Top 10 Ways to Fly Business Class to Europe Using Miles
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Update 2/9/17 6:22pm: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Citi ThankYou Points are eligible for transfer to British Airways Executive Club. This error has been corrected.
In recent years, we’ve seen increasing competition among international carriers on popular routes including those from North America to Europe. That’s meant cut-rate discount fares from carriers like Norwegian and WOW, but airlines have also invested in their premium cabins in the hopes of luring high-paying passengers to fly business and first. All that is good news for travelers, whether they turn right or left when they board.
Today, we’re going to take a look at the best business-class options for flying from the US to Europe. This list is an update of this 2015 post. Like that one, the selections here were made by comparing a few factors including the comfort of the seats, the diversity of route networks, award availability and amenities.
For instance, United doesn’t make the list (yet — there’s always next year!) because its new Polaris seats are not yet available on flights to Europe. British Airways doesn’t make the cut despite great award availability thanks to outdated seats and sky-high carrier-imposed surcharges.
It might surprise you to see Singapore Airlines on this list since it just flies from New York to Frankfurt and Houston to Manchester. But it ranked for two reasons. One, it flies its newest business-class seats on the A350 and the A380 should be getting an update soon. And two, award availability is decent if you have Singapore KrisFlyer miles, which you can transfer from all four major transferable points program.
Here’s the list of major airlines that fly from North America to Europe, then read on below for our top choices of carriers with great business-class products you can book with miles.
Airlines Flying from North America to Europe
Aer Lingus: The Irish carrier not only flies to nearly a dozen US airports (with more coming soon), but award availability has been pretty good lately.
Aeroflot: This Russian carrier has some good award availability, but its business-class seats aren’t the most updated and taxes can be over $200 each way.
Aeromexico: Mexico’s flag carrier has some decent award availability from its hub in Mexico City, but you have to fly through there in the first place, and its business-class seats aren’t that special.
Air Canada: Award availability can be limited, especially if you want to fly aboard a 787 with the airline’s newest seats, and flying Air Canada involves stopping through Canada on your way. In addition, redeeming Aeroplan miles for Air Canada awards as well as those on Lufthansa can incur huge fees.
Air Europa: You can use your Delta and Flying Blue miles to fly this budget-ish carrier, but why would you when the business-class seats don’t even recline to fully horizontal?
Air France/KLM: These airline partners make the list thanks to some nice new business-class seats and widely available awards.
Air New Zealand: The antipodean airline has a great business-class service, but only flies from Los Angeles to London, and makes awards extremely limited for the most part.
Alitalia: Though Alitalia’s Magnifica business class is nice, the airline’s on-time record might have passengers thinking twice about booking it.
American Airlines: The airline has done a lot to overhaul its international business-class cabins in recent years, and a variety of routes to Europe mean that awards are fairly easy to book.
Austrian: Though it doesn’t have too many US hubs, this Star Alliance carrier has made huge numbers of business-class awards available in recent months.
Avianca: Sure, awards are readily available, as are low-priced business-class fares, but routing through the airline’s hub in Bogota means a lot of extra flying time.
British Airways: Lots of award availability, but also lots of taxes and fees that can top $1,000, not to mention business-class seats that are getting more outdated by the day.
Brussels Airlines: Generally good award availability, and even some great low-mileage options like using Etihad Guest miles, though last year’s attack at the BRU airport has caused many travelers to avoid it.
Delta: Consistent lie-flat business-class seats and decent award availability put this US carrier on the list.
Ethiopian: Ethiopian flies from Los Angeles to Dublin, and awards are easily booked, but the airline’s dependability is anecdotally questionable, with many flights delayed for hours or canceled altogether.
Finnair: We’ll wait till the airline puts more of its A350s (rather than A330s and A340s) on its US routes to put this Nordic carrier on the list.
Iberia: Nice new business-class seats, good award availability, low mileage requirements and minimal taxes and fees earn the Spanish flag carrier a place here.
LOT Polish Airlines: Award availability is generally good, but LOT only flies from a couple US gateways, and the seats are outdated at this point.
Lufthansa: Nearly 20 US destinations and uniform lie-flat seats on its entire long-haul fleet, not to mention award availability most days, all earned Lufthansa a place on this year’s list.
SAS: New, private business-class seats on its entire long-haul fleet and seven US gateways to choose from, plus the ability to use United or Aeroplan miles, makes SAS a contender.
Singapore Airlines: Sure, it only operates two routes from the US to Europe, but if you’ve got KrisFlyer miles, chances are good you’ll find an award seat on one of them.
Swiss: Service is, well, like clockwork, but award availability is not, unfortunately.
TAP Portugal: TAP is updating its long-haul fleet with new business-class seats, but they’re not available on all US routes yet, and the airline has a limited route network, so it’s not on our list this year.
Turkish Airlines: Turkish spent years burnishing its image as a global airline, but recent turmoil in Turkey as well as seats that are quickly becoming outmoded bump it from this year’s list.
United: We’ll wait till we see more of United’s new Polaris seats in service to put it on our list.
Virgin Atlantic: The cheeky UK carrier operates flights from several major US airports to its hubs in London and Manchester, and award availability is generally good. Using Delta miles to fly it can be a good deal, however, if you use Virgin’s own miles, the taxes and surcharges are astronomical.
As you can see, there are reasons various carriers didn’t make our top nine. As always, feel free to share your thoughts and your own picks for the best business-class options to Europe in the comments section. In the meantime, here’s our list in alphabetical order.
1. Aer Lingus
Aircraft and routes: Aer Lingus’ long-haul fleet consists of A330-300s, which it flies to the East Coast, and A330-200s, which it typically flies on its routes to the West Coast, all of which feature the airline’s new business class. Just note the Shannon (SNN) – Boston (BOS) route is flown with a 757 or 767 without the new business class. From its base in Dublin, Aer Lingus serves Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Hartford (BDL) – with a 757 also with lie-flat seats – Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), Newark (EWR), Orlando (MCO), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington (IAD). The airline also plans to launch service to Miami (MIA) in September and Las Vegas next winter.
Seats: Aer Lingus’ stylish new green seats are in a staggered 1-2-1 front-facing layout with all-aisle access. Each seat is 22 inches wide and has a full recline length of 78 inches, plus a 16-inch IFE screen as well.
Cuisine and amenities: Menus and wine change seasonally, so you’ll find different options depending on when you fly, but current items include dishes like shellfish mac ‘n cheese with grilled asparagus. Meals are served on Wedgwood china and beverages are poured into Wedgwood crystal, adding a touch of luxury to the experience. Amenity kits include Irish VOYA skin care products.
Using miles: Aer Lingus is currently being taken over by British Airways’ parent company and is expected to join Oneworld at some point in 2017. However, for the time being, it is still partners with United as well. That opens up a few award options. United is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and its site displays Aer Lingus award availability, so it’s probably the best search tool. United will charge you 70,000 miles each way to fly Aer Lingus to Europe in business class. You can also transfer Amex Membership Rewards (at a 1:0.8 ratio) to Avios, as are Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest points to British Airways Avios at a 1:1 ratio, plus a 5,000-mile bonus on 20,000-Starpoint transfers. There are a couple sweet spots in the Avios award chart (though BA has made some sneaky changes) including the East Coast and Chicago to Dublin for just 50,000-60,000 miles each way depending on whether your award is during the Peak or Off-Peak dates of Aer Lingus’ award calendar, and flights to the West Coast are 62,500-75,000 Avios. Aer Lingus was making tons of awards available for the summer for a while, but the space appears to have dried up for the moment. It could come back as the airline’s new routes to the US launch, though.
2. Air France
Aircraft and routes: Air France unveiled its new business-class seats back in 2014 and began installing them on its 777-300ERs in 2015. A few 777-200s also have the new seats. They will also be aboard the airline’s 787-9 aircraft.
AF has plans to refit its existing A330s and A380s with the new seats starting this year through 2020, so it’s going to be a gradual rollout. As of now, Air France flies 777-300ERs with the newest business class on routes from Paris to Boston (BOS), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK) and Washington Dulles (IAD). However, it also operates A380s to some of the same destinations, so always double-check your aircraft and seating configuration before booking.
The seats: The new seats are arranged in a popular reverse-herringbone 1–2–1 configuration. They’re rather eye-catching, with white frames, blue seats and red accents. Each reclines to a fully flat length of 78 inches, with 61 inches of pitch, and they’re 21.5 inches wide.
Amenities and cuisine: These seats have 16-inch touchscreen entertainment monitors, menus created by celebrity chef Daniel Boulud, and Clarins amenity kits.
Using miles: Air France seems to release more award space to members of its own Flying Blue mileage program than to those of partners such as Delta. That’s not a problem, though, because you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards if you have a card like the Business Platinum® Card from American Express; Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card; Citi ThankYou Rewards if you have a card like the Citi Prestige; or Starwood Preferred Guest points to Flying Blue at a 1:1 ratio (1:1.25 with Starwood on transfers of 20,000 points). Business class will cost you 62,500 miles in each direction from North America to Europe and generally about $200 in taxes, which is a bit high but not bad considering the amount of award availability. However, Flying Blue sometimes discounts awards up to 50% from certain cities in the US to Europe, so you might need to redeem as few as 31,250 miles each way… though business-class Promo Awards lately have been discounted 25% more frequently.
3. American Airlines
Aircraft and routes: It’s been a busy few years for American Airlines, including its merger with US Airways and the reinvigoration of its fleet with new aircraft like the 777-300ER and the 787-8 and 787-9. American has also been hard at work updating its international business-class cabins, including those on its routes to Europe.
The airline flies its flagship business-class seats aboard its 777-300ERs, which it operates from Los Angeles (LAX) and New York (JFK) to London (LHR), as well as other premium routes like from LA to Sydney and Dallas to Hong Kong. The rest of the airline’s long-haul fleet is a bit of a hodgepodge. Certain 787s and 777-200s were fitted with a front- and rear-facing reverse-herringbone configuration before the airline canceled its contract with a seat manufacturer then began installing another version (just front-facing) on its remaining 787s and 777-200s. Its remaining 767s, meanwhile, have a completely different kind of seat in a front-facing staggered configuration. So let’s focus on the 777-300ER and the 777-200, since those are the aircraft you’re most likely to fly to Europe. If you do see a 777-200 on your itinerary, check the seat map and be sure you are getting a plane that has undergone a refitting with the new configuration (otherwise it will be 2-3-2 across).
The seats: The 777-300ER seats are up to 26 inches wide and recline to 78 inches. They are configured in the reverse-herringbone 1-2-1 layout, as are the new 777-200’s seats. However, those are 27.7 inches wide and 79 inches long in recline mode. The 777-200s and 787-9s have 18-inch entertainment screens, while those on the 777-300ER are 15.4 inches.
Amenities and cuisine: American treats international business-class passengers to Cole Haan kits stocked with C. & O. Bigelow amenities. Menus are by James Beard Award-winning chef Maneet Chauhan and Michelin-starred chef Mark Sargeant.
Using miles: Though these seats are on some of American’s prime business routes, including those London ones, because of the number of frequencies and the number of seats on each flight, it’s possible to find awards, especially if you can be flexible and book at the last minute. American now requires 57,500 miles each way from the Continental US to Europe, but its partner Alaska only requires 50,000 miles each way for redemptions on American.
4. Austrian Airlines
Aircraft and routes: Austrian flies to its hub in Vienna from Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Miami (MIA), Newark (EWR), New York (JFK) and Washington Dulles (IAD). All these routes are operated by the airline’s 767-300s at the moment. The airline will also launch a new nonstop route from Vienna to Los Angeles on April 10, which will be operated by a 777-200.
The seats: The kind of seat you get depends on the aircraft. The 767s have a staggered front-facing 1-2-1 configuration, where seats on the side are closer to the window or the aisle and the two seats in the middle are either shifted right or left. The seats on the 777 are laid out in a unique staggered 1-2-1 and 2-2-2 with alternating rows having four or six seats. The seats are 19-19.5 inches wide and recline to a fully flat 78 inches with air-filled cushions that can be adjusted for firmness. The touchscreens are 15.4 inches wide.
Amenities and cuisine: Austrian’s food and beverage service is fun because it offers a “Flying Chef” service where business-class meals catered by DO & CO are made to order individually, and there are other special touches like appetizer trolleys and coffee service with choices of 10 different specialty drinks. The current amenity kits look a bit basic, with Bogner hand cream and the other usual inclusions.
Using miles: Austrian earns a place on this list thanks to its amenities, but more importantly, because awards have been readily and regularly available lately, including on its upcoming Los Angeles-Vienna route, and many flights have had two to six award seats open. To book it, your best bets are either United miles at 70,000 each way (and remember, United is a 1:1 instant transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards), or 55,000 Aeroplan miles, which are transferable from Amex Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio, or from Starwood Preferred Guest at 1:1.25 with transfers in 20,000-point blocks.
Aircraft and routes: We have yet to see the new “suites” Delta will roll out on A350s later this year, but the airline pulled ahead of the other US carriers by being the first to complete installation of lie-flat seats with direct aisle access across its entire long-haul international fleet. You’ll find some different seat versions depending on your aircraft, but they’re all lie-flat on the 767s and A330s it operates from the continental US to Europe. Delta makes this list because of the wide availability of aircraft with these business-class seats, giving flyers flexibility to redeem miles on a number of routes for consistently comfortable seats.
The seats: The seats aboard Delta’s 767s are in a staggered front-facing 1-2-1 configuration, where seats on the side are alternately closer to the window or the aisle. They are 21 inches wide and 76.5 inches long. The seats aboard the A330 are in a 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone layout with side seats angled outward and those in the center angled toward one another. They are 80 inches long and 21 inches wide.
Amenities and cuisine: Delta has some interesting partnerships with which it indulges its business-class flyers. It offers Westin Heavenly Bedding for those lie-flat seats, TUMI amenity kits stocked with Kiehl’s skincare products and five-course seasonal menus from chef partners like Linton Hopkins and New York restaurant Maialino, not to mention wines selected by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson.
Using miles: Delta made this list because you can be sure of what you’ll find on all its long-haul planes, and though the airline has stopped publishing fixed award charts, you can snag saver awards starting at 70,000 miles each direction. You can top up your Delta SkyMiles account by transferring points from either Amex Membership Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest.
Aircraft and routes: Iberia installed a new business class aboard its order of A330s a few years ago and has since completed that initiative. While it has begun converting some of its A340-600s, many of the airline’s A340s still have the old business-class seats on them, so if your flight is on an A340, be sure to check the seat map before purchasing a ticket. Most flights to/from the US these days tend to have the new business class, though. Iberia flies to several US cities, but many routes are seasonal (you can usually find them in summer), including those to Boston (BOS) and Los Angeles (LAX), while flights to Chicago (ORD), Miami (MIA) and New York (JFK) operate year-round.
The seats: These are the same style of staggered seats offered by Delta and Alitalia, among other airlines. They are laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration, with those on the side alternately closer to the aisle and to the wall depending on where the larger of the two armrests is. Each is 26 inches wide and reclines to 78 inches and has a 15.4-inch entertainment monitor.
Amenities and cuisine: Though meant to convey Spain’s gastronomic bounty, the food seems to be underwhelming, but at least there’s a strong (and detailed!) Spanish wine list to keep passengers occupied. The amenity kits are playful and stocked with L’Occitane products these days.
Using miles: Here’s the reason Iberia makes this list: It’s a great option for using either American Airlines miles or Avios without having to pay huge fuel surcharges for traveling through London. American will charge you 57,500 miles each way to fly from North America to Europe on Iberia.
However, one of the best tricks in the points playbook is that you can actually transfer British Airways Avios over to your Iberia Avios account at a 1:1 ratio and take advantage of redemptions with lower fuel surcharges.
For example, here’s an off-peak award from New York (JFK) to Madrid (MAD) that would cost you 34,000 Avios plus $80.80 through Iberia.
And here’s the same award through British Airways that costs 34,000 Avios… plus $456!
By contrast, a peak award on Iberia would cost 50,000 Avios and $80.80 in taxes and fees using Iberia or $456 using British Airways.
So the workaround here is that you can transfer points in from Amex Membership Rewards (at a 1:0.8 ratio), Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1) or Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1.25 on transfers of 20,000 points) to British Airways, then transfer those over to Iberia and redeem from there. 68,000 Avios plus about $200 in taxes and fees for a round-trip business-class ticket to Europe? Yes, please! Just note that the Avios award chart is distance-based, so flights from farther west will require more Avios.
Aircraft and routes: KLM has refitted almost its entire long-haul fleet of 777s and 747s with its latest business-class seats at this point, though some 777s still appear to have the old angled lie-flat ones, so be sure to check your specific flight on a site like Routehappy to be sure you’re getting a plane with the latest products. The airline also installed another new business-class seat on its 787-9s, whose only route to the US is Amsterdam to San Francisco (SFO) at this time.
The seats: The seats aboard the 777 are in a front-facing 2-2-2 configuration, and in 2-2 on the upper deck of the 747 and a sort of staggered 2-2-2 and 1 -2-2 or 1-1-2 variation on the 747s. Each has 63 inches of pitch and reclines to 80 inches long and 20 inches wide. Aboard the 787-9, seats are in a reverse-herringbone setup and are stylish with a navy and robin’s egg blue color palette. Each is up to 25 inches wide with the armrest lowered and reclines to fully lie-flat bed of 80 inches. The 747 and 777 seats aren’t the most amazing you’ll find, but the availability of awards gets them on this list.
Amenities and cuisine: KLM business-class passengers are served multi-course meals on flatware designed by Marcel Wanders. Amenity kits are by Dutch designer Jan Taminiau.
Using miles: Again, it’s the availability, ease of booking and standardization that combine to get a business-class product that might not be the very most fabulous a spot on this list. You can use 70,000 Delta miles each way to fly KLM from the US to Europe, or Flying Blue miles with the same transfer partners and Promo Awards possibilities listed above on Air France.
Aircraft and routes: Lufthansa started installing its latest business-class seats aboard its order of 747-8s back in 2012, and finished installing them aboard all its long-haul aircraft toward the end of 2015. That means you’ll find them on the airline’s A330s, A340s, A380s and 747s, which it operates from its hubs in Dusseldorf (DUS), Frankfurt (FRA) and Munich (MUC) to nearly 20 US destinations. Lufthansa will also launch its first US A350 route soon, with service between Munich and Boston.
The seats: These aren’t industry-leading or cutting-edge, but they are comfortable and fully lie-flat. Each is 78 inches long and up to 26 inches wide and has a 15.4-inch entertainment screen. They are arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration (or just 2-2 on the upper deck of the 747) with the shoulders away from one another and the feet angled toward one another.
Amenities and cuisine: Lufthansa regularly gets high marks for solid cuisine, and has been taking its menu program seriously since it revamped its food and beverage in 2012 to reflect regional dishes and seasonality. Lufthansa seems to have recently replaced its Samsonite amenity kits with those by German brand Bree, featuring Korres skincare products.
Using miles: Because Lufthansa is in the Star Alliance, you could use United miles to fly it, but it’ll cost you 70,000 miles each way. That’s not such a great deal. However, United is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so it could be a good choice for some. By contrast, Air Canada’s Aeroplan is an Amex transfer partner if you have a card like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, and charges just 55,000 miles each way, though taxes and fuel surcharges tend to be a couple hundred dollars each way.
Aircraft and routes: This Scandinavian carrier debuted its new business-class seats early in 2015, and has rolled it out to its entire long-haul fleet of A330s and A340s since then. SAS flies from its hubs in Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm to eight destinations in the US, including Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), Newark (EWR), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington (IAD).
The seats: These are another version of the Thompson Vantage XL, so they’re in that staggered 1-2-1 front-facing configuration with dividers for privacy between seats. Each is 23-24 inches wide and 77 inches long, with massage functions and 15.4-inch HD screens.
Amenities and cuisine: There are some interesting touches aboard SAS, including Swedish Hästens-brand bedding, amenity kits with REN products and three-course menus presented by an onboard chef.
Using miles: Like Lufthansa, SAS is also in the Star Alliance, so your best bets are United or Aeroplan miles. Though award availability from the West Coast is rare, it tends to be decent from other cities including New York and Chicago.
10. Singapore Airlines
Aircraft and routes: It’s no secret that Singapore Airlines is a favorite around TPG thanks to stellar business and first-class cabins and great award availability. The airline’s newest business cabins are aboard its 777-300ERs and A350s, though the A380 and some 777-200s also have recent versions of the business-class seat as well. For our purposes, though, Singapore flies A380s from New York (JFK) to Frankfurt (FRA) and recently launched a Houston (IAH) to Manchester (MAN) route aboard the A350.
The seats: Singapore’s business-class seats all have aisle access thanks to a 1-2-1 layout that feels more like first class on another airline. Each is 30 inches wide and 78 inches long on the A380, and 28 inches wide 78 inches long on the A350. The entertainment screens are 15.4-inches wide on the A380 and 18 inches on the A350.
Amenities and cuisine: While there are no amenity kits in business class, Singapore makes up for it in other respects. Business passengers can use the “Book the Cook” service to pre-order from menus of over 60 dishes. Singapore keeps an updated list of menu options for each destination, but to give you an idea, flights to Manchester currently feature items like chimichurri tenderloin and salmon fillet with white-wine velouté and vegetables.
Using miles: As mentioned, Singapore operates just two routes from the US to Europe. Either New York-Frankfurt or Houston-Manchester will cost you 57,500 KrisFlyer miles (but 48,875 thanks to a 15% online booking discount) plus about $200 in taxes and fees. KrisFlyer is a transfer partner of Amex, Chase, Citi and Starwood Preferred Guest, so even if you never fly Singapore, there are lots of ways to stock your account.
What’s your favorite way to travel from the US to Europe in business class?