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I’m intrigued by flights and awards that don’t involve America. If there’s a cool award to get from Australia to SE Asia, that can be integral to a longer, better, and cheaper trip.

My two favorite continents to explore are South America and Europe. Although I’ve never flown directly between the two continents, there are some intriguing options (all of which are fuel surcharge-free):

  • Singapore First Class for only 59,000 miles one way
  • Avianca Dreamliner direct from second-tier cities
  • Swiss Business Class
  • British Airways First Class, super-duper cheap on the US Airways award chart
  • Economy class for only 20,000 miles one way

Obviously you won’t be very interested in flights like these for a weeklong vacation, but if you have a month free or a year when you’re traveling around the world, there are great reasons to fly from South America to Europe or vice versa.

The Brazil Effect

It is illegal to add fuel surcharges to flights in Brazil. In practice, this means that international airlines don’t add fuel surcharges to their flights out of Brazil but do add fuel surcharges on their flights to Brazil.

(Weirdly the only exception I know is that British Airways collects fuel surcharges on Avios awards out of Brazil. American Airlines does NOT collect fuel surcharges on the same British Airways flights out of Brazil as I’ll show below.)

That means that, while it is the same number of miles in either direction between Europe and South America, it will often be hundreds of dollars cheaper to fly from South America to Europe instead of vice versa.

Several of the deals in this post have fuel surcharges unless you fly from South America to Europe via Brazil.

Avianca Dreamliner from Second Tier Cities

I wrote about Avianca’s brand new Dreamliner the other day. I didn’t mention the European routes:

  • Bogota to London starting July 2, 2015
  • Bogota to Madrid starting July 31
  • Cali to Madrid starting October 20
  • Medellin to Madrid starting December 19

I’m most intrigued by the Cali and Medellin flights. How often to you get to fly 10 hours from a country’s second-tier cities without having to connect through the big hub airport? (This is a reason to love the 787 Dreamliner; theoretically it should make more of these routes possible.)

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Avianca Dreamliner Bed

Award space is sparse on the Medellin and Cali flights to Madrid for one person in Business Class once they appear on the schedule partly because neither is a daily flight. But the space does exist, and I will assume if you are flying from South America to Europe that you have a pretty flexible schedule.

Medellin

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CaliScreen Shot 2015-02-20 at 2.41.13 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 2.40.58 PM

Bogota

Bogota-to-Madrid space, by contrast is wide open. Note that not all flights are operated by the fully flat beds of the 787. Some are on the pretty comfortable, but not fully flat, beds of the A330.Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 2.40.13 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 2.40.04 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 2.39.51 PM

United charges 80,000 miles one way from Northern South America to Europe in Business Class on the Avianca Dreamliner, which is steep. Lufthansa charges only 67,000 miles one way in Business Class from South America to Europe. Singapore charges 78,000 miles one way.

Swiss Business Class

I wrote about Swiss Business Class today because it looks fantastic and United is discounting it through Saturday from the United States to Europe.

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Swiss flies from Sao Paulo to Zurich with Business Class award space that will initially look familiar to anyone who read today’s post on Swiss’ award space from the United States. There is good award space for the next month.

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What might surprise, though, is that there is also good award space in July and August. From the United States, Swiss is very stingy with award space more than a few weeks out.

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United charges 87,500 miles one way from Southern South America to Europe in Business Class, which is steep. Lufthansa charges only 67,000 miles one way in Business Class from South America to Europe. Singapore charges 78,000 miles one way.

Singapore First Class

Singapore Airlines flies a route from Sao Paulo to Barcelona to Singapore and vice versa. Just like its New York to Frankfurt to Singapore leg, you can book any single part as an award.

And Sao Paulo to Barcelona is way underpriced at 58,225 Singapore miles + $37 one way for 10.5 hours in Singapore First Class–one of the nicest in the world.

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The only way this could be better is if the route were operated by an A380 instead of a 777-300ER, but the service and food will still be the same. I flew the Singapore 777-300ER in First Class, and the bed is very comfortable.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 6.02.39 PM
New Singapore First Class

 

British Airways First Class

British Airways flies from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to London. You normally can’t get onto British Airways award flights without fuel surcharges, but because of the Brazil departure, American Airlines just collects miles and taxes.

American charges a rather pricey 70k miles each way in Business and 90k miles each way in First Class.

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On the bright side, taxes are only $37.

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You can get on these flights much more cheaply as part of a roundtrip US Airways award.

  • 70k US Airways miles roundtrip in economy from South America to Europe
  • 100k miles roundtrip in Business Class
  • 130k miles roundtrip in First Class

It is harder to think of reasons an American would want to book a roundtrip award from South America to Europe, but you can always return from Europe to South America via North America and simply not fly the North America to South America leg(s.)

I actually once booked myself a roundtrip Business Class award from South America to Europe with US Airways miles and did exactly that–I skipped my Chicago to Buenos Aires flights.

You could book:

  • Rio de Janeiro to London (British Airways First Class)
  • open jaw
  • Berlin to London to Los Angeles (American Airlines First Class on its best plane)
  • Los Angeles to Dallas to Rio de Janeiro (within 24 hours of landing in Los Angeles, in any cabin, collect bags in LA and go home without flying)

This would cost only 130,000 US Airways miles.

Flying Blue Promo Awards

You know those posts I write every month about Flying Blue Promo awards? Promo awards allow you to fly from the United States to Europe or Israel for as little as 12,500 miles one way. The fuel surcharges in economy are bearable, and the fuel surcharges out of Brazil are even better: zero as usual.

Here’s a full post on Promo awards out of Brazil.

Promo awards can cost as little as 20,000 miles one way in economy and 40,000 in Premium economy between Brazil and anywhere in Europe.

Here are the current Promo awards.

Bottom Line

There are some cheap, interesting, and luxurious award possibilities between South America and Europe. Flying from South America to Europe will often be cheaper because award flights out of Brazil do not have fuel surcharges in almost all programs.

Check out Singapore First Class, an underpriced US Airways award, or an economy flight for only 20,000 miles. as part of your big trip around the world.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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I’ve wanted to fly Swiss Business Class for a while. It just looks really nice. The 6’6″ beds nearly all have direct aisle access, and the food and lounges look nice.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 11.24.41 AM

Swiss flies to Zurich from eight North American cities and from Zurich throughout the rest of Europe. Normally Swiss Business Class costs 70,000 United miles each way, but until Saturday you can book it for 57,500 miles each way.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.49.00 AM
from gcmap.com
  • What is the Swiss Business Class product?
  • Where should you sit if you’re traveling alone or with a partner to ensure direct aisle access?
  • What is the award space picture?

Swiss Business Class Product

Swiss Business Class on its A330s and A340s that fly to the United States is the staggered Business Class also found on Austrian (trip report). Some rows are 1-2-1 and others are 2-2-1. Your feet in the sleeping position are under the arm rest of the seat in front.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 11.25.38 AM
From seatguru.com

The seats you really want to avoid are seats A and B in odd-numbered rows. Seat A doesn’t have direct aisle access, and seat B has to let A occasionally climb over. Plus seats A and B have to share an armrest. When traveling together, I’d go for the middle seats D and G in ay row. When traveling solo, I’d go for a K seat in an odd-numbered row because the arm rest is on the aisle side giving you better privacy and window access. If you really like a lot of space to put things down and have them at hand, you could go for seat A in an even-numbered row to grab two arm rests.

Here is a video that shows the cabin and seat/bed.

The bed is a fully flat 6’6″ sleeping surface.

Award Space

I’ll go through the eight North American cities, showing the award space for two passengers in Business Class. While Swiss’ planes have First Class, that award space is never released to partner programs.

The main takeaway will be that routes have the most award space in the next month. Some of that is because February and March are a low period of travel between North America and Europe, but a lot of it is that Swiss releases premium cabin award space in the last few weeks (or even on the day of) departure. If you want to travel to Europe in the next month, you’re spoiled for choice. If you want to travel in the summer, use this as a guide for which routes open the most last-minute award space.

Boston

This route has the best award space. This isn’t surprising since Boston to Zurich is the shortest route, and it has no connecting traffic to fill the flight, since Boston isn’t a United hub, to fill the flight.

Award space is wide open in Business Class (green and blue days) for two passengers on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays for the next month.

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Surprisingly, as you’ll see as I show award space from other cities, there is even award space for summer departures at the moment.Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.50.57 AM

For such a short flight, I like the flight time. It’s late enough, you might be able to sleep the whole time.

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Chicago

Chicago only has Business Class space for two the next two days.
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Newark and New York

I combined my search from these two cities by typing in NYC as the airport code. Swiss has multiple daily flights from the two airports, so you can choose whether you want a late departure or early arrival. Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.58.19 AM

United also flies from Newark to Zurich daily, so the award search could pick that flight up. I’d rather fly Swiss Business Class.

Award space is excellent in February and March from the New York area to Zurich for two passengers in Business Class.Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.58.30 AM Unlike Boston, there is not good Business Class award space for departures later in the year, but this has to make you excited about the chance that space will open up close to departure for your preferred travel date.

Montreal

I was hoping for great award space because there is often better award space to Europe via Canada. But all we get is two days of award space this week and four days next month.Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 11.01.51 AM Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 11.01.56 AM

There is a trickle of award space into May.

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Miami

I was also hoping for better award space here. There are two daily flights, and there must be almost zero connecting traffic on United flights to this non-hub that is out of the way en route to Europe.

But all we get is two Business Class seats on both flights for the next two days and a little space next week.
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Total guess: I bet this route has award space almost every day if you can wait until it is released a day or two before departure. They cannot possibly be selling all the Business Class on two daily flights out of Miami.

Los Angeles

There is award space today only. Direct west coast-to-Europe flights are always a challenge. (Check out AA’s LAX to London flight though for great Business and First Class space.)Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 11.03.36 AM Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 11.03.51 AM San Francisco

Speaking of bad award space on direct west coast-to-Europe flights, there is no Business Class space for two from San Francisco to Zurich.Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 11.04.10 AM

Bottom Line

Boston, New York, and Newark have the best award space in Swiss Business Class to Europe with tons in the next month. Other routes have a few scattered days.

Boston also has award space–though not a ton–for the rest of the year. The other routes are confined to the next month or two. This post shows that Swiss opens its best award space very late–a few weeks to a few hours before departure. If you’re looking to snag a 6’6″ transatlantic bed at the last minute check out Swiss.

Here are the connections out of Zurich to the rest of Europe. Adding Business Class flights intra-Europe to your transatlantic Business Class space will add zero extra miles.

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Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 8.29.19 PM

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A few weeks ago I flew Boston to Zurich in Swiss business class. It was my first flight on a whirlwind trip to Asia. I documented the trip’s booking in this post.

I was excited to try out Swiss’ business class product for the first time. Swiss isn’t the most generous in releasing award space, so the scarcity increased my expectations.

How was the service? Does the seat recline to a fully flat position? Did the food measure up to other premium cabin standards? What do you need to know if you fly Swiss Business Class?

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Swiss Business Class is one of the nicest ways to cross the Atlantic in a fully-flat bed, and it’s definitely a product I’m anxious to try. Here’s Swiss’s promotional video:

Swiss flies to eight cities in North America, and award space is widely available with your United and US Airways miles in business class if you know where, and more importantly, when to look.

How can you get in Swiss Business Class?

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The 50k mile bonus offer is back on the Lufthansa card mentioned in this post until 6/30/14. Get it now!

  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchases or balance transfer
  • Earn an additional 30,000 award miles when you spend $5,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Cardholders receive a companion ticket after first use of the account and annually after each account anniversary
  • No Foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Redeem miles for flight awards and upgrades on Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Star Alliance member airlines and on other partners
  • $79 Annual Fee. Please see Terms and Conditions for complete details

Application Link: The Lufthansa Premier Miles & More World MasterCard

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Application Link: The Lufthansa Miles & More World MasterCard

This new sign up bonus is major news and represents a major upgrade over the standard sign up bonus–a paltry 20,000 miles.

I plan to open the card for myself to take advantage of one of the two best ways to use 50k Lufthansa miles.

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Want to book a dream summer vacation to Europe? The time is now. Award space is still very good on a number of great routes on great products and will deteriorate in the coming months.

Here’s how I would go about booking my dream award. Step one is the miles–more on getting those at the end of the post. You need:

  • 60,000 miles for a roundtrip economy class ticket
  • 100,000 for a roundtrip business class ticket
  • 125,000+ for a roundtrip first class ticket

Business

This post will focus on booking a business class award for next summer. The next installments will focus on economy and first class.

I recommend collecting United or US Airways miles to book a business class award to Europe for next summer. Both are members of the Star Alliance, so both type of miles can be used on the same flights on the following Star Alliance options to Europe.

  • United (flat beds)
  • US Airways (flat beds on A330)
  • Lufthansa (flat beds on 747-8)
  • Austrian (flat beds)
  • Swiss (flat beds)
  • Brussels (flat beds)
  • Air Canada (flat beds)
  • Scandanavian (angled beds)
  • TAP (angled beds)
  • Turkish (flat beds on 777-300ER)
  • LOT (flat beds on the 787 Dreamliner) <– secret weapon

When to Use United Miles and When to Use US Airways Miles?

Not only does the Star Alliance have the most space, but it has the most options in lie flat business class beds, the goal when you’re shelling out 100k miles for a roundtrip.

When booking an award in business class to Europe, I follow a simple procedure.

  1. Find transatlantic space in both directions.
  2. Find domestic US space to/from transatlantic space.
  3. Find intra-Europe space to/from transatlantic space.

The first step is to find the transatlantic space. All the airlines’ space we want is searchable on United.com, so I head there.

I use wikipedia to determine possible routings before searching. See How to Use Wikipedia to Book Awards Like a Pro.

Then I fill out the form on united.com for a oneway flight on a route that I expect to have award space. If I wanted to search united.com for award space from Chicago to Frankfurt on Lufthansa or United, I would search like this:

Now we can easily use the award calendar at the top of the search screen to see what’s available when. (Don’t forget that sometimes you need to trick the award calendar to get it to show what you want.)

Here are some routes’ availability this summer. Keep in mind that yellow denotes economy space, blue denotes business or first space, and green denotes both. White means there is no saver space on the route that day in any class. (Saver space is space at the 100k miles roundtrip price point.)

Chicago to Frankfurt

Chicago shows strong availability if you have even a little flexibility. About half the days in July and August have space on direct flights on United or Lufthansa. Click a date to find out which of United’s two flights or Lufthansa’s two flights have space.

United’s flights depart at 2:20 PM and 6:15 PM. I saw more space on the earlier flight and more space in first class than business class in general.

I would prefer United’s fully flat bed to Lufthansa’s angled beds on the 747-400 in business.

Overall Chicago to Frankfurt has excellent space in business class at the moment for next summer.

New York to London

Without a Star Alliance partner in London, only United serves this route with five daily departures, all from Newark. Space is limited early in the summer, but readily available by July.

Here are United’s five flight times–four redeyes and a daytime hop.

Four of the departures fly a 757 with the fifth on a 777. All the planes are configured without a true first class, but the business class seats are lie flat beds.

The most common business class space was on the daytime departure, leaving at 9:00 AM and arriving at 9:30 PM. Not taking the redeye would have its advantages and disadvantages, but this is certainly the hardest flight to connect to if you don’t live in Newark.

San Francisco to London

What about us West Coasters? It’s normally much tougher to find transatlantic award space from the west coast to Europe than from the East Coast, but San Francisco to London on United has incredible space for Summer 2013 on its two daily flights.

There is generally more space on the 1 PM departure than the 7:40 PM departure. The 1 PM departure can be tough since you land at 11:10 PM San Francisco time.

Miami to Zurich

Swiss business class is a holy grail for some. I usually search for it from Miami, an odd route since Miami is not a Star Alliance hub. Space out of Miami is bad, but there are a few days this summer when you can hop on a Swiss bed.

Mondays in July are the best bet.

Here’s a video of Swiss biz to whet your appetite; definitely a product on my bucket list.

The other thing I noticed for Swiss biz out of all of its gateways–New York, Newark, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami–was that there was some business class space this week. Swiss opens up business class seats at the last minute, which may be your best chance to get on board.

Chicago to Vienna

Austrian’s new business class looks world class. It impresses me enough that I booked a flight in October from Vienna to Chicago on it instead of a direct flight from Munich to Chicago on United. There is incredible business class space on the flight five days a week this summer.

Here’s how I got a seat in Austrian biz as part of my best award ever.

The flight leaves Chicago at 4:00 PM and touches down in Vienna at 8:40 AM the next day.

Philadelphia to Rome

US Airways flies most of its European routes with an A330, on which it has a worldclass business class bed that it calls an Envoy Suite. Availability isn’t great to Rome, but it is worth a look.

If you’re flexible, there is space early in the week.

Domestic Space

To get to the gateway of the transatlantic space you find, you can search united.com for domestic award space. You should find plenty as United offers the most domestic award space of any legacy carrier in my experience. Remember that both United and US miles can access this United space.

Tip: You are entitled to domestic first class (or business on three cabin services), but you can also use economy class space if the times work better.

Intra-Europe Space

I think you’ll find this incredibly easy to find on united.com. Many of the European airlines release space on seemingly every flight of theirs. Intra-European business is the exact same seat as coach, so don’t hold out for business if economy space is the only thing available.

Putting it all together

If you book with United miles, you should be able to easily book online. If you can’t easily book online, you can book by phone for free using this trick.

If you book with US Airways miles, write down all the flight dates, numbers, times, and cabins and call US Airways at 800-622-1015. Partner bookings do not incur a phone fee.

Tricking it out

See here for more information on adding free oneways to United awards (article, video) and US Airways awards (article, video).

Getting the Miles

There isn’t quite a quick way to rack up 100k US Airways miles. You can get 30k US Airways miles on first purchase with the Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard, but the card has an $89 annual fee the first year. You can also get the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express with a 25k bonus that transfers 1:1 to dozens of airlines with 5k bonus miles for every 20k points transferred.

Application Link: Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard

Application Link: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express

Recap

Space to Europe in business class for summer 2013 is excellent right now. I recommend booking now before it deteriorates as it certainly will. I ran through the process to book, specific routes with great availability, and specific fantastic beds.

I even told you how to get the miles for a roundtrip business class ticket with two credit card applications on the same day. Now it’s your turn to live up to your part of the bargain: I do the work. You do the travel.

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