Reader Judy emailed to ask:
I’ve got a ton of American Airlines miles, and I want to go to Europe in Business Class. What is my best option?
A lot of people have a lot of American Airlines miles at the moment because the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® offers 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, and the business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also offers 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles and two Admirals Club lounge passes after spending $3,000 on the card in the first three months.
That’s 106,000 American Airlines miles just for getting two cards and meeting the minimum spending requirements.
American Airlines miles also happen to be the most valuable miles because Delta and United jacked up the prices needed for Business and First Class awards last year, but American’s chart has been steady for years. At this point, the one way award prices to Europe in Business Class are:
- 50,000 American Airlines miles
- 57,500 United miles in United Business
- 62,500 Delta miles
- 70,000 United miles in Business Class on United’s partners
To other regions, the disparity is similar or larger.
But all miles are stronger to certain regions in certain cabins, and Business Class to Europe is a huge weakness for American Airlines miles. The problems:
- American Airlines releases almost no Business Class MileSAAver award space on its own flights to Europe.
- British Airways releases a fair amount of Business Class award space, but American Airlines collects fuel surcharges on British Airways award space. You’ll pay $1,000+ out of pocket for a roundtrip in addition to 100,000 American Airlines miles to fly British Airways Business Class.
- Other partners don’t release much award space, with Finnair releasing the most space.
Bad Space American Airlines Own Flights
American Airlines is revamping its Business Class offerings one aircraft at a time, so that it will feature all fully flat beds in Business Class in the coming years. That’s nice.
What’s less nice is that Business Class award space is almost non-existent on its flights. That includes off peak times. That includes the last few weeks before departure. American Airlines just doesn’t want to release a seat in Business Class to Europe for 50,000 miles to you.
British Airways Fuel Surcharges
Many of American Airlines’ partners impose fuel surcharges on their flights, but American only passes along the surcharges from British Airways and Iberia. British Airways’ fuel surcharges are punitive, which is a shame, because they do release the most award space to Europe of any American Airlines partner.
A roundtrip from JFK to London in British Airways Business Class costs 100,000 American Airlines miles + $1,160.50, which includes $828 in fuel surcharges.
The Best of the Rest
American Airlines’ other partners to Europe are:
- US Airways
S7 Airlines(Moscow-based but doesn’t fly to USA)
US Airways offers very little award space on its European routes, even obscure ones like Philadelphia to Manchester that you imagine can’t have many business travelers.
Iberia award space can be searched on ba.com, and the airline flies to Boston, New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles without much Business Class award space.
Airberlin used to be a fount of award space, but now the Business Class space is very rare on its several American flights.
That leaves Finnair, which doesn’t release much award space, but sadly it’s the best option.
Finnair flies between New York and Helsinki, with connections throughout Europe. It will begin a 3x weekly summer service to Chicago on June 15, but I don’t see any award space on that flight yet.
On the New York route, there is award space 23 days out of the next 330 from New York to Helsinki. There is a lot more award space from Helsinki to New York, call it about two days a week on average, although it’s really more like four days a week in the off season and two days a month during the summer.
New York to Helsinki
Helsinki to New York
You can connect to/from New York on American Airlines or US Airways flights for no extra miles and connect throughout Europe on Finnair flights for no extra miles.
American Airlines miles are not good to Europe in Business Class. There just isn’t a lot of award space. Other than surcharge-laden British Airways, Finnair offers the most award space, and for whatever reason offers a lot more westbound than eastbound.
If you’re creative–and flexible–you can use American Airlines miles to fly in Business Class to Europe, but I would argue that that’s almost like fighting American Airlines miles good uses. Use your United and Delta–yes, Delta–miles to fly to Europe in Business Class and use your American Airlines miles for its strong suits.
Update January 7, 2015: Here are the strong suits of American Airlines miles.
Each card offers 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® (personal)
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard® (business)