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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – United MileagePlus Explorer
Europe has long been a hot summer travel destination, and this year is no exception. For those of you interested in exploring the old country, today TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at a great option for getting to Europe with travel rewards.
As TPG wrote about yesterday, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card just announced a new offer. For a limited time, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of cardmembership, and the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. This is a great way to boost your MileagePlus account in general, but today I want to focus on a particularly lucrative redemption: using those miles to head to Europe this summer.
Given the strength of the US Dollar against the Euro and British Pound, it’s a great time for Americans to head across the Atlantic. The months of June, July, and August are high season across most of the continent, but with airlines adding many new European routes, competition is heating up, leading to lower fares and greater award availability.
I’ve written before about how a single credit card can unlock valuable rewards with just a year’s worth of “typical” spending, but the new offer for the United Explorer card is even more lucrative, as you can score a round-trip economy ticket to Europe in a much shorter time frame. The best part is that United charges the same mileage for coach tickets to Europe on both its own metal and on partner flights (60,000 miles round-trip), opening up a variety of destinations and routes.
Here’s how to do it:
- Apply for the card.
- Once approved, spend $1,000 in the first 3 months to earn the sign-up bonus of 30,000 miles. You’ll also earn 1,000 miles for meeting the spending requirement.
- Add an authorized user and have him/her make a purchase to earn an extra 5,000 miles.
- Spend an additional $2,000 to earn 2,000 more miles, or transfer points at 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Plus Business Card.
After completing those steps, your MileagePlus account will have enough miles for a round-trip economy class ticket to Europe!
Of course, earning the miles is just the first step. The more important one is finding a seat. Fortunately, United’s website makes it easy to search for award availability across most of the Star Alliance network. When it comes to travel from the U.S. to Europe, you’ll have access to the following carriers (in addition to United):
- Aer Lingus from Boston, Chicago-O’Hare, New York-JFK, Orlando, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles
- Austrian from Chicago-O’Hare, New York-JFK, and Washington-Dulles
- Brussels Airlines from New York-JFK and Washington-Dulles (not bookable on United.com)
- Ethiopian from Los Angeles to Dublin
- LOT Polish Airlines from Chicago-O’Hare and New York-JFK
- Lufthansa from Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago-O’Hare, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-JFK, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington-Dulles
- SAS Scandinavian Airlines from Chicago-O’Hare, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles
- SWISS from Boston, Chicago-O’Hare, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-JFK, and San Francisco
- TAP Portugal from Miami and Newark
- Turkish Airlines from Boston, Chicago-O’Hare, Houston, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles
Availability on many of these routes is good throughout the summer, though it’s best to have some flexibility in your travel dates. Here’s a snapshot of some of the itineraries available for random dates this June, July, and August (all availability is accurate as of the time of writing, though it may have changed since):
New York to Dublin on Aer Lingus
- Dates: June 11-17
- Award ticket cost: 60,000 miles + $49.80
- Paid ticket cost: $773.37
- Redemption value: 1.2 cents per mile
Chicago to Frankfurt on Lufthansa and United
- Dates: July 3-8
- Award ticket cost: 60,000 miles + $113.20
- Paid ticket cost: $1,781.10
- Redemption value: 2.78 cents per mile
Newark to London-Heathrow on United
- Dates: July 31-August 9
- Award ticket cost: 60,000 miles + $193
- Paid ticket cost: $1,882.90
- Redemption value: 2.8 cents per mile
Los Angeles to Dublin on Ethiopian
- Dates: August 15-24
- Award ticket cost: 60,000 miles + $45.40
- Paid ticket cost: $1,415.92
- Redemption value: 2.3 cents per mile
Boston to Munich on Lufthansa
- Dates: July 11-21
- Award ticket cost: 60,000 miles + $96.70
- Paid ticket cost: $1,604.60
- Redemption value: 2.5 cents per mile
San Francisco to Paris on United
- August 9-25
- Award ticket cost: 60,000 miles + $81.40
- Paid ticket cost: $1,779.30
- Redemption value: 2.83 cents per mile
Miami to Lisbon on TAP Portugal
- Dates: July 29-August 12
- Award ticket cost: 60,000 miles + $51.70
- Paid ticket cost: $2,547.60
- Redemption value: 4.16 cents per point
Things to keep in mind
These options really represent the tip of the iceberg, as I only looked at non-stop flights from the U.S. to various European destinations. There are many ways to extend your miles even further:
- Look for connecting flights. Most of the above scenarios have you departing from or arriving in an airline’s hub. That opens up a wealth of additional destinations by adding a connection. While the taxes and fees may increase slightly, as long as the final destination is within Europe, it’ll still set you back the same 60,000 miles.
- Add a stopover and/or 1-2 open jaws. Adding stopovers and open jaws to award tickets is a great way to extend your miles even further, and as of now, United is one of the more generous carriers with these allowances. On a round-trip ticket, you can have a stopover and up to two open jaws, meaning you could book an itinerary like JFK to Frankfurt (stopover) to Venice (destination), and then fly back from Florence to Washington via Brussels. Again, you’d have to pay some extra taxes and fees, but as long as the itinerary is a valid routing, it should price out at the same 60,000 miles!
- Consider using ExpertFlyer. As TPG has discussed before, ExpertFlyer can be your best friend for finding award availability, and many United partners display award availability there, including Aer Lingus, Brussels Airlines (which doesn’t display on United.com), and Turkish Airlines. This is a great way to find availability ahead of time, or (if there is none) to set an alert for when a seat opens up.
- Don’t be afraid to call. United.com is generally pretty good about showing accurate partner availability, but there are some issues. If you use a site like ExpertFlyer or ANA’s search tool to find availability that won’t show up on the United website, call an agent! Since the trip isn’t bookable online, you should be able to have the $25 ticketing fee waived.
- Book at least 3 weeks in advance. Unless you’re a Premier Platinum, 1K, or Global Services member with United, be sure to lock in your travel plans at least 21 days before departure, since United charges a close-in ticketing fee of $25 – $75 for last-minute bookings.
- Bring a friend. All of the itineraries above are based on one passenger booking one award ticket, but the strategies outlined above are pretty easy to duplicate. Traveling alone can be wonderful, but sharing that experience with someone else can make it even better!
Credit card sign-up bonuses can be great for boosting your account balances, but in the case of this new offer from the United Explorer, it can (almost) immediately pay off with a round-trip award ticket to Europe during the height of the travel season. The sample itineraries above should give you just a taste of what’s possible, but feel free to share your own travel plans below!
How have you used United miles for travel to Europe?