How to Get to Europe in Business Class This Summer for 31,250 Miles

Flying Blue–the loyalty program of Air France/KLM, Air Europa, Kenya Airways, and TAROM–has released its newest Promo Awards that let you fly in Business Class this summer from Washington DC to anywhere in Europe for as little as 31,250 miles each way plus fuel surcharges.

There are also discounted Promo awards from other North American cities to Europe in other cabins.

Flying Blue is a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards and Starpoints.

  • What cities are these Promo Awards good for?
  • How do you book a Promo Award?
  • How do these awards compare to awards with lower fuel surcharges?
  • How can you eliminate the out of pocket cost of the award?

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The Coolest Thing You Can Do with 25k to 150k Delta SkyMiles

Delta SkyMiles get a bad rap–very deservedly so–for the lack of low-miles-price award availability that Delta releases, the fuel surcharges Delta charges on awards, and the fact that you can’t redeem miles for oneway awards at a fair price.

But it does not follow that Delta miles are worthless. In fact, you can get great value and do some pretty cool things with Delta miles. My top choices to burn 150k, 120k, 100k, 80k, 60k, and 25k SkyMiles after the jump.

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Anatomy of an Award: Tahiti, New Zealand & Australia on One Trip Using Delta Skymiles

Two of the most frequent destination requests we receive at our Award Booking Service are Bora Bora and Australia/New Zealand. These are the aspirational trips that families want to take after diligently saving their frequent flyer miles. Luckily, both trips can be accomplished in a single award. Even better–Delta SkyMiles are the mileage currency to use. We recently had a couple with a sizable SkyMiles balance who wanted to visit both places. It wasn’t easy, but we were able to put the award together for them.

SkyMiles have received a terrible reputation for their redemption potential, and rightly so. The award search tool is a broken mess that doesn’t even display proper availability. Scott wrote about this in his post, A Major Problem with Delta.com and The Only Solution. The itineraries you are presented often have ludicrous domestic layovers. The mileage costs are astronomical.

Even with all of this deserved bad press, you can still book that dream Tahiti/New Zealand vacation using SkyMiles.

Delta charges 100k/150k miles per person for an economy/business roundtrip award ticket from North America to the South Pacific. You aren’t able to redeem SkyMiles for international first class awards.

Delta charges the same 100k/150k in economy/business roundtrip for travel from North America to Australia and New Zealand. All of these locations are lumped into the same Southwest Pacific region and priced the same by Delta. That’s not a sweet spot, but it does potentially allow us to include both on a single award and not be punished for it with higher mileage costs.

As Scott detailed in his post, Master Thread: Free Oneways on Delta Awards, Delta allows both a stopover and an open jaw on their award tickets. This dream trip won’t have a free oneway because we will need both the stopover and open jaw to construct the itinerary.

Luckily, the couple in question’s home airport was LAX. Both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui partner with Delta and fly nonstops from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti (airport code: PPT), the primary jumping off point to Bora Bora. To find business class availability, we searched Expert Flyer. For more information, check out Scott’s post, Free First Class Next Month: Using Expert Flyer to Redeem Delta Miles.

This couple wanted business class availability, so we avoided searching Air France’s flights. Why? Air France has excellent economy space on this route, but I’ve never seen more than one business award seat to PPT. As suspected, our search didn’t find two business class seats on the same flight.

With Air France out of the equation, it was time to search Air Tahiti Nui. Luckily, we found two business class seats on the same flight. I highlighted the space in red, so you can see what to look for in your searches.

The drawback to using SkyNiles on Air Tahiti Nui awards is the fuel charges Delta imposes. They aren’t as bad as flying to London on British Airways, but it’s still not pleasant! Expect to pay around $250/person for flying to Papeete oneway. Scott wrote about this extensively in his comprehensive post, Getting to Tahiti with Delta Miles.

Below is a map of our trip as presently constructed:

As mentioned above, Delta allows a stopover on their award tickets. In this Anatomy of an Award, PPT is your stopover city. Spend a week (or more) lounging in an overwater bungalow–it’s up to you. You will just need to connect to Air Tahiti Nui’s thrice-weekly service to Auckland, New Zealand. They fly this route every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.

Business class space isn’t available every PPT-AKL flight, but you can usually find two seats if you plan far enough in advance. As luck would have it, we found two seats on the day our client wanted.

The trip now extends to New Zealand as you can see below. The green leg is the one we just included.

That’s a great outbound itinerary, but what about the inbound? We already used our stopover in PPT, but we can still utilize our open jaw. The inbound itinerary doesn’t have to originate in Auckland, it can start anywhere in New Zealand or Australia provided there is award space to connect you back to the United States.

Delta doesn’t fly anywhere intra-Oceania, and their premium availability on their Sydney -> Los Angeles nonstop is ridiculously scarce. We will need to use Delta’s partner, Virgin Australia to get our clients home.

Scott’s already written up how great Virgin Australia’s award space is relative to its peers in his post Sydney Harbor for New Year Fireworks.

Virgin Australia flies nonstop to Los Angeles from Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Their premium cabin availability is fantastic, even during peak travel times like Christmas and New Years. You just have to search day by day for award seats because the Delta award calendar doesn’t display dates with Virgin Australia space.

Virgin Australia flies from these airports to LAX.

I plugged in Brisbane -> Los Angeles in late February and found the exact flight I wanted: Virgin Australia’s nonstop priced at the low mileage level.

The full trip is mapped below with the final leg in green.

Los Angeles to Tahiti //Stopover// Tahiti to Auckland (destination) //Open Jaw// Brisbane to Los Angeles

How do I connect from Auckland to Brisbane?

Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, Qantas, Air China, and Emirates all fly the route. You can get on any of these airlines with miles or cash. Scott flew from New Zealand to Australia in Emirates first class. That looks like the most fun way to go.

I just checked Kayak and see multiple AKL-BNE flights on Virgin Australia. Why can’t I book any of those?

Three of the four nonstops you see are codeshares with Air New Zealand, which isn’t a SkyTeam partner. You can’t use SkyMiles to book those flights because they are actually operated by Air New Zealand.

What if that single Virgin Australia flight is sold out of award space?

I would use United miles to book a cheap oneway on Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand (for 17,500 miles in economy) or American Airlines miles to book with oneworld partner Qantas for a mere 10,000 miles in economy.

Don’t forget about British Airways Avios, either. You can use them to book Qantas flights as well, though they sometimes don’t display Qantas space properly.

If all else fails, you can purchase a cash ticket, as this route is relatively inexpensive when booked far enough in advance.

I want to use my open jaw and fly out of Sydney or Melbourne instead of Brisbane. Is that possible?

Yes! Finding award availability between AKL-SYD should be even easier using American or United miles. Virgin Australia only operates codeshares with Air New Zealand on this route, unfortunately.

Note that I’ve found it much easier to find award space on the Virgin Australia nonstops between Sydney/Brisbane -> Los Angeles than from Melbourne -> Los Angeles.

How much are the total taxes and fees on an award like this?

The award we priced for our client had total fees of approximately $364 per person, the majority of which came from the fuel surcharges on the LAX-PPT and PPT-AKL legs.

How do I book this award?

Though you can search for Virgin Australia space online, you need to call Delta directly to book this award. Calling is the only way to book Air Tahiti Nui space.

I’ve heard horror stories about Delta agents. How do I ensure my call to book goes smoothly?

You need to write down the flight numbers, dates, and times of all the flights you want and feed them to the agent. If they are still confused (some don’t even know that Air Tahiti Nui is a Delta partner), tell them to look for business class award space in the “I” fare bucket. That usually does the trick.

If you are still experiencing trouble, politely hang up and call back to get a more competent agent.

This is a great itinerary! Can my family of four travel in business class on a similar itinerary?

Highly unlikely. I’ve never seen more than two business class award seats on the LAX-PPT or PPT-AKL legs on Air Tahiti Nui. Air France is even stingier with business class seats on their own LAX-PPT flights. This award is best flown by couples.

What if I don’t live in Los Angeles? Can I still book this award?

Delta is the worst of the legacy carriers in releasing low level domestic award space: economy or business. If you live elsewhere in the country (e.g. St. Louis), you may not be able to find low-miles-price award space to get to Los Angeles. In that case, you would have to purchase a separate ticket on another carrier to connect to Los Angeles.

Just make sure to leave yourself PLENTY of time before the LAX-PPT flight (at least four hours, more if you can swing it), as Delta is under no obligation to accommodate you if you miss the beginning of your award itinerary because your connecting flight was delayed or cancelled.

Recap

Delta SkyMiles are tough to redeem, but you can spend 150k per person and book an award ticket that includes stops in Papeete, Tahiti; Auckland, New Zealand; and Australia. These two locations are two of the toughest spots to find premium award space, and you can include both on the same itinerary with SkyMiles, an incredible deal.

This award is primarily for couples. I’ve never seen more than two business class seats on the two Air Tahiti Nui legs above.

If you don’t live in Los Angeles, you may need to buy a ticket to connect there. Delta is tightfisted with their low-level domestic award space, and you don’t want to miss out booking a dream vacation because you couldn’t link your home city to Los Angeles to start.

 

Anatomy of an Award: Membership Rewards to Argentina

I recently booked a family of four an economy award from Miami to Buenos Aires with their Membership Rewards. It was an interesting award that I think demonstrates the complexities and fun of booking with American Express points.

I won’t talk about that award specifically, but I’ll use it as a jumping off point for discussion since it illustrates a typical Memberhip Rewards situation. Imagine you have a family of four trying for an economy roundtrip from Miami to Buenos Aires for two weeks in October with 300k Membership Rewards.

Membership Rewards are awesome because they can be transferred to any of the three airline alliances, so you can use them to book on almost any airline in the world.

But Membership Rewards are frustrating because they transfer to programs with which you may be unfamiliar like ANA or programs with major drawbacks like British Airways’ fuel surcharges.

I would approach an award like this looking first at the flying options, then at the transfer options. I know if I could find award space, I can probably find a transfer partner with access to that space. And if I find several ways to get to Buenos Aires, I cancompare the transfer options to see which is the best deal with Membership Rewards.

From checking the Buenos Aires international airport’s (EZE) wikipedia page, I know there are direct flights to/from Miami on American, LAN, and Aerolineas Argentinas. Of course, United and Delta also fly to Buenos Aires from their hubs.

Aerolineas Argentinas

Aerolineas Argentinas is the state-owned flag carrier of Argentina. I haven’t heard too many kind words about it, but it does have a direct flight from Miami to Buenos Aires. The best way to search for the space is on ExpertFlyer.

ExpertFlyer only displays economy award space on the airline. The space that Aerolineas’ SkyTeam partners like Delta have access to is T class space.

Aerolineas Argentinas flies twice daily between Miami and Buenos Aires–its only US route–once in the morning and one redeye. Up to seven seats are widely available on each!

The return is also wide open.

This was a promising start!

American

American has direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires also. The best place to check for space on those flights is aa.com.

I can look at the whole month of October in just a few seconds with AA’s awesome calendar view. Unfortunately there is no MileSAAver outbound space–the low-miles-price space open to partners– in October, though there is some space on return flights.

Outbound: No Saver Space

Return: Some Saver Space

LAN

LAN is another oneworld airline with direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires. I go to ba.com to check for LAN space to Buenos Aires, since aa.com doesn’t display LAN space.

I ca’t find any LAN space on ba.com, though it did pick up the same American Airlines space I’d seen on aa.com.

ba.com not finding any LAN space

…but it did find the same space on American Airlines

Delta

Yes, it seemed like a complete longshot that Delta would have space for four from Miami to Atlanta to Buenos Aires at the low-miles-price because Delta has putrid availability to South America, but I checked anyway.

Green shows low-miles-price itineraries. There actually are some returns possible.

While oneway tickets with Delta miles are a huge mistake since Delta charges the roundtrip price for all awards even oneways, I kept the returns in mind because AMEX has some transfer partners like Flying Blue that can be used to book oneway Delta awards reasonably.

United, TACA, Copa

The final place I checked was united.com to see what United, Copa, or TACA award space there was that I could snag with a transfer to a Star Alliance partner.

Green and yellow days have an award with four economy seats.

I found a few more possible awards to add to the bounty.

Search Results

I found space in both direction on Aerolineas Argentinas’ two daily flights. I found space in both directions on connecting United and Copa (via Panama) flights. I found return space on American Airlines and Delta, but no outbound space. I found no space on LAN.

Transfer Options

Delta

We can transfer Membership Rewards to Delta to book the Aerolineas Argentinas space and/or the Delta space. Delta charges 60,000 miles roundtrip to Argentina in economy class whether you fly it or one of its SkyTeam partners like Aerolineas Argentinas.

Although Delta does charge fuel surcharges for awards on a lot of its partners, it does not collect fuel surcharges on Aerolineas redemptions.

That means a transfer to Delta would mean the transfer of 240,000 Membership Rewards to 240,000 Delta miles. American Express charges $7 per 10,000 miles transferred to US-based airlines, with a maximum charge of $99, This transfer would incur that $99 charge. The award itself would have government taxes of around $75 per person, meaning a total cost of 240,000 Membership Rewards and approximately $400 for four people.

In return for that outlay, the family could get direct flights in each direction or could sub a one-stop itinerary on Delta on the return if they really didn’t want to fly Aerolineas Argentinas.

Flying Blue

Air France’s frequent flyer program, Flying Blue, is not always the best option because it levies heavy surcharges on several partners. But it doesn’t levy surcharges on Delta or Aerolineas Argentinas. And it’s price from the US to Argentina is 25,000 miles each way.

I’m not sure why the taxes collected exceed those collected by Delta by $15 per person, but that’s a minor concern. Flying Blue costs 25,000 miles each way, and it can be used to book oneways, which is a far better deal than Delta’s 60k miles roundtrip, which is the price whether you book oneways or roundtrips.

That means for 200k Membership Rewards and $360, a family of four could get on the same flights as with Delta miles: Delta and Aerolineas Argentinas flights.

British Airways

We can transfer Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios, but that would only enable booking the return leg in this case. Avios can be used to book American or LAN flights. We found only space on American, and only on the return.

The good news is that it’s only 25,000 Avios from Buenos Aires to Miami.

That means the return would be 100k Membership Rewards and $300.

ANA

I recently sang the praises of All Nippon Airways as a Membership Rewards transfer partner. ANA has a distance based award chart. You add up the distance of all the segments and see how many miles that trip will cost. Here is the economy chart.

Miami to Houston to Buenos Aires roundtrip is just over 12,000 miles. That works out 60,000 ANA miles (60,000 Membership Rewards) roundtrip. That’s not fantastic or awful.

But Miami to Panama to Buenos Aires is under 9,000 miles, meaning it is only 43,000 ANA miles roundtrip. That’s the lowest miles total we’ve seen.

image from gcmap.com

In neither case would there be fuel surcharges. ANA never charges fuel surcharges on United or US Airways flights, and Copa doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on this routing.

No fuel surcharges on Copa from Miami to Buenos Aires, so ANA won’t collect any.

That means ANA miles used to fly Copa would be 172k Membership Rewards and about $480 in taxes.

Transfer Options Summary

To summarize:

  • All the options here receive 1:1 transfers from Membership Rewards and incur only government taxes–no fuel surcharges.
  • Transferring to Delta is a bad idea. Why pay 60k Membership Rewards for a roundtrip when the same flights are 25k each way via Flying Blue? Total: 240k + $400
  • ANA is the cheapest option overall at 43k roundtrip if we route through Panama on Copa. Total: 172k + $480
  • British Airways and Flying Blue are the cheapest direct options at 25k each way. Total: 200k + $300

If you really value direct flights, take the Aerolineas Argentinas flight one direction for 25k Flying Blue miles and return on the American Airlines flight for 25k Avios.

If you really value the cheapest flights or want a free stopover in Panama, look for Copa flights for 43k ANA miles.

Recap

Membership Rewards have awesome versatility, which also means it’s more work to figure out the best deal. For a simple Miami to Buenos Aires roundtrip, all three alliances are possibilities.

Because some transfer partners have region-based charts, some have distance-based charts, some charge fuel surcharges sometimes, and some never do, you have to investigate every option for the best deal.

For Buenos Aires to Miami roundtrip, the best deals are with ANA miles on Copa to take advantage of the distance-based chart of a combination of Flying Blue miles and Avios to take advantage of their partners’ direct flights.

A System to Get to Europe with Delta SkyMiles

I use three steps to get to my European destination with Delta SkyMiles. For each direction:

  1. Find transatlantic space.
  2. Find domestic space within the US on Delta or Alaska from my home airport to the international gateway.
  3. Find intra-European space to my destination.

Those steps are roughly in order of difficulty–though many times finding domestic space on Delta is impossible at the low-miles price. In those cases, I have to buy a positioning flight or look on different dates.

A few months ago I decided to make a list of SkyTeam flights to Europe, so that I could more systematically search for awards to Europe for my clients with SkyMiles (or AMEX Membership Rewards or Flying Blue points.) Having a list to refer to made my Award Booking Service run much more smoothly.

This is not every SkyTeam flight to Europe, but it is every Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Aeroflot, and Air Europa flight between the US/Canada and Europe. Plus every Delta flight to London and Paris and from JFK to Europe. (Correct me where I’m wrong please.)

Air France

CDG (Paris) to ATL, BOS, ORD, DTW, IAH, LAX, MIA, JFK, SFO, IAD, YUL, YYZ

Alitalia

FCO (Rome) to BOS, ORD, LAX, MIA, JFK, EWR, YYZ

MXP (Milan) to JFK, MIA

KLM

AMS (Amsterdam) to ATL, DFW, ORD, IAH, LAX, JFK, SFO, IAD, YYC, YUL, YYZ, YVR

Aeroflot

SVO (Moscow) to LAX, MIA, JFK, IAD

Air Europa

MAD (Madrid) to JFK

Delta

LHR (London) to ATL, BOS, DTW, MSP, JFK

CDG (Paris) to ATL, CVG, DTW, MSP, JFK, SLC, SEA and seasonally to BOS, ORD, PHL, PIT

JFK (New York) to AMS, BCN, BRU, DUB, FRA, LHR, MAD, MXP, SVO, CDG, VCE and seasonally to ATH, CPH, IST, AGP, PSA, KEF, PRG, SNN, VLC, NCE, ARN

Finding Transatlantic Space

I search Alitalia, KLM, Air France, Air Europa, and Aeroflot space on Expert Flyer. See Free First Class Next Month: Using expertflyer.com.

I search Delta space as a oneway award, just the segment I want. For instance, if I want to fly from San Francisco to Salt Lake City to Paris, I just search SLC-CDG oneway on delta.com.

Why they’re called SkyPesos. Only medium availability in April in economy class.

Unfortunately the calendar doesn’t match up with direct availability. For instance, April 5 has low-level business availability according to the calendar. That must be for an itinerary with a stop because SLC-CDG direct is at the high price of 325k miles.

Not a good deal

Low-level Delta space will display as 60k/100k oneway in economy/business because Delta charges the roundtrip price for oneways. If you see that price, note the flight number and time, so you can build your award around it.

All partner space will cost the low-level price.

Finding Domestic Space

I also search delta.com oneway at a time for this. There aren’t really any tricks, and Delta’s award space is pitiful.

The only thing to keep in mind is to check for both economy and first class domestic space on your business class awards. You can add domestic economy class to international business class without increasing the award’s price.

Finding intra-Europe Space

I use expertflyer.com to search for award space intra-Europe. It’s usually readily available.

I have two tips. The first is not to hold out for business class. Intra-Europe business class is economy class with a meal and no one in the middle seat. It’s worth about $15 more than economy class to me, so I’m happy to book an economy class seat to get a better flight time.

The second is not to check the box for a classic Europe award on Expert Flyer for KLM and Air France searches. Delta has access to Classic Award (X), not Classic Europe Award (T) for these airlines.

Air France’s fare classes. Delta miles can be used only for O and X.

Putting It Together

Once you’ve found your transatlantic, intra-Europe, and domestic award space, you can put it all together. If you’re lucky and delta.com can find it and price it correctly, you are set.

If delta.com can’t find it or price it correctly, call 800-323-2323 to book. But don’t pay the phone fee. See How to Avoid the Phone Fee on Award Bookings to save $25 per ticket.

Recap

Booking awards to Europe with Delta miles can be time consuming, but there is a systematic approach that yields results. First, find the transatlantic space. I’ve included a list of great flights to search on all SkyTeam partners.

Second, find domestic space. Third, find intra-European space. Piece it all together on delta.com or by phone.

Or save yourself the trouble, and contact my Award Booking Service.

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