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With a rise of low-cost options for flights between the US 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 take a look at the best options for flying from the continental US to Europe using miles, broken down by alliance and cabin.
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.
1. Business Class on American Airlines
Aircraft and routes: American Airlines flies from its hubs at Charlotte (CLT), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York-JFK and Philadelphia (PHL) to cities throughout Europe, including London-Heathrow (LHR), Paris (CDG) and Rome (FCO).
Seats: American flies a combo of seven different planes — including 757-200s, 787-8s and A330-200s — to Europe with frustratingly inconsistent configurations. You can expect a lie-flat seat regardless which plane you’re on, but the best ones are the reverse-herringbone seats aboard the carrier’s flagship 777-300ERs which fly from Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and New York-JFK to London-Heathrow.
Amenities: On the ground, business-class passengers can relax in American’s recently revamped Flagship lounges, as well as an arrivals lounge when flying to London-Heathrow. Onboard, passengers can expect meals curated by James Beard Award winner Maneet Chauhan, Caspar bedding and This Is Ground amenity kits packed with Allies of Skin products.
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. You can currently earn nearly this number of miles with a single credit card sign-up bonus, as the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard is currently offering 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 within the first three months of account opening.
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 and booking American-operated flights this way. The Etihad Guest program still uses pre-2016 devaluation award rates, so 50,000 miles is all you’d need to book one-way, saver-level American flights in business class from the US to Europe.
2. Premium Economy on Iberia
Aircraft and routes: Iberia has rolled out its new premium economy product on most of the airline’s A330 and A340-600 aircraft. The carrier 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 which Iberia aircraft you’re flying. The seats come with at least 37 inches of pitch, offer a good amount of recline and all have 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 — TPG‘s JT Genter found the rib meat he was served to be an incredible main dish in 2017. And while this isn’t necessarily specific to premium economy on Iberia, it’s worth mentioning that Iberia offers Wi-Fi on 100% of its long-haul fleet.
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.
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 in 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).
American Airlines hasn’t added premium economy awards to its partner award chart yet, so you unfortunately can’t book Iberia’s premium economy product with AAdvantage miles.
3. Economy on American Airlines
Aircraft and routes: As previously stated, American Airlines offers flights from its US hubs to many cities throughout Europe.
Seats: Although American’s long-haul economy-class seats are somewhat more consistent than business-class ones, they can still vary greatly. All long-haul economy-class seats offer a tolerable minimum of 31 inches of pitch, but the biggest differences between the aircraft are the amenities.
Amenities: Economy-class passengers can always expect in-seat entertainment, power outlets and Wi-Fi when flying on any of the carrier’s A330s, 777s and 787s. The 777s and 787s even offer modern features like mood lighting. The 757s and 767s on the other hand are extremely dated. Although those planes were recently retrofitted, American opted to not install IFE screens or power outlets in economy. 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 but could be available for less if you can find an Economy Web Special. However, the best redemption option might be booking an “Off Peak” award, which drops the award price to 22,500 miles each way.
1. Business Class on Air France
Aircraft and routes: Air France’s best business-class seats are available aboard its 777-300ERs, 787-9s and a few 777-200s. The carrier has also begun refitting its existing A330s and A380s with new seats, but expects the process to last through 2020 — so, for now, don’t expect the new product on those aircraft.
The 777-300ERs with the newest business class fly to Paris from Boston, Los Angeles, New York-JFK and Washington-Dulles (IAD). However, the carrier also operates A380s to some of the same destinations, so always double-check your aircraft and seating configuration before booking.
Seats: The new business-class cabins utilize a 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone configuration and provide each passenger a lie-flat seat, direct aisle access and plenty of privacy.
Amenities: Regardless which Air France aircraft you find yourself on, you’ll be provided a Clarins amenity kit and served top-notch cuisine. The airline has partnered with Michelin-starred chefs like Régis Marcon, Michel Roth 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). The program recently got rid of award charts, but to give you an idea, a one-way business-class award between New York-JFK and Paris costs a minimum of 57,500 miles and a minimum of 67,500 miles for an award between Los Angeles and Paris, and you’ll also need to fork over a couple hundred dollars in taxes and fees.
The other booking option would be through Flying Blue’s Promo Awards, a rotating set of cities with discounted award rates to Europe. You can currently snag one-way business-class flights from Chicago-O’Hare to dozens of European cities for as little as 39,750 miles each way.
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).
2. Premium Economy on Air France
Aircraft and routes: Air France offers its premium economy product on its entire long-haul fleet.
Seats: Premium economy seats aboard Air France are 19 inches wide and have 38 inches of pitch. Each seat has a footrest and a bottom portion that extends outward when reclined, but 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).
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. 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).
3. Economy on Delta
Aircraft and routes: Delta flies to 20 cities throughout Europe, primarily using A330s, 757s and 767s. Those flying Delta between Detroit (DTW) and Amsterdam (AMS) are in for a treat since some of those flights are operated by the carrier’s newest aircraft, the A350.
Seats: Unless you’re on one of the new A350s or newly retrofitted 777-200s, 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. Free meals, beer, wine and spirits are served on flights to Europe. Although a small gesture, Delta provides eyeshades 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, typically in relation to 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 individual flight 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.
1. First Class on Lufthansa
Aircraft and routes: 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. As has become a trend with international carriers, Lufthansa has been removing first-class capacity on many routes and aircraft, though it recently reinforced its commitment to a top-shelf product. If you want sure to be sure you’ll be able to book first class, look to fly an A380 or 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’ll never be able to do so more than 15 days out from departure. But if you’re fine with that, you can score awards for 70,000 miles one-way through Air Canada’s Aeroplan program or 87,000 miles one-way through Avianca LifeMiles. While Aeroplan does require some hefty taxes and fees for Lufthansa awards, you can transfer points 1:1 from Membership Rewards and 2:1.5 from Capital One. And despite the fact that Avianca doesn’t impose fuel surcharges and offers frequent promotions on buying miles, it is known to have very 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.
2. Business Class on United
Seats: United offers three distinct types of business seats: the brand-new “real” Polaris seats; the pre-merger, forward/backward United seats; and B/E Aerospace Diamond seats. That said, unless you find yourself in the middle of a 777-200 (which has business-class seats arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration), the older seats aren’t all that bad. You can expect a fully-flat seat regardless which plane you find yourself on. The airline’s new Polaris seats can be found on all 777-300s and 787-10s and just some 767-300s and 777-200s (all by the end of 2020).
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 in major hubs like Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO) and Houston (IAH), with more to come.
Using miles: For long, the best way to book business-class awards between the US and Europe was through United’s MileagePlus program (a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards), because the program charged just 60,000 miles each way and doesn’t impose any fuel surcharges for award bookings. However, United’s implementing a new dynamic pricing structure for travel from November 16, 2019 onwards (read: many awards are becoming a lot more expensive).
Moving forward, the best way to book United business-class awards will likely be 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. Both programs are 1:1 transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards and 2:1.5 transfer partners of Capital One, while Avianca also partners with Citi ThankYou Rewards.
3. Economy on Turkish Airlines
Aircraft and routes: Turkish operates flights between Istanbul (IST) and ten cities throughout the US, including Los Angeles, New York-JFK and Washington-Dulles using a combination of A330, A340 and 777 aircraft.
Seats: Turkish’s economy-class seats are typically colorful and offer 31-33 inches of pitch. They have a decent amount of padding which make them fairly comfortable (for an economy seat) and each have their own IFE screen.
Amenities: Turkish Airlines offers several unique touches that make its economy-class experience feel more premium than those of other European carriers. For starters, economy passengers receive fully stocked amenity kits by Chopard, packed with socks, slippers, earplugs, an eye mask, a small pot of 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: The best way to book Turkish economy awards is typically United’s MileagePlus program (a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards). The program’s award pricing changes only apply to United-operated flights (for now, at least), so you’ll pay a flat 30,000 miles each way. Plus, United doesn’t pass on any fuel surcharges for Turkish flights. 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), but you’ll need to pay the hefty surcharges.
What’s NOT on This List
There are several popular transatlantic flight options that 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 and has lackluster premium cabin offerings, though that should change once the airline launches its new business class suites.
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.
Flying across the Atlantic using points and miles may have gotten more expensive in recent years (especially for premium-class cabins), but there are still many ways to get from the US 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 share in the comments section below.
Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy
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