It’s not always easy to find award space to Europe, particularly during the Summer months. I put together a handy guide a while back that many people seemed to appreciate, but I still get plenty of questions via email and Twitter about how to book flights to Europe in premium cabins.
I’m looking to go to Europe in September myself, and I want to go to Rome in particular. I have lots of Star Alliance miles saved up with bonuses on the United and US Airways cards along with the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cards (if you want to sign up for those cards, see my Credit Cards page). My first logical step would be to check the United website to see how award availability is.
As you can see, there’s nothing in premium cabins in September. So time to give up right? Not so fast – just because the website doesn’t show something available on the first try doesn’t mean it’s not possible at all. We just need to break it down a little further.
One product I’ve wanted to try is the Turkish Airlines business class seat. I haven’t flown through IST either and have heard of the awesome Turkish Airlines lounge there, so that’s another incentive to fly Turkish. With that in mind, my thought was to first find award space from Los Angeles to Istanbul, then figure out the flight to Rome later.
As you can see, there’s much better availability on this route. I want to leave on a Friday to maximize my time off from work so I’m going to see what’s available on September 6th.
Unfortunately there were no direct flights from Los Angeles so everything was routed through Houston. I had plenty of options on the LAX-IAH flight but the IAH-IST portion only had one flight that day. I prefer the one above since it had the shortest layover, but I was shown at least 4 other options.
Great, so now I can get to Istanbul. What about getting to Rome? As you can see from the image above, I’d arrive in Istanbul on September 7th at around 4pm. Under United’s award rules, I’d need to book a connecting flight that departs within 24 hours, otherwise it would be considered a stopover and it would add to the number of points required. I only wanted to be at IST for a few hours to check out the lounge, but am more interested in just getting to my destination. So now I’ll do a completely separate search for the IST-FCO leg.
Plenty of availability (literally every day), but I’m looking specifically for September 7th. Let’s take a look at those results.
So far so good – Turkish runs 4 flights this day and there is Business Class availability on all four flights. Luckily there are two flights after my arrival time at IST. I’d personally prefer the later of the two flights so I can have time to hang out in the lounge a bit.
Here’s what we know at this point: 1) I’ll have to take more flights than I want; 2) Business Class is definitely available the entire way; 3) I can’t book it using a simple search on United’s website.
We can’t do anything about number 1 – that’s just something I have to deal with, but I’m glad I can get Business class the entire way instead of doing a mixed cabin Business/Coach redemption. Number 3, however, we can do something about.
Step 1: Go to United.com and click on “Multiple Destinations”
Step 2: Input the dates and cities we just found (LAX-IAH on 9/6, IAH-IST on 9/6, IST-FCO on 9/7). Don’t forget to click “Award Travel” before searching.
Step 3: Pick your flights. It will show you each flight separately, segment-by-segment. Note that the number of award miles required won’t be listed on these pages, but ignore that. It will price correctly.
Step 4: Review and book!
You can do the exact same thing for the return flight. While this wasn’t the ideal itinerary, it totally works for me. Yes there are a couple of relatively long layovers, but I personally don’t mind that. There are no direct LAX-FCO flights on Star Alliance, so two flights would be the minimum anyway. A third, domestic flight isn’t a deal-breaker for me. All I really care about is that the longest flight is in Business class and that I get to my final destination in a reasonable amount of time.
So when you do a search for Star Alliance award availability and come up with no results, don’t give up! It won’t be the perfect itinerary, but you’ll probably be able to find a way to get to your desired destination.