Ultimate Guide for Using Miles and Points to Get to Europe

Getting to Europe with miles and points is one of the most popular redemptions I see requests for among miles and points “enthusiasts.” A lot of people don’t realize that there are lots of different ways beyond using American, United, or Delta miles to get to Europe for much cheaper, however. Often you can book the same flight for fewer miles and less fees but you just have to know where to look. Here’s a look at 13 of the best sweet spots for getting to Europe with miles and points. 

1) ANA Airlines

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 55,000
  • Business class: 88,000
  • First class: 165,000

The economy redemption to Europe for 55,000 miles is decent but the mileage requirement for 88,000 miles to Europe in business class is one of the best sweet spot redemptions out there. ANA will pass on heavy fuel surcharges with many of its partners but United and Air Canada are both exceptions.

Here’s a look at a United flights roundtrip into London for a total of $183 in fees. Believe it or not, United wanted to charge $286 in fees for this same flight, not to mention over 20,000 more miles, so this was a much better option.

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ANA requires only 88,000 miles and $183.70 to fly business class roundtrip to London from North America

With ANA it only costs 88,000 miles plus $183.70 in fees to fly business class from North America to Europe. So the total fees are cheaper than United’s and the mileage requirement is much lower, too. It’s an all around bargain and one of the best ways to use your Membership Rewards.

But the deal actually gets even sweeter when not flying into London and on Air Canada.

Take a look at the Air Canada flight below from YYZ to MAD — it only comes with $68 in fees!

ANA miles on Air Canada to Europe in business class is one of the top sweet spot redemptions.

ANA’s search feature is great when it works but many times it’s a PIA with its incessant error messages. Thus, sometimes you may want to search for United flights by segment on United’s website and/or Aeroplan’s website. Those sites will give you a good indication of whether or not there are any United flights available to Paris and then if you need to you could call in to book them.

ANA allows for one stopover but they do limit their partner award tickets to only roundtrips.

2) Cathay Pacific

  • Alliance: OneWorld
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express, Citi, SPG, and co-branded credit card

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 45,000+
  • Business class: 80,000+
  • First class: 105,000+

With transfer opportunities from both Citi and American Express, Cathay Pacific is a tremendous program. Cathay Pacific offers some of the best redemption rates in all cabins to Europe. The only problem is that fees can be a bit of an issue. For example, from JFK to HEL roundtrip on Finnair you’ll be hit with $308 in total fees, which actually isn’t that bad. But Remember Air Berlin and Aer Lingus don’t incur fuel surcharges, so consider those options with Asia Miles. 

Business class award on Finnair with Asia Miles showing around $308 in total fees.

I called in to check on the fees for a Aer Lingus roundtrip business class booking from JFK to DUB (since you can’t see it online) and they told me the total fees would only be $75! That’s about as good of a redemption as you could ask for.

Cathay Pacific does operate on two different distance-based award charts and at first glance they seem very confusing. But if you take a little while to breakdown how each award chart works, it will be worth it in the end.

3) Korean Air

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Ways to earn miles: Chase Ultimate Rewards,  SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 50,000
  • Business class: 80,000
  • First class: 100,000

Korean Air offers one of the best ways to get to Europe in business class with its ridiculously low redemption rate of 80,000 miles. Unfortunately, you will pay surcharges for most airlines and those can get quite high. This is the case even for awards on Delta. For example, even if you book a roundtrip with Delta to Europe, the surcharges will be around $420+. Thus, while the mileage requirements are very low, if you’re averse to high fees this sweet spot might not be that appealing.

Fees on Delta using Korean Air miles.

The good thing is that you can now book SkyTeam partners online so you don’t have to bother with jumping through all of the hoops that you previously had to do, such as mailing and faxing in documents.

4) Asiana Airlines

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG, co-branded credit card

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 50,000
  • Business class: 80,000
  • First Class: 100,000

Asiana is one of the best miles and points program for getting to Europe in business class and first class.The rates are very hard to beat at 80,000 miles. But with Asiana you should be able to get around surcharges by booking Star Alliance partners United and Air Canada, making this a killer redemption.

The 100,000 roundtrip rate or 50,000 one way on first class is terrific. Fees on certain airlines such as Lufthansa can add up but on a one-way award they can be as low as $291. Since you’d only be paying 50,000 miles for that one-way award, that’s not too bad. The drawback to Asiana is that they are not a transfer partner of a major rewards program other than SPG.

5) Japan Airlines

  • Alliance: One World
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 40,000+
  • Business class: 65,000+
  • First class: 100,000+

JAL offers a number of tremendous rates for redemptions but the problem with JAL is always that the only major transfer partner is SPG. This makes it very difficult to accumulate lots of miles compared to most of the other programs and why I’m not as crazy about the program.

JAL operates with a distance-based award chart, so your redemption requirement to Europe will obviously be better the closer you are. You can get to Europe in business class from the places like New York, Miami, and Chicago for only 65,000 miles which is insane! If you’re heading to Paris from the West Coast your mileage requirement will be over 11,000 miles so you’ll be bumped up to the 80,000 mile requirement for business class which is still an awesome deal. Also, if you fly on American Airlines, fees can be as low as $130! If American SAAver awards weren’t so hard to find then this would be a much more worthwhile redemption but I would be reluctant to trust that SAAver availability would open up.

6) British Airways Avios

  • Alliance: OneWorld
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG, American Express, Chase, co-branded credit card

British Airways Avios operates on a distance-based chart, so your points requirement depends on how many miles your trip covers. Generally, when going to Europe it’s recommended to use Avios on partner airlines in order to avoid the high fuel surcharges that you get hit with on British Airways when flying through London.

a) Aer Lingus

One popular way to get to Europe with British Airways Avios is to book flights with the Irish airlines, Aer Lingus. This sweet spot isn’t quite as lucrative as it used to be but it still offers some tremendous redemption rates to Europe if you can book it during off-peak times. From Boston, NYC, Chicago, Hartford, DC, Toronto, you can get to Dublin with the following roundtrip rates:

  • Economy:
    • Off-peak: 26,000 Avios
    • Peak: 40,000 Avios
  • Business:
    • Off-peak: 100,000 Avios
    • Peak: 120,000 Avios
26,000 Avios round trip to Europe!

With the new rates you don’t have to position yourself in Boston to take advantage of the lower rate at 26,000 Avios from New York or places like Toronto and even Chicago. And that 100,000 award in business class is also one of the best redemption rates to get to Europe in business class — it beats out all of the rates from major US airlines and competes with some of the best available redemptions (fees may be around $250).

I called in with British Airways to inquire about using British Airways Avios for the flight above and was told that the fees would come out to $169 total, which is cheaper than the $237 USD that Avios.com showed. So fees are still a little bit of an issue but not nearly as bad as they would be if you routed through London with British Airways. In the latter case, you’d be paying about $650! (Fees appear to be cheaper going out to Dublin than coming back.)

To book these awards, you’ll need to search United’s website to find availability for Aer Lingus availability and then call in to British Airways to proceed with the booking.

b) British Airways

Off-peak flights from the East Coast to Europe can be as low as 34,000 Avios. However, I don’t generally recommend to fly with British Airways to Europe because you will get hit with heavy fuel surcharges. For example, while it’s only 34,000 Avios to get to CDG from JFK, if you’re routing though London (which most do) you’ll be paying $740 in total fees.

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If you take an alternate route to DUB the fees are lower but still very high at $537.

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And if you dare to fly business class from JFK to CDG through London, you’ll have to cough up over $1,000 in fees! 
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For those reasons, I’d generally try to avoid flying on British Airways.

c) Air Berlin

  • 40,000 Avios – NYC to Berlin
  • 40,000 Avios – NYC/Boston to Düsseldorf
  • 50,000 Avios – Chicago/Miami to Berlin
  • 50,000 Avios – Ft. Meyers/Miami to Düsseldorf

Air Berlin is a solid choice to get to Europe from the East Coast with minimal fees. Just take a look at the redemption below… the $93 in total fees pale in comparison to what you would have to pay if you booked a British Airways flight on its own metal.

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And remember, with British Airways you can stopover and/or open jaw pretty much anywhere but you’ll have to factor in the increased distance added to your redemption.

d) American Airlines

If you can find the availability, you can always use Avios to book American Airlines flights. The fees aren’t quite as steep as some of the other partners but they are still pretty high at over $300.

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7) Iberia Airlines Plus

  • Alliance: OneWorld
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG, American Express

Iberia also operates a distance-based award chart similar to British Airways. However, the sweet spots in the Iberia award chart are different from those found in the British Airways award chart. Here is the award chart:

Iberia’s requirements for the first three zones in business class are worse than than British Airways and Aer Lingus, but after that they actually offer better redemptions. Thus, the sweet spots I’ll focus on will be in those zones. Keep in mind that when booking a partner award, you’re going to be subject to the peak mileage requirement. 

The following are requirements for one-way awards.

  • Economy:
    • Off-peak: 17,000
    • Peak: 20,000
  • Business class:
    • Off-peak: 34,000
    • Peak: 50,000

These rates apply to journeys under 4,000 miles, which include:

  • Boston to Madrid
  • New York to Madrid
  • Chicago to Madrid (this is actually more than 4,000 miles but registers as being under 3,000)

Secret sweetspot from Chicago to Europe

This is a tremendous sweet spot for using Iberia Avios to book business class, especially if your trip falls within the off-peak calendar. 68,000 Avios for a roundtrip in business class to Europe beats some of the best redemption rates like Korean Air and ANA and the fees are pretty reasonable.

You should be able to lower the fees by booking flights on American Airlines, but keep in mind that the milage requirement will go up since Iberia charges more miles for certain partners and you can’t book one-way awards on American Airlines with Iberia.

8) Aeroplan (Air Canada)

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 60,000
  • Business class: 110,000
  • First class: 140,000

Aeroplan has a decent redemption rate for getting to Europe in business class and if you want you can even book one awards. The key to booking with Aeroplan miles to try to make your bookings on the airlines that don’t require you to pay fuel surcharges.

The following airlines do not carry surcharges when you book them through Aeroplan:

  • Air China
  • Brussels
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian
  • EVA Air
  • Scandinavian
  • Singapore
  • Swiss
  • Turkish
  • United
  • LOT (has small surcharges)*

I love Aeroplan as an option of getting to Europe and I’ve personally used Aeroplan miles to book a business class one way flight on SAS to Tromsø, Norway. I only paid $12 in total fees and 55,000 miles for a total value of around 14 cents per point. 

9) Alaska Airlines

  • Alliance: Select partners
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG and Bank of America Alaska credit cards

Alaska Airlines offers rates that differ depending on the partner. There are several different partners you can utilize to get to Europe and they are below:

Air France/KLM

  • Economy: 65,000
  • Business class: 125,000
  • First class: N/A

American Airlines

  • Economy: 40,000 (off-peak); 60,000 (peak)
  • Business class: 100,000
  • First class: 125,000

British Airways

  • Economy: 65,000
  • Business class: 120,000
  • First class: 140,000

Emirates (New York to Milan)

  • Economy: 95,000
  • Business class: 210,000
  • First class: 360,000

Icelandair

  • Economy: 45,000 (low)
  • Business class: 100,000

Out of all these partners, I think American Airlines is probably the best bargain for both economy and business class (100,000 in business class is great). Icelandair options are decent too, but their product isn’t exactly on par with American Airlines.

Also, some of the other economy redemptions are higher than they would be if you just booked with the partner airline’s own miles (Air France, British Airways, etc.) and some redemptions like those for Emirates are just sky high. Thus, I’d probably try to use Alaskan miles on American to get to Europe, and although finding availability in business class can be difficult, that off-peak 40,000 redemption in AA economy is very nice.

10) American Airlines

  • Alliance: OneWorld
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG, American Airlines co-branded credit cards

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 45,000 (off-peak); 60,000
  • Business class: 115,000
  • First class: 170,000

American Airlines offers some decent rates to Europe in both economy and business class. The biggest problem that almost everybody will tell you is that SAAver award availability in business class to Europe usually is not good at all. Sometimes American will dump a bunch of SAAver awards out but if you don’t catch them at the right time, it can be difficult to find open seats. Economy is much easier to fine, however. Also when flying on American you can expect fee to be pretty reasonable like the $53 fees seen below for a roundtrip from DFW to LHR. 

You can book American partners like Finnair for pretty low fees, too. For a roundtrip flight to HEL with American + Finnair, I found flights with only $105 in fees. Just beware that Finnair can be bad about showing “phantom award space” so you always need to verify that those awards are actually available.

I would generally stray away from booking British Airways with AA miles because the fees can easily eclipse $1,000. For example, the roundtrip below on British Airways flights comes out to over $1,000 in total fees for just one person.

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However, if you just want to book a one-way segment, the fees in premium cabins can be reasonable if you route through another city. For example, I used AA miles to book British Airways first class routing from Oslo via LHR to IAH and the fees were $270. Not too bad.

11) United Airlines

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: Chase, co-branded credit cards, SPG (2:1)

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 60,000
  • Business class: 120,00
  • First class: 160,000

Award availability for saver economy to Europe was good when I searched but not the greatest when I searched for business class awards from some hubs like ORD and IAH. However, once I got very far out on the calendar (like 9 to 11 months), the availability opened up on some routes and I found some United flights. On those all United flights, fees only came out to $126 USD.

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Here are the mileage requirements for Star Alliance partners.

  • Economy: 60,000
  • Business class: 140,00
  • First class: 220,000

The vast majority of the flights I found were on partners, such as Turkish Airlines, LOT, SAS, and Air Canada. For some of the partners like LOT and SAS, the total fees for the round trip were only $88 USD. These fees aren’t bad at all but you have to keep mind United has a much higher mileage requirement for partners that requires 25,000 additional miles.

When using United miles to book partners like Air Canada and Turkish Airlines the fees can get a little pricey. Overall, if you’re flying to a place like London fees might be around $10 to get there but close to $180 for the way back in economy or $279 for the way back in business class. Paying close to $300 in fees and 140,000 miles is much more expensive than some of these other Star Alliance programs so I’d consider your alternatives.

12) Flying Blue

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thankyou points, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy:
    • 25,000 miles (best promo)
    • 50,000 miles – Standard redemption to Europe
  • Business class:
    • 125,000

Flying Blue offers amazing promo deals that sometimes offer as much as 50% off to Europe! These deals pop up at the beginning of each month so you’ll need to keep a close eye on them to take advantage of them. If you can ever find a promo award to Europe for 25,000 in economy, that’s one of the most valuable sweet-spot redemptions available. It’s just a rare offer so I wouldn’t count on it but instead just monitor the promo awards. The business class awards to Europe on Flying Blue aren’t the best bargains available but they’re still not that bad at 125,000 miles.

Air France

I don’t generally recommend to use Flying Blue miles to book tickets on Air France. And that’s because you’ll have to pay high surcharges. For example, if you booked a roundtrip from ATL to CDG with Air France, you’d be looking at paying over $500 USD in fees!

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SkyTeam partners/Delta

If you can book awards on SkyTeam partner Delta, you can dramatically limit the fees you’ll pay. For example, here’s a flight with Delta from ATL to CDG with fees totaling around $156 USD.

Ignore the backwards itinerary.

For economy awards with Delta, you can book tickets with fees as low as $113 USD. And for 50,000 miles, that’s not bad at all.

I searched for availability for flights to Paris about 6 months out and for economy the availability was exceptional and even for business class it was pretty good as well. It wasn’t very hard at all to find Delta flights, either. Below is a snapshot of the business class availability for April/May with the red squares showing Delta flights departing to CDG.

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Flying Blue also allows for stopovers, so you could always try to work one of these in en route to or form Paris.

13) Delta Airlines

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, SPG, co-branded credit cards

Miles needed:

The following are one-way prices.

  • Economy:
    • 30,000+
  • Business class:
    • 70,000+

I really don’t care for the Delta Skymiles program and they are not one of the best programs to get to Europe. However, with that said, I think they can be a decent option to get to Europe (but not to come back on). You can get to Europe on Delta’s metal in business class and only $5 in fees. You can also book partner Virgin Atlantic for 85,000 miles one way plus only $5 in fees from the US to LHR.

I have to admit that It’s pretty ridiculous that ANA offers roundtrip redemptions with a stopover for only 88,000 points and all you could get is a one way trip to Europe with Delta. However, American Express offers four Delta cards that often come with high bonuses (and two others) so it’s very easy to accumulate Delta miles. Since you can easily acquire 70,000+ Delta miles and find lots of awards to Europe for only $5 in fees, using Delta miles just to get to Europe can be a decent redemption. Coming back with Delta will incur higher fees near $300.

Final word

These are 13 of some of the best ways to get to Europe. Which one is best for you will depend on personal factors but it’s a good idea to at least familiarize yourself with these programs so that you can maximize your value and minimize your costs.

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