Ever since I got into this mileage hobby over eight years ago I’ve been traveling mostly to Asia. There are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, growing up I did a ton of travel within Europe. My family is from Germany so we used to spend several weeks there each summer visiting family, and my parents always made a point to travel around while we were over there so we could experience different countries. Up until I started the mileage hobby I had never been to Asia, so obviously I had a bit of “catching up” to do there. But the other reason is that Europe is so damn expensive, while there are so many destinations in Asia that are cheap.
But over the past eight years I’ve visited most major cities in Asia. Certainly not all of them (I still really want to visit Hanoi, Taipei, and Jakarta), though I’ve been to Hong Kong and Singapore over a dozen times, and have visited Bali, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Nagoya, Osaka, Seoul, Tokyo, etc.
And as I look at places I want to visit I’m realizing that Europe’s on my mind. Growing up I visited most of the “big” cities in Western Europe, and also smaller cities within (easy) driving distance of Germany. But I haven’t done Iceland (which I’m dying to visit, and plan on going to this summer), most of the Northern European countries, as well as Eastern European destinations like Budapest and Prague.
The truth is, though, if you’re trying to redeem miles and are a maximizer you’re at such a huge disadvantage going to Europe and not Asia.
It’s extremely difficult to feel like you’re getting good value out of American miles when traveling to Europe. There are huge fuel surcharges for travel on British Airways, Air Berlin has a sub-par business class product, Finnair releases very little premium cabin award space, and Iberia releases some space though not much. And, well, they’re Iberia. And while American used to at least have good award space on their own flights, that’s not really the case anymore, and it’s really difficult to find premium cabin award space on them across the pond.
So not only is it extremely difficult to find award space without huge fuel surcharges, but compare all that to redeeming miles for Cathay Pacific’s amazing first or business class without fuel surcharges.
Delta miles used to almost exclusively be useful for travel to Europe. Back when Air France released the same award space to Delta as they gave their own members, award space was extremely easy to come by, and it was one of the few good uses of Delta SkyMiles. However, nowadays Air France only releases a subset of their award inventory to Delta, and at times space is blocked off literally for months at a time. So Delta miles really can’t be reliably redeemed to Europe anymore.
Conversely China Southern started A380 service between Los Angeles and Guangzhou with a very nice business class product, so it’s now extremely easy to redeem Delta miles for that flight. Similarly Delta stopped imposing fuel surcharges for redemptions on Virgin Australia, so their miles are almost most valuable for travel to Australia.
But if you want to go to Europe, Delta simply isn’t a great program.
US Airways miles
You can redeem 100,000 US Airways miles for travel between the US and Europe in business class, and even have a stopover at a Star Alliance hub or transatlantic gateway city. So that gets you two places in Europe for a reasonable cost.
But why not save 10,000 miles and fly to North Asia in business class with a stopover in Europe? It’s extremely difficult to justify not doing that. The issue is that while it gets you one stopover in Europe, it’s not very practical if you want to go beyond a gateway city. For example, if you want to visit Prague or Budapest, you won’t be able to get a stopover there enroute to Asia using US Airways miles. So do I spend an extra 10,000 miles not to go to Asia so that I get one more destination in Europe? As someone that in part reviews airline products for a living, that’s kinda tough to do!
United is the one program where you can route from the US to Asia via Europe, and actually have a stopover at just about any city you want. The catch is that while US Airways gives you a 10,000 mile discount for continuing to Asia, United charges you an extra 20,000 miles in business class. So it’s still a good deal, but neither is the best value available on their chart.
Given the above, what I’m leaning towards is booking a 100,000 mile US Airways business class award from the US to Iceland via Oslo, with a stopover there. Seems like the best of both worlds given how expensive it is to otherwise get to Iceland in the peak of summer.
But it doesn’t change the fact that I think the tourism boards of Asian countries are bribing the people in charge of airlines’ mileage programs. Anyone else generally challenged with booking awards exclusively to Europe?