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Four Ways to Save Big on Business Class Flights to Europe

May 06, 2016
6 min read
Four Ways to Save Big on Business Class Flights to Europe
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I have had the honor of introducing several of the travelers in my family one generation older than me to the world of business class international travel (using miles) both because it is just flat out more enjoyable than coach regardless of you are, but also because as that generation is now in their 60's and 70's, longer haul coach travel just can't possibly be comfortable.

It is one thing, I'm sure, to curl up overnight in a coach seat at 25, but entirely another to repeat that process at 65 or older. I'm only 35 and it feels different now than when I was 20, so I'm sure that difference just intensifies as time marches on.

Along those lines, a family friend who is roughly in the same generation as my parents recently asked me for help in getting to Europe and back this fall with his wife in a business class seat. Their son and his wife, my friends, will be having their first baby this fall in the UK and naturally the grandparents want to be able to visit. Both because it is simply more comfortable, and also because of some knee issues, they are very interested in doing this trip in business class and asked for some help in making it a bit more affordable, which I am more than happy to do.

United BusinessFirst seat

They have some miles, though not a ton, and additionally are willing to pay for the business class seats, just hopefully at a somewhat reasonable price. They correctly estimate that the average going rate for the Houston - London route is often about $4000 round trip per business class seat. They would love to pay roughly half that, if possible, or obtain and use miles if that route is reliable.

I'm sharing my advice to them here in case it helps someone else in a similar situation.

To save big on business class flights to Europe there are a few pathways that come to mind.

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  • Earn airline miles and use them to fly almost for free. This is my personal favorite approach, and I think this family should work on earning enough United miles for a business class round trip or two in the future by getting the United MileagePlus card and/or cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards that can transfer 1:1 to United like the Sapphire Preferred, but the approach isn't fool-proof and works best when you have pretty broad date flexibility. A business class saver award on a United operated flight using United miles would cost 115,000 miles round trip. There are some award chart sweet spots where you can save some miles/points by booking with other carriers, but that number is a good starting point to work with. However, business class award space from Houston to London at the saver level for the fall currently looks pathetic via United. It may certainly improve between now and then, and you can often piece together a multi-leg itinerary if you try hard enough, but multiple connections with a bad knee hardly seems like a good strategy.
  • Book a vacation package and ditch the hotel portion if you don't want it. This really is my #1 suggestion to the family given their set of parameters, but I'm putting it second because they should simultaneously be doing #1 to use on a future trip. Believe it or not, it can cost significantly less to book business class tickets to Europe as part of a hotel and air package then it does to buy the tickets by themselves. Crazy, right? As an example, you can book an air + hotel American Airlines Vacation package from October 19 - October 26th with two round trip tickets in business class on the nonstop British Airways operated flights and 6 nights of hotel in London from $2,827 per person. If you wanted to purchase the exact same flights by themselves, they would each cost $4,157 each. While I haven't done it myself, One Mile at a Time says you can save even more by just doing the minimum three nights of hotel via the package, but you must call to book that over the phone at 1-800-321-2121. The package I priced was the cheapest hotel option online, but assuming you actually want to stay in the hotel, simply select a better property and you are still saving big overall.
  • Wait for a fare sale as business class prices to Europe can dip at or below $2,000 per person. These sales usually pop up at least once a year, sometimes more, but you need to act quickly as they don't last long. The best way to spot these are follow a few blogs like this one and especially One Mile at a Time and View From the Wing as they are more keyed in to paid premium cabin sales that I am. Following sites that share airfare sales like @theflightdeal on social media is also a very sound tactic. We are actually flying on paid business class tickets to Europe this summer since the opportunity arose to spend just $446 + 30,000 British Airways Avios per round trip ticket. Without using Avios you could have paid $2,016 for business class tickets, or dropped that price by using the AARP discount and/or discount for having the British Airways Visa, which brings me to my final tip...
  • Use the AARP discount and British Airways Visa discount to drop the prices anytime. If all else fails, you can always drop the business class price on a British Airways operated flight by $400 round trip if you are an AARP member (and anyone can join). You can also knock an additional 10% off if you have the British Airways Visa and use the promo code CARDOFFERU. That's obviously not going to turn a $4,000 ticket into a $2,000 ticket, but it certainly helps, and can usually be stacked with any other British Airways sales that may pop up.

Have you used any of these methods? How do you like to save big on business class flights to Europe?