Get to Europe using airline miles: Economy class edition

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Note that given the current COVID-19 situation, many flights have been canceled or suspended. This guide is meant for a reference while planning post-pandemic travel.

How do you get to Europe using airline miles in economy class? This post has the best sweet spots from airline programs that are partnered up with the major transferable currencies. We’ve recently completed a series of premium cabin sweet spots posts from the US to each of the major world regions (find all of our similar sweet award travel sweet spot posts here), but some readers are interested in economy class travel whether to stretch their mileage as far as possible or to fly an entire family on a single flight, which can be hard to do in premium cabins. This post features the best options.

Cheaper Paid Flights

There are frequent fare sales to Europe in economy class, especially from the east coast of the US. It is not uncommon to see sale prices under $400 round trip from East Coast cities during shoulder seasons and occasionally in the $200’s on low cost carriers (or even occasionally on major carriers). If you are located in a city with cheap fares or can position to one easily, it often makes more sense to pay cash or use points to book a paid fare through your credit card rewards travel site if traveling in economy class. For example, a $400 round trip ticket would cost less than 27K Chase Ultimate Rewards points round trip if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card since your points can be used at a value of 1.5c each to book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Note that when you’re comparing mileage prices to those paid fares booked through your credit card rewards portal, remember to consider any taxes or fuel surcharges added on the award ticket as the added cost might make the cash ticket a better value overall.

Of course, Frequent Miler is likely to report the best of these fare sales (you’ll want to subscribe to our instant alerts if you want to be notified of those deals quickly). You can also search for your own great fare deals in economy class using the same techniques discussed in our resource about How to find great business class fares with Google Flights.

For those who live or travel between particularly expensive markets or during times when cash tickets are expensive, economy class award travel can sometimes be a solid value.

Transferrable Currencies

If you want to use airline miles, it’s great to have transferable points.  Transferable point programs let you transfer your points to any of a number of airline programs.  This is great because it gives you the freedom to book many different flights through many different methods, some of which are strikingly cheaper than others.  If you’re not familiar with transferable points programs, please check out our guides:

Amex Membership Rewards Complete Guide Capital One “Rewards miles” Complete Guide Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide
Citi ThankYou Rewards Complete Guide Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

 

Best ways to get to Europe using airline miles (in economy class)

The deals below are sorted alphabetically. Remember that the lowest price isn’t the entire picture: be sure to consider which airlines levy fuel surcharges and the ease of amassing the miles for your chosen award. See each description for where to search, how to book, and which partners you can use to transfer. It is always best to confirm availability before transferring miles to be sure that the award you seek can be booked with the miles you intend.

Note that most major airline programs charge either 25K or 30K miles each way in economy class. For example, flights booked through American Airlines AAdvantage or United Mileage Plus generally cost 25K-30K each way for saver awards in economy class (though note that with variable pricing in effect at all three of the major US carriers, it’s always worth checking those airlines’ sites for unadvertised specials). We have focused on programs below that regularly offer better values for those same flights and flights with other partners, which provide a plethora of options between the US and Europe.

ANA (for Star Alliance)

  • The short story: ANA charges 55K round trip for economy class Star Alliance awards from the US to Europe.
  • Miles required: 55K round trip in economy class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but are avoidable with the right carriers. See: How To Find Business Class Awards To Europe For 88,000 Miles Or Points for info on the business class sweet spot that is applicable to economy class as well.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features. Note that transfers to ANA are not instant. Transfers typically take 2-3 days from Amex Membership Rewards or a week or more from Marriott, so there is risk of award space disappearing while you wait for a transfer.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, Etihad, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
  • Transfer from: AmexMarriott

Air France / KLM Flying Blue (for Air France / KLM or other SkyTeam airlines)

  • The short story: Monthly Flying Blue Promo Awards can sometimes offer excellent value between the US and Europe.
  • Miles required: Varies. Air France no longer has an award chart, but promo awards often offer good value, with economy class awards often available from as low as 10K-15K one way during some sales from select airports. They sometimes present good value for travel on other SkyTeam partners like Delta or Alitalia, but YMMV.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at AirFrance.us (you’ll need to create a free Flying Blue frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AirFrance.com. Can also book via phone.
  • Key warnings: Air France / KLM do add fuel surcharges, though they are often reasonable.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

Avios (for British Airways, Aer Lingus, or Iberia)

  • The short story: You can use British Airways, Iberia or Aer Lingus Avios to fly on those airlines for low mileage prices on nonstop routes.
  • Miles required (Note that this gets confusing, particularly for Iberia. For more on the Iberia charts, I recommend reading this post at Travel is Free):
    • For flights on British Airways or Aer Lingus via British Airways, Aer Lingus, or Iberia (prices shown off-peak/peak):
      • 13K / 20K for flights 3,000-4,000 miles flown
      • 16,250 / 25K for flights 4,001 to 5,500 miles flown
    • For flights on Iberia via Iberia Avios only (prices shown off-peak/peak):
      • 17K / 20K for flights 3,001-4,000 miles one way
      • 21,250 / 25K for flights 4,001-5,000 miles one way
  • How to find awards: Search for British Airways available space at britishairways.com for Aer Lingus at United.com or Avios.com. For Iberia, use the Advanced Avios tool. It's always best to search before transferring.
  • How to book awards: Book British Airways flights online at britishaiways.com or over the phone at 1 800 452 1201. You can book Aer Lingus over the phone with British Airways or use Avios.com
  • Key warnings: Note that the above pricing is for flights on Aer Lingus (which can be booked via Avios.com) or British Airways (book at BritishAirways.com). Both airlines charge for each segment separately, so multi-segment trips can get expensive quickly.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Marriott

Avianca LifeMiles (for Star Alliance)

  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers competitive pricing for Star Alliance awards, with some routes to Europe inexplicably pricing lower than the award chart.
  • Miles required: Officially, the LifeMiles award chart offers economy class at 20K one-way from the Northeastern US to the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Russia or 30K one-way on all other routes between the US and Europe. However, there is some inexplicable variance (See: The secret LifeMiles award chart), with some routes pricing well under the expected 30K economy class price (such as JFK to Zurich for 16,500 miles or Denver to Brussels for 23K). Also see: Trying to crack  the LifeMiles secret code to Europe.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com, though note that you may be able to make a manual booking if individual segments are available separately. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save. Also note that as of May 2020, Avianca has filed for bankruptcy protection. LifeMiles is not yet affected by this process and may not be, but given the uncertain state of global economics it may be wise to hold off on bookings that aren't time-sensitive.
  • Transfer fromAmex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (for flying a single Oneworld partner airline)

  • The short story: Cathay Pacific has reasonable pricing for single-partner oneworld redemptions, particularly those requiring connections since they charge based on cumulative distance.
  • Miles required: 27K miles one-way for a cumulative distance of 2,751 to 5,000 miles, which covers much of the US to Europe. The next distance band, which covers up to 7,500 miles, would be less interesting at 35K.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at AsiaMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Asia Miles frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AsiaMiles.com. Can also book via phone.
  • Key warnings: Fuel surcharges are moderate depending on route and origin.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Capital One, Citi, Marriott

Etihad Guest (for American Airlines or Brussels Airlines)

  • The short story: Etihad Guest offers a good value for flying on American Airlines between the US and Europe during off-peak dates (October 15 - May 15).
  • Miles required: 20K each way in economy class on American Airlines during off-peak dates (October 15 - May 15). Peak pricing is 30K each way. Note that in either instance, you will need to see saver space available via American Airlines in order to book with Etihad. If your travel is during peak dates, also consider Brussels Airlines from New York JFK or Washington IAD, which would be 27K each way in economy class (search for space on Brussels via United.com).
  • How to find awards: Search for American Airlines award space at Qantas.com. Note that you could also use the British Airways site, but it is known to sometimes show phantom AA availability.
  • How to book awards: Call Etihad Guest at 1-877-690-0767.
  • Key warnings: Etihad phone agents have historically had trouble booking partner awards, though the new call center in Serbia appears to be quite competent. If your agent appears to be having trouble, you might want to HUCA (hang up, call again).
  • Transfer from: Capital OneCiti, Marriott

Virgin Atlantic (for Air France / KLM or Virgin Atlantic)

Note that Virgin Atlantic also charges the more standard 30K miles each way for nonstop Delta flights, which is notable since Delta frequently charges many more miles for the same flights. See How to book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles for more.

  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic offers excellent economy class pricing on Air France / KLM, particularly from the Eastern US to Europe but also for its own flights to the UK (albeit with somewhat expensive surcharges).
  • Miles required:
    • For flying Air France / KLM During "standard season" (not peak) dates, 12,000 miles each way in economy class between the East Coast of the US and Western Europe or 20,000 miles each way to Central Europe (and North Africa). From the Western or Central US to Western Europe is 15,000 miles or Eastern Europe is 23,000 miles. Standard price travel dates dates include:
      • 6 January 2020 – 2 April 2020
      • 22 April 2020 - 19 June 2020
      • 7 September 2020 - 11 December 2020
      • 6 January 2021 - 31 March 2021
    • For flying on Virgin Atlantic to/from the UK (Prices shown off-peak / peak; see: Virgin Atlantic award chart (U.S.-centric)
      • From the Northeast US: 10K / 20K
      • From the Midwest & South: 12.5K / 22.5K
      • From the Western US: 15K / 25K
      • Note that fees are about $149 one-way to London or $263 one-way from London
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.  See: Book Air France & KLM with Virgin Atlantic Miles.
  • Key warnings: The zone-based award chart for Air France / KLM flights can be a bit confusing at first, but the nice thing about booking Air France / KLM flights with Virgin Atlantic miles is that Virgin Atlantic does not charge each segment separately as they do with other partners or their own flights. In this case, you'll pay the region prices even if connecting. Keep in mind that Virgin Atlantic is currently facing uncertain financial times, so it may be best to hold off a while on booking any travel that isn't imminent.
  • Transfer from: AmexCitiChaseMarriott

How to get the miles

The following chart shows the available transferable points programs for each of the above airline frequent flyer programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer RatioChase Transfer RatioCiti Transfer RatioMarriott Transfer RatioCapital One Transfer Ratio
Air France KLM Flying Blue1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 750
ANA Mileage Club1 to 160K to 25K
Avianca LifeMiles1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 750
Avios1 to 11 to 160K to 25K6000 to 3000*
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 750
Etihad Guest1 to 11 to 1
(~1 week)
60K to 25K1000 to 750
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K
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CaveDweller
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CaveDweller

I have a flt ORD>ATH but UAL keeps changing this for 9/1 ..So I booked another AA non-stop rt great seats 36k+$55 way cheaper. The US and Greece could be doable and I wonder why the virus is way better there then the US .
Anything to save a trip.
#stayincave

DaveS
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DaveS

This will be a useful guide when one can actually go to Europe again. I see some options with transfer partners that I hadn’t considered before. Thanks to Nick for doing a post on economy award travel.

Jake
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Jake

I totally agree. I have a large family, I always end up flying in economy and always pay with points to have ‘the filling of Free’. So all of the posts about flying up front are of little value to me, but this was great. Thanks Nick.