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New Series: Best award “currency” to get to Europe?


One of the most frequently asked questions I get from friends and readers is “what’s the best way for me to get to Europe?” Bad jokes about driving aside, my response is generally this: United MileagePlus miles. Here’s why:

  • First and foremost…no fuel surcharges
  • Accessible premium booking levels: 50k business class, 67,500 first class
  • Generally decent levels of availability
  • One-way awards available at half the cost of a r/t (unlike some that charge full price)
  • Excellent partner redemptions including Lufthansa, Swiss, Turkish, Tyrollean
  • User-friendly award booking tool at United.com
  • Open jaw, stopover allowed on award tickets
  • Opportunity for “free” one-ways tacked on to the front or back of the main itinerary
  • 1:1 Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, lots of earning options
  • 2 credit cards alone can get you there in a premium cabin! Chase Sapphire Preferred 40k, Chase United MileagePlus 60k (be sure to have at least 1 mile in your account to “unlock” this better offer!)

While options like American Airlines AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios will cost roughly the same number of miles, they can often leave you staring down the barrel of $600+ in fuel surcharges per ticket if you book an itinerary with any BA legs. I recently saved some friends hundreds of dollars by encouraging their use of United miles vs. American miles for travel out of DFW to Europe.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe you should diversify your mileage portfolio with multiple alliances and, in the case of American, you can avoid fuel surcharges by flying exclusively on AA metal. This can be a little more restrictive but there are several hubs that do offer direct flights to most of the major European cities. The “two-browser” trick can generate 100k AA miles also in just 2 cards but I like having more options at the end of the day. It can also depend on your home airport, so this isn’t necessarily an absolute.

We will be spending Thanksgiving in Europe, flying Lufthansa on an A330-300 (looking to upgrade to First from business!) for only 100k and $150 in fees per person. We also tacked on a “free” one-way to Chicago next May for no additional cost. Not bad considering the cash price of this itinerary is over $11,000…PER TICKET!

And boom goes the dynamite…

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