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
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.
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.