Airlines are offering special international deals for the holidays — $620 to London, anyone?
That hoary old holiday song is right: It is the most wonderful time of the year — at least if you’re looking for business-class bargains to Europe for Christmas and New Year’s.
Now is the time to think seriously about what you’re doing for the end-of-the-year holidays. If you’re yearning for one of those hearth-and-home scenes or if only a beach getaway will do, well, I can’t help you. But if you’ve dreamed of Christmas Eve in the Eternal City, Christmas Day in Cologne, St. Stephen’s Day in Dublin, or New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh, the airlines will happily extend their best prices of the year for the comfy confines of their business-class cabins. Paris? London? Milan? Madrid? Barcelona? Those, too, and dozens more.
As we discussed in an April column, major carriers now treat their international premium-class cabins much as they do the back of the bus: They discount tactically and deeply whenever business volume in that section is lower. So while you might pay $1,200 to sit in a crowded coach cabin on a holiday flight during the next 45 days, airlines will charge as little as $1,400 roundtrip for a chair up front. That gives confirmed coach fliers a chance to move up front for just a few hundred dollars more — and allows regular business-class customers a rare bargain across the Atlantic.
What’s on offer? Here’s a look at where the carriers are flying, how much they are charging, when you can fly, and when you must buy. And remember: You’ll pay upwards of $250 extra on a roundtrip fare to cover taxes and fuel surcharges.
Continental essentially invented the concept of business-class sales for the holidays, and its deals are still the best. Prices start at about $620 to fly one way from Newark to Ireland, England, or Germany. Expect to pay up to $150 more for other cities in Continental’s Europe network. You can fly between December 17 and January 9. The good news? There’s no firm date before which you have to purchase tickets. The bad news? Almost all of Continental’s international flights originate in Newark, and that means you’ll have to change planes there en route to Europe.
Lufthansa and United Airlines
The huge German carrier Lufthansa and United, the second-largest U.S. airline, are partners in the Star Alliance, and together they offer the largest network of holiday business-class sales. Prices start as low as $747 one way between Boston and Brussels and reach about $1,200 one way from the West Coast to Paris. Travel is allowed until January 9, but tickets must be purchased 30 days before your departure and no later than December 4. One tip: Fly Lufthansa whenever you can, because its business class is far superior to United’s business cabin.
Who doesn’t crave a little dolce vita for the holidays? And at least on the surface, Alitalia’s grandiosely named Magnifica Class is a bargain for as little as $775 one way from New York and $1,200 from Los Angeles. But beware: Even the Italian government calls the carrier comatose, and its service and on-time performance is incredibly erratic. Don’t even think of using Alitalia for connecting flights beyond Italy. Concentrate on the nonstops to Rome or Milan. Fares are good until January 9, but tickets must be purchased 30 days before your departure and no later than December 5.
Want to fly to Paris for Christmas or New Year’s? Don’t expect a bargain from Air France. Its holiday business-class sale is valid only for connections to 12 European cities, not anywhere in France. That’s problematic because Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris is one of the most difficult places in Europe to change planes. Still, Air France’s in-flight service is good, and its prices are excellent. Chicago to Madrid, for example, is just $905 one way. Philadelphia to Zurich is only $855 one way. Travel is valid between December 17 and January 9 when you purchase tickets by December 5.
Swissair tanked shortly after 9/11, and Swiss International, its replacement, is now a subsidiary of Lufthansa. But the carrier’s Zurich hub remains one of the most compact and efficient in Europe, so Swiss is a good choice for a connecting flight to such places as Amsterdam, Milan, or even Paris. Prices start at $1,100 roundtrip from the East Coast and $2,100 from the West Coast. Purchase tickets by December 4 for travel between December 17 and January 4.
The Fine print
With the dollar trading at historic lows against the euro and the British pound, you’ll spend a lot of your airfare savings on hotel rooms. But there is a silver lining: Big city hotels throughout Europe offer special low-season packages between mid-December and late February. Some will offer straight price reductions; others will offer value-added bundles that include dinners, spa treatments, shopping discounts and other perks.
Looking for an airfare deal across the Pacific for the holidays? Not going to happen. It’s the beginning of the summer high season in Australia, so there’ll be few bargains there. And business-class flights to Asia remain relatively full because Christmas isn’t a big holiday there; Asians prefer to celebrate the Lunar New Year, later in January.