How You Can Buy a Business-Class Ticket to Europe for Less Than Coach

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If you have a long flight, business class is a comfortable way to fly. But the prices? In the clouds. Here's a clever way to fly business without paying full price.

If you’ve ever had the privilege of enjoying a long international flight in business class, it’s very difficult to go back to economy. But with seats in premium cabins selling for several times the price of an economy-class ticket, buying your way into business class isn’t worth the money.

Fortunately, there’s a way to travel in business for less than the price of coach…

Buying miles, not tickets

I’ve earned hundreds of thousands of miles with US Airways – without ever paying them for a ticket.

In fact, buying airline tickets may be the hardest possible way to earn frequent flier miles.

Most airlines allow you to purchase miles, but these offers are generally regarded as a poor value. Nevertheless, it makes sense to buy US Airways miles – because they’re currently eligible for a 100-percent bonus.

Customers must have had an account for at least 12 days, and only the first 50,000 miles are matched. After taxes and fees, your total cost for 100,000 US Airways Dividend Miles will be just under $1,500. Even if you factor in additional taxes and fees for booking the award travel, the total cost will be approximately $1,700 – about what you might pay for an economy-class ticket next summer from the United States to many destinations in Europe.

Delta just joined US Airways with a similar deal. Through Sept. 30, they will also offer a 100-percent bonus on purchases of their Skymiles. After taxes, this works out to about 1.9 cents per mile, so a flight to Europe in business class will be more expensive at nearly $2,000, and that’s only if you can find availability in their “low” tier of awards.

A better use is to team up with another traveler and transfer miles from one account to another, as these transactions will also receive the 100-percent-bonus miles. After paying the transfer fees, the bonus miles end up costing about 1 cent each, allowing business-class travel to Europe for $1,030 before government taxes.

What can you do with 100,000 dividend miles?

You could fly US Airways, but I don’t recommend it. Award seats on flights operated by them are subject to a four-tier redemption chart and only their lowest two levels (which they rarely offer) have a decent value.

Instead, consult their partner award chart, which is valid for flights on more than 30 different carriers around the world. For example, you could fly to Europe or South America for 100,000 miles, and northern Asia for a mere 90,000, all in business class. For another 10,000 miles, the South Pacific and Africa are in range, with all of Asia and the Middle East for 120,000 miles. US Airways allows one en-route stopover on their partner awards, so you can see two destinations for this price.

This begs a couple of questions…

Why use your miles for business class? Awards in premium cabins represent the best value in frequent flier awards. For example, an economy-class award to Japan is 60,000 miles, but at 90,000 for abusiness class ticket, there’s only a 50-percent premium for a service that sells for several times the price.

With offers like this, why does anyone pay cash for travel? First, most people aren’t even aware of these possibilities. Second, you must be very flexible with your travel plans to find the best award seats. Finally, it takes some skill and effort to find and book award seats, especially since US Airways doesn’t have an online search tool for partner awards.

If you’re not sure that you will be able to find award seats to your destination, US Airways will let you search for seats and hold them, at no cost to you, for three days, during which time you can buy the necessary miles and complete the booking.

This offer is only valid until Sept. 15, but US Airways has held similar promotions every few months for the last two years. Those with the foresight to take advantage of a promotion like this can look forward to the jealous stares of economy-class passengers on their next international flight.

Also check out 6 Tips for Getting the Most From Your Frequent Flier Miles.

Stacy Johnson

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