Best Ways to Book Europe with Ultimate Rewards: Part 1
Want to go to Europe with Ultimate Rewards? This is the first of 5 posts about booking Europe with Ultimate Rewards. In this introduction post, I list my 9 overall favorite ways to redeem Ultimate Rewards for flights between North America and Europe. In parts 2-4, I will go into more specifics about each of the Chase Ultimate Rewards airline partners that offer flights to Europe.
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: Star Alliance-Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and United
- Part 3: SkyTeam Alliance- KLM/AirFrance FlyingBlue
- Part 4: OneWorld Alliance-British Airways
- Part 5: Virgin Atlantic
Here is a list of all Chase Ultimate Rewards airline partners
Not sure how to transfer? See how to transfer Ultimate Rewards to partners post.
There is at least one Ultimate Rewards transfer partner in each of the three major airline alliances in the world. This means that your options with Ultimate Rewards to book Europe may be better than you think.
- Star Alliance-Singapore Airlines, United
- OneWorld-British Airways, Iberia
- No alliance-Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, Aer Lingus, JetBlue
You can book award tickets to Europe with 7 of the 9 airlines that partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards. Southwest and JetBlue do not have flights to Europe at this time, but these airlines may still be useful for what is known as a positioning flight.
Factors to consider when deciding which partner to choose:
- Availability for your dates
- Price in miles
- Fuel surcharges
- Cancellation/change policy
- Taxes: taxes are imposed by local governments and are generally the same no matter what airline you fly. This could add extra out-of-pocket fees onto your award ticket, but depending on the cash value of the ticket, it’s usually not a big deal. Taxes are different than fuel surcharges. Click here for more information about taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges.
A few tips before transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards to partners:
- Never transfer your points until you have confirmed that the ticket or tickets you’re trying to book are available for your date and destination.
- Most transfers are instant, but you may want to place the award ticket on hold if possible before transferring.
- Once you transfer your points to one of these partners, you’re subject to that airline’s award ticket policies and pricing. For example, you can use Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer to book an award flight operated by United, but you’re subject to KrisFlyer’s award charts, not United’s. Award ticket pricing and policies you see on united.com do not apply if you’re booking with KrisFlyer miles.
- If you have other points (either with an airline or with another transferable program such as American Express Membership Rewards) you may also want to check that airline and/or the transfer partners to make sure you’re using the program with the best redemption prices.
- The cost of award tickets included in this post is the lowest cost possible (sometimes known as the saver level). If no saver level tickets are available for your dates, the prices you see will be higher. It helps to have flexible dates.
Calculate the cents-per-point value before transferring
- Check the cents-per-point value you’re getting before transferring. I generally consider anything around 2 cents per point a good deal, but there are certainly times when I will book at a lower value. Check out my post about how to calculate the value of a point or mile when redeeming if you have no idea what I am talking about.
- Because you can often find cheap flights from the US to Europe, especially in economy, you may find that your cents-per-point value is less than 2 cents per point. You can save your points and wait to use them on a more valuable redemption, or you can consider using the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal. You can read about the Chase Ultimate Rewards booking portal by clicking here.
- If the value you’re getting is 1.5 cents per point or less, you may want to consider using Chase’s booking portal to redeem the points. By doing this, you’re basically using your points as cash. Remember that the Chase Sapphire Reserve gets you 1.5 cents per point when using the travel redemption portal. The Chase Sapphire Preferred gets you 1.25 cents per point. In other words, with CSR, 100,000 Ultimate rewards gets you $1500 worth of travel if you use the booking portal. If you have the CSP and 100,000 Ultimate Rewards, those are worth $1250 in travel if using the booking portal. See also: Chase Sapphire Reserve vs Chase Sapphire Preferred
My overall favorite ways to book Europe with Ultimate Rewards:
1. Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer to book Singapore Airlines flights for 22,500 miles each way in economy
Singapore Airlines only has two routes between the US and Europe. These are JFK-Frankfurt and Houston-Manchester so if you live in Houston or New York, you’re in luck.
2. Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer to book United/Star Alliance partner flights in economy at 27,500 miles each way
It costs less miles to book a United flight with KrisFlyer than with United Mileage Plus. With United, it would be 30,000 each way in economy. Some flights booked with KrisFlyer miles but operated by partners may come with a fuel surcharge, but United operated flights do not. United generally has good saver award availability from the US to Europe in economy no matter what your home airport is.
3. KLM/AirFrance FlyingBlue to book KLM, AirFrance, and Delta flights between the US and Europe in economy
FlyingBlue usually has good availability at the saver level for economy tickets between the US and Europe. Award tickets booked with FlyingBlue but operated by Delta do not have fuel surcharges on transatlantic flights. Flights on KLM and AirFrance do have a surcharge, but it’s usually more reasonable than British Airways.
The issue with FlyingBlue is that award ticket pricing is tough to anticipate. FlyingBlue no longer publishes an award chart. This topic deserves its own post, but the shortest way to put it is that award ticket pricing is impossible to predict.
At the time of publishing (October 2018), I’m seeing roundtrip economy flights for as low as 44,000 miles or 21,500 each. The lowest business class I saw was 72,000 miles one-way. Promo flights are lower (see next section).
My advice is don’t count on Flying Blue, but before you decide which Ultimate Rewards partner to use, check Flying Blue. You may get a great deal. On the other hand, the redemption cost could be outrageously high.
4. KLM/AirFrance FlyingBlue to book Promo Awards on KLM and AirFrance
If you’re able to take advantage of a promo award, you can save between 20% and 50% on the amount of miles required. Promo Awards are select destinations that are offered for a reduced number of miles. The list of destinations is updated every month and availability is limited. You can get deals on economy and business class tickets! Currently, business class flights between Seattle and Europe are 50% off. Business class between Washington and Europe are 25% off. This could be a great deal! I found business class seats from Washington to Paris for 41,250 miles one-way with the promo award.
5. United Mileage Plus to book United flights for 60,000 each way in business class
United operated flights are 60,000 miles one way in business class. You can book other Star Alliance flights with United miles, but partner flights are 70,000 miles each way. United does not collect fuel surcharges on its own metal, but they also do not collect on partner award tickets!!
Considering the fact that United does not pass on carrier imposed fuel surcharges for award tickets even on partners, some people prefer to book partners such as Lufthansa with United miles to avoid these charges, even though 70,000 miles is higher than other programs would charge for that flight in business class.
6. Iberia Plus to book flights to Madrid on Iberia or American Airlines for as low as 42,000 roundtrip in economy
Iberia adds surcharges to their flights to Europe, and unfortunately they also collect fuel surcharges on partner flights such as American Airlines. But for some reason, redeeming Iberia Avios for flights to Madrid that are operated by American Airlines cost about $100 in fees, which is about $80 less than Iberia operated flights! If AA flights aren’t available, Iberia operated flights are still reasonable if you book with Iberia. British Airways is not a good partner for flights to Europe due to insane fuel surcharges.
The catch is that you can only redeem Iberia Avios for roundtrip American Airlines flights.
New York (JFK) to Madrid operated by American Airlines is priced at 42,000 Avios roundtrip. A city further west in the US will add more Avios required for your flight to Madrid due to Iberia’s distance-based pricing. DFW to Madrid is 65,000 Avios roundtrip
7. Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer to book Singapore Airlines Suites in their fancy A380 for 76,000 each way
Keep in mind there are only 2 routes between the US and Europe on Singapore Airlines. These are JFK-Frankfurt and Houston-Manchester. Only the JFK-Frankfurt and Frankfurt-JFK flights are operated by the A380, so this is the only route between the US and Europe for which you can book a Singapore Airlines suite.
You can add a United flight from your home airport to JFK as long as United has saver availability. If you have to add a United flight to get from your home airport to JFK, you will be subject to the partner airlines chart so it will be 95,000 miles each way. You might be better off booking a positioning flight to New York so you can save the additional 19,000 miles required for a United connection!
8. Singapore Airlines to book partner flights for 65,000 each way in business class
Remember, while Singapore Airlines does not impose any extra fuel surcharges on their own flights for award tickets, you may be subject to these charges on partner flights. Lufthansa is one that would come with fuel surcharges if booked with Singapore miles. To compare, United requires 70,000 miles each way for a partner business class flight, but they would not collect fuel surcharges.
So your options are 65,000 miles and fuel surcharges and 70,000 miles and no fuel surcharges. You would want to figure out if the extra 5,000 miles is worth the amount of fuel surcharges!
9. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to book and Delta business class flights between the US and Europe for as low as 50,000 each way and possibly no surcharges!
Award tickets booked with Flying Club miles but operated by Delta do not have fuel surcharges on transatlantic flights outside of the UK. In other words, avoid London routes. Fly to Paris, Amsterdam, or another city served by Delta to avoid fuel surcharges.
10. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to book flights between the US and Europe for as low as 20,000 miles roundtrip
Award tickets booked with Flying Club miles between the US and London on flights operated by Delta or Virgin Atlantic are as low as 20,000 miles roundtrip. This is the lowest redemption rate to Europe of all the Ultimate Rewards partners, but there are fuel surcharges. With the ultra-low amount of miles required, paying fuel surcharges may not necessarily be a deal breaker.
11. British Airways Avios for flights between the East Coast and Europe for as low as 13,000 Avios each way in economy
Since British Airways is part of the OneWorld alliance, Avios can be used to book flights on American Airlines, Finn Air, Iberia, and of course British Airways. The catch with British Airways is that fuel surcharges are very high on their own flights and on flights operated by partner airlines for flights between the US and Europe.
These are definitely not the only options for flights from the US to Europe with Ultimate Rewards. In parts 2-5, there are more details about options with each Ultimate Rewards airline partner. Some of these other options may work better for you depending on your home airport, the class you’re trying to fly, and the other factors listed above.