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Award seat availability, especially for premium classes on international routes, continues to be the number one hurdle for points and miles enthusiasts. You’ve done your hard work, due diligence and credit card spend to earn the miles, only to be faced with a blank availability calendar for the route you want to fly. However, some flights offer plenty of award seats for first and business class. Today, I’ll review eight international products that have higher than average award availability and give you pricing options for booking each carrier.
1. Turkish Airlines Business
Star Alliance partner Turkish has a great a business-class product on its new A330-300s and a popular business lounge in Istanbul (IST). It isn’t difficult to find a transatlantic business-class seat on the carrier using the following Star Alliance partner programs: Air Canada Aeroplan, Avianca Lifemiles or United MileagePlus. Availability on many routes is great. For example, here’s what you’ll find when searching for the often overlooked route of Atlanta to Istanbul (dotted lines on the dates indicate premium-cabin availability):
Turkish flies nonstop to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. from IST, so you have plenty of options for positioning flights to grab a saver-level business seat.
Miles required from the US to Istanbul (one-way):
- Air Canada Aeroplan — 57,500 (earn with the Platinum Card® from American Express and other Membership Rewards [MR] cards)
- Avianca Lifemiles — 63,000 (earn with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express)
- United MileagePlus — 70,000 (earn with Chase Sapphire Preferred and other Ultimate Rewards [UR] cards)
2. Austrian Business
Similar to Turkish above, Star Alliance member Austrian has fairly decent availability on flights leaving the US for Europe, and great availability from Europe back to the US. If you want to fly to one of Austrian’s five destinations in Asia (Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Sri Lanka), you’ll find a seat or two open on almost every flight.
Miles required from the US to Vienna (one-way):
- United MileagePlus — 70,000 (earn with Chase Sapphire Preferred and other UR cards)
- Air Canada Aeroplan — 55,000 (earn with the Platinum Card from American Express and other MR cards)
- Avianca Lifemiles — 63,000 (earn with the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express)
Miles required from Vienna to Asia (one-way):
- United MileagePlus — 85,000
- Air Canada Aeroplan — 75,000
- Avianca Lifemiles — 45,000-78,000
3. British Airways First and Business
The ability to a book British Airways award seat for international routes is one of your safest bets in the points and miles world. Why? Because no one wants to pay $400+ in fuel surcharges for an award flight. There’s sure to be a seat or several open for many of the days you’d like to travel, but I can’t think of a reason to pay such a large cash surcharge on an award ticket. However, if you view your miles as a tool to subsidize premium-class flights, this may be an option for you.
Miles required from the US to London (one-way):
- Alaska Mileage Plan — 60,000 business, 70,000 first (earn with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card)
- American AAdvantage — 57,500 business, 85,000 first (earn with the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express)
- British Airways Executive Club — 50,000-75,000 business, 68,000-85,000 first (earn with Chase Sapphire Preferred and other UR cards)
It’s always been surprising that Emirates keeps business and first availability relatively open given the popularity of the product. If you’re just a bit flexible, finding a business or first-class seat to Dubai and beyond (or on the fifth-freedom route JFK-MXP) is not beyond your reach.
Miles required from the US to Dubai (one-way):
- Alaska Mileage Plan — 82,500 business, 150,000 first (earn with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card)
- Japan Airlines Mileage Bank — 63,000-65,000 business/85,000-100,000 round-trip, 100,000 first/135,000-155,000 round-trip (earn with the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express)
Miles required from the US to Europe (one-way):
- Alaska Mileage Plan — 105,000 business, 180,00 first
- Japan Airlines Mileage Bank — 42,000 business/63,000 round-trip, 65,000 first/100,000 round-trip
5. Korean Air Prestige and First
If you’re looking for a program which will get up to 8 people on an award flight in business class, Korean SkyPass is definitely worth checking out. Availability for the carrier’s own seats using SkyPass miles is terrific. You need to be aware of peak and off-peak dates when using Korean’s own miles, as well as the blackout dates if you’re trying to book with Delta SkyMiles or Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles. You can also transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Korean (earned with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred) to boost your SkyPass account.
If you want to book an award ticket for family members using SkyPass, you need to add them to your account well in advance, as you have to fax documents in to Korean proving your family relationship.
Miles required from the US to Korea/Japan (one-way):
- Korean Air SkyPass (off peak) — 62,5000 Prestige, 80,000 first (earn with Chase Sapphire Preferred and other UR cards)
- Korean Air SkyPass (peak) — 92,500 Prestige, 120,000 first
- Delta SkyMiles — 80,000 Prestige, first not bookable with Delta miles and availability is quite limited compared to using SkyPass. (earn with Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and other co-branded cards)
- Flying Blue — 100,000 Prestige, first not bookable with Flying Blue miles (earn with Chase Sapphire Preferred and other UR cards)
Yet another Star Alliance member that’s quite generous with its premium cabin space, Air China serves Houston (IAD), Los Angeles (LAX), Montreal (YUL), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), Vancouver (YVR) and Washington, D.C. (IAD) nonstop to Beijing (PEK). Air China calls its first class Forbidden Pavilion and business class Capital Pavilion — both are great hard products by most accounts. Capital Pavilion is much easier to come by than Forbidden Pavilion, but a quick search of routes from both SFO and LAX to PEK show every day having plenty of availability for premium cabins:
Miles required from the US to China (one-way):
- United MileagePlus — 80,000 business, 120,000 first (earn with Chase Sapphire Preferred and other UR cards)
- Air Canada Aeroplan — 75,000 business, 105,000 first (earn with the Platinum Card from American Express and other MR cards)
- Avianca Lifemiles — 75,000 business, 90,000 first (earn with the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express)
7 & 8. China Southern and China Eastern
On the SkyTeam front, both China Southern and China Eastern are generous with their business-class availability, though they cost a lot of miles and don’t always get the best flight reviews. China Southern flies nonstop from Guangzhou (CAN) to JFK, LAX and SFO, and China Eastern flies from Shanghai (PVG) nonstop to JFK, LAX, ORD and SFO.
Flexible date searches show entire months bookable with Flying Blue or Delta miles on many of these routes. My choice would be business class on the China Southern A380 from LAX, where every seat has aisle access.
Miles required from the US to China (one-way):
- Delta SkyMiles — 80,000 business, first not bookable (earn with the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express and other co-branded cards)
- Flying Blue — 100,000 business, first not bookable (earn with Chase Sapphire Preferred and other UR cards)
Typically, if your origin or destination is not the US, you’ll find much better premium cabin availability. During the three years I lived in Tokyo, I can’t remember ever having to shift a planned travel date more than a day to find two business or first-class seats for any intra-Asia or Asia-Europe flight I wanted. Thai Airways‘ intra-Asia and Asia-Europe routes typically have very good availability.
You’re also much more likely to find availability if you look at flights only 14 days out or less from the current date; this is the time frame for when Lufthansa first class is available for booking with partner airlines. Japan Airlines also routinely has four business and first-class seats available within two weeks of departure date. Alternatively, if you can book 330+ days out, or immediately when airline schedules open for booking, you are more likely to find premium cabin space, especially on Cathay Pacific and Qantas.
By earning transferable points like Membership Rewards, ThankYou Points or Ultimate Rewards, you can quickly earn enough rewards to book any of the above products and find yourself on an international itinerary in business or first class. Note that none of the US legacy carriers made the list, as none of them offer great availability. United beats American and Delta in the availability and pricing categories for international premium cabin award tickets, but it can still be tough to find a seat on United metal with your miles at the saver level.
Have you found great premium-class award availability on any other airlines?
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