The Amazing Return on Your Miles When Flying International Business Class

There is one simple reason why I so avidly collect and write about points and miles.  I truly love to travel.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Points and miles allow us to travel more often, and in many cases, more luxuriously.  And if there is one area in which “luxury” really shows itself, it’s when flying international business class.  If you have never flown this way, it’s a truly Rolls Royce experience compared to the Smart Car experience of international coach.  Today’s post is going to show you just how valuable your miles can be when redeemed for international business class.  It involves patience, planning, and traveling less often due to the increased number of miles required, but it is a terrific way to fly.

Before I dive into the details through a very simple example, please understand something.  There are a lot of points and mile bloggers out there, and the majority are writing about international business class because it’s what people aspire to.  Most of these bloggers are single or married with no kids, so they usually only need one or two tickets.  As a husband and father of two kids, my domestic flying involves having enough points for four people.  Marci and I only go international every few years, and when we do go, it’s just the two of us.  So, I generally try to blog from a family travel standpoint more than a couples’ standpoint.  But this article should really shed some light on what is possible with your miles.  You really can travel in a style you may not have thought you could.  Let’s get to it.

What better way to illustrate this than through an example?

Let’s look at flights from Atlanta to Paris in late April of 2016 (note: these screen shots are a few days old, so the results for the dates you see in this example may no longer hold, but the message remains the same).  We need to consider cash vs. miles and coach vs. business class.  I am using Air France instead of Delta for my screen shots because I can possibly find 50,000 miles round trip coach tickets instead of whatever random mysterious number of required miles Delta will throw at me.  Let’s start with coach and work our way up.  Here are flights in each direction in coach.

 

So, that’s 25,000 miles plus about 80 bucks to get to Paris

 

And 25,000 miles plus about 94 bucks to get back.  All totaled, that’s 50,000 miles plus $174.  Not bad at all for a coach trip to Europe!

Now, what does it cost for the same flights in Business Class?

It’s 62,500 miles plus about $225 just to get there.  That’s over twice as many miles for just one direction as coach was round trip, so you’re probably thinking “where is the value in that”?  Hang tight guys.

It’s another 62,500 miles plus $341 to get back.  All totaled, that’s 125,000 miles plus $566 for the round trip business class ticket.  For people who do not travel for work or who do not sign up for credit cards to get fat sign up bonuses, that number of miles would take an eternity to accumulate, and that’s why sign up bonuses are your best friend.  Both Citi ThankYou points and American Express Membership Reward points can be transferred to Air France’s Flying Blue program, and there are lots of cards that earn those types of points!

Now, back to the value proposition of business class.  Let’s suppose I took the same flights, but I paid cash.  This time, we will look at the two fare classes together:

To get to Paris, it’s $756 in cash or $4,326 in Business Class. 

 

To get home, it costs $815 in coach or $4,431 in Business Class.

Now, let’s total it up. 

Coach: $1571 in cash or 50,000 miles + $174 in fees. 

Business class: $8757 in cash or 125,000 miles plus $566 in fees.

Since I have to pay fees when using miles, let’s subtract those out so we can see how many cents per mile in value we are getting.  For coach, it’s ($1571 – $174) / 50,000, which comes out to about 2.8 cents per mile in value.  That’s actually terrific value for your miles.  BUT…

For business class, it’s ($8757 – $566) / 125,000, which comes out to a tremendous 6.6 cents per mile.  It’s also 2.4 times as much value from your miles when compared to coach.  So, yes, you have to use a lot more miles, which means saving up for them, but a) you are getting more than twice the value from your miles and b) you are going to get much more than twice the quality in your flying experience!

Now, a few things to point out. 

  • First, I have seen much higher rates of return in business class than what I just showed you. When I booked our trip to Greece in 2014, I got over 8 cents per mile.
  • Business class flying may be completely irrelevant to you. Many of you reading this will rightly say “I couldn’t care less about business class.  I just want to get there.”  No worries, guys.  What is important is knowing what you want from a points and miles standpoint and what it takes to get it.
  • Air France is just one of a ton of airlines that can get you from the US to Europe. Study them!  Learn where the sweet spots are in their award charts and then try to exploit them.

So what do you think?  Is it worth it to save your miles for Business Class, or do you want to suck it up, fly in coach, and have more experiences?

Hope you found this helpful.  If you enjoyed this article, please share it or email it so others can learn from it as well.  Let’s help as many people as we can!

 

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