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As I expect to regularly go across the Atlantic and it often happens to be through Swiss or Lufthansa, I subscribed to the Miles & More frequent flyer program.

Since I'm travelling on my own funds (these are not business trips paid for by any company), I always arrange to get reasonably priced tickets; most often in the €500-600 range for the round trip from CDG to a US airport.

As many travelers hope I believe, I would like to be able to save my legs and my sleep without breaking the bank on those 10-hour flights. With an average 3 round trips a year, how soon should I expect to be eligible to sit in the business class?

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you mean an upgrade by points? If you fly with the same airline regularly and dressed properly and check-in early. They might upgrade you to business class without using the points. –  toy Jan 31 '13 at 10:24
    
using miles calculator, I got a rough estimation (data: lowest Eco class on direct flight FRA-JFK): 4000 miles earned per round-trip, 50000 miles needed to get an upgrade to Business. So for your case, 1 upgrade every 3 years. meilenrechner.de/spend_miles.php?language=eng –  Vince Jan 31 '13 at 10:26
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Are you interested in upgrades, or lounges and leisure flights? US FF programs tend to prioritise upgrades, non-US ones tend to be more aimed at giving you lounge access and miles for non-work trips. If you're doing EU-US StarAlliance trips, you do have the choice of a EU or US FF program to credit to –  Gagravarr Jan 31 '13 at 11:15
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if you fly from CDG, why don't you consider Flying Blue program (Air France/KLM/Delta)? –  Vince Jan 31 '13 at 12:17
    
I usually find interesting fares by using flights with stopovers, and it often happens to be on Star Alliance airlines. Last year I mostly used Swiss and Lufthansa. –  DavLink Jan 31 '13 at 13:45
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you are flying three CDG-FRA-ORD round trips per year on deeply discounted economy tickets on Lufthansa or Swiss, you should accumulate enough miles to redeem for a one-way transatlantic segment after about 3 years, or about 6 years for a round trip.

If you can accumulate those miles faster through a credit card or other Miles & More partners, you may be able to speed up that timeline a bit.


There are several different ways you can fly in the business cabin without paying a business fare, so it will be helpful to go through them one by one to see how you could qualify on Miles & More.

eVouchers

Miles & More provides upgrade eVouchers to its frequent flyers for complimentary space-available single cabin upgrades. A flight within a single award region takes a single eVoucher, whereas flights between two different award regions (e.g. Europe to North America) require two eVouchers.

In fact, you can even redeem eVouchers for Star Alliance partner upgrades, for certain booking classes. So, provided space were available and you had purchased a Y or B fare, you could upgrade an Air Canada flight CDG-YYZ using your eVouchers.

Note that each redemption is for a single leg only. To upgrade all segments on a CDG-FRA-ORD flight, you'd require three eVouchers total.

There are two ways to get eVouchers through the Miles & More program. The first is by attaining Senator status, which requires earning 100,000 status miles in a given calendar year. Each Senator is granted two eVouchers upon attainment or renewal of status. The second way is by qualifying for HON Circle, by accruing 600,000 HON Circle miles (for flying in first or business class on Miles & More member airlines and certain train journeys within Europe) in two consecutive calendar years. HON Circle members receive 6 eVouchers upon attainment or renewal of status.

Since you say you fly only three transatlantic trips a year, and in discount economy, it seems unlikely you will qualify for SEN or HON Circle. A CDG-FRA-ORD round trip is a little under 9700 miles, and discount fares earn only 50% status miles per redeemable mile. Should you begin to fly more frequently or pay higher fares, however, these may be within reach.

Mileage upgrades

You can upgrade your transatlantic leg using miles. From a full economy fare (B or Y), it would cost 35,000 miles, and from an M or H fare it would cost 50,000 miles.

Through the Star Alliance upgrade program, you can also upgrade flights on Star Alliance partner airlines for the same level, provided you have purchased a qualifying fare (B or Y, typically).

A B, Y, M, or H fare will be considerably more expensive than a deeply discounted ticket, and you will almost certainly get better value for your miles by redeeming for business class awards as opposed to upgrades. This will be of particular interest since you are paying for your fares out of pocket.

Mileage redemptions

A one-way flight award between Europe and North America costs 52,000 miles, and a round trip costs 105,000 miles ("Fly Smart" discounts may be available from time to time).

Mileage redemptions, as noted, will be generally a better value than upgrade rewards, but may be harder to come by. You will need to plan your trips around the availability of business class seats, which will be low or nonexistent in the summer and other peak travel periods such as public holidays.

Let us suppose you fly on Lufthansa CDG-FRA-ORD three times per year. It will take you a while to earn the miles required.

Fare level                              | Miles per trip | Trips to accrue 52,000 miles
Deeply discounted economy (e.g. T fare) | ~5800          | 9
Discounted economy (e.g. M fare)        | ~11,100        | 5
Full fare economy (e.g. B fare)         | ~15,500        | 3

Other airline programs

If you credit your flights to United Airlines' Mileage Plus instead of Miles & More, you would receive 100% mileage on M, H, Q, V, G, U, W, and S fares (although the earning is 0% on T or L fares). At the same time, a one-way business class award flight is only 50,000 miles and a round trip 100,000. So, even if you continued to fly Lufthansa CDG-FRA-ORD, you could potentially redeem a bit faster. A downside is that Mileage Plus being a much larger program, you may have a harder time finding business class seats available for redemption.

US Airways Dividend Miles may be easier to redeem for international rewards than Mileage Plus miles, but they only accrue 50% on S and W fares, and only 100% on Y and B fares (Mileage Plus gives 125%).

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Keep in mind that "Y or B" fares are full-fare economy tickets, and frequently cost more than a discount business class ticket (eg, class "Z") –  Doc Feb 1 '13 at 23:50
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Upgrading with points is a horrible plan when you're using your own money. You can only do it from the most expensive fares, and it costs about half the points of just getting a business reward ticket.

I recommend you replace some of your purchased tickets with business reward tickets, which will run around 100,000 or perhaps 120 depending on where you're going. I get 8000 miles or so for each transatlantic round trip (but watch out for only getting 50% miles in the cheapest fare classes) so 15 of those will get you one free one. Since at your pace that will take 5 years, make sure your miles will last that long: IIRC Miles & More is only about 3 years. Other programs expire your miles after as much as 7 years. You may want to get a credit card that gives miles for spend to boost this pace. $2000/month on your credit card will accumulate 100K miles in 4 years just on its own. (Some people put all their recurring bills, even the phone, on the credit card, even pay their property tax, insurance etc this way to get the most miles they possibly can.)

Consider also changing FF programs to one that will offer you upgrades as a status member. 24,000 miles a year with a little work could become 25,000 which would get you Prestige on Air Canada. Investigate other programs to see if they have a status level you can reach, and if that status level includes the chance of free upgrades (from a more expensive fare, typically.) You would need to choose a program from an airline that actually flies the route you want to upgrade on though. Air Canada doesn't fly CDG to JFK, for example, so their program won't work for you.

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