Which frequent flyer miles should you use for intra-Europe flights? Or should you just pay for tickets?
A TravelSort reader writes: “I have a United award with a long stopover in Zurich, and want to book some intra-Europe flights, for example ZRH – DUS – LIS -GVA (getting back to Zurich on the Glacier Express). Which frequent flyer miles or points should I use–Ultimate Rewards points? British Airways Avios? American AAdvantage miles?”
Since stricter United maximum segment rules have made it much harder to insert multiple stops of 24 hours or fewer (United now allows maximum of 3 connections and 4 segments on awards between the U.S. and Asia via Europe), it can mean needing to separately book intra-Europe awards or pay for these flights. Which miles should you use, or should you simply pay cash?
First, a few considerations:
- Intra-Europe Business Class is usually nothing special = little reason to use miles for business class if not already included in a larger award. For example, see my lackluster Lufthansa Business Class Short Haul Flight Review on a trip to Moscow.
- Many low cost carriers = often better to pay cash for economy flights
- Taxes and fees on awards often also make it not worth it to use miles for economy awards
- British Airways Avios are often a good bet, since short nonstop flights are a good deal with this distance based chart. Just make sure you're still getting good value compared to low cost carrier options and taking into account taxes and fees on award tickets.
Let's assume that this reader prefers a nonstop flight for each of these segments but would consider 1 stop, and figure out which frequent flyer miles offer the best bet or if it's better to pay for tickets:
Zurich to Dusseldorf
Airlines with Nonstop Flights: Air Berlin (oneworld), Lufthansa (Star Alliance), SWISS (Star Alliance)
Cheapest Nonstop Flight: Air Berlin, ~$245 per person
Cheapest Onestop Flight: ~$170-$175 on German Wings/Lufthansa or SAS
Cheapest Miles Award: 4500 Avios + $45 = 3750 AMEX Membership Rewards points with the 20 Percent AMEX Transfer Bonus to British Airways Avios
Verdict: Book with Avios, since you'll get 4.4 cents per Avios point or 5.3 cents per AMEX Membership Rewards point, with the 20% transfer bonus.
Dusseldorf to Lisbon
Airlines with Nonstop Flights: TAP Portugal (Star Alliance)
Cheapest Nonstop Flight: TAP Portugal, ~$154-$393 per person
Cheapest Onestop Flight: ~$200 on British Airways
Cheapest Miles Award: 12,500 United miles + $38
Verdict: Pay cash if the TAP Portugal flight is closer to $154. If the TAP Portugal flight is closer to $393 and you have plenty of United miles to burn pre-devaluation, perhaps redeem United miles for an award, at ~2.8 cents per mile.
Lisbon to Geneva
Airlines with Nonstop Flights: easyJet (LCC), TAP Portugal (Star Alliance), SWISS (Star Alliance)
Cheapest Nonstop Flight: easyJet, ~$80 per person (assume $100-$125, including extra fees for seating, checked bags if needed, paying with credit card)
Cheapest Miles Award: 12,500 United miles + $17
Verdict: Pay cash for easyJet
Bottom Line: As you can see, some of these nonstop flights you're best off simply paying cash for, depending on the price of the flight at the time of your travel. On more expensive nonstop routes operated by a oneworld carrier, Avios can be a good bet. While one might think an AAdvantage Explorer award could be useful, it ends up being too expensive at the low mileage levels for a few short hops around Europe; sweet spots tend to be business class redemptions in Zone 5, Zone 6 and Zone 7.
Do you prefer to use frequent flyer miles or paid tickets for intra-Europe flights?
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