Best Miles To Europe Showdown

I’m going to follow up my United series on showing United stopover options for different destinations, with a series on choosing the best miles to each destination. Here my aim is to give ideas for the cheapest (miles and cash) and best routes to fly from the US to Europe.

There are tons of programs to collect miles with or transfer points to, but this will show the best options. The best in price of miles, the best in fuel surcharges, and best in terms of stopovers. I think you’d be surprised on what is consistently the best option!

Let’s start with the boring stuff – numbers. Then we’ll talk about what these numbers mean.

Best Price in Miles

Prices are listed like so; economy/business/first. When there is no first class booking option, I’ll just do economy/business.  Best prices in my opinion, will be bolded.

Popular airlines to collect miles in

  • United = 60k/100k/135k
  • US Airways = 35k – 60k/100k/125k
  • American Airlines = 40k – 60k/100k/125k
  • Delta = 60k – 130k/100k – 324k
  • Air Canada = 60k – 70k/90k – 105k/125k – 145k
  • British Airways* = 25k – 70k/50k – 140k/120k – 210k
  • Alaska = 65k/125k or mimics AA
  • Lufthansa = 35k – 50k/55k- xxx

Other Amex & SPG transfers

  • Air Berlin = 50k – 60k/120k
  • ANA* = 38k – 65k/63k – 105k/90k – 160k
  • Asia Miles* = 60k – 90k/80k – 135k/105k – 190k
  • Alitalia = 50k/80k
  • JAL* = 40k – 90k/65k – 120k/85k – 170k

“*” = means that it is a distance based airline. The further you fly, and the more connections, usually the price is higher.

For the airlines that are distance based, you’ll notice many of them have the best prices. Although notice it can be a wide range. The best prices for a distance based program are short distances. So east coast USA to west coast Europe will be the best price. On the other hand, west coast USA to eastern Europe could cost a fortune on some programs.

Still, we have some stand out options. Let me take a minute to explain the best prices.

Off-Peak (AA & USA)

American Airlines and US Airways both have off peak pricing. Basically, during the winter half of the year tickets are 20,000 miles each way with AA, and 35,000 roundtrip with US Airways.

Mileage Bargain (Lufthansa)

Lufthansa has a sale that rotates flights in and out, found here. From the US to Europe, you can get economy roundtrips for 30,000 miles or business for 55,000 miles. It’s mostly a steal. The problem is fuel surcharges. When redeeming Lufthansa miles on Lufthansa, you’ll pay $516+. If you find a Mileage Bargain on LOT (Polish Airlines), you’ll pay less. The other thing is that it must be booked online and therefore you forgo stopovers.

But Lufthansa has a great deal of all roundtrips to Europe (starting from the USA and for US residents) for 50,000 miles. This allows the two stopovers and two open-jaws. A killer deal if you fly on US Airways. Read more about Lufthansa Stopovers.

British Airways

It’s a little unfair to show British Airways as the best price to Europe as there is only one route for 25,000 miles roundtrip – Boston to Dublin. Otherwise I recommend using this Avios Tool from Wandering Aramean to help figure out the best price. Although note that British Airways fuel surcharges on British Airways is outrageous. Try to fly on Air Berlin or something.

Read our Best Use of British Airways Avios.

Alitalia

Alitalia has a decent award chart pricing economy as 50,000 miles and business as 80,000 miles.

ANA & JAL

I’ve written about ANA and Asia Miles award bookings before, as these distance based airlines allow a ton of stopovers. Simply put, you’ll need to pull up their award chart and a greater circles mapper to calculate the distance. This could be a steal depending on where you want to go, as mentioned above. Actually, ANA is a really great deal. Even higher options are still great. But watch out for fuel surcharges.

Read our Best Use of ANA Miles.

Fuel Surcharges

Airlines above that don’t pass on fuel surcharges when using their miles:

  • United
  • American (except when booking on British Airways (and now Cathay?))
  • US Airways
  • Alaska (except when booking on British Airways)

Airlines that do charge fuel surcharge… so when you’re using miles with the italicized programs, book with the airlines listed directly after:

  • Air Canada, Lufthansa, and ANA…book with: Avianca, TACA, TAM, and US Airways. LOT has mild fuel surcharges. United within the Americas and when using ANA miles, bookings on United have no fuel surcharges internationally too.
  • British Airways, Air Berlin, Asia Miles, JAL…book with: Air Berlin, LAN, and American Airlines (within the Americas).
    (Note that British Airways also partners with Aer Lingus, who has very small fuel surcharges).
  • Alitalia & Delta…book with: If I knew anything about Delta or SkyTeam, I’d tell you… But as far as I can tell, AeroMexico and Saudia don’t have fuel surcharges to pass on. Good luck with that!

Stopovers

All the information here is taken from The Completeish List of Airline Stopover Rules.

  • United – 1 stopover and 2 open-jaws.
  • US Airways – 1 stopover or 1 open-jaw.
  • American - 1 stopover in the “North American gateway city” on oneway awards.
  • Lufthansa – 2 stopovers and 2 open-jaws.
  • Air Canada - 2 stopovers or 1 stopover and 1 open-jaw.
  • Delta - 1 stopover and 1 open-jaw.
  • Alaska - 1 stopover on oneway awards.
  • Air Berlin - 1 stopover on a two region award, and 2 stopovers on a three region award on a one way
  • Asia Miles - 4 stopovers on a roundtrip (they say 5 stopovers, but one is the destination).
  • ANA - 3 Stopovers on a roundtrip (they say 4, but one is the destination).
  • Alitalia - 1 stopover on roundtrips.
  • JAL – 6 stopovers, or 5 stopovers and 1 open-jaw.

So wow. There are a lot of options. I would probably start by picking the best price in miles, unless you have a trip that requires a higher amount of stops. Also remember that for the price of an Asia ticket with airlines like UA, US and AC, you can create a stopover in Europe on the way to Asia.

Conclusion

There are a lot of options. But you can start by accessing what you have. If you don’t have Amex or SPG points to transfer, the second list of prices won’t apply.

What I want to happen is for people to look at the list above and say, “okay this is the best price” or “these are the same prices but this one allows the stopovers we want.” And finally, a few tips on how to avoid fuel surcharges.

The Best Options

Personally, I love AA and USA off-peak pricing as an economy flyer. One thing I forgot to mention is that if you fly US Airways and have the US Airways credit card, they discount it 5,000 miles. That’s 30,000 miles for a roundtrip, a killer deal.

The other thing with these two is that I don’t have to worry about fuel surcharges. Same with United. I can just book the ticket I want and really I’m only paying airport taxes… which in Europe, are a lot. But still.

Lufthansa’s 50k roundtrip is a great deal, or 25k each direction. I especially love that there are no close-in fees (fee for booking within 21 days of departure). So I can book a last minute ticket to a deal or what not.

If I ever do Boston to Dublin, it will be with British Airways Avios.

I really think ANA miles might be the most under-rated program, especially to Europe. Business or economy, the prices are dang good.

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4 Responses to Best Miles To Europe Showdown

  1. JB says:

    American charging fuel charges on Cathay pacific awards? What is your source for this?

  2. Abhishek says:

    Very comprehensive list, bookmarked :) . By the way, I sent you an email with a question, it would be helpful if you could take a look.

  3. Vinyl Slider says:

    Excellent article, a similar ones for Asia, Oceania, SA, etc., would be appreciated!

  4. romsdeals says:

    Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America are decent choices for flying one-way to London (small fees). I would not fly back from London because of the high taxes though.

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