Editor’s note: The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips. Health officials note that the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel. We are publishing travel deals because we should all use this time to think about and plan our next adventures. TPG doesn’t advise booking trips for travel until the late spring or early summer – and even then be mindful of cancellation policies.
Central Europe is well-known for its Christmas markets. From Munich to Vienna, the major Central European cities host Christmas markets every year, giving both tourists and locals a place to purchase handicrafts and indulge in local cuisine while getting in the holiday spirit. And since these markets don’t open until late-November, this may be a solid option to start planning now while waiting out the global coronavirus outbreak.
If you want to see Christmas markets for yourself (and arrive in comfort), now may be your chance. We’re seeing a ton of business-class award space on Star Alliance carriers from the U.S. to Central Europe in early December, and many flights have more than four seats available. Most flights are operated by United — including some with true Polaris seating — but we’re also seeing wide-open availability on Austrian, Lufthansa and other European Star Alliance carriers on select dates.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s currently available.
In This Post Should you book travel now?
As noted in our introduction, now is not the time to be traveling. There’s too much uncertainty due to the coronavirus outbreak, with many airlines cutting routes and some countries restricting entry by foreign nationals. On the flip side, now may be a good time to start planning travel for later in the year. Award space is wide-open, and it will give you something to look forward to while the coronavirus outbreak is being contained.
Regardless, there is still some risk involved when booking travel for later in the year. While we’re crossing our fingers that the outbreak will be contained by the end of the year, there’s always a chance that it could continue for much longer. To be safe, make sure that you understand the penalties of changing or canceling award tickets before you book these flights, and take into account any coronavirus waivers that may come into play.
Likewise, keep an eye on the CDC’s website when it’s time to travel.
Available award space (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
We’ve found nonstop award space for four or more people to Berlin (TXL), Munich (MUC), Frankfurt (FRA), and Vienna (VIE) from a number of United’s international hubs. The majority of these flights are operated by United Airlines but some — namely the flights to Vienna and Frankfurt — may be operated by other Star Alliance partners like Austrian or Lufthansa. December is a great time to see the Christmas markets, but note that much of the award availability continues into January.
Additionally, award space may be available for other airports that have connecting service to the hub airports listed below. So if United flies from your home airport to one of these hubs, search for tickets from your home airport to the destination of your choice. You may be able to tag on a connecting flight for free if award space is available — especially if you’re a United credit card holder.
READ MORE: Unlocking additional award availability with United credit cards
Finally, you may be able to find award space on other dates if booking for fewer than four people. This list only includes flights that have four or more business class award seats available at the time of writing this article.
Outbound: December 1-16 and 21-31 Inbound: December 1-31; January 1 and 5-31
Outbound: December 1-5, 7-9, 11-12, 14-16, 23 and 25-31 Inbound: December 1-5, 7-11, 13-18, 20-25 and 27-31; January 1, 5-9 and 11-31
Outbound: December 1-3, 5-10, 13-16, 21-24 and 27-30 Inbound: December 1-24 and 27-29; January 5 and 8-31 Houston (IAH)
Outbound: December 1-10, 13-16, 21 and 23-31 Inbound: December 1-6, 8-10, 12-17 and 19-31; January 6, 9-14 and 16-31
Outbound: December 2-3, 5-6, 9, 13, 23-24, 27 and 30-31 Inbound: December 3, 5, 7, 10, 14, 21, 24-26 and 28; January 8-9, 11, 15-16, 18, 22-23, 25 and 29-30 Newark (EWR)
Outbound: December 5, 8, 12, 14, 21, 24, 26 and 28-31 Inbound: December 1, 6, 8-10, 13, 15-27 and 29; January 5-14, 16-17, 19-21, 23-28 and 30-31
Outbound: December 2-5, 7-10, 14, 17, 23-25 and 28-31 Inbound: December 1-5, 7-10 and 12-31; January 1 and 5-31
Outbound: December 1-6, 7-10, 13-16, 22-23 and 27-31 Inbound: December 1-3, 5, 8-10, 13-17 and 20-31; January 5-10, 12-21, 23-28 and 30-31
Outbound: December 1-16 and 30 Inbound: December 1-17, 22-25 and 29-31; January 1, 6-8 and 10-31 San Francisco (SFO)
Outbound: 1-7, 9-11, 13-16 and 23-31 Inbound: December 1-2, 4-5, 7-16 and 19-28; January 5, 8, 12-14 and 16-31
Outbound: 2-4, 6-7, 9-10, 13-14, 23-24 and 27-31 Inbound: 1-3, 5, 8, 10, 13-14, 16, 20, 23 and 27; January 7, 12-14, 16-17, 19-24, 27-28 and 30-31
Outbound: December 1-16 and 30 Inbound: December 1-17, 22-25 and 29-31; January 1, 6-8 and 10-31 Washington-Dulles (IAD)
Outbound: December 1-10, 12-16 and 22-31 Inbound: December 1-31; January 1, 4-7, 9-14 and 16-31
Outbound: December 1-10, 13-14, 23-24 and 26-31 Inbound: December 1-3, 5, 7-10, 13-17 and 19-31; January 4-31
Inbound: December 1-4, 6-11, 13-15, 23-24, 27-28 and 30-31 Outbound: December 1-4, 6-11, 13-16, 20-21, 23-25, 27-28 and 30; January 6, 10-11, 13-15, 17-18, 20-22, 24-25, 27-29 and 31 How to book
All of the tickets I’ve highlighted are operated by a Star Alliance carrier, so you have a number of different options when it comes to booking these tickets. If you have American Express Membership Rewards points and want to book a round-trip ticket, you may want to consider booking with ANA Mileage Club. You can’t book one-way tickets with ANA, but a round-trip business class ticket from the U.S. to Europe costs just 88,000 miles per person. ANA does charge high taxes and fees on some partners (like Swiss), but a round-trip ticket on United from Newark (EWR) to Munich (MUC) will set you back just $160.14 per person.
Alternatively, you can book one-way flights by transferring your Membership Rewards points to Avianca LifeMiles. A one-way business class award ticket costs 63,000 LifeMiles per person one-way, and you’re subject to just $5.60 in taxes and fees when departing the U.S. on United, Lufthansa or a number of other Star Alliance carriers.
Further, travelers with Membership Rewards points or Capital One miles can transfer points to Air Canada Aeroplan too. Aeroplan charges 55,000-57,500 miles per person for a one-way business class award from North America to Europe (depending on the final destination), but there are a couple of things to be aware of.
RELATED: Best ways to redeem Capital One miles on Star Alliance airlines
First off, Aeroplan’s website is notoriously buggy and customer support can be tough to reach. This can make actually booking the ticket tough, so make sure to read up on the risks before you transfer to Aeroplan. Additionally, fuel surcharges are high on certain carriers like Lufthansa. That being said, you can still book tickets on United for just 55,000 miles and $7.90 CAD ($5.60 USD) in taxes when departing the U.S.
Finally, travelers with Chase Ultimate Rewards points can transfer points to United to book the previously discussed awards. United no longer publishes an official award chart, but you can expect to redeem 60,000 MileagePlus miles and minimal taxes and fees for a one-way business class ticket to Europe on a United flight.
Unfortunately, booking on a partner airline requires a small premium — in this case 70,000 miles each way, though again with minimal taxes and fees.
Planning for the future
If you’re still not comfortable locking in any travel at this point but want to be in a position to do so in the future, now is a great time to focus your energy on transferable point currencies. These give you an incredible amount of flexibility when it comes to booking award travel, so you’d be able to jump on a great deal like this. If you don’t currently earn points with programs like these, here are some great options:
American Express® Gold Card: Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership — though be sure to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’re targeted for an even higher bonus (offer subject to change at any time). You’ll also enjoy 4x points at restaurants worldwide plus 4x points at supermarkets up to $25,000 in spending each year (then 1x). Terms apply. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening. You’ll also earn 2x points on all travel and dining purchases and enjoy an array of protections when it’s safe to travel again — including primary car rental coverage. Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 2x miles on all purchases and can redeem your miles at a fixed value to cover any travel purchase or utilize one of the program’s solid transfer options. Bottom line
While now isn’t the time to travel, it may be a good time to start hashing out future travel if you understand the risks. Speculatively booking award tickets for the end of the year might ensure a great deal if the coronavirus outbreak is contained, but there is a chance that you’ll need to rebook for 2021. However, if all goes well, you and your family will undoubtedly enjoy all that Central Europe’s Christmas markets have to offer.
Leave us a comment if you booked one of these award tickets to Central Europe — or another destination with solid award availability.
Feature image by S.Borisov/Shutterstock
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