Based on the emails I get and the requests I receive through the Points Consulting service, “flying business class to Europe” seems to be one of the most popular objectives among points collectors in Canada.
So in this post, we’ll outline the nine best airlines for Canadians to redeem their miles for a luxurious flight across the pond. For each airline, I’ll comment on the ideal points currency to use, which routes to search for, and how the availability patterns have been looking as of late.
What ranks a transatlantic airline among the “best”? Well, all of the airlines listed here allow you to fly across the Atlantic in a lie-flat seat, with minimal fuel surcharges, and in a way that provides a good value for miles that you can easily collect in Canada.
If you’re planning a trip to Europe and are having a difficult time finding award availability, be sure to play around with all of these options to see if any of them might work for you.
1. Aer Lingus
Aer Lingus is the only non-Aeroplan redemption option I’d list among the “best” airlines when redeeming points for transatlantic business class. As a British Airways Avios partner, the Irish flag carrier serves multiple points within North America, doesn’t levy any fuel surcharges, and provides easy onward connections to the rest of Europe.
Right now, Aer Lingus’s sole Canadian route is Toronto–Dublin, which can be redeemed for 50,000 Avios in business class on off-peak dates and 60,000 Avios on peak dates. Avios can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio from both American Express Membership Rewards and RBC Avion, so that’s a pretty attractive price point.
The airline was also supposed to launch a Montreal–Dublin route this summer, although that’s been postponed to next summer due to delivery issues with the new A321-LR aircraft. When it launches, you’ll be able to redeem only 31,750 Avios in business class on off-peak dates, which is an incredible deal!
Meanwhile, residents of Western Canada can consider redeeming Avios on the Seattle–Dublin route, which will cost 62,500 Avios on off-peak dates (the peak price of 75,000 Avios is significantly less compelling). They’ll have to travel to Seattle on a separate award, though – perhaps using a cheap award on Alaska miles.
Speaking of which, you can in fact book Aer Lingus flights using Alaska miles as well. The price for a standard award is 60,000 Alaska miles one-way.
Alaska miles are generally regarded as best used for premium redemptions to Asia, so it’s debatable whether you’d want to drop 60,000 Alaska miles on an Aer Lingus flight. However, it might present a better value than Avios for those living in Western Canada, since you can string together the Alaska Airlines flight down to Seattle and the Aer Lingus flight to Dublin (and perhaps beyond!) on a single itinerary, rather than booking separate awards more expensively using Avios.
Aer Lingus is quite generous with award availability, and I’ve been able to find two business class seats on the Toronto route while searching as little as one month in advance – and I’ve seen three seats on quite a few occasions as well.
Aer Lingus award space shows up on the Alaska website, but not the Avios website, so if you’re redeeming Avios then you must search for space separately (using ExpertFlyer, the Alaska website, or the United website) and then call British Airways to book. There seems to be a very slight amount of fuel surcharges, resulting in overall taxes and fees of about $130 per direction.
I haven’t personally flown Aer Lingus business class, but my girlfriend Jessica said she had a pleasant experience when she flew with them last year. They’ve got a decent-looking staggered business class configuration (including ultra-private “throne” seats), and friendly service with a healthy dose of Irish charm.
2. Brussels Airlines
Brussels Airlines flies transatlantically from Brussels to Toronto, Washington Dulles, and New York JFK, and you can redeem 55,000 Aeroplan miles for travel on any of these routes…
…at least, in theory.
The problem is that while Brussels Airlines used to be quite generous with award availability in business class, releasing at least two seats on multiple dates throughout the schedule, nowadays there’s virtually nothing available. Indeed, the summer of 2018 was the last time I recall seeing any business class space on the Toronto–Brussels route.
Now, this can obviously change at any point, but right now I wouldn’t put too much faith in flying Brussels Airlines business class on points. It’s a shame, because the 6pm departure from Toronto is perfectly timed for getting off work and heading to the airport, the central location of Brussels is ideal for onward connections, and they don’t levy any fuel surcharges.
Click here for my review of Brussels Airlines business class on the Airbus A330. They’ve got good food, excellent service, and lots of goodies for business class passengers at the end of the flight. Plus, they’re also introducing a new business class product at the moment, so I’d love for them to start releasing award space again so I can try it out.
Here’s an option out of left field: fly to Egypt first, then double-back to your destination in Europe. If you’re going somewhere like Turkey, Greece, or even Italy, it’s really not that much of a detour – and thanks to Egyptair’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is coming to Toronto as of October 3, 2019, you can do so in relative comfort.
While an Aeroplan redemption between North America and Cairo would cost you 82,500 miles in business class one-way, the good news is that you’ll still only pay 55,000 or 57,000 miles if you connect onwards from Cairo to a destination in Europe 1 or Europe 2, respectively.
Award space on Egyptair is generally quite plentiful, with the Toronto route virtually wide-open if you search far in advance. If you can’t find award space to/from Toronto, Egyptair will also be flying the 787 to Washington Dulles and New York JFK as well. In all cases, Egyptair does not levy any fuel surcharges.
(You’ll probably want to treat Egyptair’s older 777 aircraft as a last resort, since the seat isn’t fully lie-flat and the product is generally quite outdated.)
I haven’t flown Egyptair yet, but I’d expect the reverse herringbone seats on the new aircraft to be excellent, whereas the soft product might not necessarily be industry-leading. Also, note that Egyptair is a “dry” airline that doesn’t serve any alcohol, so keep that in mind if it matters to you. I’ve read that you can bring your own alcohol onboard and the crew will happily serve it to you, though…
4. LOT Polish Airlines
Poland’s national airline, LOT, has added several North American routes in recent years, and is now quite a popular choice for Canadians redeeming their miles to Europe. You’ll pay 57,500 Aeroplan miles for the flight from North America to Warsaw, although it’ll only be 55,000 miles if you connect to a destination in the Europe 1 zone.
The flagship Canadian route is Toronto–Warsaw, which is served by the airline’s relatively new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In addition to Warsaw, LOT also maintains hubs in other Polish cities and even Budapest as well.
As a result, their additional North American routes include:
Chicago–Warsaw, Chicago–Budapest, Chicago–Kraków
New York JFK–Warsaw, New York JFK–Budapest, Newark–Warsaw, Newark–Rzeszów (why?!)
Within Europe, LOT has excellent coverage of the Baltic region and Eastern Europe, so they’d be my first-choice carrier for planning a trip there; if you’re travelling to Western Europe, on the other hand, you may find it a bit of a detour to go through Poland on the way.
Business class space on LOT Polish Airlines is relatively easy to find if you’re searching far enough in advance; in particular, LOT is one of the easiest European awards to find departing straight out of Toronto.
Note that LOT levies a moderate amount of fuel surcharges, about $100 per direction. Unlike Air Canada or Lufthansa, these surcharges won’t break the bank, and you’ll still achieve a pretty great value for your miles despite them.
Click here for my review of LOT Polish Airlines business class on the Boeing 787. The seats aren’t the most advanced, but they’re perfectly fine for couples travelling together; meanwhile, I was pleasantly surprised by the food and service, the latter of which was very polished.
Scandinavian Airlines serves several North American cities out of their trio of hubs in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo. Unfortunately, the airline doesn’t fly to Canada, so you’ll need to connect somewhere in the US in order to get on one of these flights. The US cities with SAS flights are as follows:
Newark–Copenhagen, Newark–Stockholm, Newark–Oslo
Business class space on SAS is a bit hit or miss: sometimes I’ll struggle to find space despite looking well in advance, while other times I’ll stumble upon a pocket of award space over a certain period that’s one month from now. The Eastern US cities are definitely more generous with award space than the San Francisco route, where business class seats are very rare.
Given the sheer number of transatlantic routes that SAS operates, I’d recommend playing around with all of the above routing possibilities to see if you can find one flight across the pond that works for you – after that, you can then connect the dots on either side to get to and from where you want to go.
If you’re originating in Canada, you’ll need at least one connection in the US to fly with SAS (and potentially another connection in Europe if your final destination isn’t in Scandinavia), but it may be worthwhile in the name of avoiding fuel surcharges.
The airline uses a mixture of A330s and A340s on their North American routes, although the business class product is the same between both aircraft. However, they’re also in the process of adding Airbus A350s, which they’ll be launching on the Chicago–Copenhagen route in early 2020.
Click here for my review of SAS business class on the A330. The staggered seats are comfortable and visually pleasing, while the meal and service exceeded my expectations and left me highly impressed. I’d probably rank SAS as my favourite transatlantic business class product.
The Montreal–Zurich route on Swiss is by far one of the most straightforward ways for Canadians to fly to Europe, and it’s great that Swiss releases a healthy amount of business class seats on this route.
Through the US, Swiss also flies from Zurich to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York (both Newark and JFK), and San Francisco. In addition, there’s a New York JFK–Geneva route as well – don’t forget to check that one!
As is often the case with transatlantic flights, Swiss tends to release more space on the East Coast routes than the West Coast ones. Flights to Boston, Chicago, and New York are generally readily available if you search well in advance, whereas the LAX and SFO flights are much tougher to find. (I’ve seen pockets of wide-open business class space on the San Francisco route before, though that no longer seems to be the case.)
In addition, Swiss is also a very reliable airline for opening up last-minute award space, putting out a significant number of business class seats within two weeks of departure – even on the tougher-to-find West Coast routes! If you’re truly stuck in your trip planning process, it can be a pretty safe bet to book something in economy and then upgrading to Swiss business class when it opens up later.
If I had to pick one of these routes to book, I’d probably choose the evening departure out of Chicago, which uses Boeing 777 aircraft with newer and more spacious business class seats.
The Airbus A330s used on the Montreal and most other US routes are fine too, although some travellers find the seat to be too cramped. The Airbus A340, which serves Boston, is an older plane with some new interiors, so it should be a mostly pleasant experience as well.
Switzerland is located smack dab in the middle of Europe, and Zurich Airport is an absolute dream for transiting passengers, with 30-minute connections easily doable. Throw in the $0 in fuel surcharges, and you can’t go wrong flying Swiss across the pond.
Click here for my review of Swiss business class on the Boeing 777. Swanky “throne” seats are the highlight (though beware the tiny foot cubbies). Food was actually a little below my expectations, and the service seems to be hit or miss, but the overall “Swiss factor” makes this airline an ever-popular choice.
7. TAP Air Portugal
The Portuguese flag carrier TAP-danced its way into this list late last year, when it abolished fuel surcharges on Aeroplan bookings. Since then, its Toronto–Lisbon route has become one of the most popular ways for Canadians to redeem Aeroplan miles to Europe.
TAP has undergone significant expansion in recent years, with Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York (Newark and JFK), San Francisco, and Washington Dulles counting among their US destinations. Newark also has a direct flight to Porto as well.
Of all the airlines on this list, TAP Air Portugal is probably the easiest airline for locating business class award space. If you’re searching a few months in advance, finding space out of your desired gateway city shouldn’t pose much a problem at all.
(The exception, again, is the San Francisco flight – while TAP does make a few seats available on this route, it’s still much more limited compared to the Eastern cities. As a general rule of thumb, I’d say that travellers based in Western Canada would have a much easier time connecting through Toronto or the US East Coast rather than San Fransisco or Los Angeles.)
Geographically speaking, it’s not much of a detour to route through Portugal on the way to virtually anywhere in Europe, and Lisbon and Porto make for excellent 24-hour layovers as well. However, with Portugal being on the westernmost extremity of continental Europe, the downside here is that the flight times from North America are not very long, so it may be tough to get proper rest onboard.
Another random thing I like about TAP is the timing of the westbound flight to Toronto – with a 6:30pm departure and 9pm arrival, it’s one of the rare nighttime flights from Europe to North America, and really allows you to maximize your European vacation compared to most westbound flights which take place during the daytime.
Click here for my review of TAP Air Portugal business class on the Airbus A330. These days they’re running a newer A330-900neo to Toronto with direct aisle access from every seat, but the overall experience should be similar. I thought the food and service were good but not great, although with TAP’s lofty expansion plans, they should only improve as time goes on.
8. Turkish Airlines
Turkish Airlines flies to more countries than any other airline in the world, and naturally that includes a good handful of routes that benefit North American travellers. Both Toronto and Montreal are served (with the latter scheduled to receive the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner in 2020), in addition to nine cities in the US.
I’ve found that there’s almost no hope of understanding how Turkish Airlines business class availability works. They seem to add and remove the award space at will, and it’s not uncommon to see entire months’ worth of availability appear, then disappear, then reappear a bit later on. They also seem to “encourage” people to redeem miles for certain routes over others, releasing plenty of open seats to some cities while keeping a tight lid on others.
For example, when I searched for Turkish flights last week, the Houston and Miami flights to Istanbul were virtually wide-open throughout all 2019, whereas all the other cities showed zero seats throughout. (Alas, now the Houston and Miami flights have disappeared again, but I bet you they’ll be back soon enough.)
Also last week, I had noticed that after releasing almost zero space for months, a few random seats on the Toronto–Istanbul route suddenly popped up for late September. Now they’re gone as well, but a few seats on Montreal–Istanbul (which has also been rare) seem to have showed up!
Rule of thumb? If you see available seats that you like, book them as soon as possible, because they might be gone the very next day!
The downside to flying with Turkish is that it’s a pretty significant detour if you’re travelling anywhere in Western Europe. Having said that, Istanbul makes for a wonderful day tour (Turkish Airlines even organizes free ones for transiting passengers), and the Turkish Airlines onboard dining experience is also one to be savoured.
Oh, and remember how Turkish flies to more places than any other airline? Don’t sleep on their Cancún, Havana, and Panama City routes (well, do sleep on the lie-flat seats, but you know what I mean) – those could dig you out of a tight spot, providing that you’re willing to take a huge detour and play around with MPMs a bit!
I’ve reviewed two flights on Turkish Airlines business class: click here for the Boeing 777, and click here for the Airbus A330. Both feature similar, older business class products, with the former being in a tighter configuration than the latter, and both are in need of a refresh. That’ll take the form of the new Boeing 787s, which are just about coming into service now. Service on Turkish can be hit or miss, but the food and drink is where the airline earns its glowing reputation.
Lastly, United Airlines operates a vast transatlantic network and doesn’t levy any fuel surcharges on Aeroplan bookings, so you could redeem miles very efficiently for transatlantic travel on United.
Compared to the last few airlines we’ve enthused about, though, United tends to be a less popular choice. First of all, United business class isn’t very good at the moment, with lots of work still to be done until the new Polaris business class seats, which they announced years ago, are actually introduced on most aircraft.
United is also relatively stingy with business class award space. I’ve seen occasional award space for two people on certain select routes, like Chicago–Brussels, Newark–Amsterdam, Newark–Berlin, or Newark–Manchester, but the available dates tend to be few and far between.
Moreover, all of these flights are likely to be operated by older Boeing 767 aircraft that haven’t been retrofitted with proper Polaris seats yet, and you might even run into an eight-across configuration in business class instead. The horror!
I haven’t personally flown United transatlantic business class yet, and would probably wait until I can get the “true” Polaris experience to do so. Nevertheless, even a cramped 767 would probably still be better than flying in economy, so United should always be an option to keep in the back of your mind.
People are always asking me “what’s the best way to use my miles to fly to Europe in business class?”, and this post is designed to comprehensively answer that question. Between the above nine airlines, you should certainly be able to find some way of redeeming miles to cross the Atlantic that works for you. Eight of the nine airlines are booked with Aeroplan miles, while the lone outlier, Aer Lingus, can be booked with either Avios or Alaska miles.
Of course, if all these options fail you, there are yet more far-fetched possibilities you could try: redeeming 44,000 Etihad Guest miles on Royal Air Maroc, transferring HSBC Rewards points to Singapore KrisFlyer and booking JFK–Frankfurt on Singapore Airlines, aiming even higher and shooting for Lufthansa First Class, or getting a Super Elite friend of yours to help you book Air Canada business class with no fuel surcharges. Happy trip planning!