The best ways to travel to Europe using points and miles
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current redemption options.
Europe is reopening. Come this summer, European Union will begin to admit vaccinated American travelers, so now’s the time to start preparing and plan how you’re going to book your trip.
With a rise of low-cost options for flights between the U.S. and Europe, airfare to hop across the Atlantic has dropped significantly over the last few years. However, these ultra-low-fares usually come with a slew of ridiculous fees and premium-cabin options are lacking. The best way to overcome these restrictions is by sticking with full-service carriers and booking your flights using miles.
Today, we’re going to look at the best options for flying from the continental U.S. to Europe using miles, broken down by airline alliance and cabin.
I compiled this list by comparing a few factors, including seat comfort, the diversity of route networks, award availability and amenities.
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Business class on American Airlines
Aircraft and routes: American Airlines flies from Charlotte (CLT), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York-JFK, Philadelphia (PHL), Phoenix (PHX) and Raleigh (RDU) to cities throughout Europe, including London-Heathrow (LHR), Frankfurt (FRA), Paris (CDG) and Rome (FCO).
Seats: American primarily operates its 787-8s, 777-200 and 777-300ER aircraft to Europe. You can expect a lie-flat seat regardless of which plane you’re on, but the best ones are the reverse-herringbone seats aboard the carrier’s flagship 777-300ERs. These regularly fly to London-Heathrow from Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and New York-JFK. On this route, American also flies the newly delivered 787-8s with ‘enhanced’ Rockwell Collins Super Diamond seats.
Amenities: On the ground, business class passengers can relax in American Flagship lounges (temporarily closed), as well as an arrivals lounge when flying to London-Heathrow. Onboard, passengers can expect meals curated by James Beard Award winner Sarah Grueneberg, Casper bedding and amenity kits by Shinola and D.S. & Durga.
Using miles: Besides a superior hard product, what makes American stand out from its Oneworld counterparts is that it doesn’t impose outrageous fuel surcharges on award flights. Saver business class awards to Europe are not terribly hard to come by and cost just 57,500 AAdvantage miles plus $5.60 each way (or less, depending on what Web Specials are available).
You can currently earn enough miles for a one-way business class flight to Europe through the following offers:
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 miles after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first 4 months of account opening.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
If you don’t have a haul of American miles but are sitting on a stash of Membership Rewards points, consider transferring them to Etihad. The Etihad Guest program offers potentially better rates than the American’s AAdvantage program, charging just 50,000 miles for one-way, saver-level American flights in business class from the U.S. to Europe.
Premium economy on Iberia
Aircraft and routes: Iberia has rolled out its premium economy product on most of the airline’s A330 and A340-600 aircraft. The carrier usually operates flights to Spain out of Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK) and San Francisco (SFO).
Seats: You can expect a consistent premium economy product, regardless of which Iberia aircraft you’re flying. The seats come with at least 37 inches of pitch, offer a good amount of recline and footrests.
Amenities: While the bedding isn’t too different from what’s handed out in economy, premium economy passengers also receive a small amenity kit and noise-canceling headphones. The meals are also a big step up from what you’d normally receive in economy — a TPG staffer raved about a rib dish served in 2017.
Using miles: The best way to book Iberia premium economy awards is by redeeming through Iberia’s own Iberia Plus program. The redemption rates vary based on the time of the year you’re traveling and the distance, but peak season premium economy awards start at 35,000 Avios and off-peak awards start at just 25,500 miles each way.
Here’s a broader overview of how many Avios you’d need for one-way, nonstop flights to Iberia’s hub in Madrid:
|New York (JFK)||17,000||20,000||25,000||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Chicago – O’Hare (ORD)||21,250||25,000||31,750||43,750||42,500||62,500|
|Los Angeles (LAX)||25,500||30,000||38,250||52,500||51,000||75,000|
|San Francisco (SFO)||25,500||30,000||38,250||52,500||51,000||75,000|
If you’re low on Iberia Avios, you can top up your account by transferring points in from one of the airline’s partner programs, including American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Alternatively, you may be able to transfer Avios from your British Airways Executive Club wallet. As a reminder, you’ll generally pay less in taxes and fees by booking with Iberia Avios (as opposed to British Airways Avios).
You can also redeem American Airlines AAdvantage miles for Iberia premium economy awards. One-way awards to Europe cost 40,000 miles, a reasonable 10,000-mile premium over the economy award price, especially considering premium economy paid flights can sometimes be double economy prices.
Economy on American Airlines
Aircraft and routes: As previously stated, American Airlines offers flights from its US hubs to many cities throughout Europe.
Seats: American’s long-haul economy-class seats are more consistent than the business-class ones. All long-haul economy-class seats offer a tolerable minimum of 31 inches of pitch and similar amenities.
Amenities: Economy-class passengers can always expect in-seat entertainment, power outlets and Wi-Fi when flying on any of the carrier’s long-haul aircraft. The 777s and 787s even offer modern features like mood lighting. Unlike some low-cost counterparts, American serves all economy-class passengers free meals, beer and wine on flights to Europe.
Using miles: Finding American Airlines economy-class awards to Europe is a breeze, and you won’t need to break the bank to book them. One-way saver awards cost 30,000 AAdvantage miles each way, or 22,500 miles during the “off-peak” period. However, the best redemption option might be booking a Web Special. We’ve previously seen Web Specials to Europe for as low as 9,000 miles each way.
Alternatively, Etihad Guest charges 20,000 to 30,000 miles for one-way economy awards, depending on the time of year.
Business class on Air France
Seats: Aside from the A330s, the new business-class cabins utilize a 1-2-1 configuration and provide each passenger a lie-flat seat, direct aisle access and plenty of privacy.
Amenities: Regardless of which Air France aircraft you find yourself on, you’ll be provided an amenity kit with Clarins products and served top-notch cuisine. The airline has partnered with Michelin-starred chefs like Anne-Sophie Pic, Arnaud Lallement and Guy Martin to prepare multi-course meals that include an amuse-bouche, salad, main course, cheese course and dessert complete with fine wines and champagnes selected by sommelier Paolo Basso and wine-guide authors Thierry Desseauve and Michel Bettane.
Using miles: You’ll find the most award space through Air France’s own Flying Blue mileage program — a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards (it also partners with Capital One, though at a slightly-less-lucrative 2:1.5 transfer ratio). This means you can transfer points earned on popular cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express to book your trip.
The program got rid of award charts, but to give you an idea, a one-way business class award ticket between New York-JFK and Frankfurt (FRA) will set you back just 53,000 miles on some dates. Meanwhile, flights to Paris price out between 57,500 and 75,000 in business class. However, you’ll need to fork over a few hundred dollars in taxes and fees.
Another booking option would be through Flying Blue’s Promo Awards, a rotating set of cities with discounted award rates to Europe.
Transatlantic Air France awards can be booked for fewer miles and no carrier surcharges through Japan Airlines’ Mileage Bank, but earning miles with that program is harder, as you can’t move any of the major transferable credit card points to your JAL account (though you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points).
Premium economy on Air France
Aircraft and routes: Air France offers its premium economy product on its entire long-haul fleet.
Seats: Air France offers two types of premium economy seats: one with a fixed-shell design and a much superior recliner style Recaro seat (currently available exclusively on the A350s). The fixed-shell seats are much more common. Each seat has a footrest and a bottom portion that extends outward when reclined. Still, not everyone’s a fan of the recline of the seatbacks themselves due to their shell-like design (which is the same as what’s used by Aeroflot — another SkyTeam carrier). Both types of seats are 19 inches wide and have 38 inches of pitch.
Amenities: Like most premium economy products offered on flights across the Atlantic (including Iberia’s), Air France’s premium economy experience begins on the ground with priority check-in counters and the ability to check two bags for free. Once onboard, passengers can expect a sleek amenity kit, noise-canceling headphones, printed menus and quality bedding.
Using miles: As with business class, the best way to book Air France premium economy awards is through Air France’s own Flying Blue mileage program — a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. Capital One also transfers to Flying Blue at a 2:1.5 ratio. Again, the rates vary based on the price of the actual ticket, but a one-way premium economy award between New York (JFK) and Paris (CDG) costs a minimum of 45,500 miles and a minimum of 54,500 miles for an award between Los Angeles (LAX) and Paris (CDG).
Economy on Delta
Seats: Unless you’re on an A350 or newly retrofitted 767-400s, you can expect a fairly consistent economy-class product across Delta’s long-haul fleet. Like on American, all seats offer decent legroom, with at least 31 inches of pitch.
Amenities: Delta’s entire long-haul fleet offers on-demand entertainment at every seat and in-flight Wi-Fi. The airline recently enhanced its international economy onboard experience and now serves complimentary welcome cocktails, hot towels and bistro-style food. Although a small gesture, Delta also provides eyeshades and earplugs to economy-class passengers on long-haul flights.
Using miles: You’ll usually be best off booking economy awards to Europe through Delta’s own SkyMiles program — a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. As with Air France’s Flying Blue, there’s no published award chart, so award rates can range vastly based on the actual price of the ticket. However, not having an award chart isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. Delta has flash sales from time to time, offering deals like the East Coast to Europe from 32,000 SkyMiles round-trip.
However, in some cases, you might want to consider booking your award through one of Delta’s partners. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, for instance, charges a flat 30,000 one-way for nonstop economy Delta awards to Europe. Plus, it’s easy to get Flying Club miles for cheap due to frequent Amex transfer bonuses. The only downside is that Virgin Atlantic will charge you for each segment if your itinerary requires a connection, so if you need to connect through a Delta hub to get across the Atlantic, using SkyMiles may be your best bet.
First class on Lufthansa
Aircraft and routes: Although Lufthansa temporarily stopped flying first-class-equipped planes to the U.S., the airline plans on resuming service once demand picks up again. Lufthansa serves a large number of North American airports ranging from major hubs like New York-JFK and Los Angeles to smaller airports such as Charlotte and Denver. If you want sure to be sure you’ll be able to book first class, look to fly a 747-8, which all have first class, compared to some A330s and A340s, which do not.
Seats: Lufthansa’s first-class seats are practically identical across its fleet. The seats themselves are not as private as some fully enclosed counterparts — for instance, Emirates’ new first-class suites — but are spacious, elegant and comfortable.
Amenities: Where Lufthansa’s first class shines the most is the experience — both on the ground and in the air. Those departing from Frankfurt (FRA) begin their journey in Lufthansa’s famous first-class terminal — a standalone building exclusively for the use of passengers traveling in Lufthansa first class, HON Circle members and their guests. Once onboard, passengers can expect consistently excellent service and signature touches like a fresh rose at every seat and caviar service.
Using miles: The biggest downside to booking Lufthansa first-class awards is that if you’re looking to book through one of the airline’s Star Alliance partners, you typically won’t be able to do so until roughly 15 days before departure. But if you’re fine with that, you can score awards for 90,000 to 100,000 miles one-way through Air Canada’s Aeroplan program or 87,000 miles one-way through Avianca LifeMiles.
You can top up your Aeroplan balance by transferring points from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One or Marriott Bonvoy. LifeMiles is a transfer partner of all of the same programs, plus Citi ThankYou Rewards. Neither program charges hefty taxes and fees, but LifeMiles is known to have poor customer service, which can be an issue if you need to change or cancel an award flight.
If you have an abundance of United miles or Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can book Lufthansa first class with no fuel surcharges, albeit at higher mileage rates.
Business class on United
Seats: Most of United’s international wide-body fleet offers the “real” Polaris seats, while some 787-9s still have older B/E Aerospace Diamond seats. The new Polaris seats are obviously preferred, but the older seats aren’t all that bad. You can expect a fully flat seat regardless of which plane you find yourself on.
Amenities: Whether or not you’re on a plane with the new seats, the Polaris service should remain consistent. Polaris passengers get Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, an amenity kit with Cowshed toiletries, slippers, a mattress pad and a cooling gel pillow. Plus, United has opened fantastic Polaris lounges (temporarily closed) in major hubs like Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO) and Houston (IAH).
Using miles: For a long time, the best way to book business-class awards between the U.S. and Europe was through United’s MileagePlus program (a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards). That’s because the program charged just 60,000 miles each way and didn’t impose any fuel surcharges for award bookings. However, United has implemented a new dynamic pricing structure in late 2019 and many awards are now a lot more expensive.
The best way to book United business-class awards now is typically through either Aeroplan or Avianca LifeMiles. Aeroplan requires just 55,000-57,500 for one-way business class awards to Europe (depending on your destination), while LifeMiles charges a flat 63,000 miles one-way for this type of award. Aeroplan is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and 2:1.5 transfer partner of Capital One, while Avianca is a 1:1 transfer partner of both of those programs, as well as Citi ThankYou Rewards.
An even cheaper option is ANA Mileage Club, which charges just 88,000 for round-trip business class awards. However, there must be round-trip saver award availability since you can’t book one-way tickets, and you’ll pay high fuel surcharges on some carriers. You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy points to ANA Mileage Club.
Economy on Turkish Airlines
Aircraft and routes: Turkish operates flights between Istanbul (IST) and ten cities throughout the U.S., including Los Angeles, New York-JFK and Washington-Dulles, using a combination of A330, A340, 777 and 787 aircraft.
Seats: Turkish’s economy-class seats are typically colorful and offer 31-33 inches of pitch. They have a decent amount of padding, making them fairly comfortable (for an economy seat) and each has its own IFE screen. The most modern seats are found on Turkish’s new 787s.
Amenities: Turkish Airlines offers several unique touches that make its economy-class experience feel more premium than other European carriers. For starters, economy passengers receive fully stocked amenity kits by Mandarina Duck, packed with socks, slippers, earplugs, an eye mask, lip balm, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Every passenger also receives a printed menu detailing the tasty food choices from arguably the best in-flight catering company, Do & Co.
Using miles: There are several solid ways to book Turkish economy awards.
One way is through United’s MileagePlus program (a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards). It typically charges around 30,000 miles each way and doesn’t pass on any fuel surcharges for Turkish flights. You can boost your United MileagePlus balance with a co-branded card like the United Explorer Card, which is currently offering 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
You can book transatlantic economy awards for fewer miles through Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program (a 1:1 transfer partner of all the major transferable points programs). Still, you’ll need to pay the hefty surcharges.
Of course, booking through Turkish’s own Miles & Smiles program is also always an option. Economy flights cost 30,000 miles each way and you can transfer points to Turkish from Capital One and Citi ThankYou.
What’s not on this list
Several popular transatlantic flight options are noticeably absent from this list. For instance, major Oneworld carrier British Airways didn’t make the cut. Despite great award availability, the carrier imposes sky-high carrier surcharges for award tickets. It also has lackluster premium cabin offerings, though that should change once its new business class suites become more widely available.
Star Alliance flyers might be surprised that United took the crown for best business class to book with miles, but the major European Star Alliance carriers don’t offer much better hard products (for instance, Lufthansa has a 2-2-2 business-class configuration) and they charge outrageous carrier surcharges.
Cards to use
When paying the taxes and fees on your award ticket, be sure to use a card that earns additional points on airfare purchases and offers travel protections in case anything goes wrong, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Vaccinated Americans will soon be able to travel to Europe again. Flying across the Atlantic using points and miles may have gotten more expensive in recent years (especially for premium-class cabins). However, there are still many ways to get from the U.S. to Europe by leveraging your rewards. The above list provides just a snapshot of what to expect, but if you’ve recently locked in an award, feel free to email us your success stories.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
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