Important note: Qantas Point redemptions will change from 18 September 2019. The figures below show the pricing before/after the changes, e.g. 26,000/30,000 points.
Why are intra-European flights so bad?!
Because Europe is the land where the Ryanair and easyJet emerged. You’ll find most low-cost carriers will have 28-29 inches of seat pitch, similar to what you find on Jetstar and Tigerair here in Australia.
What’s more, in order to compete on price, even ‘full-service’ carriers like Iberia and Lufthansa have had to cram more seats in, averaging 29-30 inches of seat pitch. By comparison, Qantas and Virgin Australia are usually 30-31 inches on domestic flights—the extra space does make a difference.
The discrepancy in Business Class is even more stark. Whilst in Australia, the standard configuration is 2-2 with recliner seats:
in Europe, ‘Business Class’ usually means an Economy Class seat by the window or aisle with a table blocking the middle seat (so you don’t have another passenger next to you).
This means that it almost never makes sense to use your points on Business Class flights within Europe, except for
Madrid – Frankfurt on LATAM
With prices often at the AU$150-200 mark and occasionally as low as just $110 for this 2½-hour flight, this is a steal! You’ll get access to the Air Canada lounge departing Frankfurt or the refreshed Iberia lounge departing Madrid.
Onboard, you’ll fly in a respectable Business Class cabin, set up in a 2-2-2 configuration. (This is the same product that flies between Sydney and Auckland.)
If you can find a cheap cash fare, go for it! You’ll earn 1,375 Qantas Points from this flight,
Madrid – London on British Airways or Iberia
Given that these two airlines have the same parent company, they often put their best products on this 2½-hour flight between these two hubs.
On (usually just) one flight a day, you can find British Airways flying a Boeing 777, with their pretty outdated Club World product. Still, it’s better than a recliner seat.
However, the airline has a new Business Class product coming out on its Airbus A350 fleet in the second half of 2019. Some of the crew training flights are allocated to this route (mainly in August-September), so see if you can get a seat on one!
Iberia reliably puts an Airbus A340 on one daily flight to/from London, with direct aisle access for all passengers. You may also find lie-flat seats on flights to Gran Canaria and Tel Aviv.
Cash tickets start at $470 departing Madrid and almost $1,000 departing London, so points are the way to go. A one-way redemption will set you back 15,000 British Airways Avios, 26,000/30,000 Qantas Points or 30,000 Asia Miles + ~$30 departing Madrid (and almost double that departing London—here’s why).
Moscow – Stockholm on Singapore Airlines
Singapore’s flag carrier doesn’t fly nonstop to Sweden; rather, they stop first in Moscow. However, you can just take the shorter 2- to 3-hour flight between the two capitals.
You’ll fly on the airline’s long-haul configuration of the A350, with all passengers enjoying direct aisle access.
Instead of a ~$500 cash fare, you can use 26,000 Velocity Points or 30,500 KrisFlyer miles + $25-80 taxes. However, this redemption doesn’t offer the best value, at only ~1.5c per KrisFlyer mile used (below the worth I give them). Therefore, I’d only recommend it if you have a sizable points balance and/or want to fly in comfort.
London – Helsinki on Finnair
Finland’s flag carrier operates 1-2 daily flights between these two
You can read what Bevan thought of this product here.
Unfortunately, only Qantas Platinum and Platinum One and
With cash fares priced at $800+ each way, 15,000 Avios, 26,000/30,000 Qantas Points or 30,000 Asia Miles can be used. Taxes price at ~$90 departing Helsinki and $140 from London.
Malta – Larnaca on Emirates
Can’t bear to take the 2½-hour flight between the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus in Economy Class? Well, you’re in luck—you can fly in a private suite onboard Emirates First Class!
Given a 777 operates this flight, Business Class is set up with angled seats in a 2-3-2 configuration. Therefore, this is not an attractive redemption opportunity.
Dublin – Edinburgh on Hainan Airlines
Strange route? Yes, indeed! Hainan Airlines—generally considered to the best of the Chinese airlines—operates a triangle between Beijing, Dublin and Edinburgh. (Note that this service ends 13 October 2019.)
You can pop across the Irish Sea in the airline’s beautiful, latest Business Class product, but it’s a shame you’ll only get to enjoy it for an hour.
This redemption costs only 7,000 Etihad Guest miles + taxes—that’s a great deal. With Velocity, you’ll pay 18,000 points, which I don’t think is worth it.
Stockholm – Oslo on Ethiopian Airlines
Is it worth forking out 30,500 KrisFlyer miles + ~$30 in taxes or ~$900 cash for this less-than-one-hour flight? In my opinion, absolutely not! But here is a picture of the product anyway:
If travelling between these two Scandinavian cities, just buy a ~$90 Economy Class ticket or catch a train.
Ethiopian also flies four times a week between Madrid and Dublin.
Does it make sense to use your frequent flyer points on intra-European flights? Usually not, however, if cash prices are high on a particular route you’re looking at, then sometimes points are the way to go.
Business Class within Europe is usually just an Economy Class seat with the middle seat blocked out. However, if you can get on one of the highlighted products above, then you can enjoy increased comfort onboard.
Most travellers flying within Europe will opt to purchase the cheapest Economy Class ticket. After all, money talks. Therefore, I would recommend that you use this Chrome extension to compare legroom when searching through Google Flights.
Then, no matter what cabin or airline you’re flying, if you have a credit card with Priority Pass access, you can spend some time relaxing in a lounge before you board.
Do you have any tips for flying within Europe? Enlighten us in the comments below!
Supplementary images courtesy respective airlines.