Hello, I’m back from the dead (temporarily at least). As most of you know, United award redemption rates go up significantly on February 1st, 2014, with partner rates on premium cabins really going up a lot. Many people have been scrambling to beat the devaluation including some clients of mine who wanted to go to Greece this summer. There is still some space to Europe hidden away for summer travel, so I wanted to share my process in the hopes that you will be able to get to Europe on miles this summer too! (And hopefully you can redeem before 2/1!)
Brussels Airlines: The Secret Path to Europe
Last year, I discovered that Brussels Airlines is a great way to Europe with pretty decent space in the summer when I was booking a trip for my parents. What I DIDN’T know is that I guess sometime between last summer and now, united.com stopped showing Brussels Airlines award space. I didn’t realize it until Million Mile Secrets wrote a very useful post about how to search for Brussels Airlines space these days. I won’t reiterate everything he said because I highly recommend you read it if you’re looking for travel to Europe this summer.
So for my friend and his wife’s trip, I had been searching for Brussels Airlines space online but coming up empty. But after reading Daraius’ post, I went straight to expertflyer.com (for which I had a paid account) and found availability that was perfect for the dates for my friends. Score! The important thing to know about getting to Europe on miles in the summer is this: what matters is finding space to Europe, and once you get there you can find tons of intra-Europe flights to get where you want to go.
Booking the Flights: The Need to be Flexible
One thing to understand about traveling to Europe in the summer is that if you’re not booking 11 months out (or last minute) there is very little availability. But if you have some flexibility, that can help. In this case, my friend was willing to return to JFK in order to fly business class. Although I couldn’t find him a flight back to DC his home airport, he decided it’d be better just to buy a cash flight to get home in time. But if he had a little bit of flexibility, he could have flown directly home the next day! So it pays to be flexible (though I rarely have the luxury to be).
Brussels Airlines only flies to Washington Dulles and New York JFK in the United States. The eastbound flights are redeyes (so you lose a day) while westbound you fly during the day and arrive a few hours after you left (due to time changes).
I searched a few weeks in July and still found plenty of availability this summer. From JFK to Brussels there are two seats in business class on many of the days in July. There are pairs of economy seats on some days as well, though not as many. The same goes for the return. The flights from Dulles don’t have as much space, though the ratio of economy to business class flights is better if you’re looking to fly in economy. Still, overall, in all my searching Brussels seems to have better award availability than most airlines to Europe this summer. If you’re curious, here’s a review of Brussels’ business class experience.
But I don’t live in DC or NYC – plus I don’t want to go to Brussels!
Well, firstly, Brussels is supposed to have amazing french fries so I’m not sure why one wouldn’t be interested in it. But if you want to go elsewhere in Europe, here’s the reality: there is TONS of intra-European space, especially on Lufthansa. You can essentially get from Brussels to wherever you want to go by transiting through Munich on Lufthansa. Or, in my friend’s case, I found them flights on Aegean Airlines directly to Athens from Brussels. It turns out that Aegean doesn’t appear on united.com either, but you can search for it using the ANA search tool (see the link to Daraius’ post) or using Expertflyer.
Getting from your home airport in the US to Dulles or JFK might be harder. I think if you are flying economy, it might not be worth it to buy a cash ticket, but if you are flying in business class it definitely could be worth paying cash to get to one of those airports – just make sure you leave an extra long layover in case something happens.
Unfortunately I don’t really have time to write up extensive thoughts but I wanted people to know there ARE ways to still get to Europe in business class before the United devaluation on 2/1. As a reminder, a business class flight to Europe will cost you 100,000 United miles on 1/31 – and 140,000 miles on 2/1 if you fly a partner airline. So if you know you want to go to Europe, why not book now and save yourself 40,000 miles?