Portugal is rising in popularity as a “must see” European destination. The country has been overshadowed by its Iberian Peninsula counterpart, Spain, for quite some time, but as visitors continue to discover Portugal’s allure, its “little brother” perception is fading fast.
As you may have noticed, Point Me To The Plane has been on a bit of a Portugal kick lately, as two writers have made recent visits. We have yet to cover one of the most important topics, though: how to get there using points and miles!
Given that discount airlines like Norwegian and WOW air serve Portugal less frequently than other European destinations, using points and miles to get to the peninsula could save a boatload of airfare cash.
Nonstop flights between the U.S. East Coast and Lisbon Airport (LIS) and to a lesser extent Porto Airport (OPO), are readily accessible. Travelers based in other parts of the US and Canada will have to connect, but most shouldn’t have much trouble reaching Portugal in two flights.
Airlines from all three major alliances – including each legacy carrier – operate flights to Portugal, and so flyers have a variety of options to use their points and miles for reaching the Iberian hotspot.
This is a look at some basic strategies for redeeming points and miles. As always, some flexibility may be required, particularly when seeking space in business class and first class.
If your schedule is a bit more demanding, or if you’re having trouble finding space using the obvious method, consider using an awards search service like Juicy Miles or Points Pros.
Using Chase Ultimate Rewards and United MileagePlus
The easiest way to fly nonstop to Portugal on Chase Ultimate Rewards is through United’s MileagePlus program. Chase points accrued through Sapphire and Ink credit cards transfer to United instantly.
United Airlines flies nonstop to Lisbon from Newark Liberty Airport (EWR) and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). United also offers seasonal service between Porto and Newark.
TAP Air Portugal, a Star Alliance partner, flies nonstop between Lisbon and New York (JFK), Newark Liberty, Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Miami International Airport (MIA) and Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ). Like United, TAP also offers nonstop service between Porto and Newark Liberty.
To find award space on either of these airlines, you can use United’s fairly intuitive homepage, which offers a “Search for award travel” option to activate a points and miles award search.
Economy flights at the saver level, 30,000 miles, are pretty easy to come by. Business class can be tricky, particularly during the busiest summer travel season, so it helps to have some date flexibility if you’re keen on flying business class.
Protip: business class availability to Portugal on TAP is most reliable at the polar extremes of the award calendar, 335 days prior to departure and within the last couple weeks before a flight takes off.
If you choose the “My Dates Are Flexible” search option (as I did above), you’ll be taken to a calendar that shows available saver economy seats with a solid blue bar, and available business class saver seats with a dotted blue line.
While it’s fairly easy to find economy saver space on United flight, TAP actually opens more business class seats for miles redemption on these routes.
When transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points, be sure to check availability first, as you cannot return points to your Chase account once they’ve been transferred to United MileagePlus.
Once you find a flight you like, transfer the points, and try to book within a half-hour or so, to avoid losing the seat to another passenger.
The Canadian Route
Air Canada, also a United partner, operates flights from its low-cost subsidiary airline, Air Canada Rouge, between Lisbon and both Toronto Pearson and Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport (YUL).
Air Canada Rouge also flies nonstop between Porto and Toronto Pearson. For long haul flights, the airline operates two-cabin Boeing 767-300ERs (economy class and premium economy class) in a configuration 71 seats denser than Air Canada’s 767-300ERs.
Using Chase Ultimate Rewards and Singapore KrisFlyer Miles
Singapore KrisFlyer Star Alliance partner awards between North America and Europe cost 27,500 miles in economy class and 65,000 miles in business class each way. You can book the exact same partners as United, and flights that appear as Saver Awards in the United.com search above are also bookable through Singapore.
These rates are a bit cheaper than United, so this can be a slightly better option to transfer Ultimate Rewards points and have the patience to wait on the phone with Singapore to book TAP flights.
Singapore’s own website now offers a “Redeem Flights” Star Alliance partner option, though it is a bit more cumbersome to use than the United search and TAP award redemptions still do not appear online. Travelers hoping to book these awards will have to call Singapore Airlines to book these award seats for the time being (make some time for a long hold when calling Singapore).
Using American Express Membership Rewards and Air Canada Aeroplan
Aeroplan redemptions between North America and Europe in economy class, premium economy class and business class cost 30,000, 37,500 and 55,000 Aeroplan miles respectively. American Express Membership Rewards points accrued through The Gold and Platinum cards (and business cards) can be transferred instantly.
Additional fares for Aeroplan redemptions on partner airlines United and TAP are the same as what United and TAP impose for their own awards.
Unfortunately, Aeroplan imposes very high surcharges, about $600, on Air Canada roundtrip awards to Europe regardless of class of service, which drops the appeal of redeeming Aeroplan miles for seats on Air Canada Rouge flights to Portugal to basically nil.
Once you’re logged into an Aeroplan account (if you don’t have one, they’re free) you can easily search for flights on aeroplan.com by clicking “Travel”.
Best Redemption Rates For Nonstop Flights
|Economy Class||Premium Economy Class||Business Class||Imposes Additional Fare Surcharges On Its Own Awards?||Passes Along Additional Fare Surcharges On Partner Awards?|
|TAP Victoria Programme||30,000||N/A||50,000||Y||Y|
Travelers living close to airports from where United flies direct to a Portuguese city – Newark Liberty and Washington Dulles – are best positioned to maximize redemption value assuming equal access to miles in the above Star Alliance programs.
Those looking to book a United flight should use Singapore KrisFlyer at spend 27,500 miles in economy class and, and Aeroplan at 55,000 miles in business class to reach Lisbon or Porto when award space is available. Because United doesn’t impose additional fare surcharges, Krisflyer and Aeroplan have no extra cost to pass along.
Travelers living close to airports from where TAP flies direct to Lisbon but United doesn’t – Boston Logan, Miami and Toronto Pearson – are typically best off using United at a rate of 30,000 MileagePlus miles for economy class redemptions and 70,000 MileagePlus miles for business class redemptions.
Booking with United miles avoids additional fare surcharges altogether while flying TAP.
Travelers considering redeeming Air Canada Rouge awards to Lisbon and Porto should beware of additional fare surcharges imposed through Aeroplan and KrisFlyer. As such, redeeming 30,000 MileagePlus miles is the best value for booking these economy class awards.
Because MileagePlus miles cannot currently be redeemed for Air Canada Rouge premium economy class seats given that United has yet to develop its systems to facilitate premium economy class redemptions for flight awards, there doesn’t currently appear to be a worthwhile method for booking premium economy transoceanic Air Canada Rouge awards at this moment in time.
Credit cards such as the Amex Everyday Credit Card from American Express, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and the Platinum Card from American Express earn American Express Membership Rewards points, which can help you get free flights to Portugal via Singapore KrisFlyer and Aeroplan 1:1 transfers.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card helps you redeem flight awards to Europe with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred into United MileagePlus as well as Singapore KrisFlyer.
Using American AAdvantage Miles
American Airlines operates one nonstop service to Portugal, from its hub at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL).
In economy class between North America and Europe, American charges 30,000 AAdvantage miles each way at the Mile SAAver level. American also offers off-peak economy class awards for just 22,500 miles each way for over one-quarter of the year from January 10th through March 14th as well as from November 1st through December 14th.
American charges the same 57,500 Mile SAAver miles in business class for awards on flights both it and its partners operate. In general, American offers little to no premium cabin award space on its own flights (other than brief dumps of space which surface randomly), and this route is no exception.
Using Etihad Guest Miles (from American Express) to fly American
Etihad Guest, which has separate award redemption charts for each of its partners, charges 30,000 miles between North America and Europe in economy class on American operated flights. However, its off-peak economy class awards stretch for half of the year and are cheaper than American’s, costing just 20,000 miles each way from October 15th through May 15th.
For premium cabin awards on American, Etihad charges a favorable 50,000 miles in either first class or business class. Again, given American’s general lack of award inventory for these fares, Etihad Guest members will have to get lucky to snag a business class seat for 50,000 miles on this route.
Etihad Guest does not pass along additional fare surcharges on American flights.
Finding American Airlines seats that are available through Etihad requires a search using one of American’s partners, like British Airways, or a search through ExpertFlyer.
Best Redemption Strategies For PHL-LIS Nonstop Flights
|Off Peak Economy Class||Economy Class||Business Class||Imposes Additional Fare Surcharges On Its Own Awards?||Passes Along Additional Fare Surcharges On Partner Awards?|
Assuming equal access to both Etihad Guest and American AAdvantage miles, prospective business class fliers should always use Etihad miles if they are fortunate enough to find award space on this route.
Maximizing economy class redemptions depend upon the time of year as travelers should use 20,000 Etihad Guest miles to redeem awards from October 15th through May 15th, and can take their pick of 30,000 miles throughout the rest of the year from either American AAdvantage or Etihad Guest.
Given that Etihad Guest is an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, travelers can earn miles to redeem the above awards with the Amex Everyday Credit Card from American Express, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and the Platinum Card from American Express.
Using Delta SkyMiles (and American Express Membership Rewards)
Unless you catch a flash sale or off-peak special, Delta SkyMiles usually offers the worst international mileage redemption rates on the planet. If you’re a SkyMiles flyer, though, or if you can’t find space for your Amex points through Aeroplan, Delta Air Lines may have some options for you.
As with Aeroplan, Amex Membership Rewards points can be transferred straight to Delta.
Delta flies nonstop between Lisbon and New York Kennedy as well as seasonally to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).
Delta no longer publishes an award chart, and so there are no hard and fast rules Delta SkyMiles program members can rely on when inquiring what their miles will get them for a particular routing.
Current redemption levels for Delta’s seasonal service between ATL and Lisbon until it concludes in early September and also when it picks back up again at the end of May, 2019, are three or four times what a reasonable redemption rate should be across all classes of service (e.g. 560,000 SkyMiles for a roundtrip Delta One business class seat over multiple dates).
New York based Delta fliers may have some better options, however, if they are willing to consider visiting in the off-season.
From November through February, multiple dates offer roundtrip economy class awards between JFK and Lisbon for under 50,000 SkyMiles. Certain dates even price at 39,000 miles, which is likely the cheapest award to reach Portugal nonstop from North America.
Delta One business class segments between the two cities price at 86,000 SkyMiles at the low-level, which are only available in the offseason and are not a particularly great value at that cost.
Using Air France Flying Blue Miles (a Chase and Amex Partner) to Fly Delta
Flying Blue also no longer publishes an award chart for its own flights or for partners, but tends to price out low level Delta awards at 23,000 miles each way in economy class and 57,500 miles each way in business class over a number of dates from New York JFK to Lisbon.
Flying Blue passes along additional fare surcharges imposed by the partner airlines. Delta doesn’t add fares heading Eastbound to Portugal, but does impose a slight up charge.
Using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Although certain city pairs are searchable for Delta awards on Virgin Atlantic’s website, Lisbon does not populate online. That said, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club typically charges 25,000 Flying Club miles each way in economy class and 50,000 in business class between North America and Europe (ex-UK) on award flights both it and its partners operate. Flying Club only passes along any additional fare surcharges that Delta imposes.
Delta Redemption Strategies
|Economy Class||Business Class||Imposes Additional Fare Surcharges On Its Own Awards?||Passes Along Additional Fare Surcharges On Partner Awards?|
|Korean Air SkyPass||25,000||40,000||Y||Y|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||25,000||50,000||Y||Y|
*Delta does not impose additional fare surcharges on roundtrip or one way flight awards originating from the United States, but does impose them on itineraries originating in Europe, including one-way awards from Lisbon to New York JFK.
**Flying Blue now dynamically prices awards based upon origin, destination and date of flight. In lieu of an award chart, Flying Blue offers its members an award estimator between city pairs which outputs the minimum number of miles the program could charge for a particular route.
Delta makes vastly more seats available through SkyMiles than through partners like Air France and Virgin Atlantic.
When seats are available to partners, economy class Delta flyers in the New York area should search Delta SkyMiles’ and Flying Blue’s dynamic award engines to establish which program offers a cheaper redemption value to Lisbon. If the cheapest roundtrip award exceeds 50,000 miles, flyers should redeem the award through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club given sufficient award space.
If business class fliers seeking Delta award flights between New York JFK and Lisbon value 20,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles less than $350, they should book the award segments through Flying Club. If not, award seekers should save their miles and redeem 80,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles for a roundtrip flight plus the additional fare surcharge instead.
The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express can help travelers quickly rack up enough SkyMiles for a free flight to Lisbon.
SkyTeam partners Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club are Chase Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners. Given that, Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card, are great options for redeeming awards on Delta operated flights.
Connecting in Europe
For those travelers not located in a convenient city to get to Portugal nonstop, it’s generally easy to find domestic connecting flights to put yourself on one of these nonstops.
When nonstops from the U.S. aren’t available there are plenty of potential award connections available through European hubs like Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Munich and Paris.
American Airlines Business Class And First Class To Heathrow Airport (LHR)
American operates daily flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Miami and New York JFK to London Heathrow with a Boeing 777-300ER, which has a total of 52 reverse herringbone business class seats and 8 first class seats. With so many premium cabin seats, American fliers may have more luck scoring awards on flights equipped with 777-300ERs.
American charges 57,500 miles in business class and 85,000 miles in first class between North American and Europe.
For American Express Membership Rewards members, Etihad Guest only charges 50,000 miles for both business class and first class redemptions on American. When possible flyers considering this route before continuing on to Portugal should redeem premium cabin awards available at the Mile SAAver level through Etihad Guest.
Aer Lingus Economy Via Ireland
Aer Lingus AerClub, which recently joined Chase Ultimate Rewards’ cadre of transfer partners, offers a sweet spot redemption for off-peak travel between US destinations Newark Liberty, Boston Logan, Washington Dulles, New York JFK, O’Hare International Airport (ORD) or Hartford Bradley (BDL) and either Dublin Airport (DUB) or Shannon Airport (SNN) for just 13,000 Avios plus taxes and fees one-way (26,000 Avios roundtrip) in economy class.
Iberia Business Class To Madrid
Iberia Plus, another Amex and Chase partner, offers off-peak one-way awards in business class between Chicago O’Hare, Miami, New York JFK or Boston Logan and Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas International Airport (MAD) for only 34,000 Avios and additional fare taxes and fees.
Travelers departing LAX or San Francisco International Airport (SFO) may also redeem Avios to reach Madrid-Barajas, but must part with 62,500 miles each way plus additional fare taxes and fees for an off-peak award.
Singapore Airlines’ Fifth Freedom Routes
Singapore Airlines operates a fifth freedom route between George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and Manchester Airport (MAN) and another between New York Kennedy (JFK) and Frankfurt (FRA). For those located in Houston or New York, 22,500, 45,000 and 65,000 KrisFlyer miles are sufficient to reach Europe in economy class, premium economy class and business class, respectively.
You can connect these Singapore flights with available TAP Portugal and Lufthansa connections.
Travelers along the East Coast have a number of options to redeem nonstop flight awards to Portugal across all three major airline alliances and legacy carriers. When a nonstop award is not feasible, however, the entire European continent is available as a gateway to tack on a stopover or simply an extra flight.