Best Uses of American Express Membership Rewards Points by Region: Europe

Introduction
Domestic (Including Hawaii)
Europe
Asia
Australia
Middle East/Africa
South America


When it comes to redeeming Membership Rewards points for flights between the US and Europe, there are five programs to consider:

  • Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)
  • All Nippon Airways Mileage Club (Star Alliance)
  • British Airways Executive Club (OneWorld)
  • Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)
  • Air France Flying Blue (SkyTeam)

 Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)

Before Aeroplan devalued their award chart last year, they were by far the best option to Europe — they charged just 80,000 miles in business class and 100,000 miles in first class, and didn’t impose any fuel surcharges. Their award chart to Europe now looks as follows:

The key here is that Europe is broken up into two zones. The better value here is definitely “Europe 1,” which includes the following countries:

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain (incl. Balearic Islands; excl. Canary Islands), Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to Aeroplan. The good news is that they allow either two stopovers OR one stopover and one open jaw on a transatlantic award ticket. That’s extremely useful when you’re visiting multiple places in Europe, since it means you can visit three destinations on a single ticket.

The bad news is that they impose fuel surcharges for redemptions on Air Canada and many of their partner airlines. The four airlines flying transatlantic that are excluded from these fuel surcharges are Brussels Airlines, Swiss, United, and US Airways.

All three of those airlines are pretty awesome in business class nowadays, with fully flat beds on a majority of their routes. Also keep in mind that if you only include other Star Alliance airlines on shorter hops within Europe, the fuel surcharges won’t be too bad.

So I consider this to be one of the best transatlantic values. 90,000 miles for three destinations in Europe with minimal fuel surcharges is a bargain.

All Nippon Airways Mileage Club (Star Alliance)

ANA has a distance based award chart which is actually extremely favorable from the east coast. The bad news is that they impose fuel surcharges on every airline which imposes fuel surcharges on revenue tickets. The only Star Alliance airline I know of that doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on transatlantic revenue tickets is US Airways, so for the most part this would only make sense if you plan on traveling with them. The good news is that most of their transatlantic fleet features Envoy Suites (just be sure you’re flying an Airbus 330), so that might not be all that bad news.

As you can see above, flying a distance of 7,001 to 9,000 miles in business class would cost you just 68,000 miles, and best of all you’re allowed up to four stopovers on an award ticket.

For example Philadelphia to Munich roundtrip on US Airways in business class would run you 68,000 miles without fuel surcharges, and you can add on a few more destinations within Europe as long as you keep the total travel distance below 9,000 flown miles.

In some cases it could even make sense to book an award ticket on a partner that does impose fuel surcharges, especially if you plan on having multiple stopovers, which is where ANA shines.

British Airways Executive Club (OneWorld)

British Airways imposes massive fuel surcharges on most award tickets, so that’s a turn off for most people, since they prefer not to spend $1,000 on a roundtrip “reward” ticket in addition to the miles. That being said, if you don’t mind the fuel surcharges, British Airways releases a lot of first class award space on their own flights, and they have one of the better first class products too.

British Airways’ award chart is distance based and corresponds roughly to this:

One of my favorite uses of Avios for transatlantic travel is for Aer Lingus between Boston and Dublin/Shannon. Boston to Dublin one-way is just under 3,000 miles. That means a one-way ticket in coach will cost you just 12,500 Avios, and a one-way ticket in business class will cost you just 25,000 Avios. On top of that there are no huge fuel surcharges, so you’ll pay a total of only about $100-150 in taxes and fees. This is the single best Avios award redemption out there, in my opinion. You can read this post for details on how to book an Aer Lingus award ticket using British Airways Avios. If you’re curious what the service is like on Aer Lingus, check out my Aer Lingus business class Boston to Dublin and Dublin to Boston trip reports.

Another great use of Avios is for travel on Air Berlin, as British Airways doesn’t impose fuel surcharges for these redemptions. British Airways charges the following number of Avios for travel on Air Berlin in coach/business class respectively, roundtrip:

  • New York to Berlin (40,000/80,000)
  • Miami to Berlin (50,000/100,000)
  • Los Angeles to Berlin (60,000/120,000)
  • Fort Myers to Dusseldorf (50,000/100,000)
  • Los Angeles to Dusseldorf (60,000/120,000)
  • Las Vegas to Dusseldorf (50,000/100,000)
  • Miami to Dusseldorf (50,000/100,000)
  • New York to Dusseldorf (40,000/80,000)
  • Vancouver to Dusseldorf (50,000/100,000)

As you can see, New York to Berlin roundtrip is just 80,000 Avios plus $99.43 in taxes/fees.

The above redemptions are an even better value when you consider that Membership Rewards frequently has 30-50% transfer bonuses to British Airways, reducing the cost even further. Aside from redemptions on Aer Lingus and Air Berlin I’d probably shy away from using Avios for transatlantic travel, as you’ll pay huge fuel surcharges.

Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)

If you live in a gateway city with international SkyTeam service, this may very well be the best option for you. At the “saver” level, Delta charges 60,000 miles for roundtrip coach and 100,000 miles for roundtrip business class between the US and Europe. Fortunately they don’t impose fuel surcharges for award redemptions originating in the US for travel to Europe, and you can travel on the following airlines:

  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • Delta
  • KLM

Air Europa flies between Miami/New York and Madrid, and has excellent award space in both cabins, though a very mediocre product.

Air France serves tons of destinations in the US and generally has pretty good coach and business class availability — it’s not nearly as good as it used to be, but compared to other airlines is still generally pretty available.

Alitalia probably has the best business class transatlantic product nowadays, with fully flat beds in business class. While they’re not great about releasing award space, with a bit of flexibility it’s not impossible to find award space on them. The thing to keep in mind is that Alitalia award space isn’t displayed on delta.com, so you have to call Delta to make an Alitalia booking.

As far as award space on Delta metal for international flights goes, it’s usually pretty readily available on high frequency routes like Atlanta/New York to London in the off season, though aside from that it can be very tough to come by.

But the biggest challenge with Delta awards is finding award space at the “low” level domestically. Because of this I always recommend searching availability out of an international gateway city, and be prepared to buy a separate ticket to that gateway city to keep the mileage cost down.

Using SkyMiles, you’re allowed one stopover and one open jaw for travel between the US and Europe.

Air France Flying Blue (SkyTeam)

Air France Flying Blue is useful under two circumstances. One circumstance is for transatlantic one-way travel in Delta business class. Delta SkyMiles doesn’t allow one-way awards for half the cost of a roundtrip while Flying Blue does. Best of all they don’t impose fuel surcharges for travel on Delta, so you pay just 50,000 miles plus taxes for a one-way Delta transatlantic ticket.

Air France also has 50% off promo awards, which are constantly rotating. Often they’re available to North America, making roundtrip business class only 50,000 miles and roundtrip coach travel only 25,000 miles, though they’re only avalable for travel on Air France/KLM, meaning you’ll pay huge fuel surcharges.

Conclusion

Speaking from personal experience, nowadays I book a majority of my clients with Membership Rewards points using Delta SkyMiles for transatlantic travel. That’s probably followed by Air Canada Aeroplan, then British Airways Executive Club, then All Nippon Airways Mileage Club, then Air France Flying Blue. I’d say that’s the order of general ease/usefulness of using each program.

Any questions?

Comments

  1. I want to cancel my Amex CC today and need to move some 110K MR points before the time runs out and these get confiscated.

    My greatest award need is for easy, flex usage in coach for numerous tix to Europe, regardless which airline.

    Have already some 100+K in my DividendMiles account.
    For maximum value, would you advise to do the Aeroplan transfer, followed with a transfer to US Air?

    TIA!

  2. @ Nomad — Yes, given your existing balance I’d say you’re best off transferring it there and then you can combine it with your US Airways balance.

  3. Not only is Air Europa’s product mediocre, but Delta also collects fuel surcharges on Air Europa flights (or at least did the last time anyone on FlyerTalk redeemed on them). Basically, avoid at all costs.

  4. Great series of posts, Lucky. All in all, I think Europe is one of the weaker regions for MR, especially given how strong *A’s options are.

  5. How do you know the availability in a given program before transferning miles… I dont want to be stranded in Aeroplan, with no availability… thx for the help Lax to Europe, business any carrier

  6. @ Shawn — You can search availability on Aeroplan’s website. Their points transfers are instant, so if you find space you should be able to book it.

  7. @ Shawn — There isn’t, you’re typically limited to searching by alliance. Aeroplan, United, and ANA’s website all display most Star Alliance award space that’s available.

  8. @ Eric Forti — Neither airline charges close-in ticketing fees, though with ANA you have to ticket reservations at least four days before departure.

  9. Thanks for the quick response. Do you know how last minute I can book with Aeroplan? Can I book an award ticket that departs a few hours later?

  10. “I book a majority of my clients with Membership Rewards points using Delta SkyMiles for transatlantic travel” so most of your clients using this option live in a gateway city with international SkyTeam service? I would have thought that AC would have been #1. But they rarely offer >1x transfers

  11. Hmm, that’s ironic how you use Delta the most for MR transatlantic booking, considering their reputation for not releasing much low-level award seats. But then again you said your clients live in a gateway city with Skyteam service. How’s availability on KLM, by the way? And has the “new” Alitalia overcome the “old” Alitalia reputation for being an absolute terror to deal with? Most of the reviews I see are of the “old” Alitalia.

    So if you book via Aeroplan, you don’t get hit with fuel surcharges on a United award ticket but you do if booking via ANA?

  12. @ Euro — KLM availability isn’t very good. Not awful, but not good either.

    Alitalia might not have great service, but the food and seat seem to be top notch, and for a transtlantic hop I’d say that’s most important.

    That’s correct on the last point. ANA imposes the actual fuel surcharges imposed by the airlines on a revenue ticket, while Aeroplan uses some weird other metric.

  13. Trying to go to EU over X-mas. Going there is not an issue. Returning on Jan 1-2 EU->East coast on “saver” awards appears to be impossible on just about all airlines (don’t care if it’s economy or business class). Do you expect that there will be several seats made available later on in the year or is Jan 1-2 a notoriously difficult time to get “saver” award tickets?

  14. @ Zz — It is a notoriously tough time of the year to find space given that a lot of people are traveling during the holidays. That being said, it’s not unusual to see a few premium cabin seats released last minute, so I wouldn’t lose hope.

  15. Ben – ANA only allows 2 stopovers in Europe (although 4 on itineraries to other places). You can stretch it to 3 with an open jaw. In Sept I did CLT – PHL – MAN – BRU // ZRH – MUC // MUC – MAN – PHL – CLT for 68K and $300 in YQ (transatlantic legs were on US Air A330) for 68k points (8,993 miles).

  16. Lucky,
    Does SAS charge YQ on cross-Atlantic flights for Aeroplan redemptions? I thought for some reason they didn’t.

  17. I would also add Iberia to your excellent summary. I just flew BOS-MAD in business class. The (30K)MR points transferred over in about 24 hours, and the best part, no fuel surcharge. I also transferred some of my BA Avios to IB Avios for a flight from MAD-VIE (4,500 Avios for coach), and those transferred instantly, and again no fuel surcharge on IB.
    Also,on this same trip, I booked VIE-CDG on Air Berlin/Niki, again for 4,500, this time using BA Avios. And, to return to BOS, booked DUB-BOS on Aer Lingus, in business for 25,000 BA Avios. The only purchased ticket was for CDG-DUB, where it was not possible to find any flights using BA Avios.

  18. Hi there,

    I have about over 300k in AMEX membership rewards. I have a family of 6 (2 adults and 4 kids). What is the best way to utilize those rewards if I want to take them to Europe this summer? I suspect that amount will be in the 400k range in a few months. We’re coming from SFO and we’re open to creative suggestions, just want the most out of these membership rewards. Thanks

  19. @ kaosotep — It depends on availability for your exact dates, but I’d say that transferring to Aeroplan is generally your best bet. Then try to stick with airlines on which they don’t impose fuel surcharges to keep the cost down.

  20. Great post!! I needed a last minute round trip to AMS but Delta was outrageous. Used Aeroplan as suggested and got 1st class for 125000 pts and $61 on United from the west coast. A whole new world has opened up. Only downside was needing to transfer points in before the surchage cost was shown. Any way around that?

  21. @ Vance B — Unfortunately there’s no way to see the fuel surcharges on the Aeroplan website unless you have the miles. If you go to ITA Matrix (matrix.itasoftware.com) you can do a “dummy” booking, though, and it will show you the fuel surcharges. But you can avoid that altogether by avoiding airlines which impose fuel surcharges and sticking to United, Swiss, etc.

  22. What the cheapest redemption to go from MIA/FLL to Paris between now and may 15 for 2 ppl having the following balances:
    Us air 65k
    AA 45k
    Amex membership rewards 50k
    Chase UR 125k
    And is there a way to te a free one way for later?
    Thanks

  23. @ Helga — If you’re looking for coach you’re probably best off transferring your points to United and booking from there. They charge 60,000 miles roundtrip for coach, and you could tag on a one-way at the end if you don’t otherwise have a stopover.

  24. Lucky,
    I want to do BOS-AMS, then FCO-BOS. Is ANA the best way to redeem, since it will be 43K in coach. THe only issue is the high fee on Lusthansa flying out of Italy. Is there a way around this? United have USairway out of FCO, but there are no award available for those, but plenty of Lufthansa flights.

  25. @ AT — The fuel surcharges would be a deal killer, in my opinion. Have you thought about using British Airways Avios to fly Aer Lingus? It’s just 12,500 Avios each way between Boston and Dublin, and then a few thousand more Avios for the intra-Europe flights.

  26. I want to go from Bos-vce, train to fco, then fco-bos. I’d like to go business over and coach back. I have 105k MR and 26k skymiles. Two tickets. I assume either Iberia through Madrid or see lingua through Dublin are my best bets?

  27. @ Nathan hendrix — You don’t have *quite* enough miles, but Aeroplan is going to be the best value for you.

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