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Star Alliance is the biggest airline alliance in the world with 26 member airlines and includes some of the best airlines in the world, such as Austrian and Lufthansa. Thanks to Star Alliance’s reach within Europe, U.S. based travelers have plenty of great options for the transatlantic hop and can use a variety of miles, points and credit card transferable points to get across the pond.

Let’s look at some of the best options for booking Star Alliance flights. 

All Nippon Airways ANA

If you are wondering why we are talking about a Japanese airline in a post about European travel, you aren’t alone. This is one of the lesser known options for booking Star Alliance flights and one of the most economical ways to get to Europe in business class. 

ANA doesn’t fly between the U.S and Europe, but it has a whole bunch of partners that do. For example, you can book flights on Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines or Aegean. Keep in mind that ANA passes on carrier imposed surcharges and those can be hundreds of dollars, so even with the advantageous award chart, you’ll have significant out of pocket costs. One way to avoid this is to look for flights on partners that don’t have surcharges, such as United Airlines or TAP Air Portugal.  

These are ANA’s round-trip award rates: 

  • Economy: 55,000 miles
  • Business: 88,000 miles
  • First: 165,000 miles

As you can see, the real sweet spot here is business class. Economy and first class rates are somewhat comparable to what other programs charge. 

You can only book round-trip partner awards, but ANA allows open-jaw bookings and free stopovers.

A stopover is a stop longer than 24 hours on the way to your destination.

Open jaw simply means arriving into one airport and departing from a different airport, or you can fly out of one airport in the U.S. and fly into a different airport (see the example below).

So while the award, technically, is a round-trip, you still have some flexibility. 

With a free stopover, you can hop from one destination in Europe to another. Keep in mind that you’ll still be responsible for the surcharges. A free stopover sounds amazing in theory, but you might be able to find flights on one of Europe’s many low-cost carriers or even travel by train for less than the airline’s surcharges on that free stopover. It’s always a good practice to check other options before booking the stopover. 

How to Book an Award Trip to Europe with ANA Miles

You’ll need to create an account to search for award space on ANA. If you want to search for open-jaw tickets, you can select this option right on the first search screen, just toggle over from “Round trip” to “Open-jaw”. 

You’ll see the test results on the next page, including the number of miles required and the surcharges.  

If you want to include a free stopover, click on Multi cities and enter your dates and destinations. 

You’ll be walked through different screens where you can select your flights and the final screen should still show 88,000 miles. 

Cards to Help You Earn ANA Mileage Club Miles

ANA is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, and points transfer 1:1. Keep in mind that the points don’t transfer instantly, as it can take about 48 hours, and by the time your Membership Rewards make it into your ANA account, the award you’ve been eyeing might be gone. So always try to have a backup plan. 

There are quite a few American Express cards that earn Membership Rewards points. One of our favorite cards is The Platinum Card from American Express. For the small business owner, the The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express could be an excellent option. 

American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months. Terms Apply.

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ANA Mileage Club is also a transfer of Marriott Bonvoy. Marriott points can be converted to ANA miles at a ratio of 3:1, and if you transfer in 60,000-point increments, you’ll receive 5,000 miles bonus. So for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred, you’ll end up with 25,000 ANA miles. 

Avianca LifeMiles 

LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca, one of South America’s largest carriers. Because it’s part of Star Alliance, we can use Avianca’s LifeMiles to book award tickets from the U.S. to Europe. 

Why would you choose to use LifeMiles? One of the main reasons is because Avianca doesn’t charge carrier surcharges, so you’ll just have to pay the taxes and fees.

Another reason is the ability to book close-in awards. Some programs, like United’s Mileage Plus, charge a premium for booking less than two weeks in advance. But you can avoid this by using LifeMiles to book your European adventure. 

LifeMiles are easy to earn because they are a transfer partner of most major credit cards’ transferable currencies. Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, Marriott Bonvoy points and Capital One points all transfer to LifeMiles. In the past there’ve been Citi and American Express transfer bonuses to Avianca, allowing us to stretch the credit card points even further. Hopefully the transfer bonuses will come back after travel resumes to normal. 

Citi and Membership Rewards points transfer to LifeMiles 1:1 and Capital One points transfer 1:1 and the transfer is usually instant. Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to LifeMiles 3:1, and if you transfer in 60,000-point increments, you’ll receive 5,000 miles bonus.

Avianca also runs frequent points sales, and it’s possible to buy enough points for a one-way business class to Europe for less than $1,000. 

If flying Lufthansa first class is on your bucket list, then you found the sweet spot. For just 87,000 miles and $5.60 in taxes (for flights departing from the U.S.), you can fly Lufthansa first class from the U.S. to Europe. 

Lufthansa First Class | Image credit JetSetCalvin

And finally, you can find mixed cabin award space to Europe for less than if you were to fly the whole itinerary in business class. By mixing short economy flights and long business class flights, you can shave off a few thousand miles. 

Avianca doesn’t have an award chart anymore, but the cheapest rate in economy class to Europe should be 30,000 miles and 63,000 miles in business. In reality, it’s possible to find award space for even less than that. 

How to Book an Award Trip to Europe with LifeMiles

You will need to create an account, and after you’ve plugged in your dates and destinations, you should see a screen that looks like this.

You can click on the arrow on the right  to see the flight details and the mileage breakdown. And here’s an example of a mixed class award, which allows us to save a couple thousand miles by traveling in economy for the short flight. 

And if you need a domestic connection, your ticket might price out lower! That defies logic, but we can certainly use the program’s quirks to our advantage. 

Please note that Avianca has a $25 Star Alliance non-refundable booking fee. 

Cards to Help You Earn Avianca LifeMiles

Citi has a couple of ThankYou earning cards. The Citi Premier Card is a great card for earning Avianca Lifemiles thanks to its generous welcome bonus and excellent bonus points categories. 

Citi Premier® Card

Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

LEARN MORE 

The Capital One Venture Rewards credit card also comes with a generous welcome bonus and the points can be transferred to LifeMiles program.  

Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles

Turkish Airlines doesn’t have nonstop flights between the U.S. and Europe but there are quite a few great options to get to Europe with a connection in Istanbul. Turkish is a great airline, with excellent customer service and above average inflight catering, even in economy. 

These are one-way award rates: 

  • Economy: 30,000 miles
  • Business: 45,000 miles

Economy rate is pretty standard for award flights to Europe, but the business class rate is extremely attractive – some airlines charge close to that for economy flights! 

If you live in one of 10 of Turkish’s U.S. gateway cities, you can get to Europe with just one stop. Or, if you can find availability, you can book awards on one of the Star Alliance partners for the same number of miles.   

How to Book an Award Trip to Europe with Turkish Miles&Smiles

To book an award on Turkish Airlines, you’ll need to create an account. After you login, click on your name and go to Award Ticket.

Plug in the flight details and click on the red arrow.

You’ll see the flight details on the next screen, and it’s very easy to toggle between economy and business class awards. 

If you want to look for Star Alliance operated flights, the process is slightly different. After you login, click on your name and go to Miles Transactions.

Then go to Book now under the Star Alliance award ticket header. 

Plug in your flight details and click on the red arrow.

You’ll see Star Alliance flights only on the next screen.

Turkish does pass on airline surcharges, so keep that in mind when booking partner flights. 

If you don’t see an itinerary that you know is available (can be confirmed by searching on other partner’s sites or on Expert Flyer), call the reservation office and an agent should be able to put it together for you. 

Keep in mind that if you are booking an award for someone else, you’ll only be able to do this after you book your first award in your name. This is done to protect your account and to make sure that nobody else is draining your Miles&Smiles account. 

Cards to Help You Earn Turkish Miles&Smiles

Turkish doesn’t have a lot of credit card transfer partners like other programs, but there are still a couple of good options. Citi ThankYou Points can be converted to Turkish Miles&Smiles. There are a number of ThankYou points earning credit cards, but you’ll need the Citi Prestige Card or the Citi Premier Card to be able to transfer points to Miles&Smiles. 

Transfer rate is 1:1, but the transfer isn’t immediate and your points can take one or two days to post.

Marriott Bonvoy points can also be transferred to Miles&Smiles. Points transfer 3:1, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred.

Air Canada Aeroplan 

Air Canada’s loyalty program Aeroplan has undergone major changes in the last year. We won’t delve into too many details about the program here, but if you want to learn more about the changes, the MileValue blog has an excellent Aeroplan primer.  

So why Aeroplan? There are several reasons.

First, Aeroplan is a transfer partner of almost all transferable currencies so it’s easier than ever to earn enough credit card points to take the whole family to Europe.

Second, with the recent program overhaul, Aeroplan has eliminated fuel surcharges, a very consumer-friendly move.

And lastly, Aeroplan’s lap infant policy is one of the best. You’ll just have to pay CAD$25 or 2,500 Aeroplan miles to add a lap infant. 

You can also add a stopover for 5,000 miles to one-way and round-trip awards.:

  • One stopover is allowed on a one-way ticket, and two stopovers are allowed on round-trip tickets
  • No stopovers in North America are allowed
  • Stopovers cost an extra 5,000 Aeroplan miles
  • For now, you must call Air Canada to book itineraries with stopovers

Aeroplan’s new award chart is both distance AND zone based, so when booking a stopover just pay attention to the total distance flown. It’s very easy to estimate the distance with one of my favorite travel planning tools, the Great Circle Mapper

Aeroplan has a great points estimator tool that you can use to figure out exactly how many miles you’ll need for your trip to Europe but here’s a quick summary of the mileage needed to travel between North America and Europe, both of which are in the Atlantic region.

I actually enjoyed playing with the points estimator tool and here’s an example of one of the most expensive awards to Europe that you can book with Aeroplan, based on the distance flown. 

There’s a partner booking fee of CA$39. 

How to Book an Award Trip to Europe with Air Canada Aeroplan

To search for award space you don’t even need an account, just plug in your dates and airports and toggle from CA$ to Points.

You’ll see the results on the next page. Just as the award chart promises, the awards on partners will price out according to the chart, but Air Canada’s own flights will have dynamic pricing. 

When booking business class, beware of the mixed cabin awards. Often it’s just the short domestic flight that’ll be in the economy cabin, but always check that the longest segment is indeed in business class. 

Cards to Help You Earn Aeroplan Miles

There’s no shortage of great American Express cards, and with all the increased offers and improved spending categories, it’s easy to earn a good stash of Membership Rewards that you can transfer to Aeroplan. One of our favorite cards is the American Express Gold Card

Membership Rewards points transfer to Aeroplan 1:1. You should also watch out for transfer bonuses from Amex that pop up from time to time. 

Miles earned with the Capital One Venture credit card can also transfer to Aeroplan 1:1. 

United Airlines MileagePlus

We like United’s MileagePlus program because it’s fairly easy to earn United miles with a combination of United’s co-branded credit cards and a number of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards earning cards. The program is also very straightforward and easy to use even for complete beginners. 

United doesn’t have an official award chart anymore but here’s what you can expect to pay for flights to Europe:

  • 30,000 miles in economy on United or 
  • 33,000 miles in economy on partner-operated flights
  • 60,000 miles in business on United-operated flights
  • 77,000 miles in business on partner-operated flights  

This is how much the flights should cost, but because there’s no award chart anymore and United uses dynamic pricing, your awards might price out higher or lower than these rates. 

United doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges, so it’s a great program to use if you have lots of Ultimate Rewards points or United miles and would like to fly on one of European carriers, such as Austrian or Lufthansa. 

United’s excursionist perk, which is a free one-way flight inside one region that you can add to a round-trip ticket, could save you a lot of money. So if you wanted to fly to London, spend a few days there and then go to Vienna and fly home from Vienna, your London to Vienna flight should be free. 

In the example below, I priced out a trip in business class from Chicago to London (60,000 miles), London to Vienna (0 miles) and Vienna to Chicago (66,000 miles). 

As you can see, the middle segment was free and the Vienna to Chicago flight came in under the customary partner rate of 77,000. Austrian Airlines flight ended up costing just 66,000 miles. 

How to Book an Award Trip to Europe with United Miles

You don’t need an account to search for award space, but United often opens up more award space on its own domestic flights to its elites and credit card holders. So if you have one of United’s credit cards and need a domestic connection, definitely login first. 

Plug in your trip details and don’t forget to click Book with miles. 

You’ll see the list of all available options on the next screen. United will also display a handy five day calendar on the top of the search results. 

There’s also a 30 day calendar option that will show available award tickets and rates. I’ve found cheaper awards than what’s displayed on the calendar, so if you do need to fly on a particular day, check each date individually.  

For example, when I clicked on June 25th, I found a partner award for 66,000 miles. 

Cards to Help You Earn United Miles

Chase’s United Explorer Card comes with a generous welcome bonus, two club passes annually, expanded award availability and free checked bags. If you fly United a couple times a year, this card is definitely a keeper. 

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card comes with a generous welcome bonus and Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United 1:1. 

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

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Final Thoughts

Europe is a very accessible destination and there are lots of ways to get there with points and miles. You can use a variety of programs to book Star Alliance flights using airline miles and transferable credit card points. Don’t be afraid to explore foreign airlines’ programs – they could be easy to use and you might be able to save a significant number of points, especially when booking for a whole family. 

Travel well,

Anna 

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