Update: I Followed the Exact Steps in This Post to Buy My Friend a Business Class Ticket for $1,040
Update 2: LifeMiles are now on sale for as little as 1.4 cents each through September 30, 2015, which allows you to follow the steps in this post.
The Citi Prestige offer mentioned in this post is expired. See the new offer and analysis here.
You can consistently buy one way Business Class tickets between the United States and Europe for around $1,000, even at the last minute. The tickets take a little bit of planning, and a little bit of know-how, but let me emphasize “little bit.” If you normally buy economy, Premium Economy, or Business Class tickets between the United States and Europe, read this article so you can save 75% or more off your next ticket.
Of course, it is better to just open one of the top travel rewards cards and use the sign up bonus for a free one way trip to Europe (plus $5.60 and up in taxes), but some people travel too much to use open a credit card for all trips or cannot open American credit cards with their huge bonuses.
For those people, there is a way to buy Business Class tickets between the United States and Europe for about $1,000 each way.
- Sign up for an Avianca LifeMiles account and select a country of residence in Europe.
- Buy 26,400 LifeMiles during the next 120% bonus for $396.
- Book a Business Class trip to Europe, for 26,000 LifeMiles plus $587+.
The Steps Broken Down
1. Sign Up for a LifeMiles Account
Sign up for a free LifeMiles account here. Do it now even if you don’t want your $1,000 ticket for months. Do it now even if there’s only a 10% chance you’ll ever book one of these tickets. Signing up before a sale (Step 2) starts is a prerequisite to be eligible to purchase miles during a sale.
When signing up, select a country of residence other than Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, United States, or Colombia. During the most recent sale (Step 2), accounts registered in these countries got a 100% bonus on miles purchased. Accounts from other countries got a 120% bonus.
Why sign up for LifeMiles? LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca, a Colombian airline that is a member of the Star Alliance. You can use Avianca miles to book awards on all Star Alliance members including United, Lufthansa, Austrian, Brussels, TAP, Turkish, and other airlines with service to and within Europe.
Of the many types of Star Alliance miles you can use for awards to Europe, LifeMiles stand out for how cheaply it sells miles, allowing for ~$1,000 one way Business Class tickets to Europe.
2. Buy 26,400 LifeMiles during the next 120% bonus for $396
You can always buy LifeMiles for 3.3 cents each. Every few months, LifeMiles offers a bonus on the purchase of miles of at least 100%. The most recent bonus was from May 5 through May 29, 2015 and was a 100% bonus for the countries listed above and a 120% bonus for the rest of the world. That made the price 1.5 or 1.65 cents per mile total.
If the next sale is identical–I bet it will be–you can buy 12,000 miles with 14,400 bonus miles (26,400 total) for $396. Or if for some reason you’ve signed up with an American address, you can buy 13,000 miles with 13,000 bonus miles (26,000) for $429.
Why 26,000 or 26,400 miles? Because a one way Business Class award costs 63,000 LifeMiles, but LifeMiles allows awards to be booked with 40% of the necessary miles–26,000 in this case–by putting up cash to pay for your miles discount (Step 3).
I will cover the next sale on MileValue, so check back daily or sign up to receive one free daily email with all of the day’s posts.
During the sale, you should purchase 26,000 miles for each one way Business Class ticket you think you’ll want to book in the next few months, since the sales only pop up every few months. There is a limit of 150,000 miles purchased per calendar year including bonus miles during sales, so you are limited to booking five Business Class one way tickets per account per calendar year. But you can always open multiple accounts, since LifeMiles accounts can always be used to book tickets in anyone’s name.
3. Book a Business Class trip to Europe, for 26,000 LifeMiles plus $587+
To book a LifeMiles ticket, sign into your account and click “Air Tickets” under “Enjoy.” Notice I bought 98,000 miles during the last sale.
Search for your cities, date, number of passengers, and cabin.
Ideally the search reveals award space on several options like this search for award space from Washington DC to Frankfurt for next Monday reveals.
However, award space is far from guaranteed (as I’ll discuss below in the caveats section.) Not all flights have award space in all cabins.
Once you’ve decided on your flight, select it and at the bottom of the screen, toggle “More Money” to the maximum. This will change the price from 63,000 miles and $0 to 26,000 miles and $557.10.
Clicking “Continue” takes you to the screen that shows the total price, which will include all applicable government taxes and a $25 booking fee. One way flights from the United States to Europe with no connections in Europe have only $5.60 in taxes.
We paid $396 for the 26,000 miles in Step 2, so for a one way Business Class flight from the United States to Europe, the all in price of this method is $396 + $587.70 = $983.30! How else can you consistently get Business Class tickets to Europe for under $1,000?
That award has $59 in taxes, so the total price is $396 + $641.03 = $1,037.03. That’s an outrageously good deal for a flat bed, lounge access, and free food and drinks.
To figure out the taxes for your one way award from Europe to the United States, check this list of award taxes from Europe sorted by departure city. The worst departure point in Europe is Great Britain. A one way from London to the United States in Business Class has $309 in taxes, so the total cost is $396 + $891.46 = $1,287.46 for a one way in Business Class.
And how about an economy ticket? LifeMiles charges 30,000 miles one way, so you can book them with 12,000 miles (40% of the price) plus a cash copay. A one way in economy from the United States to Europe costs 12,000 miles ($165) + $313.85 or $478.85. You can often find cash tickets for this price, so I wouldn’t bother buying LifeMiles to book economy tickets to Europe.
I also wouldn’t buy LifeMiles for First Class tickets to Europe because LifeMiles cannot book Lufthansa or Swiss First Class, two excellent products. Your only option would be United First Class, which is really not much better than United Business Class.
I hope you’re excited, but don’t rush off to Step 1 without reading these important caveats:
- These are the current prices from LifeMiles, but the only thing certain with miles is eventual devaluation. One day, LifeMiles will charge more than 63,000 miles one way in Business Class. When that happens, you don’t want to be stuck with a lot of miles in your account. That’s why you should go slowly and only buy enough miles to cover your very likely trips. Even then, you cannot completely eliminate devaluation risk.
- There is not award space on every flight in Business Class. You could buy the miles and then not be able to use them when you want to use them. However, I think this is only a minor concern because there is award space on most days from the United States to Europe with Avianca miles as long as you book within a few weeks of departure, which is when I assume most people who routinely book paid Business Class book their tickets. Here is award space from Washington DC to Frankfurt for the next five weeks. All green and blue days have Business Class award space for one passenger.
This is peak time and space is almost perfect. Space is barely worse to other cities in Europe because intra-Europe space is a gimme. Space is a bit worse to the west coast of the United States and much worse if you need to book more than two seats on the same flight.
- Every flight of a LifeMiles award must be in the same cabin. If you want Business Class across the Atlantic, you must also fly Business Class intra-Europe and United First Class (considered a business class) within the United States. This isn’t much of a problem intra-Europe, since almost all planes have Business Class, but there are many one-cabin planes in the United States operating to small airports. These cannot be booked with LifeMiles on a Business Class award. To see if your route is affected by this silly rule, go to united.com and search your award. Any award with a “Mixed Cabin” icon is off limits.
Buy your LifeMiles in Step 2 and book your ticket in Step 3 with a Citi Prestige® Card for $250 off the first purchase and 3x points on all purchases. With the Citi Prestige® Card, the first $250 in award taxes, fuel surcharges, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the LifeMiles miles purchases and award purchases.
For most people, the best way to get transatlantic Business Class is to open credit cards and use the sign up bonuses for the free flights.
For businessmen who fly the routes too often to get all free tickets and ordinarily pay $4,000 to $8,000 for a roundtrip in Business Class, there is a back up plan. Buy LifeMiles and book Business Class awards for around $1,000 each way.
Nerdy Expansion of Search Techniques that You Can Skip
Further information on searching LifeMiles.com and picking the best plane:
Even when award space does exist, LifeMiles’ search engine may miss it if you select a “Smart Search” like I did in the screen shot of the search screen in the searching section. If your Smart Search reveals nothing, go to united.com to search for award space (here’s how), and return to search on lifemiles.com by specifying the airline you want to fly. LifeMiles should be able to book any awards on united.com that have a blue button in the Saver column other than space on Aer Lingus.
You may also want to use united.com to find the airplane operating each flight because certain Lufthansa aircraft are better than others. For instance, the 747-8 has flat beds in Business Class, while the 747-400 has angled beds.
You can see whether your Lufthansa flight has the “new” flat beds or “old” angled beds in Business Class on this site. All United, Austrian, Swiss, and Air Canada Business Class has flat beds.