Ah, the Old Continent. Whether you plan to search for Platform 9 3/4, hunt for trolls, sleep in castles, or you’re just really craving a ham baguette, Europe has an undeniable allure for many travelers. Fortunately, it is quite probably the foreign continent with the greatest number of connections from North America, giving you a plethora of possibilities whether looking to use miles or money. It can still be tough to score an award ticket during peak travel periods, but if you have some flexibility in terms of which airline(s) you’ll fly, the various programs below (or pairing one of them with a cheap paid fare in the opposite direction) should give you at least a few options even during peak times.
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
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 cash fare if traveling in economy class. 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).
However, great fares to Europe can sometimes be had in business class as well. Just as in economy class, such sales can sometimes mean that using points for a paid fare may cost fewer miles than an award ticket and earn miles. See: How to find great business class fares with Google Flights – the same techniques can be used to find economy fares if that is your preference). Keep in mind that you may sometimes find slightly cheaper pricing via small online travel agencies listed at Momondo or Skyscanner, though you might be sacrificing customer service if things go wrong with your flights. It’s also worth noting that fares originating in Europe are often much cheaper; if you plan to visit Europe twice in the next year, it might make sense to consider booking an award ticket to Europe and then “nesting” a paid fare (perhaps using points) from Europe to the US and back to Europe in the middle. One-way business class flights from Europe to the US can also be quite reasonable, so there are a number of options to consider.
Also keep in mind stacking opportunities that may be available to you via memberships and credit cards. For example, you may be able to get $200 off a British Airways fare with a cheap AARP membership (anyone can join) and stack it with 10% off for being a Chase cardholder (See: Extreme Stacking British Airways, AA, and Iberia flights). Certain companion tickets could also possibly save you money (See: Complete Guide to Travel Companion Tickets).
Best Mile Deals
The deals below are roughly sorted in ascending order by the number of miles required for a business class ticket. While economy class awards might make sense in some instances, particularly for last-minute travel or travel between small cities where paid tickets are exorbitantly expensive, business class tends to be the better value for miles. For example, most airlines charge about 30,000 miles one-way for an economy class ticket from North America to Europe (and then in some cases you will owe surcharges on top of that), whereas Iberia (the first airline below) charges 34K miles one-way in business class during off-peak season. Because of the generally low mileage difference as compared to the huge difference in cash cost, business class tends to be the sweet spot. As such, the options highlighted below are sorted in terms of the number of miles required to fly in business class (again, this is a rough sort as there is some variance in some programs).
Potentially the cheapest deal on miles, Iberia is one you shouldn’t ignore if you can fly direct from one of their Eastern US gateways to Spain.
- The short story: Iberia charges as few as 34K miles one-way in business class on its own flights from New York, Boston, Chicago, or DC to Madrid during off-peak season. Sometimes they run a winter travel promotion for even less.
- Miles required: Varies by distance. Best deal are the cities above to Madrid: 34K during off-peak dates or 50K during peak dates on Iberia metal
- How to find awards: Search Iberia.com using the Advanced Avios Search Tool
- How to book awards: Book at Iberia.com after using the Advanced Avios Search Tool.
- Key warnings: Iberia's website can be challenging to navigate and availability can be challenging to find. There are some surcharges, but at under a hundred bucks from the US to Europe, they are much milder than when using British Airways Avios. Note that Iberia's award chart is distance-based, so itineraries with connections will require more miles.
- Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy
ANA Mileage Club
If you can book round trip and avoid airlines with high fuel surcharges, ANA is the best deal for Star Alliance flights.
- The short story: ANA charges just 88K round trip for business class Star Alliance awards from the US to Europe.
- Miles required: 88K round trip in business 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.
- 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.
- 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: Amex Membership Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy
While the Royal Air Maroc and Brussels Airlines sweet spots have soured a bit, Etihad still offers a competitive rate to Brussels or Casablanca (easy connections to Europe from there) or on American Airlines.
- The short story: Etihad Guest offers a good value for flying on American Airlines, Brussels Airlines, or Royal Air Maroc between the US and Europe.
- Miles required: 44K each way in business class on Brussels Airlines or 44K to Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc (connections to Europe will add additional miles now) or 50K each way in business class on American Airlines
- How to find awards: Search for Brussels award space on United.com or American award space on AA.com (you may want to double-check availability at Qantas.com)
- 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: Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, Capital One miles, Marriott Bonvoy
Air France / KLM Flying Blue
Flying Blue doesn’t have a set award chart, but their monthly Promo Rewards often make it possible to fly to Europe in business class for 45K miles or less.
- 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 business class awards often available in the 40K’s and sometimes as low as the 20K’s depending on destination.
- 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 (about $150-$250 in taxes and fees each way)
- Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, Capital One miles, Marriott Bonvoy
Turkish Miles & Smiles
At 45K each way, this can be a great option for one-way Star Alliance itineraries, but not for those with high fuel surcharges.
- The short story: At 45K each way in business class, Turkish offers one of the best mileage rates - but watch out for fuel surcharges on some partners.
- Miles required: 45K miles each way in business class
- How to find awards: Search for available space at united.com and call Turkish to book or go to turkishairlines.com, log in to your account, go to "Miles transactions" to find the Star Alliance booking tool and click "book now" to go to that search tool (not the tool on the home page at turkishairlines.com). Note that there may be bookable options that do not appear on the site (hence checking United and calling when necessary).
- How to book awards: Book online at turkishairlines.com using the instructions above or over the phone at 1-800-874-8875 or via email
- Key warnings: Turkish is sometimes unable to see Star Alliance availability for no explicable reason. However, Turkish allows a hold for long enough for points to transfer from Citi. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that you get your desired itinerary on hold via phone or email before transferring points.
- Transfer from: Citi ThankYou points, Marriott Bonvoy
Often (though not always) one of the easier sweet spots to book, Virgin is a great option for nonstop Delta flights to Europe.
- The short story: Virgin Atlantic often offers Delta flights for many fewer miles than Delta would charge for the same itineraries.This can be a particularly good value for Delta’s life-flat routes to Europe and availability is often surprisingly good.
- Miles required: 50K miles each way in business class (for direct flights)
- How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com. See: Book Delta with Virgin Atlantic miles online! (again).
- How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.
- Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries. Note that taxes on flights originating in Europe can be high, but are only $5.60 when originating in the US. Some major European airports are not loaded into Virgin Atlantic’s website, so you may have to call to check availability / book.
Air Canada Aeroplan
An easier option for Star Alliance bookings than ANA or Turkish, Aeroplan also allows a stopover or open jaw on a round trip award.
- The short story: Aeroplan offers competitive pricing on Star Alliance business class awards and the best deal on first class awards to and from Europe at 70K each way. They also offer stopovers on round trip awards, which can present particular value. Lap infants are charged incredibly reasonable fees in either cash or miles and the price is the same whether booking one way or round trip.
- Miles required: 55K each way in business class or 70K each way in first class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, so choose carriers with low / no fuel surcharges.
- How to find awards: Search for available space at Aeroplan.com (you’ll need to create a free Aeroplan frequent flyer account to search)
- How to book awards: Book online at Aeroplan.com. Can also book via phone. Lap infants must be added to your reservation over the phone.
- Key warnings: There are high fuel surcharges on Lufthansa, but the relative savings in terms of miles used for first class might mitigate the fees.
- No fuel surcharges on: Aegean, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, COPA, Croatia Airlines, EVA Airlines, Egypt Air, Ethiopian, GOL, Juneao Airlines, SAS, SWISS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines
- Low fuel surcharges on: Cathay Pacific / Cathay Dragon, LOT Polish, Thai Airways
- Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One miles, Marriott Bonvoy
While the “regular” rate is 63K miles each way in business class, the nice thing about Avianca LifeMiles is their mixed-cabin pricing: if you have a long economy class leg in your itinerary, you may be able to get to Europe with the transoceanic leg in business class for under 50K miles. Also great for flying with no fuel surcharges.
- The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers competitive pricing for Star Alliance awards, especially in first class, with no fuel surcharges.
- Miles required: 63K each way in business or 87K each way in first class, no fuel surcharges. Note that there is some variance (See: The secret LifeMiles award chart). Also see: Avianca LifeMiles’ awesome mixed-cabin award pricing: First class for less for ways to fly first class for even fewer miles). In economy class, some routes price from 16.5K one-way and some mixed-cabin business class itineraries can price from as low as 49K. 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. 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.
- Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, Capital One miles, Marriott Bonvoy
United doesn’t offer the most competitive mileage pricing to Europe, but they do have the most user-friendly website experience and they do not pass on fuel surcharges, which can make them an option to consider if you have a lot of United miles.
- The short story: United charges a relatively large number of miles for business class flights between the US and Europe (70K), but the lack of fuel surcharges can be a major advantage for booking partners like Luthansa.
- Miles required: 70K one-way in business class between the US and Europe on partner airlines and potentially less on United.
- How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com
- How to book awards: Book online at United.com
- Key warnings: United has eliminated its award chart, so we may eventually see many different prices for award tickets.
- Transfer from: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy
How to get the miles
The following chart shows the available transferable points programs for each of the above airline frequent flyer programs:
|Rewards Program||Amex Transfer Ratio||Chase Transfer Ratio||Citi Transfer Ratio||Marriott Transfer Ratio||Capital One Transfer Ratio|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||1 to 1||60K to 25K||1000 to 750|
|Air France KLM Flying Blue||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 750|
|ANA Mileage Club||1 to 1||60K to 25K|
|Avianca LifeMiles||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 750|
|Avios||1 to 1||1 to 1||60K to 25K||6000 to 3000*|
|Etihad Guest||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 750|
|Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K|
|United MileagePlus||1 to 1|
|60K to 27.5K|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K|