A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article sharing some of the airlines and routes with the best first and business class award availability to Asia. I got a lot of emails on the topic and also requests for a similar post about flights to Europe, so here we go.
As I disclosed last time, there’s no science to this, but rather only a lot of observations from someone that spends an average of at least eight hours per day looking at award availability. Unless otherwise stated, assume that award space opens up around the time the booking window opens (11-12 months before departure depending on the airline).
Newark to Warsaw:
For whatever reason most of my clients don’t want to fly LOT, though they do release two business class seats on average between Newark and Warsaw, and I’ve actually heard fairly good things about them.
Charlotte to Munich:
Lufthansa is great about releasing award space between Charlotte and Munich, often making available at least two seats in first class and two seats in business class.
Dallas to Frankfurt:
Business class award space is typically excellent, given that they frequently release two to four business class award seats. The flight also often has two first class award seats available.
Detroit to Frankfurt:
This used to be an absolute “secret weapon” when it comes to award availability, given that there were often at least first and business class award seats available. Availability is still very good, though typically there are two first and two to four business class award seats per flight.
Montreal to Munich:
This flight frequently has two first class and two business award seats available, making it a good option for those originating in Canada.
Newark to Dusseldorf:
This flight often has at least two award seats available in both business and first class.
Washington to Frankfurt:
Lufthansa regularly releases two to four business class award seats per flight between Washington and Frankfurt. While they used to also release a lot of first class award space, that's no longer the case, though you can still occassionally find two first class award seats.
Montreal to Zurich:
Swiss used to be the most generous Star Alliance airline when it comes to releasing premium cabin award availability to Star Alliance partners. Going back a couple of years I remember seeing days where they released all eight first class seats for awards between New York and Zurich. Unfortunately those days are over, and it’s now quite literally impossible to get Swiss first or business class award space on any route from North America to Europe except their Montreal route. It’s not unusual to see a couple of first and business class award seats available on that flight.
Newark to Zurich:
United recently took this route over from Continental. They previously operated the route without a first class cabin, and now that United operates the route with a three cabin aircraft, it's not unusual for them to release two first class award seats. While business class award space is tougher to come by it is occassionally available.
Washington to London:
United releases a ton of award space in business class between Washington and London, seemingly much more so than any other route. They have 3-4 frequencies a day, mostly operated by 777s, so there’s plenty of capacity. They’re also reasonably good about releasing first class award space, though it’s not as much of a guarantee. On the flights operated by the old configuration first class it’s not unusual to see two to four first class award seats, especially closer to departure.
Philadelphia to Manchester:
US Airways often releases two business class award seats on their flight from Philadelphia to Manchester. If you’re going to Manchester that’s a great option, though connection options out of there are somewhat limited, unfortunately, not to mention that if you originate in Manchester you have to pay the ~$200 premium departure tax.
Philadelphia to Dublin:
While this flight is typically operated by one of US Airways’ ancient 767s, they do release excellent award space on the route, typically offering at least two business class award seats.
Chicago/Dallas/New York to London:
American has excellent award availability to London on most of their routes, both in first and business class. It’s pretty normal to see anywhere from two to seven business and first class seats available on their routes to London.
Atlanta/Boston/Chicago/New York/Newark/Philadelphia/Washington to London:
I find British Airways award availability to be wildly inconsistent, though they’re typically very good about releasing award space on their flights from the east coast to London. The number of seats they release in both first and business class fluctuates wildly, typically between two and nine seats. As a rule of thumb, first class award availability is often better than business class award availability, as backwards as it may seem. The major challenge with British Airways awards, in addition to the fuel surcharges, is that their intra-Europe award availability is just horrendous, especially compared to Air France, Alitalia, Lufthansa, Swiss, etc.
Miami to Barcelona:
While their primary hub is in Madrid, Iberia is fairly good about releasing business class award space between Miami and Barcelona, especially in light of the fact that they’re not otherwise all that great about releasing award space. While it’s not all that consistent, they often release somewhere around two to four award seats on this flight.
Chicago to Madrid:
As far as flights to Madrid go, Iberia seems to have the best availability out of Chicago, often releasing two to four business class award seats (Iberia doesn’t offer a first class product).
Los Angeles to Paris:
Getting nonstop award seats out of Los Angeles to anywhere in Europe used to be a piece of cake across all alliances, thanks to British Airways and Lufthansa previously having excellent award availability. They’ve scaled back considerably, though Air France has better award availability than ever before out of Los Angeles. It’s not unusual to see flights with four to nine award seats in business class (you can’t redeem partner miles for Air France first class).
Washington to Paris:
I don’t think there’s a route with better award availability in the world than what Air France offers between Washington and Paris. They typically operate two flights a day, and the flights almost always have nine business class award seats each 11 months out, and in my experience that availability sticks around until close to departure.
New York to Rome/Milan:
On both of these flights Alitalia typically releases 2-3 business class award seats (Alitalia doesn’t have a first class product). Keep in mind that the flights operated by Airbus 330s feature Alitalia’s excellent new flat bed business class product, so while service on Alitalia might not be great, the seat is.
Atlanta/Detroit/Minneapolis to London:
For all the times we refer to Delta miles as “SkyPesos,” Delta has phenomenal award availability in business class on most of their routes to London (they don’t have a first class product). It’s one of the few routes where there’s “low” level award space available more often than not.
Atlanta to Amsterdam:
While their partner Air France has excellent award availability, KLM isn’t nearly as good when it comes to releasing award space. They’ll often release two business class award seats between Atlanta and Amsterdam (they don’t have first class), though rarely do they release space as liberally as Air France.
Summing it up, one of the most interesting patterns when it comes to award availability is that airlines typically have the best award availability out of the hubs of competing alliances. For example, Lufthansa has excellent award availability out of Atlanta and Detroit (SkyTeam hubs), Air France has excellent award availability out of Washington (Star Alliance hub), British Airways has excellent award availability out of Philadelphia (Star Alliance hub), etc.
Of the above I'd say the best product without a doubt would be Lufthansa and Swiss first class. On their route out of Montreal, Swiss operates their new Airbus 330s which feature a phenomenal fully flat first and business class prodct. Food and service are excellent as well. Lufthansa first class is also great, both onboard and on the ground in their lounges in Germany.
Among business class products I'd say the best options of the above would be Alitalia and Delta, assuming you can get on one of their flights with fully flat beds in business class. Why? Because on a transatlantic flight I'd say a good night of sleep is more valuable than just about anything else.
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