As we plan our annual return to England, we are finding good availability for business class award space to Europe.
Annual Return To Manchester, England
Nearly every year we return to Manchester for a visit with friends that have become family and a reminder of the things we love and miss. We often choose November because availability in business class is usually good and we live away from much of our family in the US so Thanksgiving is usually a sedated holiday for us.
We love visiting the Manchester Christmas Markets, we love the food, the energy – it’s a perfect start to the holiday season and it feels like we are going home every single time.
The last few years have been a struggle. In 2020, due to travel restrictions and closures, we didn’t visit. Last year, work drew me away from our friends and activities for up to 14 hours/day in an incredibly stressful business situation. If that wasn’t enough, my wife had a false positive for COVID and was compliant with the rules of England at the time, she isolated in our room for nearly the duration of the trip despite several negatives following her false positive.
We need this trip.
Good Availability In Business Class to Europe From The United States
Unlike in years past, I am looking with fresh eyes around the market for business class space. I am doing this for two reasons. First, award availability has been really difficult over the course of the year. As recently as August, I was struggling to get to Armenia despite coverage from every alliance (including four different star alliance carriers with routes into the capital), good flexibility in my route, timing, and a variety of program balances to exploit.
This November we have plenty of options and I am shocked as flights are generally considered to continue operating full, prices are high, and people are traveling. I even found (what I consider to be a unicorn) confirmed PlusPoints upgrade space on United from coach to a business class cabin.
We don’t prioritize going straight into England for these trips and like finding not only new destinations, but new hotels, and trying new airlines’ business class products.
I’d like to introduce my daughter to a new country, and my wife to Polaris (if possible), while still getting to our destination in a reasonable amount of time. Lie flat seats are a must for us, preferably in a 1-2-1 configuration. Traveling as a family, we enjoy a robust inflight entertainment system, a great airport lounge, noise-canceling headphones, and an elevated dining experience served by friendly flight attendants.
Here are some considerations I have made:
- Air France/KLM (but not booked through Flying Blue due to fees and surcharges on awards)
- Delta (booked through Virgin Atlantic to avoid ridiculously high redemption rates)
- British Airways (most have surcharges too large to be relevant)
- American Airlines
- United Airlines
I’d love to book Singapore Airlines which has great availability this November and offers one of the best business class to Europe service offerings but the routes are more expensive for both miles and fees and while I can transfer points in, if anything goes wrong or we have to cancel, the points are in a program where I’d prefer they were not.
Let’s get American Airlines (or more pertinently, British Airways and its ugly surcharges) out of the way.
Delta Air Lines
Here’s the reason we don’t book Delta Air Lines flights with Delta points. Side note: I understand that Delta elites might be captive so why not just price every roundtrip at 750,000 SkyPesos but for those with transferable points like American Express Membership Rewards, is anyone transferring in for these prices? Would anyone with literally any other choice pay these prices for even a single business class flight to Europe?
Let’s not. Instead, let’s look at those same flights but using Virgin Atlantic instead. Virgin Atlantic prices all three together at the checkout screen.
What I find so entertaining about flights into the UK which do not incur any significant fees as departures do, is that both British Airways and Virgin charge near criminal rates for fees and surcharges. Yet, if we fly United, I can actually confirm a one-way in coach with a confirmed upgrade using PlusPoints – an uncanny sighting – for less than these fees and even earn status and miles along the way.
United has more space available at its lowest levels far and away over any other carrier.
Which One Will We Choose?
When evaluating business class products for long-haul flights there are a few that we have eliminated from consideration. Icelandair doesn’t operate a flat bed product despite convenience in their schedule and good pricing – we also haven’t visited Iceland yet, so that would have ticked a box. Turkish Airlines is home to some of the best lounges in Europe (or west Asia) but Turkey seems less than welcoming at the moment.
Ultimately, United and Delta via Virgin Atlantic offer the most options. The advantage leans to United for two reasons. The first is that I had trouble finding connecting Delta flights into those departure points using Virgin Atlantic points where we don’t have the same issue with United. The second is the draw of Polaris for my family as I have flown it several times but they have not yet been able to and I’d really like them to experience the Polaris lounge and the hard product.
Finding this many business class seats to Europe with a month’s notice is a blessing as is flying business class at all. We are so fortunate to have so many options. While I would like to get some value out of my expiring PlusPoints and fly straight into London (a quick train north to Manchester and “Bob’s your uncle”), I’d rather hold onto the $1800 for the three fares instead and fly into another city giving my daughter a new country to visit and something to see along the way.
What do you think? Are you heading abroad for Thanksgiving? Have you seen plenty of options for your trip?