Best upgrade options to Europe using American Airlines miles
Most fliers have experienced the sweet satisfaction of using their hard earned frequent flier miles for a free coach ticket. But that satisfaction can easily turn sour as soon as they shoehorned into their seat, especially on a long international flight.
A more comfortable and cost effective way to go is to buy the coach ticket and use your miles to upgrade strategically.
Upgrading to a premium seat nets a far higher return on miles than most other redemption options. For economy class, it about 1 cent to 2 cents, whereas with premium, it can easily be 4 cents to 10 cents or more.
Better value. Much better experience.
Take American Airlines, for example. For flights to Europe, American requires 25,000 AAdvantage miles plus a $350 co pay each way to upgrade the lowest upgradeable economy fares. The co pay is high, but so are business class fares, so this upgrade offers a great return.
Say you traveling from New York to Milan next month. At press time, you could pay $647 for a non stop flight on American in coach, while business class is $5,608 ($4,961 more). So even with the round trip $700 co pay to upgrade, you can save 76% off the published fare by using miles.
Or let look at Los Angeles to London. The lowest American Airlines economy fare is $534, while business class is $3,821. Again, even with the co pay of $700, you still way ahead saving 68%. to a European gateway city, and then connect to your ultimate destination from there,
perhaps in economy as many intra European flights are short. The airlines can even help with an economy through fare ticket, which includes the international flights all on one ticket. You just upgrade the long international legs of the trip the most important part.
For example, consider a Boston to Milan trip. The through fare ticket gets you to and from Milan via New York starting at $588 instead of $3,589 for a business class ticket in April. Even with the $700 co pay, that a saving of 64% off the published fare by using miles.
Availability, of course, is the all important and often elusive key. When you use your miles to get a free award ticket, the airlines are typically stingy with seats. They prefer a revenue generating ticket, such as buying a coach seat and then upgrading, and they make many more business and first class seats available via upgrade awards than they do free award tickets. That said, upgrade availability varies widely by route and knowing which routes offer them is the secret to success.
Find the elusive upgrade seats
Based on FirstClassFlyer research, the following routes currently have the best upgrade availability on American Airlines flights to Europe:
Dallas to Frankfurt and London
Los Angeles to London
Miami to Barcelona
New York to Barcelona, London, Madrid, Milan and Paris
Raleigh/Durham to London
So rather than play waitlist roulette for an upgrade with your miles, look for those routes with surprisingly good availability, instead. Note that for real time availability, you must call American.
See you up front.
First Class Flyer publisher Matthew Bennett, aka Mr. Upgrade, has specialized in research,
insights and unusual opportunities for premium air travelers since 1996.