As we plan our annual return to England, we are finding good availability for business class award space to Europe.
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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?
We had some American flights to London direct but canceled them to fly Icelandic air. Short late night flight to Reykjavik where the kids slept a few hours in a nice economy plus seat. 4 day layover (visit the blue lagoon to stave off jet lag). Then direct to London. Was cheap and easy. Overnight flat beds to Europe are too short a flight to get anything more than 3-4 hours sleep unless you leave at 10pm and go straight to sleep. They turn the lights on with like 90mins to go on American now.
I recommend Icelandic air myself. Even in economy. I did it with three youngish kids and really enjoyed iceland.
*an elevated dining experience served by friendly flight attendants.* And you’re considering United?
Kyle – of course, no one with Delta Skymiles would book those routes at those prices.
1) To get the “standard” low price for business class (which I think can range from 120K or higher each way – way too much), you need to book 60 days in advance with Skymiles. That is the simple fare rule. You are looking a month out. Before whining and moaning about these particular choices, learn the fare rules.
2) The best way to book trips to Europe with Skymiles are the Flash Sales. Many of us got redemptions for 74K each way, US to Europe, in business class, for trips for September, October, and November.
3) If all else fails, redeem Delta for domestic flights in the 1.2 to 1.4 cents range, and earn MQM/MQD. Redeem other currencies (Amex, American Airlines, etc) for transatlantic J. Though I am seeing 100K+ miles each way pricing on American and United more often than not these days either.
This year I have burned about 300K Skymiles for transatlantic J, transcon Y (which was upgraded to J via instruments), expensive domestic Y at 1.5 cents, etc. I always want to have 300K or more, and I’m short now, so looking to earn more miles.
@Anthony – Thanks for your comments. I wanted to respond to a couple of items.
1) Good to know, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a ridiculous and unnecessary disparity. United charges more too for booking close-in to an award but rather than charging 375k for a business class one-way because you’re inside of 60 days, they add… drumroll… 3,500 points (only 2,500 more on their own flights.) Assuming Delta’s base level cost would normally be 120,000 like you said, Delta is tripling its award costs and for a huge window, United’s window is just 30 days.
2) I probably should have booked earlier with more foresight, but as I mentioned, airlines were stingy with space all summer and I am not confident I would have found what I needed.
3) I am seeing some of those prices but as I showed here, 57-80k one-way is available pretty much across the board. Further, if you have a flexible currency like AMEX, why would you book Delta – even at 74k when Virgin offers the exact same Delta flight for 50k?
Kyle – on point 3,
No one is saying transfer AMEX miles to Delta. I don’t think I have transferred more than 5K miles or so that way over a decade. What I am saying is…
1) Using SkyMiles accumulated through things like flights, Delta Reserve spending (for status), etc at 74K or frankly even 85K or 100K can make a lot more sense than redeeming Virgin at 50K, largely because award redemptions on Delta via SkyMiles earn status miles and spending while award redemptions on Delta via Virgin do not.
2) If I have the SkyMiles in my account, which I do, I would rather transfer those 50K MR miles to Flying Blue, Singapore, even Hilton on a transfer bonus, whatever.
Also, the most important reason to book Delta flights with Delta SkyMiles is elite earnings – earning about 11K MQMs, and about $1,500 MQDs, on an award flight to Europe is pretty useful when it comes to earning status. You don’t get that with Virgin Atlantic miles. Which is why it makes a lot more sense to spend Delta Skymiles on Delta transatlantic flights as much as possible rather than Virgin or FlyingBlue. If I am using either of those currencies its typically gonna be on their metal, with transferred miles. With Delta, you are earning miles via paid flights or Amex spending for status, so best to use those first.
Kyle – do you recommend taking advantage is the Avianca LifeMes offer where if you buy 100k miles say, they add another 100k + 20K so a total of 220K for US $3300. Due to their star alliance participation, redemption in economy and business which does not break the bank with partners is relatively painless (they do charge a $25 redemption fee)? Thanks
@Bharat – That’s a great question. My family utilized this method last year to fly home in business class from Armenia and if you have a particular redemption, it can be the best possible value. That said, I recommend that you have a specific redemption in mind with confirmed availability for your entire party before buying or transferring to ANY program as a general rule.
It was a lot easier booking for Thanksgiving 11 months out: ANC-SEA-LAX-LHR on DL and VS in biz for 130K DL miles (used up the last of my SkyPesos) and LHR-LAX-SEA-ANC on AA and AK in F for 84K AK miles. Last-minute/close-in award deals in international premium cabins with connecting flights to or from ANC simply don’t exist.
Polaris over Delta is a no brainer. The delta on board food is a little better, but that is the only thing better. The United lounge, seat, bedding, etc are miles better.
Kyle are you concerned that Singapore will cancel the MAN-IAH route? My mom flew it last week and it was half empty. Was thinking of booking it for next summer but like you I’m concerned if things change I’m stuck with miles in a program I can’t see myself using otherwise.
Why on earth would anyone fly from the US to the UK via Istanbul?
I’d do it to enjoy the great TK product, Polaris Lounge on the outbound, and great lounges on the ground in IST. It’s not that hard to find saver J availability for 45K Miles & Smiles. A fantastic deal!
As for Kyle’s comment about Turkey not being welcoming, I’m not sure what the basis for that statement is. Turkey has eliminated 100% of covid regulations, made the visa process a cinch, and basically eliminated any transfer formalities in the new IST, making connecting there easier than ever. Seems pretty welcoming to me.
It’s not so much about finding space, it’s about why would you waste your time by adding so much travel time to the trip? From IST to LHR alone it’s an extra 4 hours or so. Better to fly into somewhere closer to the UK and use that saved time to you know, actually spend it in the UK.