Top 6 Ways to Fly to Europe in Business Class
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While summer award availability to Europe tends to be tight, you can still find some great seats with a little flexibility and creativity. As a follow-up to his post on the Top 5 Ways to Fly to Europe in First Class, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen covers six great options for flying in business class across the Atlantic.
It seems like there are more options than ever to fly business class to Europe. Domestic airlines are all upping their game, with new cabins on American and conversions to fully lie-flat seats on Delta and United pretty much complete. That said, there are lots of other great choices these days, including European, Asian and Middle Eastern carriers. Given the tight availability of business-class awards and the higher mileage prices airlines are charging for premium awards, it pays to know your options.
This post isn’t about the absolute best business-class seats to Europe (though I do include some of the TPG team's favorites). Instead, I chose these based on a combination of factors including convenience, award availability, ease of booking, the seats themselves, amenities and more. For instance, Air France’s new business-class seats look pretty great, but award availability is extremely limited and the airline has been swapping out updated aircraft for older ones at the last minute on a lot of flights, so I didn't include it on this list.
Read on to see our picks, and please share your own in the comments below!
You might be surprised to see Ireland’s flagship carrier on this list, but it’s here for several good reasons. While Aer Lingus doesn’t fly to many US cities, it does operate out of Boston, Chicago, New York (where it has a brand-new lounge in Terminal 5), Orlando, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and award availability tends to be good. Plus, it’s a quick flight to Dublin from the East Coast, and you can connect to plenty of other European destinations from there.
The airline has begun to install its new business class with staggered seats on its flagship A330s. The fleet is not yet totally converted, but a good number of the new planes are in service on its US routes. You can check the seat configuration of your specific flight to see if your plane has the updated product: Look for flights with either 4 or 5 seats across in business class (rather than the 6 you'll find in the old configuration).
While the cabin isn't particularly fancy, Aer Lingus is known for its friendly service, and the new seats look pretty roomy at 22 inches wide and 78 inches long in a fully horizontal recline. The upholstery was designed by Dublin-based Botany Weaving to reflect Ireland’s weaving heritage. The staggered layout means most seats have direct aisle access. Each seat also has a 16-inch HD touchscreen in-flight entertainment system, and the new business class offers complimentary Wi-Fi. Meals come courtesy of executive chef James Keaveney and food consultant Hugo Arnold, and include signature seasonal dishes from Irish restaurants across the country’s four provinces.
While Aer Lingus is not currently a member of an airline alliance, British Airways is slated to take it over pending government approval, and at that point, the airline will return to Oneworld.
Until then, Aer Lingus partners with British Airways, though you might not want to use Avios for premium awards thanks to the award chart devaluation in April. The one exception is on Aer Lingus’ route from Boston to Dublin. Awards used to be 50,000 Avios round-trip in business class, and now cost 75,000 Avios. That’s still a fair deal, but it's a short flight for that many miles. That said, British Airways is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and American Express Membership Rewards (though the transfer rate is changing soon), so you have a lot of options to top up your account.
Aer Lingus also partners with United Airlines, so if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Plus Business Card, you could book flights on Aer Lingus by transferring Ultimate Rewards points to either BA or United. United will charge you 140,000 miles round-trip for a business-class award on Aer Lingus to Europe. That's pretty expensive, but United.com is one of the best places to search for Aer Lingus awards:
If you have an ExpertFlyer subscription, you can use it to search for Aer Lingus awards, specifically if you’re mostly finding United and Lufthansa flights.
Once Aer Lingus returns to Oneworld, your best bet for awards will probably be to use American AAdvantage miles, since business class will cost just 100,000 miles round-trip.
American has employed not one, but two distinct new business-class cabins on its European routes lately. The first is aboard its flagship 777-300ERs, which the airline flies to London from its hubs in New York and Los Angeles.
Seats on these aircraft are laid out in a 1 x 2 x 1 reverse herringbone configuration with 13 rows total. Two of the rows are in a smaller front cabin behind first class, and the rest are in a main business cabin. Each of the 52 seats has a pitch of 43 inches width of 26 inches, and reclines to a fully flat length of 78 inches.
Each seat also has a 15.4-inch personal entertainment screen. The meal service isn’t going to blow anyone away — prepare for a beef, chicken and vegetarian pasta option. The wine list rotates depending on where you’re flying, but is 60 labels strong, so you never know what might be offered on your flight.
American also seems to be flying the refitted 767-300s on its routes from New York-JFK and Chicago O’Hare to Paris-CDG. Those seats more resemble the staggered lie-flats of Delta One, and are laid out in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration with direct aisle access for every seat. There are 28 seats total in 7 rows that lie completely flat. The one drawback here is that there are no built-in IFE screens, so passengers get Samsung tablets.
American’s business-class amenity kits are currently part of a limited-edition “heritage” line with livery colors and logos from the nine airlines that have merged with American over its history, including TWA, Piedmont and RenoAir. They contain the usual oral care products, footies and eye mask, as well as Red Flower spa products.
While American’s soft product might be a little lacking, you can’t argue with the comfort of the airline's new business-class seats. The ones on the 777-300ER are among the most popular in the skies thanks to their privacy, personal space and comfort.
If you want to fly either of these business-class cabins, your best bet is to use AAdvantage miles or redeem Alaska Airlines MileagePlan miles. Either of those options will cost you 50,000 miles each way plus taxes and fees.
Just beware that those extra costs can range into the hundreds of dollars depending on where you fly, so be sure to budget accordingly.
There has been a big kerfuffle over so-called fifth-freedom routes and Middle East carriers adding new routes to the US lately, and Emirates has been in the fray thanks partly to this off-label route from New York-JFK to Milan-MXP, which TPG flew last summer (on the 777-300ER).
The best way to book this route is with Alaska MileagePlan miles, though the cost is comparatively steep at 75,000 miles each way (as opposed to 50,000 for American, 60,000 for British Airways, and 62,500 for Delta, Air France or KLM). That said, the taxes and fees are pretty low, at about $80 round-trip.
Emirates’ Skywards program is also a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. You'll need 62,500 miles each way, but taxes/fees can be well over $1,000, so beware! There are plenty of other ways to book Emirates awards, so weigh your options.
Emirates now operates this route with an A380, which has a business-class cabin on its upper deck laid out in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration. Each seat is 18.5 inches wide and has 48 inches of pitch, reclining to a fully lie-flat bed of 79 inches. Each seat also has its own 15.4-inch IFE screen with over 2,000 entertainment options, in-seat power ports and a personal mini-bar with beverages and snacks.
Emirates features different business-class amenity kits for men and women. The men’s kit is made of canvas and contains products by Thé Rouge, including after-shave emulsion, body lotion and eau parfumée. Men get a razor from Taylor’s of Old Bond Street, while the women’s kit contains Bvlgari face and hand products, as well as Thé Rouge eau parfumée.
The dining options have been reviewed favorably; a main course might include prawn biryani or chicken breast “gently filled” with cheese and served with cherry tomato stew. You can also sidle up to the business and first-class bar at the back of the upper deck for a cocktail with any new friends you make during your flight.
We’ve covered Singapore’s signature First Class Suites and how to book them with miles thoroughly, but don’t forget that the airline also has an amazing business class aboard its A380s and 777-300ERs (which are getting refitted with a new business class as well).
The airline operates two routes from the US to Europe. The first (and most talked about) is from New York-JFK to Frankfurt aboard the A380. The second is from Houston-IAH to Moscow-DME aboard a 777-300ER, which has amazing business-class award availability.
Your best bet for booking these awards is to use Singapore’s own KrisFlyer program. You might not have any KrisFlyer miles yet, but remember that KrisFlyer is a 1:1 transfer partner of all four major points programs: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
You can transfer Amex points you earn with cards such as the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card and The Platinum Card from American Express. If you want to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you must have one of the premium Ultimate Rewards cards (like the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus) in order to transfer to KrisFlyer.
Singapore was one of 11 airlines to become transfer partners with the ThankYou Rewards program over the past year or so as Citi made an aggressive expansion into the travel space. You can earn ThankYou Rewards with cards like the Citi Premier® Card and Citi Prestige Card. Singapore is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest (the loyalty program of Starwood Hotels). However, when you transfer points in increments of 20,000, you get a 5,000-point bonus that makes this option much more attractive. In addition to hotel stays, you can earn Starpoints by spending on the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express (or the similar business version, the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express).
The bottom line is that you have lots of options. Just note that it can take several days for transfers to go through, so plan accordingly. The other bit of good news is that KrisFlyer offers a 15% discount to its own members who book awards on Singapore Airlines flights online. So instead of 115,000 miles round-trip, these tickets will cost just 97,750 miles — a relative steal! However, note that taxes and surcharges can add up to hundreds of dollars.
As for what you get onboard, the A380 has 60 business-class seats that fill almost the entire upper deck in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration. Each seat is spacious, at 30 inches wide, and reclines to a fully horizontal flat position with 55 inches of pitch. The 777-300ER has 42 flat-bed seats with 51 inches of pitch and 30 inches of width. The IFE systems in both planes are 15.4-inch LCD screens.
Business passengers can take advantage of the airline’s “Book the Cook” service and pre-order from a menu of more than 60 dishes. Singapore maintains a list of menu options for each destination, but to give you an idea, flights to Frankfurt are currently offering items like suckling pig with dark beer sauce, savoy cabbage and potato wedges; and Bresse chicken with morel polenta, roasted zucchini, asparagus and jus.
With an ever-increasing route network, decent award availability and a competitive business-class cabin, Turkish Airlines is a great option for getting not only to Turkey, but also to all the airline’s destinations in Europe.
Turkish currently flies to Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York-JFK, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington Dulles, and will add nonstop service from Istanbul to Miami in October, and Atlanta in 2016. The airline also serves dozens of cities across Europe. It flies its 777-300ERs and A330s on its international long-haul routes.
Seats on the 777-300ER are in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration, while the A330 has a 2 x 2 x 2 layout, which you might prefer. Seats recline to a fully lie-flat position, and the airline has invested a lot in its business-class food program, including on-board chefs preparing fresh platters for passengers.
Turkish Airlines features business-class amenity kits designed by FORMIA and stocked with skincare products by Crabtree & Evelyn. The case can be reused later to hold a tablet. The airline is also planning to introduce Jaguar-branded bags on its long-haul flights departing from Istanbul, so keep an eye out for those.
Turkish is part of Star Alliance, so you can use your United or Aeroplan miles to book awards. United will charge you 70,000 miles each way and under $40 in taxes:
Aeroplan is an even better deal, charging just 52,500 miles each way and about $40 in taxes:
If you want to use United miles, the MileagePlus program is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards for cardholders of the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus cards. Aeroplan is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards if you have cards like the Premier Rewards Gold or EveryDay Preferred, so you have a lot of great options.
You might not want to overshoot Europe and layover in Istanbul, but check out this handy guide to a layover at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, and have a gander at the award-winning Turkish Airlines flagship lounge there, which includes amenities like a cinema, a golf simulator and a billiards room.
While Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have the newest business class, its most recent version (available on A330s and its new 787-9s) still looks pretty stylish. The cabin is laid out in the formerly popular herringbone configuration with seats in a 1 x 2 x 1 (A330, 747) or 1 x 1 x 1 (A340, 787) pattern depending on your aircraft. If you want more privacy, snag a seat on either side of the plane.
To take the newest seats as our example, each is 22 inches wide, fully lie-flat and reclines to 78 inches, so while TPG was a little cramped in his seat, most of us will fit. He also noted that the food was good but nothing special, and that the entertainment system was unimpressive.
Virgin Atlantic also offers two amenity kits; flights outbound for London contain kits designed to be used as tablet cases, while the kits on inbound flights can be used as travel wallets. The fabric of both is made from recycled plastic bottles, with gray on the outside and a burgundy interior. Inside you’ll find the usual assortment of amenities, though skincare products are in the lavs. On overnight flights, passengers get cotton pajamas.
Apart from the onboard amenities, Virgin is known for its super-swanky lounges, including the new Clubhouse at LAX. The one at JFK offers the usual amenities like Wi-Fi and an open bar, but also spa and salon treatments using Dr. Hauschka, Truefitt & Hill and Bumble & Bumble products. The Heathrow lounge is even larger and fancier, with a huge restaurant, an open-air deck overlooking the tarmac, a Cowshed Spa with a whirlpool and more.
In terms of booking, your best bets are either Virgin Atlantic’s own Flying Club miles or Delta SkyMiles. Delta will charge you 125,000 miles round-trip plus about $300-$400 in taxes/fees. Delta is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex and Starwood Preferred Guest.
Virgin charges between 80,000-100,000 miles round-trip, but adds taxes and fees that regularly top $1,100 (though they can be lower in some cases, such as the example below), so you have to think about whether you prefer to spend more money or miles. Like Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is a 1:1 transfer partner of all four major points programs, so you have plenty of options for attaining miles.
As I mentioned, there are other options, but these ones are great thanks to amenities, hard products and award availability.
Feel free to share your experiences with each of these products, as well as your own favorite business-class seats to Europe, in the comments below!