Author Archives: Andy Shuman

Back to the Basics: Cheapest Miles to Europe in the Post-COVID-19 World

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Alright, guys, I just finished writing this, and it’s a really comprehensive long post. You’ve been warned!

Whether you’ve noticed or not, I’ve taken a hell of a sabbatical lately on my blog. I’ve been fortunate so far because while I’ve lost some writing gigs, they’ve been mostly replaced by others. But I haven’t traveled since February, and my heart just wasn’t in the “hobby.” I haven’t applied for a credit card forever, to the point that I soon will fall under the 5/24 rule (never thought this day would come). I also almost quit my spend manufacturing shenanigans, although, to be honest, I wasn’t too active about them to begin with.

I guess I’m just like the next guy in this ridiculous hobby: I have miles, I have points, and nothing to do with them!

But then I read this.

Pfizer Inc said its experimental COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective based on initial trial results and that it expects to file for U.S. emergency authorization this month.

And this.

Moderna, joined by U.S. government scientists, announced Monday that their mRNA vaccine candidate was 94.5% effective in preventing Covid-19

90% sounds beyond cool. 95% — even better! To compare, the flu vaccine effectiveness is under 50%, and everyone tells you to get it. 90% — 95% would exceed all expectations by a huge margin. If it really works, that is.

Do you feel like making big plans for 2021?

I don’t know about you, but I’m tempted to book a ticket or three. When it all started, I had promised myself to stay put until the whole damn thing was over. Of course, there are still more questions than answers, but this is the first time in many months when it seems this nightmare might be over sooner rather than—

Well, who knows?

Anyhow, the Cheapest Miles to Europe is the first part of my new ambitious series – how to see the post-COVID-19 world on a dime. No, really, I mean anyone can fly to Europe for 30,000 miles, but where is the fun in that?

Here are my simple criteria for this research:

  • The currency (miles or points) must be easy to obtain via credit cards and / or program transfers.
  • The value must be considerably better than what you can get from the Big Three (American, United, and Delta).
  • Should be ongoing (no limited time offers).

Cheapest miles to Europe in Economy

1. Aer Lingus on British Avios

Anne Street, Dublin, Ireland

Ireland, anyone? Your one-way flight will cost you 13,000 Avios – if you travel off-peak from Boston, Chicago, Hartford, Minneapolis, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, or Washington. It’ll cost you 16,250 Avios for flying from Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Francisco, or Seattle.

Just think about it for a moment. You can cross the Atlantic for 26,000 miles per round trip (!!!) and very little in fuel surcharges (YQ) – around $120. That’s just 1,000 miles more than a domestic round trip! And saving a bundle on taxes by not flying from LHR is yet another sizable bonus.

The Aer Lingus 2021 off-peak dates are more than reasonable: from January 7 until March 25, from April 15 until June 11, and from September 6 until December 15.

By the way, a Business Class ticket on the same route would cost you 50,000 Avios, which is not terrible, compared to how much U.S. based airlines charge, but, to be honest, it’s not spectacular, either.

Unfortunately, you can’t book an Aer Lingus flight on the British Airways website, so you’ll have to call (800-452-1201) to book your ticket, but first make sure your date is available. You can research availability on the United website (Aer Lingus is a United non-Star Alliance partner) or Aer Lingus’ own website linked via Avios.com (you can find more information here).

If you’re not particularly interested in Ireland, that’s fine; continue your journey from Dublin to other U.K and European cities and treat Dublin simply as a free stopover. Aer Lingus can fly you to over 60 European destinations, which you can also book with BA Avios. And don’t worry, these additional tickets are also going to be cheap, both in Avios and cash copay.

How cheap? A flight between Dublin and Turkish city Izmir spanning, according to GCMAP, 1,895 miles, is arguably Aer Lingus’ longest European flight. The cost? Merely 8,500 Avios off-peak. Most Aer Lingus itineraries in Western Europe will cost you from 4,000 to 6,500 Avios.

But why not book the same Aer Lingus flight with Aer Lingus Avios, you’re asking? Well, because, ironically, BA Avios, which is infamous for its transatlantic mega fuel surcharges, can save you $$$ on Aer Lingus compared to Aer Lingus’ own YQ.

How to get BA Avios
  • Chase British Airways Visa Signature card
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer
  • AmEx Membership Rewards transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

In the nick of time: there is currently a 30% Chase Ultimate Rewards bonus on transfers to British Airways, which is valid until 12.09.20. You need to log in to see the offer.

 

2. Iberia is the cheapest in both Economy and Business

Magic Fountain Barcelona

Iberia is another Avios airline, and it’s only slightly more expensive than Aer Lingus. Iberia (and another IAG airline, Level) can take you from the U.S. to Madrid or Barcelona in Economy for 17,000 Iberia Avios if you can fly off-peak.

Iberia still hasn’t officially revealed its peak and off-peak dates for 2021, but Head for Points and Point Me to the Plane have come up with an unofficial schedule. The 2020 schedule is available here. In general, it’s slightly less generous than the Aer Lingus calendar.

OFF-PEAK PRICES

City

Economy Blue

Economy Full

Premium Economy

Business

NYC, Boston, Chicago

17K

22K

25.5K

34K

Miami, Los Angeles

21,250

27,750

31,750*

42.5K

San Francisco

25,500

33,250

51K

PEAK PRICES

City

Economy Blue

Economy Full

Premium Economy

Business

NYC, Boston, Chicago

20K

28K

35K

50K

Miami, LA

25K

35K

43,750*

62.5K

San Francisco

30K

42K

75K

* No PE between Madrid and LAX/SFO.

But what about those pesky surcharges?

Here are the prices I researched back in August 2020. They are per round trip and include all taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges. I’ve written a lot about Iberia, and in my experience, their fuel surcharges fluctuate, but slightly, so this is just the ballpark.

  • JFK – MAD, Economy: $145
  • JFK – MAD, Business: $168
  • LAX – MAD, Economy: $191
  • LAX – MAD, Business: $213

As you can see, the Iberia Business Class award starts at 34,000 Avios per one-way travel. I guess we could already declare a winner in the Business Class to Europe category right here and now.

How to get Iberia Avios
  • Chase Iberia Visa Signature card
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer
  • AmEx Membership Rewards transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer
  • BA Avios transfer

3. American with Etihad miles

If you don’t have your own time machine, then booking American flights with Etihad miles can serve as the next best thing – because Etihad still hasn’t changed the American pre-devaluation 2016 award chart. Etihad miles can take you to Europe for 20,000 miles (one way) if you don’t mind flying off-peak – from October 15 to May 15 – and while that’s still more expensive than our previous examples, the upside is that your flights are not restricted to one particular destination. You can book nonstop or connecting flights between any cities served by American provided that the Saver award is available.

Note that the current American award chart also has off-peak discounts, but on a much smaller scale. With AAdvantage you pay 22,500 miles, and only between January 10 – March 14 and November 1 – December 14.

The downside of using Etihad miles is that you can’t book American flights online. You would have to call (877 690 0767) and brace for the chance to run into a clueless agent who would have no idea how to book your flight. Still, the potential savings might be worth a HUCA* or two. Look for your flight on AA.com first and feed the info to the agent.

*Hang up, call again

American flies to Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Dublin, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Manchester, Milan, Munich, Paris, Prague, Reykjavik, Rome, Shannon, Venice, and Zurich. As you can see, the list is quite extensive, although many of these destinations are seasonal.

Should you not be willing to fly in the off-peak season, the redemption rate jumps to the standard 30,000 miles.

A seat in Business Class on American will run you 50,000 Etihad miles versus 57,500 AAdvantage miles, which is not a bad deal, albeit not the best one either.

How to get Etihad miles
  • AmEx Membership Rewards transfer
  • Capital One transfer
  • Citi ThankYou transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

Special mention: Delta flash sales

I’ve written a bit about Delta so-called flash sales. I made a non-scientific conclusion that Delta “sales” are not really sales, but rather a modus operandi – this is how the carrier is trying to quickly unload seats it in the world of dynamic pricing it pushed to usher in a few years ago. The rates I used to see on Delta last year were ridiculously low – from 25,000 miles to London and 32,000 to Amsterdam per round trip! The current rates for 2021 aren’t nearly as attractive (so far, I haven’t found anything cheaper than 44,000 miles), but that can change. My point is: don’t dismiss Delta, at least if you’re looking for a coach seat.

How to get Delta miles
  • Delta SkyMiles American Express credit cards: Blue, Gold (Personal and Business), Platinum (Personal and Business), Reserve (Personal and Business)
  • AmEx Membership Rewards transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

Special mention #2: Virgin Atlantic

Since I’m talking about the cheapest miles to Europe, I just can’t not mention Virgin Atlantic, because it simply doesn’t get cheaper than 10,000 points for a one-way award between Europe and the U.S. 10,000 points, for Christ’s sake! That’s cheaper than the standard domestic award on U.S. airlines. So why didn’t we open with this? Why aren’t we screaming from the rooftops about such unbelievable value?

Well, first of all, I am kind of screaming. 🙂 Second of all, that’s Virgin Atlantic we’re talking about — a typical, YQ-hungry European airline. And thirdly, the only place where this 10,000-points ticket can get you is LHR, where HR stands for Highway Robbery, and if it doesn’t, it should!

Here is what Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow are charging for a flight in Economy. Pay attention to the cash portion of the ticket.

Easy on miles but heavy on cash: The fuel surcharge is $288 and taxes (mostly Heathrow) are $183

And this is what they charge for Business Class.

This “free” ticket costs $1750 in fees and taxes

How to get Virgin Atlantic points
  • Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard from Bank of America
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer
  • AmEx Membership Rewards transfer
  • Citi ThankYou transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

Now, as you can see, there are plenty of ways to grab Virgin Atlantic points, but why? Granted, if you must fly to London, the ridiculously low 20,000-points price for a round trip in Economy can dull the pain caused by the brutal copay. But I would never pay $1,750 for a “free” Virgin Atlantic ticket in Business Class, and neither should you, IMHO. There are other options.

Speaking of which …

Cheapest miles to Europe in Business Class

1. Iberia on Iberia miles

Well, it’s not easy to beat 34,000 points and a small fuel surcharge for a one-way trip to Europe in a lie-flat seat. In fact, it’s downright impossible (AFAIK) unless you count transfer bonuses that programs like American Express and ThankYou usually make available a few times a year. However, Iberia is a quirky airline. More here:

Awesomeness and Dysfunctions of Iberia Plus: How to Use the First and Skirt the Second | Iberia Peak Dates, Award Space and Prices, Fuel Surcharges and More!

One major Iberia downside is that in order to get this amazing 34,000-mile rate you must fly nonstop from certain cities, and only to Madrid. However, the cash or award prices from Madrid can be so cheap that it may very well be worth it. Check my write-up on how you can still take advantage of this incredible rate even if Madrid is not your final destination.

Avios: Iberia vs British Airways: Which Avios to Use to Fly Iberia in Spain and Europe?

United and Star partners on ANA miles

You can’t book a one-way flight with ANA miles, but it’s only 88,000 miles per round trip, which is what United would charge you for some one-way flights. In addition, you can build a stopover and an open jaw almost anywhere along the way (not just in the same region, as with United’s Excursionist Perk). The trick is to only fly airlines that won’t kill you with their fuel surcharges. For Europe, that includes zero-YQ partners, such as United, Air Canada, SAS, and TAP Portugal, and low / moderate YQ partners, such as LOT or Turkish (although in terms of Turkish it’s become about $100 more per round trip in the last year or so).

I have written more about ANA Mileage Club than any other program because, yes, it’s really that good!

ANA Frequent Flyer Program: the Best or Not the Best

How to get ANA miles

  • AmEx Membership Rewards transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

United and Star airlines with Turkish miles

Turkish miles can get you to Europe in Business for 45,000 miles (one way).

Before 2019, you had to call or email the Turkish ticket office to book an award flight, but nowadays United and Star partners award flights can (sometimes, possibly, maybe) be booked on the Turkish website. I’m using all these adverbs because the Turkish site is so incredibly flaky that I often can’t even recreate the flights I’ve found just a few minutes earlier (leaving me only with screenshots to prove to myself I wasn’t hallucinating). And I know they haven’t been snatched because I can still find them on the United website hours later. Still, it’s worth a try if you need a one-way flight or if you’d rather spend Citi points than AmEx’s – otherwise, transferring to ANA is not only going to save you 4,000 miles per round trip, but, perhaps, some of your sanity.

Having said that, there are insanely good sweet spots in the Turkish award chart. You might want to read a series of excellent Frequent Miler’s posts if you want to learn more.

I haven’t spent a lot of time on the Turkish website, but from what I’ve seen and read, they add fuel surcharges similar to ANA’s. There seem to be none on United, Air Canada, and SAS (and I think TAP Portugal as well), and they add low surcharges to LOT and moderate ones to flight on their own metal.

How to get Turkish miles
  • Citi ThankYou transfer
  • Marriott Bonvoy transfer

4, 5 & 6: Aer Lingus to Ireland with BA Avios; American with Etihad miles; and Delta with Virgin Atlantic points

Since we’re living in the era when paying 50,000 to Europe seems cheap – all these programs can fit the bill. Just remember that with Etihad miles you can use either nonstop or connecting flights to get this price, while Virgin Atlantic will add more costs for each extra segment. On the other hand, Delta flights can be booked on the Virgin Atlantic website, which is not the case with Etihad for AA awards – you have to call to book.

What about flying Air France on Virgin Atlantic points?

Well, if you’re flying to Europe, that would save you 1,500 miles each way, but would add about $300 in fuel surcharges. So, no!

The difference between using Virgin Atlantic points on KLM and Delta is $264 in fuel surcharges

Having read all that, you might come to the conclusion that I’m not a huge fan of the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, but that’s simply not true. They do have incredible sweet spots especially when there are transfer bonuses from major rewards programs. I’ve covered those insane values extensively, so be on the lookout for the next big transfer bonus.

Delta One Suite to Amsterdam in Summer for 50,000 Virgin Atlantic Miles (or 39,000 Amex Points)

Virgin Atlantic Bargains: NEW Amex MR 30% Transfer Bonus: Business Class for 39K Points to Europe, 35K to South America, 97K to New Zealand, or First Class (The Suite) for 85K (RT) to Japan

So how about the U.S. frequent flyer programs? Well, for Business Class to Europe, all U.S. FFPs will charge you more. AAdvantage – from 57,500 miles, United – from 60,000, Delta … well, let’s not even go there, OK?

Let’s recap

I wanted this write-up to be comprehensive, but not overwhelming and, most of all, actionable. So, I haven’t included every FFP in the world, focusing instead on the miles that are easy to get. My point is that the lower-hanging fruit is often more expensive; that U.S. based frequent flyer programs aren’t at all competitive; and that the only reason people are spending exorbitant amounts of miles within these programs is that (I’m sorry to say) they don’t know better.

So here is what you might want to remember to save big.

Here are the cheapest miles to Europe in coach:

  • Aer Lingus to Dublin with British Airways Executive Club: 13,000 BA Avios one way.
  • Iberia to Madrid or Level to Barcelona with Iberia Plus: 17,000 Iberia Avios one way.
  • American with Etihad Guest: 20,000 miles one way.

Here are the cheapest miles to Europe in in Business Class:

  • Iberia to Madrid with Iberia Plus: 34,000 Iberia Avios one way.
  • United, Air Canada, Tap Portugal, SAS, LOT, and Turkish with ANA Mileage Club: 88,000 miles per round trip.
  • United, Air Canada, Tap Portugal, SAS, LOT, and Turkish with Turkish Miles&Smiles: 45,000 miles one way.
  • American with Etihad Guest: 50,000 miles.
  • Delta with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: 50,000 miles.
  • Aer Lingus to Ireland with BA Executive Club: 50,000 Avios.

Happy planning!

Photos credits:

Featured: by JESHOOTS.COM

Dublin: by Gregory DALLEAU

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