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- Europe may allow fully vaccinated Americans to visit starting this summer.
- It’s a good time to start planning a European trip with your points, miles, and credit card rewards.
- Some airline programs offer award sweet spots that can help you save your hard-earned miles.
- Read Insider’s guide to the best travel rewards credit cards.
This summer is looking up for those of us who’ve been missing European travel. The European Union may soon allow fully vaccinated American tourists to visit, though we don’t have an exact timeframe yet. Even so, three new European routes are scheduled between Delta and United, so it’s a great time to start planning a trip — especially if you’ve gotten (or will soon get) your COVID-19 vaccine.
Travel looks very different than it did a year ago, and a lot has changed within the points and miles world, too. We’ve seen more transfer partners added to bank programs, brand-new credit cards, additional spending credits and bonuses, and best-ever welcome offers — and the disappearance of certain award chart sweet spots. But it’s still easy to fly to Europe cheaply using your credit card rewards points and loyalty program miles.
It’s finally time to start thinking about a European vacation. Here’s how to fly to Europe for a fraction of the usual cost using points and miles.
We’re focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won’t be worth it if you’re paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.
The best ways to get cheap flights to Europe with points and miles
Before the pandemic, there were lots of options to fly to Europe using points and miles. Even though travel has been on pause for over a year, there are still great ways to get cheap flights. Let’s look at what still works.
Star Alliance airlines have the most flights to Europe and for that reason, there are several ways to access award tickets to nearly every European city. You can book Star Alliance award flights using United miles — that includes flights on United as well as European airlines like Austrian, Lufthansa, SWISS, Turkish, and many others.
Economy award flights to Europe on United start at 30,000 miles each way, plus taxes and fees, and go up from there based on the cash cost of the ticket and demand for the route. Economy award flights on partners start at 33,000 miles each way, plus taxes and fees, and are also variably priced. United doesn’t add fuel surcharges to award flights, including those on partner airlines.
You can access places like Dubrovnik, Lisbon, Paris, Prague, and Rome with United miles. Isn’t it fun to think about visiting any of them after the year we’ve had?
If you want to earn more United miles, consider opening one of the best credit cards for United Airlines flights, including the New United Quest℠ Card, which is offering a welcome bonus of 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus an additional 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months. With the miles you’ll earn from meeting the minimum spending requirement included, that’s nearly enough for two round-trip economy award tickets to Europe.
United miles are worth, on average, 1.3 cents each based on Insider’s points and miles valuations — so you can expect to get around $1,300 in value from 100,000 United miles.
You’ll get extra perks when you fly United, like priority boarding, free first and second checked bags for you and a companion when you use your card to pay for your ticket (or the taxes and fees on an award ticket), and a 5,000-mile rebate, starting after your first card anniversary, twice per card anniversary year (up to 10,000 miles per year) when you book award flights.
United miles never expire, so you can save up to take an award trip when you feel comfortable traveling again. You can also instantly transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United miles at a 1:1 ratio if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card.
American Airlines AAdvantage
American Airlines has plentiful economy award flights to Europe for 30,000 miles each way this summer and fall, plus taxes and fees. You can use your miles to fly on American, or a Oneworld partner airline like Iberia or Finnair, depending on where you want to go.
If your dates are flexible, you can get to Europe with discounted awards. Off-peak award prices are only 22,500 American Airlines miles each way from January 10 to March 14, and from November 1 to December 14 each year.
Also, keep watch for Web Special awards that vary by date and flight. These tickets don’t allow changes, but you can cancel and get your miles back at no charge. If you run across a Web Special award while you’re searching and the flights and dates match what you’re looking for, you can score steep mileage discounts. Even better, you can find these awards for economy and business-class flights.
To earn more American Airlines miles, consider one of the best credit cards for flying American Airlines, like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® or AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®.
Delta doesn’t have an award chart and instead ties award prices to the cash cost of the ticket and other variables. However, I was able to find several economy award flights to Europe, including to Amsterdam, Athens, and Paris, for 33,000 or 34,000 Delta SkyMiles each way, plus taxes and fees — which is a little more expensive than United and American Airlines.
Because Delta is a SkyTeam alliance member, you can book flights on Delta as well as European airlines like Air France, Alitalia, KLM, and Czech Airlines.
Delta miles are easy to earn with several co-branded American Express cards, or instant 1:1 transfers from American Express Membership Rewards. And if you have American Express Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, or Citi ThankYou points, and it’s SkyTeam flights you want, you can sometimes find them for the same price — or cheaper — by booking through a different and more accessible partner, which I’ll share in a moment.
If you have American Express Membership Rewards points or Citi ThankYou points, you can transfer to Avianca LifeMiles at a 1:1 ratio to book Star Alliance flights (or you can transfer Capital One miles at a 2:1.5 ratio). This is helpful if you want to save your Chase Ultimate Rewards points for other partners or to book travel directly through Chase. And rates are reasonable in both economy and business class.
You’ll pay 30,000 miles each way for most economy flights to Europe, and 63,000 miles for business class. For coach, that’s comparable to other programs. But in business or first class, you can find great deals compared to what other airline programs charge.
You can easily book most award flights on LifeMiles.com, and Avianca doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on partner award flights. If you have points with several programs, it’s worth checking the prices to see if you can get a better deal here.
Air Canada Aeroplan
Air Canada Aeroplan is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and later this year, the same will be true for Chase Ultimate Rewards. Capital One miles also transfer at a rate of 2:1.5.
Partner award flights to Europe cost 35,000 or 45,000 Aeroplan points in economy, and 60,000 or 70,000 points in business class. The cost is determined by the length of the flight. Flights under 4,000 miles in distance will have the lower price, and flights over 4,000 miles have the higher price.
The benefit here is the set award chart for partner flights. So if the Star Alliance flights you want are pricing high with other Star Alliance partners (like United or Avianca), check if you can book through Air Canada instead.
Also, business-class flights are reasonably priced, which means you can access great seats like those on SWISS or Lufthansa and get a solid deal. Air Canada doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges for partner awards, which is another big plus.
ANA Mileage Club
Another airline program with set pricing is ANA Mileage Club. Round-trip economy award flights on Star Alliance airlines to anywhere in Europe are 55,000 miles, while round-trip business class award flights are 88,000 miles. Those are very reasonable rates — but the only hitch is you must book round-trip flights.
Currently, ANA’s only major transfer partner is American Express Membership Rewards, which has a 1:1 ratio. Other positives are no fuel surcharges and how easy it is to book award flights directly on ANA’s site. If you can find award flights and make round-trip dates work for your trip, this is a stellar value that can save you a lot of money.
Insider’s points and miles valuations peg Amex Membership Rewards points as one of the most valuable rewards currencies — an average of 1.8 cents each.
British Airways Executive Club
If you have American Express Membership Rewards points or Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can make 1:1 transfers to British Airways, and Capital One miles also transfer to British Airways at a 2:1.5 ratio. Because of this, many folks have access to a very sweet spot in British Airways’ award chart.
Off-peak economy award flights on Aer Lingus from the East Coast to Dublin or Shannon, Ireland, are only 13,000 points each way, plus taxes and fees. This is close to the least (or might be the least) amount of points or miles you’ll pay to get to Europe. When you get to Dublin or Shannon, you can have a stopover and spend some time in Ireland, or take advantage of low-cost carriers to continue onward to several other European cities.
If you don’t want to travel off-peak, standard rates are only 20,000 British Airways Avios points each way, which is still a great deal. To find available award flights on Aer Lingus, it’s actually easiest to search on United.com, then call British Airways at 800-247-9297 with the flight numbers and dates you want to book. If there’s a phone fee, ask the phone agent to waive it because it’s not possible to book this award online.
British Airways has a distance-based award chart, which means flights that are shorter in distance cost fewer miles — and that’s why flights from the US East Coast are cheaper than other US to Europe routes.
It’s a little bit of a process, but if you can make it work, you stand to save a lot of points and money on a trip to Europe with Ireland as your jumping-off point.
Air France-KLM Flying Blue
Flying Blue is the loyalty program for both Air France and KLM, and they give heavy preference toward their own flights in award results. That means you’ll likely connect in Paris or Amsterdam, respectively, on your trip to Europe. And if your destination or stopover happens to be Paris or Amsterdam, you’re in luck! Economy award prices are variable, but start as low as 22,500 miles each way plus modest taxes and fees.
These airlines fly to most European cities, and occasionally you can find flights on partners like Delta or Virgin Atlantic thrown into the mix — which may be cheaper than booking an award flight directly on those airlines.
The great thing about Flying Blue is that it’s a transfer partner for every major bank points program. You can transfer 1:1 from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou, and 2:1.5 from Capital One. Because of this, it’s easy to access these award flights, or assemble enough miles from several sources.
If you can find dates that work for your trip and the price is right, you stand to save a lot on a trip so it’s worth checking, particularly if you want to fly on a SkyTeam airline or put together points from a couple of different programs.
A note about Marriott Bonvoy
All of the airlines on this list also partner with Marriott Bonvoy. You can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points at a 3:1 ratio, except United MileagePlus, which has a 3:1 ratio with an added 10% bonus. You’ll also get 5,000 bonus miles for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer.
Practically speaking, that means you get 25,000 airline miles for every 60,000 Marriott points (except for United where you’d receive 27,500 miles). This can be an easy way to top off your account and give you access to all of the award flights here. It’s also a handy trick to have in your back pocket should you ever need it.
Get your points and miles in order and be ready to book award flights to Europe sometime this summer. The most popular routes will likely go fast due to pent-up demand, so gather ideas and pick your favorite awards now before the airport arrival gates reopen. We hope this list helps get you started. Hopefully, you can book your next European vacation soon — and save some cash while you’re at it.
Harlan Vaughn is a freelance writer who has written about credit card rewards, personal finance, points and miles, and travel loyalty programs for nearly a decade.
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