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Video SRQ: Can You Get To Europe in Business For 200,000 United Miles Any More?

by on March 10, 2013 · 19 comments

in Sunday Reader Questions, United, Video Blog Post

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TPG reader Eric is apparently having a hard time booking business class award tickets to Europe for his parents using 200,000 United miles, prompting him to ask:

“I am trying to book a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe for my parents who never travel and never splurge on anything luxurious. They really deserve this trip! I have 200,000 United miles ready to go for business class roundtrip tickets for the two of them, but so far there has been no saver award availability for their dates. Do you have any suggestions for any other options? Should I transfer some points to ANA and try their search engine?”

Redeeming miles for friends and family is a great way to put your miles to use – you get to send the people you love somewhere they’ve dreamed of going. That should make them, and you, feel great.

Although I actually think United does a pretty good job at pulling in Star Alliance availability, it does have limitations when it comes to routing, and if you are getting off the beaten path, or conversely, if you’re trying to book on heavily trafficked routes, you might have issues finding award availability on the flights the search engine pulls up.

As I pointed out in this post on Searching for Star Alliance Availability, ANA’s online search engine pulls in almost perfectly up-to-date Star Alliance award availability. You can sign up for a Mileage Club account here and then login to their search engine here. Award availability is shown 330 days in advance, which is less than some of the other engines, like Aeroplan. As Eric notes, you do have to have miles in your ANA account to search. You can transfer increments of 1,000 miles into your account from Amex Membership Rewards and many hotel programs, but usually at bad ratios (note: if you are a Starwood Platinum you can even transfer as little as 1 point per transaction, though I’d recommend transferring at least 100 because I once only transferred 3 points and it wasn’t enough to activate the search tool). Note that transfers usually take about 48 hours, so plan ahead.

ANA's search engine is powerful, but can be tricky to use.

ANA’s search engine is powerful, but can be tricky to use.

Once you have access, the tool will allow you to search specific city pairs and will allow you to pull in availability 7 days at a time, though the major downfall of the ANA search tool is its inability to piece together complex itineraries or offer different routing options. It’s reliable in validating actual award availability before calling in to book, but it’s not very helpful when trying to cobble together multiple leg itineraries.

Aeroplan.com also has a great Star Alliance search engine that searches award availability starting 356 days in advance, but can be tricky with routing and you can use the multi-city search to check segment by segment.

You can also use ExpertFlyer to search for availability on all Star Alliance carriers now, as well as setting alerts for when award seats open up.

I’d actually just recommend trying the United search engine again and getting creative with routing. For instance, if you’re trying to get your folks to Europe, instead of searching New York to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, try searching Chicago to Dusseldorf or Newark to Stuttgart instead since you’ll be getting them to Europe and there tends to be more availability on less-traveled routes like that:
There's more availability on routes you might not know about like this Newark to Stuttgart flight.

There’s more availability on routes you might not know about like this Newark to Stuttgart itinerary that includes a leg to Dusseldorf.

If this truly is the trip of a lifetime and something they have been looking forward to, it’s worth being a little more flexible and varying up their departure and arrival airports (within reason) so that you can get the big transatlantic flight on a great airline in a great class of service and then add on a short leg once they are already in Europe. It also helps to be a bit flexible with dates in order to fly in the class of service they desire.

So good for you for using your miles to send your folks on the trip of their dreams – because with a little research, creativity and flexibility, there’s no reason you can’t use your 200,000 miles to get them to Europe in business class.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/garyleff Gary Leff

    “As Eric notes, you do have to have miles in your ANA account to search.”

    You’re correct to suggest transferring 100 into ANA. But it’s not actually necessary to have miles in the account to search…

    Click on “ANA International Flight Awards” and enter any city pairs/dates. Click “Next” (not ‘Flight Search’). Then scroll to the bottom and you’ll see “Use Star Alliance Member Airlines”.. click that to search.

  • RakSiam

    AwardNexus.com is pretty good too. When I booked my July trip to Europe a couple of months ago I was surprised how much availability there was (lots!). And even now there are several choices. I booked everything just searching at united.com But I am traveling from IAD which is a big UA and *A gateway which probably helps. If he is trying to book his parents from a smaller airport the problem may well be the USA flights, not the TATL part. Or if he is trying to get them to a smaller airport in Europe that could be part of it. Dates could also be the issue. If there are only limited dates it could be that those are popular dates or holidays. So I think you’re right to send him looking for the TATL part first. Once you have the TATL part you can always add on the US leg on a paid fare if necessary.

    Or it could be that he’s searching for a destination that doesn’t have much *A coverage.

  • Michaelmammonejr

    I just booked 2 business class tickets to Paris, in July, for 200k points using the saver awards. What I noticed is that you can’t just look at the color-coded calendar at the top of the screen to determine if there are saver awards available. You actually have to scroll through all the items displayed. Good luck!

  • Jeff Jones

    Expertflyer really helps if you need to monitor a flight for an award seat opening up. But for finding an initial booking I’ve found the United award engine to be fine. Two things to do, be as flexible and search the non-stop Transatlantic flights first, then piece together the rest. As an example Last Fall needed two Business seats Washington DC to Prague. With I searched IAD-PRG I found nothing. I eventually found IAD-MAN-DUS-PRG. I was one extras flight than I had planned, but I was able to get my business seats. So far this year I’ve book two trips IAD-BUD and EWR-EZE both in business just by bring a little flexible

  • iv

    Try searching on Aeroplan website, granted you will most likely have to connect via Toronto but I’d rather connect in North America vs. Europe.

  • waynekim5

    You mentioned Dusseldorf and Stuttgart as possible cities as alternative routing options in Europe. Do you have any other recommendations?

  • Eric

    Brian, thanks so much for answering my question.

    I’m attempting MIA-LHR (free stopover for 4 days) – ROM and then openjaw VCE-MIA. I have been getting creative by trying things like fly they up to New York or Philly or Chicago or D.C. and have them spend a night before continuing on the next day to LHR. Now, however, I’m under the gun. I’ve got 200,000 Hilton points for them and two weekend night certificates. I would love to give them a GLON award of 5 nights at the Rome Cavalieri, but they only have a small window to fly there and back and some savy fliers must be booking up that hotel in advance of the devaluation. I can only find one block of 4 nights available with standard rooms during their time period. So, because of that and other issues, I’m now locked in to needing to fly them from south florida to arrive at LHR 6/3 (so leaving 6/2) and I need to fly them back from VCE (or I’m thinking I could get them on a train earlier, have them spend the day and fly back from Vienna, Zurich, Florence, or Milan – wherever I can get the flight) on 6/13 or 6/14.

    My parents put me through law school and have never once treated themselves to anything fancy like business class and 5 star hotels. In fact, they’ve never been to Europe even though I’ve been twice and my sister once. I’ve been following your site about a year now, and I’m just desperately trying to use the knowledge you have given me to repay them in some small way and thank them for all they’ve done.

    Thank you TPG and TPG loyal readers. I will continue my searching and hopefully get them what they deserve before the March 28 deadline.

  • Robert

    Unfortunately, I am actually in Eric’s shoes. Most likely our initially planned 2-or-so-week trip for 3 in an economy class to EU may need to get postponed. Not to mention the fact that 200K Hilton points will give us barely 2 nights instead of 4 (plus 2 free weekend nights) thereafter.
    Even though, we’re quite flexible with dates between June 28 and July 28 as well as destinations NYC – VCE/ROM/LON/GDN (in any combination since Avios would be used for one way LON-VCE/ROM or vice versa) – NYC, we cannot find returning flights, unless we want to spend additional 75000 miles on standard award but that would be a huge waste of miles.
    It looks like everyone is coming to the US at the same time.

    ps. anybody with any alternative ideas or creativity from a different perspective???

  • Justynarydza

    there is business class space available Vienna to JFK on 6/14, spend the night in NYC and continue EWR to MIA on 6/15

  • P

    You often have to get creative. United.com often doesn’t show saver awards available when (e.g.) there is no domestic availability, or when there is no partner availability for onward travel within Europe once you’ve got to FRA, LHR, etc. I often just check for the transatlantic legs, then work from there, adding on legs in coach or even paid. E.g. we just booked some biz class saver awards from SFO->BCN, but we could only get as far as LHR. So, we just opted to pay for coach BA tickets from LHR->BCN, which are cheap, so the net cost to us was still pretty low.

  • Eric

    Excellent! Thanks for your help. Now if only I can get them there…..

  • DJ

    I know it is not always possible to plan ahead, but in my experience I have always got the flights I want using miles by booking 330 + days out. I monitor when the dates become available in the system then book ! Right now I m waiting to book Cathay Pacific 1st class award tickets for February/March 2014, I am checking everyday, and should be able to book within the week !

  • jmw2323

    was going to mention the same thing. no issues searching with zero miles in account

  • thepointsguy

    Great tip- the color coding is hardly ever accurate. I usually click through every day and scroll to look at every option

  • Eric

    I was not able to search with zero miles, but I was able to search using this script:

    http://boardingarea.com/blogs/thewanderingaramean/2012/08/reintroducing-the-ana-partner-search-link/

    FYI, I found that link in the TPG archives. Also, so far no luck on my dates even using ANA and Aeroplan, but I’m playing with routing and I’ll find them a way there and back. It will take some annoying extra routing, but if it’s business class all the way, I don’t think I’ll hear any complaints! Thanks everyone for your contributions.

  • Asdf

    Yes.

    You simply need to plan ahead. That’s the problem here, nothing more complicated than that.

    Trying to book for peak season on high-demand routes just a few months from your preferred travel dates is unrealistic. Add to that the blogs incessant flogging have herded millions of new players to rack up billions of miles, nobody should be surprised that they’re increasingly difficult to use.

  • Robert

    On January there were no problems with seats availability, thus planning was not an issue. If only I have had sufficient miles at the time.

  • jg8675

    I’m not sure why no one has suggested this to Eric, but he should try calling United M+ reservations and have them see what they can find. In my experience the United site has only a handful of options (or no options) and the reservations agent can find many other options that do not show up on the site using a combination of United flights plus other Star Alliance partners. To be honest, many of the partner airlines (especially in Asia) have much higher quality equipment and service (IMHO). Yes, he will have to pay a small fee, but it’s well worth it to be able to book the flights on or around the dates he needs.

  • Eric

    Got them booked! With a bunch of hard work and searching daily in and out of various cities, I was able to find great flights on united.com and then got them booked over the phone.

    MIA – LHR (stopover) – Air Canada business class with a layover in Toronto.

    LHR – FCO – Swiss business class with a brief layover in Zurich

    (open jaw) FLR – MIA – Swiss business class also with a brief layover in Zurich

    Ultimately, 200,000 United points nets them 2 roundtrip business class flights that if I tried to book on those exact airlines and routes now in cash would cost a combined $26,1040.14!!!

    As an extra bonus, I managed to get them a GLON award before the March 28 devaluation deadline at the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria. 170,000 HHonors points gets them 4 nights.

    Hearing the excitement in their voices already has made it worth it, but I still don’t think they have any idea what they are in for.

    Thanks TPG and TPG readers for all your help and insight!

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