Video Sunday Reader Question: Is Redeeming for Intra-European Business Class Worth It?

by on July 8, 2012 · 21 comments

in Sunday Reader Questions

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TPG reader Erika writes:

“I am using American miles for my big summer trip, but since they don’t allow stopovers I have to arrange my own intra-European flights. Is it worth it to use miles for intra-European flights and if so, would you spring for business class?”

With all things miles and points, it really depends on your situation: How many miles do you have? How much cash do you have? Do you mind flying low-cost carriers?

I’ve been in Europe a good amount this past year and I have used miles to get around and avoid high airfares. I don’t mind low-cost carriers, but if you book last-minute, often these carriers are anything but inexpensive (plus you get dinged with tons of add-on fees).

Redeeming for business class sometimes only takes a nominal amount of miles and in turn you get better service, lounge access, priority security, priority boarding, decent meals and an overall nicer experience. That being said, the seats are the same exact as coach, except with a seat in the middle blocked off. If you are expecting even an old-schools style recliner seat, you will be sorely disappointed. But while the seats are lackluster, the service is generally better and you can expect full meals even on short flights.

In general, I probably wouldn’t redeem for business class for short flights, though I have in the past out due to availability when coach wasn’t available, and I didn’t feel too guilty about it because it tends not to be too much of a mileage increase. As I always say the best redemptions are the ones you get the most value out of.

Intra-Europe business class seats make TPG sad.

Air Canada: Aeroplan does not price one-way awards at half the price and they split Europe into two zones, Europe 1: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain (incl. Balearic Islands; excl. Canary Islands), Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain; and Europe 2: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Romania, Russia (Western), Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine.
Economy awards within Europe 1 are 20,000 miles roundtrip for economy and 30,000 miles for business. From Europe 1 to Europe 2 and within Europe 2 awards cost 30,000 for roundtrip economy and 45,000 for business. Note: Aeroplan adds on fuel surcharges to European Star Alliance carriers Adria, TAP Portugal, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, bmi and LOT Polish Airlines.
A sample Madrid to Frankfurt roundtrip would cost 20,000 miles plus a $185 ($114 of which is a fuel surcharge).
Positive note: While one-ways are not cheap, Aeroplan does allow two stopovers on awards, so you can really stretch these awards to visit multiple cities.

American: 10,000 miles one-way coach, 20,000 miles one-way business class. Minimal fees, but depends on the carrier. There is a $75 fee if the award is booked within 21 days, waived for elites.
A recent Paris to Budapest on Malev (when they were still around!) cost me 20,000 miles roundtrip in economy and $46 in fees.
A sample British Airways flight from London to Budapest in business class is 40,000 miles and $173 in fees.

British Airways
: Distance-based awards, but business is always twice as much as coach. Use the Avios calculator to see how many Avios are needed on your flight. For example, a Madrid to Paris flight would be 7,500 Avios in economy and 15,000 in coach.
I recently booked that trip on Iberia using Avios for 15,000 in business class one-way and $26 in fees. No last-minute ticketing fees.

Delta: Prices one-way awards as roundtrips, 25,000 for economy and 45,000 miles for business. All partner awards price at these “low levels.” Delta adds on a foreign origination surcharge to all trips that begin in Europe – expect it to be around $100-$150 extra in fees for trips within Europe and even more when flying Europe to other continents.
A sample Paris to Madrid roundtrip would cost 25,000 miles and $162. See below – the same exact trip using Flying Blue (another Amex transfer partner) would cost 25,000 and $59 and Flying Blue prices one-way awards at half the miles.
Note: Delta does allow a stopover and open jaw on awards, so you can maximize that and hit multiple cities on a single award.

Delta’s dopey “foreign origination” surcharge…a fee for the sake of being a fee.

Flying Blue: Zone based between Europe 1/2/3. Within 1 is 12,500 one way for economy and a staggering 37,500 miles one-way for business class. Use this calculator to see how many miles needed for your trip (note: business class is never really a good deal unless you can snag a 1/2 priced Promo Award).
A sample Paris to Madrid roundtrip in coach comes to 25,000 miles and $59.

United: 12,500 miles one-way for economy, 20,000 for business. $75 fee for booking an award within 21 days of departure. Discounted/waived for elites. I recently booked a London to Copenhagen business class award for 20,000 miles and $77 in fees.

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  • AKold

    Mid-to-top tier elite status really shines when you’re flying intra-Europe. You can redeem for coach and still get the benefits of a business class ticket (lounge access, priority check-in, priority baggage, etc).

  • dhammer53


    I never even thought about booking intra-Europe awards using stopovers, as you mentioned above with Aeroplan. This old dog can still learn a thing or 2. Reminds self to think out of the box.

  • Tim

    I wonder if the seating situation was only on Lufthansa, or if other major carriers in Europe also use economy seats and simply block the center one off.

  • Zheng87

    You can request AA for stop -overs, I was informed it cost approximately 10k miles(in coach) for stop overs…which might be worth it compare to 20k miles of RT award.

  • thepointsguy

    All major European carriers are the same for the most part. Some run bigger jets on the longer routes which might have bigger seats, but I even recently flew on a British Airways 767 from London to Madrid and it still had the same coach seats with middle seats blocked out in business class

  • thepointsguy

    Each segment is 10k, so they are just charging you for extra one-ways

  • thepointsguy

    Not a bad option for those with tons of Amex points and lots of intra-European travel. Just try to avoid those fuel surcharges!

  • thepointsguy

    Good point!

  • PJ

    anybody can share experience in redeeming award miles on inland China flights ?

  • Cincy

    I fly intra-European business class all the time due to connecting flights. It is incredibly lame compared to US domestic first class. Only thing you will get is an empty middle seat, alcohol (although you can usually get that in the back too) and some food (but on many carriers, the food tray has really diminished from 5 years ago. On AF and LH, for example, they give you a little assortment of 3-4 gourmet bites. If you’ve been to PF Chang’s and had their ‘shooter’ desserts, you will be familiar with the concept. Not enough to fill you, it is literally 1-2 bites per piece max.)

    If you’re like me and have heavy carry-on luggage (because you don’t check), you might consider it. 7kg is a common limit among the euro-airlines, but if you’re flying business they tend not to bother you (but of course, there are no guarantees. Encounter an old battleaxe gate agent who has the “rules is zee rules” mindset and you’re sunk.) Use the online check-in to avoid airline employees. Take a carry-on that is 20-inches or less and svelte looking. Bags with puffy outside pockets or over this size will draw attention.

  • Josh82

    “All major European carriers are the same for the most part” – what a useless response.

  • thepointsguy

    How so? It’s true. I’m sure there are weird exceptions to the rule, that’s why I didn’t make a blanket statement. But the bottom line is that if you fly business class within Europe it’ll be a coach seat with the middle blocked out

  • bob

    With AA miles from the east coast, it’s often worth using their distance-based “Oneworld Explorer” awards for trips to Europe–you can get intra-Europe flights included for not very much.

  • Joel

    For the British Airways section, you said “a Madrid to Paris flight would be 7,500 Avios in economy and 15,000 in coach.” A newcomer may not understand you meant to say economy and business.


    I recently flew intra europe on business on BA and Finair, equals coach plus meal. I also found LCC wizzair which was very cheap, new aircraft and pretty efficient.

  • AKold

    Couldn’t you also do an AA OneWorld Explorer Award just in Europe? Up to 4,000 miles flown with practically unlimited stopovers is 30K in coach. As long as you have two partners (BA, Iberia, FinnAir, airBerlin, LAN ;)), you’re good to go. And with EXP, you can access First Class lounges along the way.

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  • Shey Peleg

    Not with OTP or Aeroflot

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