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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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?
Leana is the 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.