HURRY: American Airlines Europe Awards Wide Open

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American AAdvantage has been extremely stingy with international award space on its own flights over the past three to four years; premium award space doubly so.

What’s more, because American doesn’t have as many partners as Star Alliance airlines do, that leaves few options especially to Europe and fewer still that don’t hit you with big surcharges as their primary European partner is British Airways. So when American releases premium cabin awards on their own flights, that’s worth jumping on.

At one point it even became absurd domestically, with only a handful of dates during the whole year where saver seats could be booked Dallas – Austin — a $49 flight at the time with 14-15 flights a day. Fortunately that extreme scenario didn’t last terribly long but American has gone from first to worst in domestic award availability.

This hasn’t been too big a deal for me, I’ve long preferred to redeem on partners, but it’s been a real shortcoming for many members.

Premium cabin international award availability has gotten better though things seem to go in waves, feast or famine, and you have to jump on the space when it opens up wide.

Right now there is a ton of availability on certain routes January through May 2017. Here are the key things to know:

  • The best availability is for London and Paris. Those are the transatlantic routes that American usually releases the most space for when they open up the floodgates temporarily.

  • There are other routes available, like Dallas – Frankfurt. But not all routes are available, you won’t find much space Dallas – Madrid, London – Los Angeles, New York JFK – Milan, or Charlotte – Madrid (a flight that used to be a gimme) to name a few.

  • On most routes availability is better on weekdays than weekends.

  • I’m doing searches for 2 seats, but there are days on some routes with as many as 5.

  • In general there’s as much or more confirmed upgrade space on a given flight as there is award space.

Points from the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express transfer to American as well — and when moving 20,000 points to AAdvantage you normally receive 25,000 miles but right now you get an additional 20% bonus transferring Starwood points to American however the bonus doesn’t post immediately.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card‘s points transfer one-to-one into British Airways, and you can use British Airways Avios to book these flights however BA will add fuel surcharges onto the cost. Chase Sapphire Preferred has a 50,000 point signup bonus after $4000 spend within 3 months of account opening.

What Availability Looks Like on Different Routes

Dallas – Frankfurt is probably the best route right now for award availability outside of London and Paris.

There’s great availability for Dallas – Frankfurt from January through early April, and for Frankfurt – Dallas from January through end of April.

Here’s Dallas – Frankfurt:

Here’s Frankfurt – Dallas:

And the neat thing is that since the route still has an unreconfigured Boeing 777-200 on it (angled business class) there’s also great first class award space as well.

Here’s Dallas – Frankfurt in first:

Here’s Frankfurt – Dallas in first:

Having a look at London routes, there’s availability on Dallas – London in January and February.

The return London – Dallas flight is available January through March.

Chicago – London is more broadly available, January through May. It’s a good example that most routes have mostly weekday availability although April and May show weekend availability also.

London – Chicago is also available January through May.

New York JFK – London is more restrictive, with some availability starting in December but only lasting through February.

As with the routes above, the return flight from London to New York JFK seems to have availability stretching out a bit longer — there’s space December through March.

Philadelphia – London is open January through May.

And the same date range is available in reverse, London – Philadephia.

You’ll find Miami – London wide open in February only but London – Miami February through April.

On the other hand Charlotte – London shows very little space, and there’s a dearth of award availability (as there usually is) on Raleigh – London.

As noted, availability patterns on American’s Paris routes is similarly good.

Choose Your Aircraft Wisely

When selecting routes, be aware of the aircraft you’re going to be flying. The new (4-across business class on the seat map) Boeing 777-200 and Boeing 787 seat is quite good. As is business class on the Boeing 777-300ER (“77W”).

New Business Class Seat, American Airlines 777-200

7-across business class on the Boeing 777-200 (ie unreconfigured) is angled and to be avoided when possible. I’m also not a huge fan of business class on the Boeing 767. It’s fully flat and all aisle access, but also quite narrow.

American Airlines 767 Business Class

Cost of Awards

American charges 57,500 miles each way between the US and Europe in business class. You can connect beyond London on oneworld partner British Airways without spending additional mileage, and intra-European flights don’t incur substantial fuel surcharges (compared to transatlantic).

This award space is available to British Airways members, of course, and to members of other oneworld airlines — but with fuel surcharges for most partner programs.

It’s also available to American’s other partners — like Etihad Guest and like Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan (without fuel surcharges).

(HT: Traveling for Miles)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I can’t find a J award at saver level that doesn’t require a stop at LHR, which is freaking pointless. This is the problem with AA going to Europe, since they devalued, you either have no Saver awards, or you have to pay almost $1k in surcharges.

    Don’t waste your miles on this. Save it for AA’s partners, which are really the only good use for AA miles at this stage.

  2. “dearth of award availability (as there usually is) on Raleigh – London”

    Why is this the case?
    I doubt GSK will continue to sponsor this flight since they shut down their facilities in the RTP. And there’s finally transatlantic competition with Delta (CDG).

  3. @Kieran lol wut? This whole post is specifically about J (and F) SAAver awards on AA metal, which do not incur the large BA “fuel” surcharges.

    Once in LHR you can connect on to pretty much anywhere in Europe using BA, which incurs modest “fuel” surcharges.

  4. “I can’t find a J award at saver level that doesn’t require a stop at LHR, which is freaking pointless”

    It’s not pointless if you want to travel to London (top European destination from the USA, incidentally), since inbound flights on AA won’t incur fuel surcharges if your travel stops there. You then open-jaw in Europe and return from not-London. Train across the Chunnel, EasyJet, Ryanair, whatever for short flights.

    I’ve found some availability out of Zurich on an extremely cursory search (it’s not every day, though). Try harder?

  5. @Kieran Leaving aside the fact that London isn’t the reason for fuel surcharges (those are down to airlines) and the fact that American doesn’t add fuel surcharges to awards on its own metal (what this post is about)…how are you not finding SAAver awards to Europe that are not via London?

    Gary already referenced Dallas – Frankfurt and the blog Gary hat-tips (thanks for that Gary) shows availability from JFK and ORD to Paris….so if you don’t like London there are you other options.

  6. Re LAX-LHR

    The few dates I checked, I had to route through another gateway AND sit in coach for the positioning flight. LAX-DFW coach is a long coach segment for LAX-DFW-LHR.

  7. Gary, seeing any of the elusive Chicago-Berlin nonstop?

    Need to get that option from Seattle; to only incur one stop.

    Thank you

  8. Here’s another twist I don’t think is talked about too much but might have an influence for the airline “generosity” we’ve seen lately. I don’t think they’re filling the planes. I think you’ll find more and more availability as folks become wary of traveling to Europe and the Middle East because of all the terrorism we’ve seen over the last few months. I also think the economy isn’t as vibrant as government officials would have you believe. Airfares to all sections of the globe have also come down because of this. Look at all the airfare reductions we’ve seen, some even for summer travel.
    The terrorist actions have kept me from doing my normal trip to somewhere in Europe this summer and I opted for a driving vacation instead. This is just an opinion and I’m sure there are some other factors like low cost airlines and trying to be competitive, but I’ll bet there are a lot of folks who will agree with some of the assumptions I mentioned.

  9. Hi Gary,

    AA has an issue requesting Cathay award ticket rn. It has been two days. Do you know what the problem caused the issue? How long does it take to fix it usually?


  10. This post is hilarious! I can do this WAY better.

    Use Alaska Airlines miles/website to book AA planes at the OLD valuation (eg 50k miles, not 57.5k) AND book the flights from just about anywhere AA flies. Why do I have to be the one to know this when I don’t even get paid?

  11. Fairly limited availability from LAX. Yeah you can stop on the east coast to grab a flight, but sucks pretty hard to have 2 stops to your destination (in my case, moscow). Was thinking to just stop in LHR and book a separate flight, but there is only some business availability into May.

  12. @matt

    Does Alaska have better availability than AAdvantage members on American. Don’t think there are domestic positioning flights in J available.

  13. I never, ever see Air Berlin J availability on the AA site. HOW do we get access to these awards (or can we at all?).

  14. @Beachfan,

    I don’t know what ‘positioning J’ is. But I do know I could (and did) book from just about anywhere AA flies in the US, and get to Madrid. There are flights for 50k miles for business and 20k miles for Economy on AA planes. Go look for yourself.

  15. @Kathryn – ah yes, but if anyone see’s it please let me know, haha 🙂

    @matt – that is a good option, but sticking with the purpose of the post it’s using AA miles not Alaska miles. Alaska’s option doesn’t help me use my 600k AA miles 🙂

  16. Planning a special trip in 2017 to Zurich, originating in New Orleans, and want to fly the best American plane in business. What plane would that be and what connection cities should we use? Thanks a bunch.

  17. @Brenda

    Brenda, Brenda, Brenda. You do realize that by taking a domestic driving vacation you are putting yourself in much, much more possible harm than if you kept a Europe trip?

    Fear is a great motivator, but unfortunately fear also makes people lose their heads and make really bad decisions. Like yours. Or voting for the Cheeto.

  18. The first time Gary blogged about this happening I got 4 J seats LAX-LHR round trip on peak dates this summer. That was something I can’t recall ever being able to do on any airline. My family asked “How did you pull this off?” They got some great sleep on the flight.

    The hardest part was finding BA seats on the connecting flights within Europe. I downgraded a couple of them to coach to get 4 award seats on the same flight. That can only be done by phone.

  19. @BFD:

    I don’t mind the 763 on a daytime flight, unlike Gary. So I’d be inclined to arrive/leave directly from ZRH to JFK or PHL (probably PHL, best chance at a direct connection to MSY) and connect once, rather than have to double-connect through a US hub like JFK AND LHR (which is your best shot at a 77W or refurb 777 in J). The difference in seats isn’t worth extra schlepping through airports. This is especially true if you’d have to do something like MSY-ORD/MIA-JFK-LHR-ZRH to “get the good seat”. I think extra hours of travel/connections is a bad tradeoff for a marginally better seat in business (that is still MUCH more comfortable than any coach seat), especially since AA has documented reliability problems with their planes (more so than with other US operators like Delta).

  20. Thanks for your comment! We will be overnighting from New Orleans- connection to Zurich. So should we avoid the 763 since we will be trying to sleep. All other choices of planes seem to go through London. What would you choose?

  21. @Marcia
    My post was my opinion. I did not make a political statement; I just offered an observation as to why fares might be down or award seats might be freeing up. Why do people feel a need to attack someone when it doesn’t seem to fit the way they think.
    Having travelled to Europe a couple of times a year since the 60’s I can actually say that Europe and the Middle East have changed greatly. Heck, it’s changed a lot just in the last month.
    I actually enjoyed my trip and saw a lot of country I haven’t seen in years and being a big girl was actually capable of factoring in the perils of driving versus flying.
    When and if the world settles down, I’ll reconvene my travels to the continent. Until then, I’ll soak in the wealth of travel this country has to offer. Again, it’s just my opinion just like your unfounded last few sentences of your post is an opinion of what you think of me.

  22. @ Matt;

    Positioning J means the domestic segment, in business class, that connects to the transatlantic segment of the award.

    I have checked, I don’t see any LAX-MAD flights in May using AS miles on AA that are only one connection and are all in business class. Or LAX-LHR either.

    Also, I don’t think there is anything bookable on AA using AS miles that you can’t get using AA miles. If you see something concrete on LAX-Europe on AA with only one stop all on business next May, please let me know

  23. You’re a fool if you’re continuing to fund these Chapter 13 filing, corporate “reorganization” communists. But if you have the miles from a job or something, have a great trip.

    If it’s your “business” and you’re continuing to funnel these hypocrites your company $, well then you deserve everything you get in the future.

    Have a great weekend.

  24. So very happy that I ditched AA loyalty 2 years ago to become a free agent (after 15 years as execplat and burning down the 1M+ miles that I had backed up). I booked 3 J tickets on Star Alliance over Thanksgiving 2016 (combining United miles and Chase UR points) AND had multiple award options available. So much more straightforward than AA’s worthless award calendar (and the BS BA fuel surcharges). Thrilled with the change. Happy flying

  25. AGAIN, I just searched. THERE IS NO SAAVER LEVEL AWARDS FROM Washington DC to LHR which do not incur MASSIVE surcharges. I just looked, and anything on BA metal (which is EVERY single SAAVER flight), means that I must spend 1000 DOLLARS on taxes and fees.

    F that. If you’re dumb enough to spend that + miles on a business class flight, then by all means. Go ahead. But this is nothing special, and silly smug laughs won’t change that. There is literally NOTHING available for under 200k miles RT that doesn’t include at least $1k in fees.

  26. “AGAIN, I just searched. THERE IS NO SAAVER LEVEL AWARDS FROM Washington DC to LHR which do not incur MASSIVE surcharges.”

    And Gary posted charts from Philly.

    If only DC and Philly (or NYC) had train connections such that you didn’t need to look for connecting flights…

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