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SEEN IN C: SUMMER SALES TO EUROPE
By Joe Brancatelli
April 9, 2012 -- It's been at least a decade since Continental Airlines came up with the concept of deep discounts on business-class seats to Europe during holiday and summer-travel periods. The idea was so good that the travel world has never been the same. Most carriers, especially those in the Star Alliance, where United Airlines (Continental's successor) now resides, mount their own versions of the sale.

Roundtrip business-class fares to Europe were less than $1,000 during the first sale that Continental mounted for the Christmas and New Year period of 2001, just months after the 9/11 terror attacks. Fares are at least twice that now and a bit higher in summer. Part of the increase is due to the drastically higher price of oil. Part of the price bump is due to the natural course of inflation. And some of the higher fares are due to the fact that the summer and other seasonal sales now have an eager constituency and the carriers can charge more.

So while summer business-class sale fares aren't quite the eye-popping values they once were, they are still the best, cheapest way to sit up front on a flight to Europe. (That's especially true since so many carriers now charge exorbitant surcharges on supposedly "free" frequent flyer award seats.) Depending on the destination, you'll save upwards of 75 percent off the cost of a walk-up business-class ticket--and you'll get full frequent flyer credit, too.

Here's the alphabetic list of what's on offer now. We'll update in the weeks ahead as more carriers (especially those in the Oneworld Alliance) belatedly match.

AER LINGUS
Travel Period: June 1 to August 22 with blackout dates
Minimum stay: Saturday night
Book by: May 31 with 60-day advance purchase restriction
Sample roundtrip fares: $2,601 from New York/JFK to Dublin; $2,242 from Boston to Shannon or Dublin
Link: The Business Class Sale page

AIR FRANCE
Travel Period: June 29 to September 3 for departures with a last return date of September 6
Minimum stay: 3 days
Book by: May 31 with 60-day advance purchase restriction
Sample roundtrip fares to Paris/CDG: $2,743 from New York/JFK; $2,812 from Pittsburgh; $3,069 from Miami or Orlando; $3,469 from Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Seattle
Other roundtrip fares: $2,814 from New York to Rome; $3,610 from Atlanta to Madrid
Link: The Summer Business Class page

ALITALIA
The Italian carrier has not yet posted its business-class sale, but it is already offering sale prices on its Classica Plus premium economy cabin. Fares start at $1,998 from New York/Kennedy to Milan. Surf here for details.

AMERICAN AIRLINES
American hasn't announced a summer business-class sale--it rarely has in recent years, either--but it is matching on competitive routes where other carriers have posted seasonal prices. I found a roundtrip business-class fare of around $2,300 between New York/JFK and Paris, for example, and fares under $2,000 to Brussels. So if you're an American/Oneworld flyer, assume American has fares that meet its competitors up front between late June and early September.

BRUSSELS AIRLINES
Brussels Airlines, one of the many European carriers now controlled by Lufthansa, launches flights between New York/Kennedy and Brussels in June. Its roundtrip summer fares on the route seem to be about $2,030 roundtrip. Assume that the standard Star Alliance conditions--travel between June 29 and September 1 with a 7-day minimum stay and a purchase required by May 31--apply. Web site: Brussels Airlines

DELTA AIR LINES
Delta doesn't traditionally publish or promote a business-class sale. It prefers to use its structural 30- and 50-day advance purchase fares to essentially match what the competition is offering. Its current offerings are listed here.

LUFTHANSA
Travel Period: June 29 to September 3 for departures; returns must be completed by December 3
Minimum stay: Saturday night
Book by: May 31 with 60-day advance purchase restriction
Sample roundtrip fares to Frankfurt: $2,521 from New York/JFK; $2,959 from Charlotte; $2,961 from Dallas/Fort Worth; $3,401 from Seattle
Other roundtrip fares: $2,784 from New York to Vienna; $3,452 from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Munich; $2,318 from Philadelphia to Stockholm
Link: The Great Summer Business Class page.

MERIDIANA FLY
The Italy-based carrier operates two nonstop routes from New York's Kennedy Airport in summer. It's the only airline flying nonstop to Naples and Palermo, Sicily, during that period. Business-class prices start around $2,200 roundtrip for the carrier's "flex" category. Two warnings, however: The flex fares do not include checked bags. Expect to pay about $25 for each one. The airline doesn't fly its routes every day, either. Information: The Meridiana Fly home page

OPEN SKIES
OpenSkies, the British Airways subsidiary that flies between Newark and Paris/Orly, is changing its configuration. Its BizSeat class, which offered 55 inches of legroom and 2x2 seating, is shrinking to PremPlus, which will offer a less-spacious 47 inches of pitch. (This is all to accommodate the addition of a coach cabin for the second time in the carrier's checkered history.) That makes PremPlus a rather lavish premium economy service rather than a business class. Advance-purchase prices for PremPlus seem to be around $1,800 roundtrip this summer.

SAS SCANDINAVIAN
Travel Period: June 1 to September 3
Minimum stay: Saturday night
Book by: None listed, but fare class is ZUSSUMB
Sample roundtrip fares: Newark to Copenhagen for $2,249; Washington/Dulles to Oslo for $2,419; Chicago to Helsinki for $2,419
Note: SAS is also selling seats in its Economy Extra premium economy class for a set price of $1,619 roundtrip between three U.S. cities (Newark, Washington and Chicago) and four Nordic destinations (Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki). Restrictions are the same as the business-class sale.
Link: The Summer Sale page

SWISS INTERNATIONAL
Travel Period: June 29 to September 1
Minimum stay: Saturday night
Book by: May 31 with 60-day advance purchase restriction
Sample roundtrip fares to Zurich: $2,462 from New York/JFK; $2,902 from Miami; $2,682 from Boston; $3,342 from San Francisco
Other roundtrip fares: $4,261 from Los Angeles to Athens; $2,933 from Chicago to Geneva; $2,860 from Newark to Istanbul.
Link: The Special Offers page

UNITED AIRLINES
Travel Period: June 29 to September 1 for departures with a last return date of September 6
Minimum stay: Saturday night
Book by: May 31 with 60-day advance purchase restriction
Sample roundtrip fares from Newark: $2,642 to Paris; $2,022 to Dublin; $2,406 to Lisbon; $2,814 to Rome; $2,878 to Barcelona
Other roundtrip fares: $2,721 from Chicago to Amsterdam; $2,959 from Houston to Edinburgh; $2,201 from Los Angeles to Copenhagen; $3,386 from San Francisco to Munich.
Link: The United BusinessFirst to Europe page

VIRGIN ATLANTIC
Travel Period: June 29 to September 3 with blackout dates
Minimum stay: Saturday night
Book by: May 31
Sample roundtrip fares to London: $2,620 from New York/JFK or Newark; $2,796 from Chicago; and $3,342 from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Fares may be higher on weekends.
Link: The Upper Class page

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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.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.