How to Use Amex Membership Rewards to Get to Europe in Business Class

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There are a lot of different transfer partners you can use to get to Europe in business class with American Express Membership Rewards points. In this article, I’ll run down 12 of my favorite partners that you could use to fly business class to Europe. I’ll discuss their mileage requirements and fees and give some of my own tips for best utilizing them.

American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners

Here are some of favorite American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners. (Note: these are not all of the transfer partners). These airlines belong to different alliances and some also come with different transfer ratios so it’s important to note that when considering a transfer.

  • ANA:  1:1
  • Aeroplan: 1:1
  • Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific) 1:1
  • British Airways 250:200
  • Iberia Plus 250: 200
  • Delta: 1:1
  • Emirates 1:1
  • Etihad Airways 1:1
  • Singapore Airlines 1:1
  • Virgin America 200: 100
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways 1:1
  • Flying Blue: 1:1

Best redemptions summarized

Here’s a quick look at the different partners and some of the lowest mileage requirements and fees that you can get with that program.

  • ANA: 88,000 round trip + fees as low as $68
  • Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific): 80,000 miles roundtrip + fees as low as $75
  • Aeroplan: 110,000 roundtrip to Europe 1 + fees as low as $12
  • British Airways Avios: As low as 100,000 roundtrip + fees as low as $250
  • Iberia Avios: As low as 68,000 roundtrip + fees as low as $220
  • Etihad:
    • 50,000 one way/100,000 roundtrip on America
    • 44,000 one way/88,000 roundtrip on Brussels
  • Singapore Airlines
    • 65,000 one way/130,000 roundtrip on Singapore Airlines
    • 65,000 one way/130,000 roundtrip on Star Alliance partners
  • Flying Blue: 125,000 roundtrip + fees as low as $164
  •  Delta
    • 70,000 one way + fees as low as $6
    • 85,000 one way on partners + fees as low as $6
  • Emirates
    • 62,500 one way + fees as high as $550
    • 90,000 round trip + fees as high as $1,100
  • Virgin America
    • Emirates: 55,000 roundtrip + $1,090 in fees
    • Singapore JFK to FRA: 59,000 roundtrip + $147 in fees
  • Virgin Atlantic
    • 115,000 points + $1,263 in fees

I’ll now go into great detail and discuss these different redemptions.

1. ANA

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 11.09.55 AM
ANA requires only 88,000 miles and $183.70 to fly business class roundtrip to London from North America

ANA is a member of the Star Alliance, which means that you can book other Star Alliance partners to fly to Europe. With ANA it only costs 88,000 miles plus $183.70 in fees to fly business class from North America to Europe when flying on United. That’s an all around bargain and one of the best ways to use your Membership Rewards.

But the deal actually gets even sweeter…. 

Take a look at the Air Canada flight below from YYZ to MAD — it only comes with $68 in fees! Using ANA on Star Alliance partner Air Canada is arguably one of the best business class redemptions to get to Europe out of any airline.

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

2. Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)

The Asia Miles program for Cathay Pacific doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves, in my opinion. It has a very generous reward chart and offers some of the best rates to Europe in business class. One of the drawbacks, however, is that the fees can be high, but you can minimize the fees and surcharges by booking with American Airlines, Air Berlin, and Aer Lingus.

  • Flights up to 5,000 miles oneway only require 80,000 miles roundtrip on the Asia Miles Award Chart

This is one of the lowest business class redemption rates you’ll ever find and it’s especially attractive because you can fit one way flights up to 5,000 miles into it, which covers a lot of ground between the US and Europe.

I called in to check on the fees for an 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.

Here are how the fees stack up on other partners.

British Airways

I first was curious to see how booking British Airways flights through Asia Miles would compare to booking them through the British Airways website. The results were interesting.

Here’s a flight from ORD to MAD via LHR, a route known for high surcharges for BA. The route with Asia Miles would require 80,000 miles but $695 in total fees.

However, if you booked this flight with British Airways you’d be paying 125,500 Avios and $1,102 in fees! So the fees are still high with Asia Miles but they are nearly $400 cheaper than what British Airways would charge.

Finnair

The fees to Europe get a lot more reasonable with other airlines, however. This booking from JFK to HEL roundtrip on Finnair only charges $308 in total fees, which is pretty reasonable considering how cheap the mileage requirement is. You’d still have around 900 miles to play around with to keep this itinerary under 5,000 miles so you could still connect to places like Berlin and only spend 80,000 miles.

Iberia

Sometimes Asia miles is worse off than booking with other programs and here’s an example. Through Asia Miles, the flight from Madrid to Chicago on Iberia will require 80,000 miles but $590 in fees.

However, if you booked a flight from Chicago to Madrid roundtrip on Iberia using Iberia Avios you’d only have to use 68,000 Avios and pay $220 in total fees, so it’s all around cheaper. This proves that some times you’d be better off utilizing Iberia Avios for business class to Europe than Asia Miles.

Membership Rewards transfer to Iberia at a 10:8 transfer ratio, however, so that’s something to think about.

3. Aeroplan

I think many will agree that one of the best ways to utilize Aeroplan miles is to book Star Alliance flights from North America to Europe. For Aeroplan, Europe is divided into two regions (Europe 1 and Europe 2), so I’ll use a booking to a country found in Europe 1 as an example.

“Europe 1” consists  of the following countries:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • The United Kingdom

Fuel surcharges can be an issue with Aeroplan but you can get around them by booking with the following airlines:

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

I recently booked a flight from IAH to Tromsø flying business class on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and only paid $12 in fees for the one way flight and used 55,000 Aeroplan miles and got a whopping 14 cents per mile on that redemption! 

Aeroplan allows for very flexible booking when traveling between North America and the US as you can incorporate two stopovers or one stop over and an open jaw on roundtrips. Air Canada will be launching its own loyalty program in a couple of years though so you might want to take advantage of Aeroplan’s generous routing rules while you can.

4. British Airways Avios

I generally wouldn’t recommend using British Airways Avios for business class awards to Europe because the fees can be so high but if you fly on a partner from the East Coast, it’s not bad at all. The biggest drawback to using Amex Membership Rewards for Avios is that the transfer ratio is 250:200, so it’s not 1:1 like Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Using Avios to fly on British Airways to and from London is usually a bad idea, unless you’re okay with paying over $1,000 in total fees. However, when flying from other airports via LHR, the fees can be more reasonable. For example, a one way flight from OSL to JFK would “only” require $240 in fees which for BA is pretty reasonable.

However, if you just flew directly out of LHR, the fees would be much higher as seen below. (The mileage requirement for the trip originating in Oslo is higher due to the increased distance and is not a result of the lower fees.)

Due to the high fees, it’s often recommended to use British Airways Avios on other partners like Aer Lingus and Air Berlin.

Aer Lingus

Unfortunately, the sweet spot from Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus was moved to zone 5 even though it actually falls into zone 4, so that sweet spot is gone. However, there are still some other “semi-sweet” spots you can take advantage of when going to Dublin. The following 6 airports fall within zone 5 and thus offer roundtrips in business class for 100,000 Avios during off-peak times.

  • BOS
  • ORD
  • BDL
  • EWR
  • JFK
  • IAD

This isn’t the best deal that you can find but 100K for a roundtrip in J to Europe is still cheaper than many other programs. Fees will not be nearly as bad as they would be with British Airway but they are still not exactly negligible. I pulled up a roundtrip business class itinerary from BOS to DUB and fees came out £209 ($256 USD). It’s possible the fees could be a bit lower since Avios.com often shows inflated fees for some odd reason.

Air Berlin

Another way to greatly cut down on the fees when booking British Airways Avios is to book your flight on Air Berlin.

Here are some of the routes you could take advantage of (all prices one way):

  • 60,000 Avios – NYC to Berlin
  • 60,000 Avios – NYC/Boston to Düsseldorf
  • 75,000 Avios – Chicago/Miami to Berlin
  • 75,000 Avios – Ft. Meyers/Miami to Düsseldorf

Note: In my experience, business class availability on Air Berlin has been very poor compared to others like Iberia. 

75,000 Avios for a one way to Europe is too pricey for me but the 60,000 requirement isn’t too bad and is still competitive with other airlines like United and American.

Finally, you can also use British Airways to fly Iberia to Europe but you should opt to transfer your Membership Rewards to Iberia and book it that way, since it’s a much better bargain.

5. Iberia Avios

  • As low as 68,000 roundtrip + fees as low as $220
  • oneworld Alliance

For most business class flights from the US to Europe, you will get a better bargain by transferring your Membership Rewards (or even your British Airways Avios) to Iberia. That’s because your redemption will likely cost you less cash and fewer miles.

Here’s the Iberia distance-based chart that is similar to the British Airways 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. Keep in mind that when booking a partner award, you’re going to be subject to the peak mileage requirement. 

Here is the best Iberia Avios redemption to Europe in business class:

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

This rate applies 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 reasonable. If you booked this same ticket with British Airways, you’d have to shell out 100,000 Avios for the round trip. 

6. Etihad

  • 50,000 one way on American
  • 44,000 one way on Brussels
  • Various partners

Etihad is a partner with American Airlines and its award program uses specific award charts for each airline. The Etihad award chart for American Airlines is substantially similar to the old pre-devaluation award chart for American. This means that you can book business class awards on American for only 50,000 one way.

The problem is that you’re going to have to find business class awards on American to Europe which can be a mighty struggle. Also, you’ll have to contend with Etihad Guest phone agents who have a bad reputation of not being very knowledgable or helpful, although they’ve been fine for me based on my experience.

Another great use of Etihad miles to Europe is flying on Brussels with Etihad miles. This was a mega sweet-spot but grew in popularity too quickly and was recently devalued. Still, it remains a pretty lucrative redemption at 44,000 one way or 88,000 roundtrip in business class to BRU from JFK.

7. Singapore Airlines

  • 65,000 one way/130,000 roundtrip on Singapore Airlines
  • 65,000 one way/130,000 roundtrip on Star Alliance partners
  • Star Alliance

Singapore Airlines flies two routes to Europe. It flies from JFK to FRA (and on to SIN) and also IAH to MAN (and on to SIN).

On the JFK route, Singapore flies its A380 which means you can fly Singapore Suites. While on the Houston to Manchester route it flies its A350. It was much cheaper to fly in Singapore Airlines but they recently eliminated their 15% online booking discount and also increased the price of award tickets to many destinations, although they eliminated fuel surcharges on their own awards.

Still, 130,000 miles isn’t horrendous and both the A350 and A380 have great business class products. With little to worry about in fees, this can be a worthwhile business class redemption.

8. Flying Blue

  • 125,000 roundtrip + fees as low as $164
  • SkyTeam Alliance

125,000 for a roundtrip business class ticket isn’t horrible, although it’s slightly higher than many other programs. The biggest limitation to this redemption is that you can face some serious fees. Take a look at this sample booking from New York to Paris (JFK -> CDG) with Air France.

This business class route with Air France requires $575 in total fees!

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Air France charges $575 in total fees

But take a look at the same route but flying Delta instead… only $164 in total fees.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.42.51 AM
Delta charges $164 in total fees

That’s a $411 difference and so the prospect of booking Delta flights in business with Flying Blue miles is much more attractive.

9. Delta

  • 70,000 one way / 140,000 roundtrip
  • 85,000 one way on partners /170,000 roundtrip on partners
  • SkyTeam Alliance

Delta’s pricing for awards to Europe is very high for partners and among the highest for its own metal. I generally would not recommend using American Express Membership Rewards on Delta to book a trip to Europe since there are much cheaper options to go with like ANA, Asia Miles, etc.

However, one thing that is nice about Delta is that the fees to get to Europe can be very reasonable, even on partners like Virgin Atlantic. For a one way ticket flying into to London you will pay less than $6.

For a roundtrip it will be closer to $270, which is reasonable even though the milage requirement for partners is exceptionally high.

Delta has six different cards offered by American Express (3 personal and 3 business versions). Two of the personal and two of the business credit cards often come around with high bonuses of 60K and 70K , making it pretty easy to rack up close to 140K SkyMiles. So while these mileage requirements are on the higher side, the ease at which you can accumulate SkyMiles somewhat makes up for them.

10. Emirates

  • 62,500 one way + fees as high as $550
  • 90,000 round trip + fees over $1,000

Emirates flies two 5th freedom routes from the US to Europe. The first is on its renown A380, complete with on-board shower and bar. The A380 is flown between JFK and Milan (MXP). The second route was recently rolled out and is between Athens and Newark and is serviced by the 777. The rates for these routes are expensive but this is an aspirational product for many, especially the first class cabin, so it’s good to at least know about it’s possibilities.

The drawback is that the fees can very pricey. For just a one way award, fees will be around $550. and for a roundtrip award, fees will likely be over $1,000. 

You could avoid the high fees by booking these flights with Alaska miles but it’s pretty pricey at 105,000 Alaska miles one way for business class.

11. Virgin America

  • Emirates: 55,000 roundtrip + $1,090 in fees
  • Singapore JFK to FRA: 59,000 roundtrip + $147 in fees

Virgin America offers some ridiculously cheap redemptions to Europe from a mile standpoint. However, they hit you very hard with fees unless you book on partner Singapore Airlines. 59,000 miles for a roundtrip in Singapore business class is great, especially for only $147 in fees. Just keep in mind that Singapore Airlines often restricts awards for their premium cabins to their own members, so you might struggle to find any open seats to book with Virgin America miles.

The major problem for Virgin America is that the transfer ration is 2:1, so you’ll lose out on 50% of your Membership Rewards when you transfer. Also, the Virgin America loyalty program known as “Elevate” will be discontinued as of January 1, 2018, so this option won’t be around for much longer.

12. Virgin Atlantic

  • 115,000 points + $1,263 in fees

You can get a roundtrip from the US to London in Virgin Atlantic’s business class known as “Upper Class” for 115,000 points but as you can see the fees are very high at over $1,200. I’d rather transfer my miles to Delta to avoid the high fees or look into other options to transfer my Membership Rewards to.

Final word

As you can see there are a number of ways to use Membership Rewards to get to Europe in business class. You’ll have to explore the different options and make determinations on which one to use based on things like fees, milage requirements, availability, etc., but this list should be able to give you an idea of how many miles you’ll need to make your way across the pond.

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