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Points and miles are great, but less so if you can’t find the award seats you need. With my daughter recently turning 2 and a 4-year-old big brother in tow, four award seats are now officially required for all family trips.
Domestic flights alone can be a challenge, but looking at some of the more adventurous/luxurious trips on my wish list makes me wonder how I am going to find four business class award seats at prices that are anywhere near reasonable. With an eye to our future, and thanks to spending way too much time studying loyalty programs and award availability, today I’ll present the current best options to get your family across the Atlantic in business class.
Transatlantic Star Alliance Awards With Aeroplan and United
There are so many Star Alliance member airlines that operate a plethora of transatlantic routes. For that reason, United MileagePlus and Aeroplan, the loyalty program of Air Canada, are great programs to start with for your family’s search. It’s important to look at both programs for a few reasons, one of which is Air Canada opens more of its own seats to Aeroplan members and United opens more seats on its own flights to some MileagePlus members (especially those with elite status or a co-branded credit card).
If you’ve never booked an award ticket with either airline, here’s how to book award flights with Air Canada Aeroplan and how to book awards with United MileagePlus.
Using United miles, it will cost you 60,000 miles per person to cross the Atlantic in business class on a United-operated flight via a saver award and 70,000 miles on a partner-operated flight. Using Aeroplan, you’ll need 55,000 miles per person to cross the Atlantic in business. United does not pass on fuel surcharges for transatlantic awards, but Aeroplan does on certain airlines, including its own Air Canada-operated flights. If using Aeroplan, look to book the following airlines to avoid or pay low fuel surcharges: Brussels Airlines, SWISS, LOT Polish, Turkish and United. Here’s more advice to avoid fuel surcharges on award flights.
Both United and Aeroplan have calendar functionalities on their respective websites when looking for award space. Aeroplan shows a week at a time and United can show up to a 30-day period at a glance. Both programs will also show mixed-cabin redemption options, so be sure to read all the details of the itinerary you are looking at to make sure your short-haul connection isn’t the only flight in business. With all that in mind, let’s look at a few availability options from both of these programs.
Washington Dulles to Vienna for Four in Business Class
Toronto to Zurich for Six in Business Class
Keep in mind fuel surcharges with Aeroplan on Lufthansa will be painful.
New York (All Airports) to Warsaw for Four in Business Class
Vancouver to Copenhagen for Six in Business Class (55,000 miles per person)
Washington Dulles to Brussels for Six in Business Class
Because United charges a close-in booking fee of $75 per ticket and 5,000 more miles per ticket than Aeroplan, that exact same Washington Dulles to Brussels flight booked through United could be a losing proposition. If you have Aeroplan miles, or American Express points from a card like the American Express® Gold Card to transfer to Aeroplan, that may be the best bet.
Strategies to Use With United MileagePlus and Aeroplan
- Look at availability for less popular Star Alliance hubs like Lisbon (TAP Portugal), Vienna (Austrian Airlines) and Warsaw (LOT Polish). There’s typically more availability than trying to fly to Zurich, Frankfurt, London or Munich.
- As the IAD–BRU example above illustrates, if using United and you find availability on one of the above-listed airlines that do not pass on fuel surcharges with Aeroplan, transfer Amex points over to Aeroplan and book the ticket for 55,000 miles instead of 70,000 United miles. You also avoid United’s silly $75 close-in fee if the departure date is within 21 days.
Flying Blue to Fly to Europe
While the new Flying Blue program certainly has it quirks and reliability issues, it can yield multiple business class seats across the Atlantic to the Paris and Amsterdam hubs of Air France and KLM. While we aren’t exactly sure what an award ticket will cost with Flying Blue, I’ve found the lowest cost for a one-way business class seat to Europe ranges from 57,500 to 72,000 miles per person. The detractor to Flying Blue, even when you find award space, is the fuel and carrier-imposed surcharges which are ~$230 per person. Even so, it is certainly still a great deal compared to paying cash for multiple transatlantic business class tickets. Let’s look at availability in business class (cost is per person one way).
Chicago to Paris for Four in Business Class
Los Angeles to Paris for Five in Business Class
Miami to Amsterdam for Five in Business Class
You can easily acquire Flying Blue miles as they are transfer partners of Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. Plus, there is now the new Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard issued by Bank of America. Before transferring your points to Flying Blue, be sure to give them a call and confirm the award space you see online. Phantom space can be a problem from time to time, and you don’t want miles stuck in Flying Blue. Finally, be aware of Flying Blue promo awards, which typically don’t target US business class awards, but you never know.
Transatlantic Business Class With Virgin Atlantic
Rather than book Virgin Atlantic-operated flights with its own currency, look at using Flying Club partners — specifically Delta — to get across the Atlantic. I’ve covered the value I get out of booking Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles several times and transatlantic awards for a family are no exception. While not exceedingly available, I can find award space for up to eight people on Delta One flights for the incredible cost of 50,000 miles and $5.60 per person.
Atlanta to Paris for Eight in Delta One
Atlanta to Dusseldorf for Six in Delta One
That’s not overwhelming, but all things considered, 10 out of 21 days with six business class award seats available is excellent. Add in the cost of only 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles (when Delta would want some exceedingly absurd amount of SkyMiles for the same flight) and no fuel surcharges and this is really hard to beat. Remember only certain cities are available on Virgin Atlantic’s website, which can be temperamental. The good news is that Virgin Atlantic Flying Club phone agents are the best in the business and have no problem finding available Delta space for any route they fly.
Here’s one final carrot for how amazing this can be for a family of four: transatlantic business class for 200,000 miles and a tiny bit of cash.
You’ll notice American Airlines is not listed here as even though you may see a calendar of availability on its website when searching for four or five passengers, if you go to the individual flight details, you’ll often find one of two things. Either the flights are British Airways-operated with huge fuel surcharges or you’re on a two stop, miserable itinerary that no family wants to undertake. The same is true of British Airways’ own program, Avios, which wants far too many miles and too much cash to recommend it as a way for you to head to Europe in business.
While you aren’t going to find saver business class availability for a family on every day you want to travel, if you’re a bit flexible with travel dates and destinations, I’m confident you can use the above programs and find business class availability for your family to head across the Atlantic. Regularly keep an eye on your intended route and over time you’ll get a feel for when availability opens up, whether it be far out or closer in to the departure date.
Have you flown transatlantic business class with your family? What award program got you to Europe?
Featured image by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.
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