The flights that kicked off our international journey were not hard to book and were decently easy to find. The routing, however, was not non-stop, which could be a good or bad thing depending on who you are. I’ll be writing a post detailing how you can figure all of this out yourself, but for now, I’ll just tell you within the context of our trip how I found these flights and why we booked them. If you really just want the meat and potatoes, skip down to the “Success” header. You’re welcome. 🙂
Back in March, we were still in the initial planning stages of the trip, but we knew that we were going to start with Europe for the international part and that we wanted to fly out shortly after an August wedding in San Jose.
For many people, looking for flights 5 months out can seem plenty early. For international business class award flights to/from the U.S., 5 months out is being late to the party. It’s obviously not impossible to find flights that work, but there’s a good chance that finding availability will require being flexible with dates and/or routing.
When looking for one-way business class seats from the U.S. to Europe, you’ll generally be looking at paying 50,000-65,000 miles (depending on what points and miles you’ve accumulated, of course). However, what can get you are the taxes and surcharges. They can be nice and low, like our $26, but they can get into the $hundreds depending on what program you book with, which airline you actually fly, as well as which airports you’re flying out of, into, or even through.
Of the three major airline alliances (OneWorld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam), I figured that a Star Alliance airline would be my best bet at getting to Europe since they have the most European-based carriers. I mainly use United’s website to search for award availability, so that’s where I started. Price-wise, we could transfer Chase or Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points to United to book 60k-mile flights if flying on United metal (their planes) or 70k if flying on their Star Alliance partner flights. United doesn’t pass on extra surcharges, so taxes & fees are usually pretty low. Another option would be to transfer 65k points to Singapore Airlines. While they accept transfers from all 4 major currencies (Citi, Chase, AMEX, and SPG), they do pass on flight surcharges, whereas United does not, meaning your taxes & fees they could be anywhere from $20-30 to $200+ depending on the carriers and routing.
Unfortunately, none of that mattered as my searches came up short. There were no non-stops, nor were there any routings I could find that would that would have us in business class the whole way. If we HAD to tack on 1 or 2 short flights in coach in order to get ourselves a business class seat on the long flight, we’d do it, but there were still other potential options.
I used Flying Blue (Air France/KLM’s program) to search for SkyTeam availability, which initially brought up better options, but those fell apart. At first, I found a couple of flights that would work to get us to Paris, but Paris was not a destination on our list at the time, so we needed to tack on an extra flight. As far as I and others in the online community could tell, their award rules allow it. Unfortunately, their website wouldn’t do it on its own (which isn’t uncommon for many airlines), and three calls worth of representatives telling me I would have to pay for that third flight separately had me thinking it might be tough to find someone that understood their own rules enough to build the itinerary.
Flying Blue now has a variable reward chart, meaning that the cost for flights is closer to the way cash flights work – the price changes based on many factors, so it’s a little harder to find good deals with them now. However, when we were looking, these flights would’ve cost 62,500 miles and should’ve been less than $75 in taxes & fees. Flying Blue, like Singapore Airlines, accepts points transfers from all 4 major currencies.
Ultimately, I ended up finding flights using American Airlines’ (AA) website to search for OneWorld availability. They don’t show availability from every OneWorld partner, but they do for the ones that fly from the U.S. to Europe. Cost-wise, AA charges 57,500 miles regardless of whether you fly on AA or partner planes. However, taxes & surcharges can vary greatly when flying with partners.
In my initial searches, it was quickly obvious that non-stop flights were long gone, but we found flights with connections to various European cities on the exact date we wanted to leave that routed through a main long-haul flight from Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW) to London Heathrow (LHR). There were plenty of British Airway flights leaving soon after we arrived to many other major European cities and we decided on Zurich (ZRH) as our jumping off point.
We’d start with first class from SFO-DFW on an A321. It’s domestic first, so no lie-flat seat, but it’s large and comfy and you get a free meal and free drinks. Perfectly fine for a ~2.5h flight.
Next, DFW-LHR would be business class on a 777-300ER (listed as a 77W for short), which are equipped with lie-flat reverse herringbone seats in a 1-2-1 setup, meaning everyone has direct aisle access – no climbing over anyone. As lie-flat seats go, these are some of the better seats that airlines offer. They’re spacious, comfy, and middle seats angle inwards, while window seats angle outward, so they feel very private. Both of those flights would be on American Airlines planes. They aren’t regarded as being exactly industry-leading when it comes to their soft product (food, in-flight entertainment, service, etc.), but for us, that stuff is just a perk – definitely not a requirement. All we truly care about on long flights are lie-flat, comfy seats.
The final flight from LHR-ZRH would be in Club Europe class on a British Airways A319. Club Europe is your standard “European business class” product. It’s just a window or aisle coach seat with the middle seats blocked off so that you have more elbow room. Not amazing, but at least you’re in the front of the plane and get free food and drink.
Personally, I loved this routing. I really enjoy trying new airlines, planes, seeing new airports, trying new lounges, etc. I hadn’t been in domestic first, nor European business, so I was excited to just see what they were like.
T, on the other hand, just wants to get from A to B as fast and painless as possible, so she wasn’t thrilled. But it was our best option, so we booked it.
Because we have the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select credit card, we get a 10% award redemption rebate (limited to 10k per year), so the 57,500 mile flight ended up being a net 51,750 mile flight. Taxes & surcharges were only $26 a person.
Earning the miles
American Airlines miles are rather easy to earn and we’ve both signed up for a few AAdvantage-mile earning credit cards and bank accounts, so we had plenty of AA miles to spare. Although I’d suggest checking out my post on which credit card to start with before jumping into these cards, here are the top AA-mile earning card offers if you’re confident you’re ready to go (the following links are public links and do not earn me any kind of referral bonus):
- The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® currently has a sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles after spending $2,500 on the card in the first three months. Its $99 annual fee is waived for the first 12 months.
- The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® has a whopping 70,000 mile sign-up bonus spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months. Its $99 annual fee is also waived for the first 12 months.
- The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® has a 60,000 mile sign-up bonus after your first purchase and paying its $95 annual fee. That’s right – one purchase and paying the annual fee gets you the bonus.
- The AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard is almost exactly the same, with a 60,000 mile bonus after your first purchase. However, it doesn’t technically stipulate that you must pay the $95 annual fee to earn the bonus. You should, of course, pay the fee since it gets charged in your first billing statement.
Feel free to comment or contact me for any questions and stay tuned for posts that will teach you how to find these flights on your own!