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5 Ways to Use Miles to Fly Business Class at Economy Rates

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Think scoring a lie-flat business class trip for a big trip abroad requires saving, and then blowing hundreds of thousands of miles? You're not alone … but you're wrong.

Many travelers assume splurging for a big business class redemptions means you're wasting miles that could cover a few extra trips flying economy. I get it: Some of these seats just look expensive. Heck, they are if you're paying cash.

But focusing on some of the best sweet spots scattered across different airlines and frequent flyer programs allows you to book a lie-flat seat for the mileage rates that you'd typically see for a cramped economy seat – or close to it. And earning transferrable credit card points from banks like Chase, Amex, or Capital One can get you the miles you need to make it a reality

Here are some of our favorite options for booking business class for the price of economy.

Want deals like these & more to fly business class for less? Sign up for Thrifty Traveler Premium!



Biz Class to Madrid from 34K Each Way

You can generally expect to fork over around 70,000 miles for roundtrip flights to Europe, give or take a few thousand. For as low as just 68,000 miles, you can make the trip across the pond in lie-flat business class seats instead.


iberia business class redemption


It's all thanks to Iberia, which offers one of the cheapest ways to fly business class to Europe – and one of the best deals in the world of points and miles, period. Other airlines like American charge nearly 60,000 miles or more each way for these exact same flights … while you'll regularly pay 300,000 SkyMiles or more with Delta. Using Iberia Avios miles (or even British Airways Avios), it's just 34,000 miles each way to Madrid (MAD) and an extra $125 or so in fees.

Regular transfer bonuses from banks like Chase and Amex to British Airways and Iberia can make it even cheaper on points, like this deal we found earlier this year. With lie-flat flights to Spain next year as low as 27,000 points, that's definitely less than most airlines charge for economy!


premium deal iberia


Get alerts to book points and miles deals like this one with Thrifty Traveler Premium!

You need to time it right, though: You'll need 50,000 miles for flights during Iberia's peak season like summer and around holidays, while off-peak flights clock in at the lowest rate of 34,000 miles. And Iberia's distance-based award pricing system means you'll need to fly nonstop from a handful of East Coast cities like Boston (BOS), New York City (JFK), or Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD) to score these rates. Luckily for Midwesterners, Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) works at this price, too.

Don't live there? Use positioning flights to take advantage of this deal!

Iberia's business class is comfortable and solid, with lie-flat seats and great food onboard. It makes the trek to Madrid and back a breeze.


iberia business class seats


Read our full review of Iberia business class


How to Book It

Iberia miles couldn't be easier to earn – and you don't even have to step foot on an Iberia flight to get them.

It's easy to earn Iberia Avios, as they're one of the many Chase transfer partnersCiti transfer partners, and Amex transfer partners. That means you can easily earn the miles you need with cards like the *chase sapphire preferred* or the *amex gold*, among other options.

Plus, you can now book these same flights using British Airways Avios for the same mileage and cash cost. That also means you can easily use points from the *venture x*, as British Airways is a Capital One transfer partner.

Finding the availability to actually book these business class seats with miles can be fairly easy, too – especially if you're looking far in advance. Unless you're getting award alerts to your inbox with Thrifty Traveler Premium, starting your search on American Airlines' website is the best place to start. Just beware of a new quirk that could make it tougher to find seats for two or more.

Read our full guide to booking Iberia business class!


A One-Way Flight to Lisbon for 35K

This one only works on the way over to Europe, not the trip back. But it's too good not to make this list.

United will charge you 44,000 miles for a one-way flight from New York City (JFK) to Lisbon (LIS) with TAP Air Portugal in economy. Turn to another airline's mileage program, and you can book a lie-flat business class seat on the same flight for fewer points: just 35,000 miles.


TAP Business Class


It's LifeMiles, the quirky mileage program of the Colombian airline Avianca. While its website is finicky and customer service is hit-or-miss, it can be worth putting up with it for incredible sweet spots like this one.

It's a bit of a unicorn in LifeMiles' portfoli, as it only works on one single route: New York City (JFK) to Lisbon. LifeMiles charges 63,000 miles for nearly all business class awards to Europe or back. Oddly, even a flight from Newark (EWR) or the return flight back to JFK from Lisbon will cost you the full 63,000 miles.

But what's amazing is that it costs just 5,000 miles more than taking the exact same flight in economy. If you can, snag a flight on TAP's shiny new Airbus A330-900neo with the airline's best business class seats.


TAP Air Portugal business class


Check out our full review of TAP Air Portugal business class on this aircraft!


How to Book It

First, pop an Aspirin. Headaches are almost always a given when dealing with LifeMiles and its website.

Start by turning to United.com to search for award availability, as it's easily the best site for finding seats bookable with points and miles on almost any Star Alliance airline. Its newer interface isn't our favorite, so follow our tips to pull up the old search tool.

For example, these nonstop flights from New York to Lisbon that show up at 88,000 miles each way should be bookable for 35,000 miles via LifeMiles. Just make sure it's actually departing from JFK – not Newark.


tap search united


But even when you find what you're looking for, there's no guarantee you'll find it when repeating that search with LifeMiles. If your search comes up empty, try switching from “Smart Search” to “Star Alliance” or even the specific airline you're aiming to fly before hitting enter. Otherwise, we regularly see that LifeMiles doesn't see the same award availability that other airlines like United and Air Canada get.

Its website may be a pain, but actually getting LifeMiles has gotten far easier over the years.

A few years back, American Express added LifeMiles as a transfer partner. That means you can transfer points from your amex_plat or the *amex gold* to your LifeMiles account – and these transfers are typically instantaneous. LifeMiles is also one of the best Capital One transfer partners if you've got a big stash of Venture Miles after opening either the *venture x* or the *capital one venture card*. LifeMiles is a Citi ThankYou transfer partner and a Bilt Rewards transfer partner, too.


Japan & Back for 90K Or Less

When you're flying 10-plus hours to Tokyo, a lie-flat seat is a game changer. But most airlines will charge you at least 60,000 miles for a one-way seat in business class. If you're using Delta SkyMiles, expect to pay 100,000 miles for economy – and quadruple that for business class.

But flying Japan's own All Nippon Airways – more commonly referred to as ANA – there's a way to get to Tokyo and back for as low as just 45,000 points each way – and sometimes even less! It involves yet another booking workaround: Instead of using ANA's own Mileage Club program, you'll turn to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

Despite raising ANA first class award rates last year, business class redemptions remained untouched. And get this: With Virgin, it costs just 45,000 points each way from the West Coast – or 47,500 points from the Midwest or East Coast! 

Oh, and frequent 30% transfer bonuses from banks like Chase, Amex, and Capital One can make it even cheaper: as low as just 35,000 points if you time it right! Compared to the 110,000 miles each way United Airlines would charge you for the same seats, that's a huge bargain. 

All of ANA's business class seats are excellent, but the new ANA The Room business class suites are out of this world. They may just dethrone Qatar Airways' Qsuites for the mantle of the best business class in the world.

ana business class seat

Read our full review of flying ANA's “The Room” business class from Chicago to Tokyo!

Virgin Atlantic tacks on a few hundred bucks in taxes and fees each way: about $275, give or take a few dollars. But that's a small price to pay to fly like this.

The trick is finding award availability to actually book at these ultra-low rates … and that can be easier said than done. 


How to Book It

These days, finding award availability for ANA business class can be a real chore. Whether you book through Virgin Atlantic, another Star Alliance partner program, or ANA Mileage Club itself, the airline typically only releases business class awards just two weeks before departure, and sometimes even closer. You may need to procrastinate to pull this off. 

Every once in a while, though, the floodgates open. And when it happens, we alert our Thrifty Traveler Premium members.

ANA Business class Virgin


ANA Business Class fares



Whether you get an alert like this in your inbox or find a few seats yourself, your next step must be picking up the phone.

Unfortunately, you can't book ANA flights online using Virgin Atlantic miles. But Virgin's agents are well-equipped to help you out, so call them up at 1-800-365-9500 and feed them the information on the flights you'd like to book. Once they confirm the flights are bookable, transfer your points and book! 

One more advantage to booking via Virgin Atlantic aside from these record-low rates? You can even book one-ways – something that isn't allowed when redeeming ANA Mileage Club miles.


Roundtrips to Anywhere in Europe for 100K

This go-around, it's time to use ANA Mileage Club … but not for flights to Japan.

Can you get to Europe in economy for less than 100,000 miles roundtrip? Sure, you absolutely can. But this workaround is so versatile and such a bargain, it's worth including here.

For just 100,000 miles roundtrip, you can fly business class on almost any Star Alliance carrier from North America to Europe and back. Even after a recent increase, this redemption is still unbeatable, so be sure to read our full walkthrough on how to book business class flights to Europe using ANA miles.

While your options for airlines are long, you'll want to focus on a handful of carriers for which ANA won't pass on hefty cash fees and surcharges. Your best bets are United Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Air Canada, LOT Polish, and SAS. For example, you can book this ticket from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Barcelona (BCN) for just 100,000 miles and less than $46.


united barcelona via ana


Not bad, right? Especially if you can snag one of the excellent United Polaris business class seats both ways – and hop into the United Polaris Lounge in Chicago, too.


united polaris seat


How to Book It

ANA is one of the absolute best transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards. That means you can transfer the points you earn from *amex platinum* or the *amex gold* straight to your ANA account.

With record-high bonuses of up to 75,000 points available on the American Express Gold Card after spending $6,000 within six months available via CardMatch, that's a strong option – and it's even better if you find a way to get a targeted for the 90,000-point bonus directly from Amex for the Gold Card.

But beware: While most transfers from Amex are instantaneous, these transfers to ANA can take a day or two to hit your account. That could put you in a time crunch if you're looking to book award space that could disappear. And when you're using ANA to book, you have to book roundtrip – one-ways aren't allowed (though a multi-city trip is easy to pull off!)

Availability to book these flights with ANA miles can come and go, depending on which carrier you're hoping to fly over to Europe and back. We've seen plenty of United Polaris seats available over to several cities, including for a trip to London later this month or next fall.


united polaris award alert


Get award alerts for cheap business class seats using your miles with Thrifty Traveler Premium!


Book Delta One for 50K Points … But Not With SkyMiles

It's one of the best deals in the world of points and miles. And while it's been nearly impossible to pull off for the last few years, the door has re-opened recently.

Delta regularly charges 300,000 SkyMiles for a one-way flight to Europe at the front of the plane … if not more. No joke: Delta wanted at least 375,000 SkyMiles for a business class seat on this flight from New York City (JFK) to Munich (MUC) next summer. No, thank you.

jfk to munich delta skymiles 

But if you time it right, you can book that exact same flight – same day, same flight, same lie-flat seat – for just 50,000 points through Virgin Atlantic instead. That's right: Less than a quarter of the price. Time it with a transfer bonus like the current 30% bonus from Capital One to Virgin, and it's even cheaper: Just 39,000 points! 

jfk to munich virgin 

Read our full guide on how to book Delta flights via Virgin Atlantic!

Trust us, you can do it … but making this happen is easier said than done. Finding the award availability through Virgin Atlantic to actually book these Delta business class seats can be a chore.

Still, we're always digging for when these flights pop up and alerting our Thrifty Traveler Premium members when they do, like this unicorn alert we recently sent via email (and text message, too!) for wide-open award space between New York City and Munich as well as Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) and Dublin (DUB) this summer!

Unicorn alert 

These seats are gone now, get the next award alert for open Delta One seats to Europe with Thrifty Traveler Premium!

Availability like this tends to come in waves. That's exactly what happened: On the same day, we sent another alert for a chance to book Delta One between several U.S. and European cities this winter and spring.

delta one alert

How to Do It

Once you get the heads up that it's time to book, earning the 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles you need to book one of these flights is a piece of cake.

That’s because you can transfer points to Virgin Atlantic from Chase, American Express, Capital One, Bilt Rewards and Citi. But these banks have frequently offered transfer bonuses of 30% or more to Virgin Atlantic, which could bring down the cost to just 39,000 credit card points. It doesn't get much better than that!

Just remember: Never transfer credit card points to your airline account until after you've confirmed the flights you want to book are available.

Read next: Save Points When Booking Flights: Transfer Them to an Airline Partner


Bottom Line

Flying business class doesn't have to break your piggy bank of points.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are some of the best ways to book business class seats using points and miles – and using fewer of them than you might expect for a big trip abroad at the back of the plane.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

4 Responses

  • If I purchased a flight to Japan on ANA and paid cash, could I use Virgin Atlantic points to upgrade to business class?

    • No, unfortunately. That kind of upgrade using miles from a partner airline isn’t possible.

  • Hello Kyle,

    I’m a Thrifty Traveler Premium Member and I enjoy reading many of the articles.

    However, the majority of airfare deals to Europe, that Thrifty Traveler researches and reports to members, depart from east coast hub airports. I’ve read articles about great deals, departing LAX to Asia, Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, etc. Occasionally there will be an article about airfare deals from LAX to Europe.

    Keep up the great work!


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