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Best Value Mileage Awards For a Family Trip to Europe

This is a topic that has been covered a gazillion times on blogs. “Cheapest routes to Europe via miles” subject isn’t anything groundbreaking. What I want to do in this post is cover the topic of seat availability. After all, who cares if an award is dirt cheap if you can’t find 4 seats on the same flight? Without further ado:

If you are willing to travel off-peak between October 15th-May 15th, your best bet will probably be AAdvantage program. One-way ticket to Europe runs at 20K miles one-way, and you get a 10% miles rebate for having their co-branded credit card. If you are going to Southern European countries, the weather should be  fine in the fall and spring. When you do a search,  make sure to unclick British Airways option:

lax-venice AA

Update: My reader Katye mentioned that you may want to keep British Airways option checked because if connecting BA flight is within Europe, it won’t have huge fuel surcharges added to the tax.

All other airline carriers are fine because they don’t have obscene fuel surcharges (Iberia does have some). Seriously, BA should be ashamed of itself. The fuel is getting cheaper and yet, they keep on adding these obscene scam charges. I have to say, availability on some carriers (like Air Berlin) used to be excellent, but not anymore. Now you have to be fairly flexible on dates in order to find 4 seats on the same flight. That said, as you can see from screenshot above, it’s possible to do so.

However, majority of families will probably opt to travel during the summer, especially when going for 2 weeks or longer. All three major US-based frequent flyer loyalty schemes charge 30K miles one-way in the summer months.

Out of all of them, United usually has the best availability to Europe in coach. You can also use Aeroplan (Air Canada) miles to book it. A huge advantage to using United Mileage Plus program is the fact that it doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on any Star partners. Once again, thanks to Katye for her suggestion to add this footnote.

So, my goal is to find programs that can offer better value AND have decent availability for a family of four (or more). I’ve randomly searched some dates in  the middle of June of 2016.  Here are the winners:

Avios awards from Boston/New York to Dublin 

The flights are on Aer Lingus, British Airways partner. You can’t search availability on BA.com, but you can do it on United.com instead. United is also a  partner of Aer Lingus, for now. For the most part, availability matches what BA agents see on their end, at least, in my experience.

I did a search a few days ago, so it may not be accurate as of now, but at the time of me writing this, there were 4 economy seats available on almost all the flights in June:

boston-dublin

As you can see, there are 2 daily flights, so if your family consists of more than 4 individuals, you can consider splitting up. You would only arrive within  a  few hours of each other. New York-Dublin route search also returned terrific availability in both directions. You can only reserve these Avios awards over the phone by calling BA, ask for a booking fee waiver.

Why you should care:

Boston-Dublin route costs only 12,500 Avios miles one-way in economy and New York-Dublin runs at 20,000 miles. Aer Lingus also flies from Chicago (also 20K Avios), San Francisco, Washington Dulles and Orlando (costs 25K). Fuel surcharges are very mild for now (total tax is less than $200 roundtrip), but it will probably change in the near future. Aer Lingus was taken over by the same company that owns British Airways, so I’m sure at some point, these routes will come with hefty taxes.

Redeem now or forever hold your Avios. OK, it’s not actually quite that grim, but you should honestly consider going next summer. Ireland is an interesting destination in its own right, the flights there are relatively short, and Ryanair can get you to most of Europe dirt cheap.

Some ways to get Avios: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, SPG points (20K transfers to 25K Avios) and of course, Chase British Airways Visa.

Side note: Check my “Best credit card deals for family” page to see the cards that can help you earn these rewards.

Air France Flying Blue awards

Most people think of this program having value only when it comes to discounted awards list, released every 2 months. But even if you pay full mileage price for redemption from USA to Europe, it could makes sense to do it. However, you should probably stick to one-way awards originating in America, since those have lower fuel surcharges. Availability is usually excellent, and I had no trouble finding at least 4 economy seats on most dates in June from Chicago to Paris, some flights even had as many as 5:

chicago-paris on air france

As you can see, taxes run at $79 per person and award costs 25,000 miles one-way. Air France flies to a number of cities in Europe, so check your specific destination. It also partners with Delta, but awards are only released 10 months in advance. My reader Doug has pointed out that he was able to put awards on hold for three weeks, without having any miles in his Air France account. This could be extremely helpful when transfers are not instant (like with Citi and SPG programs). Check Air France US-Europe routes here

Some ways to get Air France Flying Blue miles: Amex Membership Rewards, SPG points (20K transfers to 25K miles), Citi Thank You Points (with Citi Thank You Premier and Citi Prestige).

Virgin Atlantic awards to London

This is more of an honorable mention, but is worth considering IMHO. If you absolutely need to fly to London and live near an airport served by Virgin Atlantic, I suggest you look into this option. Once again, you may want to stick to flights that originate in USA. Availability on many routes is fantastic. I could find 6 seats in economy on quite a few flights in June of 2016. An exception seems to be routes from West Coast: very poor availability, at least when I checked. You may want to book those as soon as they are released.

Here is an example of Orlando-London option for 6 people:

orlando-london

Sure, the taxes are $156 per person, but you are getting a non-stop flight during peak season. Also, very often, there are transfer bonuses to Virgin Atlantic from major programs, specifically Amex Membership Rewards. All things considered, paying 21,250 miles one-way isn’t bad even when you factor in high taxes.

Let’s say someone has a choice of transferring  30K Ultimate Rewards to United in order to redeem miles for a flight to London with one connection. The taxes are only $10 or so. Or he can transfer  22K Citi Thank You points to Virgin Atlantic and pay  $156 in taxes. I don’t know about you, but I would rather conserve UR rewards than Citi currency.

But let’s say you value both equally. You are paying $146 to save 8K UR points. If you value them conservatively at 1.25 cents, that’s $100. So, now, the difference is only $46 per person. Sure, it’s a significant amount when you multiply it times 4, but you are getting a non-stop flight on a superior airline. I love Virgin Atlantic! When there is a bonus on transfers (and there is often one) you will do even better. Use this Virgin Atlantic calculator to determine the price for your particular route.

So, my point is, don’t  discount a mileage program just because it has fuel surcharges, but compare apples to apples etc.

Some ways to get Virgin Atlantic miles: Amex Membership Rewards, SPG points (20K transfers to 25K miles), Citi Thank You Points (with Citi Thank You Premier and Citi Prestige), Chase Ultimate Rewards (with Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Plus). You can also get miles by signing up for Bank of America Virgin Atlantic card, though, in order to get the full bonus, you would have to spend a significant amount.

Bottom line

Redeeming miles for a family is a totally different beast compared to when you do it for a single individual or a couple. While it’s certainly more challenging, you have options, you just have to dig deeper to find them.

Readers, what other options would you like to add to that list?

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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12 thoughts on “Best Value Mileage Awards For a Family Trip to Europe

  1. Great post. I’m planning a trip to Europe for our family of three for summer 2017. I know, crazy to plan so far ahead but we already have plans for next spring break and summer. It’s good to know about all of these options before I transfer points.

    • Leticia, it’s not crazy at all to plan that far ahead! I do it all the time. Finding award seats for a family of 3 shouldn’t be terribly difficult, not like for a family of 5 or 6. You have many options, it just depends on where you would like to go in Europe. Feel free to email me so I can do more research. Boston-Dublin Avios award is a fantastic deal, but it will probably have fuel surcharges added on when you get ready to book your 2017 Europe trip. Or maybe not! Things in this hobby change constantly.

  2. I feel fortunate! In July I was able to book 4 tickets on the same flight from LAX to CDG non-stop, 2 in economy and 2 in business class on Air Tahiti Nui In June of 2016. On the return I was able to find 4 tickets on the same flight from DUS to LAX non-stop, 2 in economy and 2 in business class on Air Berlin. In July I searched the entire calendar and only found 2 days that had 4 seats on the same flight. I used AA miles for the entire trip thanks to the 100K citi excutive card, 50K Citi business and personal Platnium card for me and my wife! Got the idea of Air Berlin from reading your post awhile back. Thanks!

    • @Rich That’s incredible! I’m so glad you were able to utilize AA miles to get all 4 of you to Europe, and get non-stop flights too. Award availability is a fickle mistress, here today, gone tomorrow. I think families who don’t have a flexible schedule should just book the seats as soon as they show up. You never know how award availability will be the next day. I’m glad you were able to get Air Berlin flights. Economy is pretty tight, but business class looked very nice when we flew with them.

  3. Great collection of US to Europe route ideas! I wouldn’t completely uncheck BA on AA awards though. If you are somehow able to find AA (or other low fuel-surchage airline) on the US-Europe flight, then connect to your destination via BA, the fuel surcharges aren’t so bad (usually less than $100).
    I like Air France too since they seem to have good availability at reasonable mile+tax cost. In fact, we will be using 35k air france +$98 per person to fly SFO-BCN. 35k is not the lowest award level but we gladly pay the extra 10k to fly out Fri afternoon in order to maximize vacation time.
    United in general also have very good economy availability from US to Europe with low fuel surcharges (via united metal or other star alliance). Same for Air Canada (although they apply fuel surcharges on Lufthansa flights). On MAD-SFO we were able to transfer 45k AMEX points each to Aeroplan for United Business first seats on a Sunday night. Of course, business class seats are not common (I snatched them the minute I saw them), but I see plenty of economy seats. So I would add that united (via UR points or united credit card) and aeroplan (via AMEX) are also good points to add to your portfolio, if you are looking to go to Europe.

    • @Katye You made some very good points, and I will update the post. You are absolutely correct, BA flights within Europe don’t have huge surcharges, so it pays to check the routing. I totally had an “airhead” moment there! 🙂
      I can understand paying more miles to get better flights, I’m of the same mentality. And thankfully, we are at a point where we can afford to do so.
      Also, I do agree that United usually has decent availability to Europe. I actually thought about putting it on the list, but United and Aeroplan both charge 30K miles one-way. I was looking for awards that cost less and happen to have good availability. My assumption is that most of my readers will look to United or other two major US programs first. But you are right, and I will update the post with your notes. Thank you so much for taking the time to provide this valuable info!

      • Understood! Yes united is the obvious one. In fact their co-brand credit card was the very first credit card I signed up for. I suppose the list can go on forever, so it make sense that you listed the “hidden gems”.

  4. Great info! I think the earliest I can get my family to Europe is maybe Fall 2017 or Spring 2018…wish it was sooner! I will need to reference this post again.

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