking separate tickets, you could plug-in a stopover in New York and stay as long as you’d like before hopping over to Berlin.
Now, you could book this same example itinerary on aa.com using 30,000 miles in peak-season, or just 22,500 in the off-season. The biggest difference is that American only has SPG as a transfer partner where British Airways adds Chase and American Express. Also, American Airlines DOES NOT allow stopovers, so you can not have a layover longer than 24 hours in New York.
FYI: Off peak dates when redeeming American Airline miles for travel to Europe: January 10 – March 14, November 1 – December 14
You do have a few other partners when redeeming your British Airways Avios to Europe. You can, of course, book flights on British Airways. The problem with British Airways is their hefty fuel surcharges, it kills the deal. For intra-Europe flights however, British Airways has minimal fuel surcharges.
Finnair and Iberia, based in Helsinki and Madrid respectively, are other good options to get to Europe. Remember, you pay per segment when redeeming Avios, so you will have to use additional Avios if you don’t live in a gateway city such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Miami, etc.
Booking and searching
First, create a free Executive Club account on this page. Once enrolled, go to your Executive Club home page and look for the booking options on the left side of the screen. Make sure to choose “Book with Avios” and choose your start and end points.
Note that not all available routing options will show meaning you may have to book segments individually. (such as BNA to JFK, then book JFK to TXL) You will pay the same amount whether you book BNA > JFK & JFK > TXL as two trips versus BNA > JFK > TXL as one trip.
Flying who? These guys are a partnership of KLM and AirFrance, members of the SkyTeam alliance. You can book flights from the lower 48 to Europe for just 25,000 points one-way. (all year-long!)
Being SkyTeam members, Flying Blue could route you on a number of airlines such as; Delta, KLM, AirFrance, Alitalia, Aeroflot, TAROM, and Air Europa.
Fuel surcharges are moderate, about $20-$90 one-way in economy depending on the carriers involved. If you can find flights on Delta metal, fuel surcharges will only be $25~ one-way. I found a one-way flight from Dallas to Amsterdam in August for 25,000 Flying Blue points + $24, not bad for the summer! Both legs were on Delta, with a stop in MSP. Flying Blue award booking link, here.
Flying Blue rolls out select “Promo Awards” each month, eligible dates shown on each promo. This month they offered BUSINESS CLASS flights from Boston to Europe for only 46,875 points one-way.
Fuel surcharges are going to be pretty steep when flying business class on AirFrance, about $230~ one-way. Ouch, that is expensive, especially compared to flying on American Airlines which does not have fuel surcharges (on American metal). Sadly, it would take an act-of-god to find business class saaver award space on American Airlines during the summer. At 57,500 American miles one-way in saaver business, I’d go that route if you can find space.
Europe and beyond
The beautiful part about Flying Blue is their generous “Europe” region. They classify Israel and Northern Africa in the European region. That means you can fly to Israel or Morocco for just 25,000 points one-way with Flying Blue. Compare that to about 40,000 miles one-way on United, American, and Delta.
If that wasn’t sweet enough, Flying Blue is linked with the four major transfer partners, Chase, American Express, Citi, and SPG. Again, the best option is to transfer 20,000 SPG points to Flying Blue, netting you 25,000 points after the 5k bonus from SPG.
That means a one-way economy flight from the US to Morocco (Northern Africa) would cost as few as 20,000 SPG points plus about $80 in fees, a very strong value. You’d likely connect in Paris via AirFrance.
Remember, the city and country you return from will cause your total fees to fluctuate. Departure fees from London run about $200 thanks to Britain’s Air Passenger Duty. Compare that to just $55~ from Spain and The Netherlands or $80~ from Rome and Paris.