Want to book a dream summer vacation to Europe? The time is now. Award space is still very good on a number of great routes on great products and will deteriorate in the coming months.
Here’s how I would go about booking my dream award. Step one is the miles–more on getting those at the end of the post. You need:
- 60,000 miles for a roundtrip economy class ticket
- 100,000 for a roundtrip business class ticket
- 125,000+ for a roundtrip first class ticket
This post will focus on booking a business class award for next summer. The next installments will focus on economy and first class.
I recommend collecting United or US Airways miles to book a business class award to Europe for next summer. Both are members of the Star Alliance, so both type of miles can be used on the same flights on the following Star Alliance options to Europe.
- United (flat beds)
- US Airways (flat beds on A330)
- Lufthansa (flat beds on 747-8)
- Austrian (flat beds)
- Swiss (flat beds)
- Brussels (flat beds)
- Air Canada (flat beds)
- Scandanavian (angled beds)
- TAP (angled beds)
- Turkish (flat beds on 777-300ER)
- LOT (flat beds on the 787 Dreamliner) <– secret weapon
When to Use United Miles and When to Use US Airways Miles?
Not only does the Star Alliance have the most space, but it has the most options in lie flat business class beds, the goal when you’re shelling out 100k miles for a roundtrip.
When booking an award in business class to Europe, I follow a simple procedure.
- Find transatlantic space in both directions.
- Find domestic US space to/from transatlantic space.
- Find intra-Europe space to/from transatlantic space.
The first step is to find the transatlantic space. All the airlines’ space we want is searchable on United.com, so I head there.
I use wikipedia to determine possible routings before searching. See How to Use Wikipedia to Book Awards Like a Pro.
Then I fill out the form on united.com for a oneway flight on a route that I expect to have award space. If I wanted to search united.com for award space from Chicago to Frankfurt on Lufthansa or United, I would search like this:
Now we can easily use the award calendar at the top of the search screen to see what’s available when. (Don’t forget that sometimes you need to trick the award calendar to get it to show what you want.)
Here are some routes’ availability this summer. Keep in mind that yellow denotes economy space, blue denotes business or first space, and green denotes both. White means there is no saver space on the route that day in any class. (Saver space is space at the 100k miles roundtrip price point.)
Chicago to Frankfurt
Chicago shows strong availability if you have even a little flexibility. About half the days in July and August have space on direct flights on United or Lufthansa. Click a date to find out which of United’s two flights or Lufthansa’s two flights have space.
United’s flights depart at 2:20 PM and 6:15 PM. I saw more space on the earlier flight and more space in first class than business class in general.
I would prefer United’s fully flat bed to Lufthansa’s angled beds on the 747-400 in business.
Overall Chicago to Frankfurt has excellent space in business class at the moment for next summer.
New York to London
Without a Star Alliance partner in London, only United serves this route with five daily departures, all from Newark. Space is limited early in the summer, but readily available by July.
Here are United’s five flight times–four redeyes and a daytime hop.
Four of the departures fly a 757 with the fifth on a 777. All the planes are configured without a true first class, but the business class seats are lie flat beds.
The most common business class space was on the daytime departure, leaving at 9:00 AM and arriving at 9:30 PM. Not taking the redeye would have its advantages and disadvantages, but this is certainly the hardest flight to connect to if you don’t live in Newark.
San Francisco to London
What about us West Coasters? It’s normally much tougher to find transatlantic award space from the west coast to Europe than from the East Coast, but San Francisco to London on United has incredible space for Summer 2013 on its two daily flights.
There is generally more space on the 1 PM departure than the 7:40 PM departure. The 1 PM departure can be tough since you land at 11:10 PM San Francisco time.
Miami to Zurich
Swiss business class is a holy grail for some. I usually search for it from Miami, an odd route since Miami is not a Star Alliance hub. Space out of Miami is bad, but there are a few days this summer when you can hop on a Swiss bed.
Mondays in July are the best bet.
Here’s a video of Swiss biz to whet your appetite; definitely a product on my bucket list.
The other thing I noticed for Swiss biz out of all of its gateways–New York, Newark, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami–was that there was some business class space this week. Swiss opens up business class seats at the last minute, which may be your best chance to get on board.
Chicago to Vienna
Austrian’s new business class looks world class. It impresses me enough that I booked a flight in October from Vienna to Chicago on it instead of a direct flight from Munich to Chicago on United. There is incredible business class space on the flight five days a week this summer.
Here’s how I got a seat in Austrian biz as part of my best award ever.
The flight leaves Chicago at 4:00 PM and touches down in Vienna at 8:40 AM the next day.
Philadelphia to Rome
US Airways flies most of its European routes with an A330, on which it has a worldclass business class bed that it calls an Envoy Suite. Availability isn’t great to Rome, but it is worth a look.
If you’re flexible, there is space early in the week.
To get to the gateway of the transatlantic space you find, you can search united.com for domestic award space. You should find plenty as United offers the most domestic award space of any legacy carrier in my experience. Remember that both United and US miles can access this United space.
Tip: You are entitled to domestic first class (or business on three cabin services), but you can also use economy class space if the times work better.
I think you’ll find this incredibly easy to find on united.com. Many of the European airlines release space on seemingly every flight of theirs. Intra-European business is the exact same seat as coach, so don’t hold out for business if economy space is the only thing available.
Putting it all together
If you book with United miles, you should be able to easily book online. If you can’t easily book online, you can book by phone for free using this trick.
If you book with US Airways miles, write down all the flight dates, numbers, times, and cabins and call US Airways at 800-622-1015. Partner bookings do not incur a phone fee.
Tricking it out
See here for more information on adding free oneways to United awards (article, video) and US Airways awards (article, video).
Getting the Miles
There isn’t quite a quick way to rack up 100k US Airways miles. You can get 30k US Airways miles on first purchase with the Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard, but the card has an $89 annual fee the first year. You can also get the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express with a 25k bonus that transfers 1:1 to dozens of airlines with 5k bonus miles for every 20k points transferred.
Application Link: Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard
Application Link: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express
Space to Europe in business class for summer 2013 is excellent right now. I recommend booking now before it deteriorates as it certainly will. I ran through the process to book, specific routes with great availability, and specific fantastic beds.
I even told you how to get the miles for a roundtrip business class ticket with two credit card applications on the same day. Now it’s your turn to live up to your part of the bargain: I do the work. You do the travel.