By Joe Brancatelli
November 8, 2007 -- The first time I became aware of holiday business-class sales to Europe was in the awful autumn of 2001.

With planes empty, Continental Airlines E-mailed the elite members of its OnePass frequent flyer program with startling up front fares for travel during Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Year period. My wife and I snapped up a pair of roundtrip BusinessFirst seats to Rome for less than $2,000 and we spent New Year's in the Eternal City. We ate, we walked, we relaxed, we ate some more--and we watched the Italians struggle with the transition to the euro, which coincidentally took place on January 1, 2002.

Six years later, with travel having returned to normal--well, travel volume is normal--holiday business-class sales are a much-anticipated staple of the landscape. When I alerted you over the Labor Day weekend that Continental had already loaded its fares, you jumped on the prices with gusto. And as other carriers have rolled out their sales, you've jumped on them, too.

All of the sales that I can find are listed and detailed below. Carriers not listed here may have matched their competitors, so check them, too. (Notable by their absence so far are Delta Air Lines, which has dramatically expanded its European network this year, and British Airways, which almost always finds reason to offer up deals on its huge up-front capacity to London.) Or consult a good booking engine like Orbitz.com. Even better, call your travel agent, who may also have some holiday-priced bargains on European hotels.

If you're headed to Europe over the holidays, you can score a terrific bargain on comfortable, civilized travel up front. And you might even save enough to offset the appalling run-up in the value of the euro and the British pound. The euro is trading above $1.45 now compared to about 90 cents when my wife and I helped usher in the era of the euro on New Year's Day 2002. And let's not even talk about the pound, which currently commands more than $2.10 and makes London a financial hell for visiting Americans.

Continental: The Skinny on the Year's Biggest Business-Class Sale
This year's version of Continental Airlines' huge annual Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year's business-class sale to Europe offers a few prices that are actually lower than last year. The Thanksgiving window has already passed, but fares for the Christmas and New Year's period start at $596 one-way from Continental's Newark hub. Sample routes: $596 one-way to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Shannon, Ireland; $625 to Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg, Germany; and $735 to Paris, Rome and Zurich. Taxes are extra, of course and connecting fares from cities throughout Continental's U.S. network are proportionately higher. For the Christmas and New Year period, the travel window is December 17 to January 9 and the fare basis is RR4SIE. Tickets are nonrefundable and the fares are not available for all seats on all flights. As usual, however, Continental has put its entire European network on sale. Information: the Dream Vacation to Europe page.

Eos Airlines: Deep Discounts Make for Happy Holiday Travels
Eos Airlines is selling roundtrip flights from New York/Kennedy to London/Stansted for as little as $999 one-way during the holiday periods. That's for travel on specially configured Boeing 757s that have just 48 seats and the equivalent of first-class service. For Christmas/New Year, departures to London are available between December 17 and January 4. Return travel to New York is available between December 23 and January 9. The nonrefundable tickets must be purchased by November 23. The restrictions: $350 for changes and a 25 percent cancellation fee. The fares do not accrue credit in EOS' frequent-flyer program and do not qualify for complimentary limousine transfers to/from airports or the day-room amenity. But here's a nice twist: The one-way holiday fares can be combined with other published Eos fares. That means you can get the great deal on a one-way basis even if you must purchase the other segment at regular fares. Information: The Holiday Fare Sale page.

United Airlines: We're Coming, We're Coming…
You can generally rely on United Airlines to be last with the least and this year's holiday business-class sales are no different. Two months after Continental kicked off the season's sales, United has finally gotten around to posting its holiday business-class fares. Many of the routes being offered are in conjunction with Lufthansa and, if you have a choice of flying United or Lufthansa in business class, go with the Lufthansa metal. Prices include $747 one-way between Boston and Brussels; $797 between Washington/Dulles and Dublin; $897 between Denver and Amsterdam or between Chicago and Madrid; and $1,147 between Los Angeles and Rome or San Francisco and Paris. Outbound travel is permitted between December 17 and January 4 and return travel is permitted between December 22 and January 9. Tickets must be purchased by December 4 and require a 30-day advance purchase. Information: the European Business Class Special page.

Lufthansa: Connect Your Way to the Holiday Discounts
As a culture, Germans tend to be suspicious of discounting. But Lufthansa jumped into the holiday business-class discount game last year and we're all better for it. Lufthansa's prices aren't quite as cheap as some of the other carriers, but it offers two unmatched advantages: It flies nonstop to its Frankfurt and Munich hubs and is offering the holiday business-class prices from 15 of its U.S. gateways. It also offers terrific connecting service throughout Europe to cities that otherwise aren't available at these reduced business-class prices. So if you've found that other holiday bargains have passed you by, give Lufthansa a tumble. Roundtrip prices from New York start at $1,294 and fares from Los Angeles begin at $2,094. Samples: Los Angeles-Madrid for $2,194 roundtrip; Charlotte-Milan for $1,894; Detroit-Dublin for $1,394; Portland-Amsterdam for $2,194; Denver-Brussels for $1,694; and San Francisco-Manchester for $2,094. The travel period is from December 17 to January 9. Tickets must be purchased by December 4 and require a 30-day advance purchase. The Z-class fares are not valid for upgrades to first class. Information: Holiday Business Class Special.

Virgin Atlantic: London Calling at Holiday Business-Class Prices
Virgin Atlantic and British Airways already have a range of discount fares on business-class travel to London, but Virgin has now officially added holiday pricing, too. One-way fares from New York or Newark start at $1,066 and include $1,163 (Boston or Washington/Dulles); $1,363 (Chicago); and $1,523 (Los Angeles or San Francisco). There are some quirks in the Virgin offer, however. The purchase window is narrow (you must buy by November 27) and you can't begin your Christmas/New Year's travel until December 22. On the upside, however, the fares are valid until January 14, about a week longer than any other carrier. Another note: These fares do not include Virgin's limo service to and from the airports. Information: the Low Fares to London page.

Alitalia: We Can Do Holiday Business-Class Fares, Too!
You know that the concept of deeply discounted fares in business class for the end-of-the-year travel period has taken hold when Alitalia joins in. The near-dead Italian carrier has roused itself from its torpor and rolled out a nifty collection of business-class fares to Rome and Milan if you travel between December 17 and January 9. New York-Rome or New York-Milan is $1,545 roundtrip in the carrier's Magnifica Class. From Chicago, it's $1,945 to Milan. It's $1,772 from Boston to Rome. Alitalia is also offering connecting fares to other cities in Europe, but neither Rome nor Milan are particularly great places to change planes and, frankly, Alitalia has a bad on-time record. The nonrefundable fares must be purchased by December 5 and at least 30 days before departure. Information: the Treat Yourself page.

Air France: Late to the Holiday Party and Arrogant, Too
Air France has for years ignored the holiday business-class fare bonanzas to Europe that were offered up by competitors such as Continental Airlines. But this year it has chosen to dip its corporate toes into the water. And it has arrived with all of the arrogance you'd expect from the French. Its prices don't break new ground, especially since you must change planes at Paris/Charles de Gaulle Airport, one of Europe's least-timely and least-efficient hubs. The sale isn't even systemwide, just limited to a dozen cities: Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Milan, Manchester, Rome, Shannon and Zurich. And, no, you're not missing it. Air France flights to Paris apparently aren't part of the sale. Still, since it offers the fares from 14 of its U.S. gateways, you may find a holiday bargain that other carriers aren't offering. Prices start at $605 one-way in business class (New York-Manchester) and include $835 (Boston-Rome); $935 (Chicago-Zurich); and $1,070 (San Francisco-Madrid). The travel window is December 17 to January 4 for outbound flights and December 22 to January 9 for return flights from Europe. Tickets must be purchased by December 5. Information: the Unreal Business Class Discounts page.

Swiss: A Holiday Gift: Business Class for $900 Roundtrip
Continental Airlines created the holiday business-class sale and Swiss International has adopted it, quietly but with surprising gusto. For the Thanksgiving travel period (November 18-24), roundtrip business-class fares between New York/Kennedy and Brussels are as low as $900; it's $200 more for the end-of-the-year period (December 17 to January 4, 2008). Flights to elsewhere Swiss flies in Europe are just a few hundred bucks more from JFK or Newark. And Swiss has even extended its holiday fares to its other U.S. gateways (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami). A sample: Los Angeles to Zurich, Rome or Paris for $1,900 roundtrip over Thanksgiving and $2,100 over Christmas and New Year's. From Chicago/O'Hare, it $1,500 roundtrip to Zurich or Milan for Thanksgiving and $1,700 for Christmas/New Year's. Purchase by December 4 to get the special fares. Information: 877-359-7947.

Eurofly: 'Eternal' Service to Rome at Lower Coach and Business Fares
Eurofly has announced that it won't end its seasonal service from New York to Rome and that it will, in fact, be, well, eternal. Once Alitalia's charter subsidiary and now a division of Meridiana, Eurofly will fly at least twice a week (Friday and Sunday) between Kennedy Airport and Rome's Fiumicino Airport. Coach fares start as low as $499 roundtrip and business-class fares in Eurofly's comfy up-front cabin start as low as $1,800 roundtrip on an advance-purchase basis. There's also a new special $1,499 price for roundtrip business-class travel before December 31. Information: the Eurofly USA Web site.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

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