The best transatlantic business-class award options for families

Sep 5, 2019

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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 3 and a 5-year-old big brother in tow, four award seats are now officially required for all our family trips.

Domestic flights can be a challenge at times, but looking at some of the more adventurous and 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. Here are the current best options to get your family across the Atlantic in business class:

Transatlantic Star Alliance awards with Aeroplan and United

There are many Star Alliance member airlines that operate transatlantic routes. For that reason, United MileagePlus and Aeroplan, the loyalty program of Air Canada, are great programs for your family trip. It’s important to look at both programs for a few reasons: 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 cobranded 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.

Soon we won’t know the number of United miles that will be needed to book award flights. In mid-November, United award charts will disappear and we’ll be at the mercy of dynamic pricing to redeem awards (though thankfully not when booking partners, at least not yet). 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, book the following airlines to avoid (or reduce) 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 calendars on their respective websites that show available award space. Aeroplan displays a week at a time and United can show up to a 30-day period. Both programs also show mixed-cabin redemption options, so be sure to read the details of the itinerary to make sure your short-haul connection isn’t the only flight in business. Let’s look at a few availability options from both of these programs.

Washington Dulles to Vienna for 4 in business class

Toronto to Zurich for 6 in business class

There are multiple dates this winter with seats for six to Europe out of Toronto:

New York (All Airports) to Warsaw for 4 in business class

Montreal to Frankfurt for 6 in business class (55,000 miles per person)

Washington Dulles to Brussels for 6 in business class

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 Washington Dulles (IAD) to Brussels (BRU) example illustrates, if you use United and you find availability on one of the airlines (listed above) that do not pass on fuel surcharges with Aeroplan, transfer Amex points to Aeroplan and book the ticket for 55,000 miles instead of 60,000 to 70,000 United miles.

Flying Blue to fly to Europe

The Flying Blue program certainly has it quirks and reliability issues, but it can yield multiple business-class seats across the Atlantic to the Paris and Amsterdam hubs of Air France and KLM. Although we aren’t ever sure what an award ticket will cost with Flying Blue until it is priced out, the lowest cost for a one-way business-class seat to Europe ranges from 57,500 to 72,000 miles per person. The downside to Flying Blue, even when you find award space, is the fuel surcharge imposed by the carrier, which are ~$230 per person. Even so, it is 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 4 in business class

Los Angeles to Paris for 5 in business class

Miami to Amsterdam for 5 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. There is also the new Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard issued by Bank of America. Before transferring your points to Flying Blue, give them a call to 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 U.S. business class awards, but you never know.

Air France A380 Business Cabin (Photo courtesy of Air France)
Use your Flying Blue miles to book a seat in the Air France A380 business cabin. (Photo courtesy of Air France)

Transatlantic business class with Virgin Atlantic

Rather than booking flights operated by Virgin Atlantic with its own mileage currency, use Flying Club partners — specifically Delta — to cross 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. Although there is not great availability, I can find award space for up to eight people on some Delta One flights for the incredible cost of 50,000 miles and $5.60 per person.

delta one
Delta One seating on a Boeing 767-400ER is a great use of miles. (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

Atlanta to Paris for 8 in Delta One

Atlanta to Dusseldorf for 6 in Delta One

That’s not overwhelming, but all things considered, 10 out of 20 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 benefit for a family of four on a transatlantic business-class flight. For 200,000 miles and a tiny bit of cash you can get yourselves into the new Delta suites.

delta one suite airbus a350
(Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

You’ll notice American Airlines (AA) is not listed here. You may see a calendar showing availability on AA’s website when searching for four or five passengers, but we omitted AA from this round-up either because flights are British Airways-operated with huge fuel surcharges or flight details revealed a two-stop, miserable itinerary that no family wants to undertake. The same is true of British Airways’ own program, Avios, which wants too many miles and too much cash to recommend it as a primary way for you to head to Europe with a family in business class.

You won’t find saver business-class availability for a family on every day you want to travel, but a bit of flexibility with travel dates and destinations will help. I’m confident you can use the above programs and find business-class availability for your family trip across the Atlantic. Keep an eye on your proposed itinerary to get a feel for seat availability that may open up, whether it be far out or closer to the departure date.

Have you flown transatlantic business class with your family? What award program got you to Europe?

Here’s some more advice for traveling as a family:

Featured image by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.

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