Fly to Europe With Frequent Flyer Points

how to fly to europe with frequent flyer points
There are many ways to collect frequent flyer points for those who don’t fly much, from credit cards to transferring miles from hotel programs. While there are countless ways to redeem them for the best value, at the end of the day you want to get to your destination and save money in the process. You can fly to Europe with frequent flyer points quite easily. Bear in mind it is one of the most popular destinations for Australians to visit so, especially during peak periods it can be tricky.
With some perseverance and creativity, you will generally be able to save some money with points at the very least. Even if the redemption won’t pay for the entire flight, I guarantee there is some way to use frequent flyer points to save money. Here are some of my favourite techniques and if you read to the end you can find out how I saved 50% on my own flight to Europe using frequent flyer points.
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    How to look for reward flights to Europe

    The Scottish Highlands
    Although London is the most common starting point for many people heading to Europe, several large airports throughout continental Europe will also have reward seats available. They may prove to be a better alternative. Reward flights tend to be priced by region or distance buckets, so flying to different parts of Europe will usually cost the same number of points, although taxes can vary. I’ve also pointed out previously that you should consider the partner airline route networks.
    To give you some inspiration, here are some routes I found exciting and good value:
    As you can see, you can find many flights with all reward programs representing good value. The taxes you pay are minimal, and they all use a similar number of points.
    Something to note is that Virgin allows you to pay 82,300 Points and no taxes, saving you $132.78. This means you are parting with an extra 22,500 points, almost enough to cover a flight from New York to Frankfurt (or vice versa), so I would save your points and use them elsewhere.
    For the return flight you can use a similar strategy. You won’t always find a direct flight between your airports so we need to use some tricks. Both Qantas and Virgin’s search engines won’t show all available reward seat options Finding your partner carrier’s route network can help you choose a return destination. Flying from Europe will require a stopover in all cases at the moment. This means finding flights between common stopover destinations can be a good bet.
    For example, I know Finnair flies from Helsinki to Hong Kong and Singapore and we also know that Qantas partners with Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong. Other common stopover airports are Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo, Dubai, Doha, Guangzhou and Taipei. This means we can combine multiple bookings and book the following flights:
    Booking these flights with Qantas points would have cost you 134,200 Points and $385 in taxes. This includes the initial leg to Helsinki with JAL as well as the return leg via Hong Kong. This may be reduced further if you use a combination of points, such as Krisflyer miles in one direction and Qantas points on the return, which I often find myself doing. For example the return flight can be booked via Munich on Singapore Airlines. This allows you to take advantage of Singapore Airlines’ generally lower taxes.

    Additional tips to make the search easier

    • Use a variety of miles to get to your destination. The best way to do this is to earn bonus points in flexible rewards points. These credit card points can later be converted to another airline’s frequent flyer miles. This means you can look for redemptions with many more partners and only convert them when you’ve found the right flight for you.
    • Don’t be afraid to fly to nearby airports. The option to fly to other airports is always there. If you want to go to the UK, look at flights to Paris, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, or Birmingham. From here, London will only be a short train ride or flight away, and the cost to you should be much less than if you had paid for the whole flight in cash.
    • Leave enough layover time if flights are booked on different itineraries. If you’ve booked separate flights as I did in one of the above examples, ensure the dates line up, and you have left enough layover time between flights to go through immigration and check your bag in again. Airlines won’t be responsible if you miss your connecting flight if they’re on separate tickets.

    What about intra-Europe flights?


    If you’re flying within Europe, several budget airline options present excellent deals. The cost can escalate if a few of you wish to sit together and all have check-in luggage. 

    You can use points for these flights, but I don’t think they’re as good value. Qantas, for example, lets you use your points on British Airways, Finnair, KLM and Air France flights in Europe, but they start at 14,000 Points and £37 up to 14,000 Points and more than £100, which considering these flights can be had for £60 when you pay cash is not worth your time.
    One attractive option is using British Airways points (Avios) to fly these routes. Taxes are minimal here, and the points value can be much better. For example, a one-way London to Rome flight can be had for 12,750 Points and £0.50. Collecting Avios is a bit harder for Australians but not impossible. One option is to transfer your miles at a 1:1 conversion rate from Qatar Airways if you have any. Acquiring Avios has become slightly easier ever since American Express announced Qatar as a transfer partner. They present great value for short distance flights, especially with British Airways’ extensive European network.

    Examples of possible redemptions

    Example 1: Using your sign-up bonus

    A person from Sydney travelling for a 14 day European tour starting and ending in Paris in October. The tour dates are fixed and it runs from the 2nd to 16th October. They have a 100,000 Qantas points and 100,000 Krisflyer points acquired from credit card sign up bonuses.
    The good:
    • Points with different frequent flyer programs provides flexibility
    • Starting in a city with lots of hub airports nearby provides more options to land in
    The bad:
    • Dates are fixed for the tour meaning you have to travel by certain dates
    To offer price comparison, as of the date of writing, the cheapest Sydney to Paris return is $1800 via Seoul. No direct options were available as expected, and even the usual routes I would expect to have some availability were full. Here is the itinerary I have come up with. Let me know if you’ve thought of a better alternative.
    Date Route (Airline) Cost
    1st October 2023
    Sydney - Melbourne - Singapore (Jetstar)
    21,500 Qantas points + $150
    Singapore - Helsinki - Paris (Finnair)
    45,000 Qantas points + $97
    16th October 2023
    Paris - Singapore - Sydney (Singapore Airlines)
    95,000 Krisflyer points + $150
    The total cost here is 95,000 Krisflyer points and 66,500 Qantas points, totalling $397 in taxes. This has given you an out-of-pocket saving of $1400 compared to if you had paid in cash!
    This is a relatively good use of points as I tend to look at out-of-pocket costs. I’ve assumed you haven’t paid annual fees for the credit card bonuses (as is typical for many offers), and you’ve only spent money you would spend anyway. This means the cost to you of getting the points is negligible and shouldn’t be considered in the calculation.
    The Krisflyer program has two types of reward seats – Saver and Advantage. The Advantage seats have a few extras included and greater availability but are much more expensive. Given the dates we were limited to, no saver seats were available. The saver seat cost is 48,500 points compared to the 95,000 we paid. If he had another 1,000 miles, which is possible, a premium economy seat was available on the same flight for 101,000 points and the same amount of taxes (a much more valuable redemption).
    Given we didn’t find any saver seats which would have made the whole redemption possible with Krisflyer points, we had to use Qantas points which is where the difficulty came in. As I’ve mentioned before, Qantas points are more difficult to redeem. Luckily I found a Singapore to Paris flight on Finnair with meagre taxes; however, the Sydney to Singapore flight is suboptimal, being on a budget airline and transiting via Melbourne. An alternative, if desired, would be to purchase a flight with a budget airline such as Scoot, which flies Sydney to Singapore for approximately $350 on the same date, saving you some points to use for another time and a better redemption.
    The last thing to watch out for is the layover in Singapore. This will require checking in your bags again in Singapore, for which I have allowed a 3.5-hour layover time to facilitate this. The return flight won’t have this issue as it is all ticketed with the same airline; now, on to the following example.

    Example 2: Finding points with limited points flexibility

    A person wants to visit London for their friend’s wedding on the 3rd of September 2023. They have 2 weeks of leave available on either side of the date and have 175,000 Qantas points to use for a trip from two credit card sign up bonuses. They have no firm plans for the 2 weeks around the wedding date but need to be in London on the 3rd.
    The good:
    • Somewhat flexible dates apart from the fixed event date
    • Just off peak travel time meaning a greater chance of redeeming flights
    The bad:
    • Only has points with one frequent flyer program limiting flexibility
    We’ll start by seeing how much a cash fare would cost us. For simplicity, I will again look at economy seats to make comparison easier. The cheapest currently available flight is $3200 for September, which is approximately five months in advance of my writing of this article.
    Date Route (Airline) Cost
    30th August 2023
    Sydney - Los Angeles (Qantas)
    41,900 points + $210
    Los Angeles - London (American Airlines)
    31,500 points + $227
    17th September 2023
    Barcelona - Calgary - Los Angeles (Westjet)
    45,000 points + $92
    Los Angeles - Sydney (Qantas)
    41,900 points + $130
    This gives us a total cost of $659 and 160,300 Qantas points which means we have saved over $2500 compared to booking with cash and have ended up with some reasonably good flights in terms of minimal transit times and minimal changes.
    I wanted to discuss a few quirks when making this booking. When initially looking at Sydney to London bookings, the only options were 3-stop flights via Los Angeles and Dallas before going to London, leading to a 30-hour journey and almost $600 in taxes! By searching for separate flights to Los Angeles and then to London, I found two direct flights with a slightly higher points cost (about 15,000 points more) but significantly less hassle and taxes. Although the LAX layover is lengthy at about 12 hours, it gives you some opportunity to break up the journey if desired.
    The flights are still somewhat close to the European summer, so reward availability was not great. I had to focus my search on finding reward flights to Australia before deciding where to focus my attention on the flights arriving and departing from Europe. This is because reward flights to Australia are much harder to redeem, especially with Qantas Frequent Flyer points. This being said availability between Australia and the US is limited to either Qantas or American Airlines, with not much scope outside of this. However, the new partner Fiji Airways offers some additional possibilities. Outside of this, we had more flexibility with our flights between the US and Europe. The incoming flight I booked to go directly into London given the wedding on the 3rd of September. This came at the cost of more significant taxes as Heathrow is a relatively expensive airport to fly into and out of. We had more flexibility on the return journey, with the origin point not being fixed. While a flight from London was available, we would pay about $450 in taxes to make the journey. I instead played around with the booking engine and found the Westjet flight that costs significantly less and still offers a decent flight time despite the connection to Los Angeles.
    An important lesson here is the booking engine might present options to you that are not the best route to fly, as seen with our initial search:
    This means that it is sometimes better to test your options and see if a more viable route is available. In my experience Sydney to Los Angeles tends to have a good amount of reward availability in economy and from here finding flights to Europe is much easier. If you were redeeming Krisflyer miles then you should consider looking at flights to Los Angeles, San Franciso and Houston on United Airlines and attempt a similar strategy.

    Example 3: How I saved 50% on a peak time ticket

    I wanted to travel from London to Sydney around Christmas time. Most people would agree that this is already one of the most expensive times to fly to and from Australia. I had 100,000 Avios and 120,000 Krisflyer miles to spend, and cash fares were more than $4,000 for Economy Class! Unfortunately my travel wasn’t flexible and I had to be there during these dates owing to leave restrictions.
    The good:
    • Points with different frequent flyer programs provides flexibility
    • High cash fare means potential for more value per point (remember the flight cost in points doesn’t change for most reward programs)
    The bad:
    • Fixed dates of travel (give or take a couple of days)
    • Peak travel period limits reward availability
    As mentioned above, the cash fare for this ticket was an eye-watering $4,500 at the time of writing. While admittedly, the booking was rather last minute, the circumstances were out of my control. Having a look at my reward options was depressing. Most airlines were out of reward seats out of Sydney and any other major city in Australia. Even flights to Singapore were limited despite this generally having higher reward availability. I did manage to find some reward flights from London to Bangkok however, the flights from Bangkok to Sydney were about $2,500 meaning I wasn’t saving much in the grand scheme of things once taking into account some airlines high taxes.
    While most of the time booking a one-way cash ticket is near enough the same as booking a return flight, in this case it wasn’t true. Most of the cheap seats at this time were long gone, leaving to most expensive “flexible” class of tickets available. This means that in most cases the one-way ticket was about half the cost of the return ticket. I could use this to my advantage.
    I resigned myself to paying cash for one leg of the flight – from Sydney to London which cost about $1800. I could now use the fact that reward availability between the UK and USA is generally quite high. This allowed me to find a flight from London to San Francisco with Avios paying only $150 (£75) in taxes and 35,000 points. Not bad value at all!
    Next step was getting from San Francisco to London. Luckily Krisflyer shows all United Airlines availability (which also happens to be a Velocity partner). United Airlines flies twice a day between San Franciso and Sydney meaning there were reward seats available for this route. While slightly pricier at 66,000 points for a one way ticket, I only paid $40 in taxes with this.
    All up for a little over 100,000 points and less than $200 in taxes I could pay for one leg of the flight. The return leg showed no availability meaning I paid for the return flight on my own. Despite this I paid $1,800 for that ticket plus the $200 for the points ticket giving us a total of $2,000 spent. This is a more than 50% saving on the cash fare. Not bad at all for a last minute ticket with inflexible dates.

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