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Yes, Virginia, There Are Still Europe Holiday Sales
October 30, 2014 -- The airline world remains insane.

Want to know how I know? There are still some eye-popping premium-class deals to Europe for the Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Year holidays. And prices seem just about where they were when the sales started back in June.

As travel has rebounded in recent years, airlines have gotten stingier with holiday sales in the premium classes. And they do little to promote or actively market them.

I didn't expect 2014 to be much different than the trend in recent years. Maybe the airlines didn't, either. But slack demand on key transatlantic routes and an oversupply on others have clearly forced the carriers to keep the sales running right up to what we can legitimately call the last minute. Besides, airlines have also learned that there is an appetite for discounted premium-economy seats at the holidays and a niche within the niche for deeply discounted (if still expensive) first-class seats.

WHERE THE BARGAINS ARE
I've got an airline-by-airline rundown below. Generally, however, I've found some fabulous premium-class bargains to Scandinavia and Finland. So if you like your holidays cold, dark, snowy and fishy, this is your year. Barcelona is also very cheap, especially if you are willing to connect. Switzerland is a bit less costly than usual, too. Thanks to the existence of Open Skies, the British Airways boutique carrier, there are very favorable deals on the runs between the New York Metropolitan area and Paris' two airports. If your taste runs--and wallet supports--first class, Lufthansa's entire Europe network is available at around 70 percent off the standard fare.

WHERE THE BARGAINS AIN'T
What's not a good deal this year? Comparatively speaking, London, since high aviation taxes--levies that specifically target long-haul premium classes--are never discounted for the holidays. That's especially true from gateways where Oneworld partners American Airlines and British Airways have a stranglehold on the flights. Rome is frightfully expensive because Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have slashed their winter flights. If Italy is your target, try flying into Milan instead. And, as usual, there's not much into Athens or Istanbul.

TIMING AND TACTICS
Although the first tranche of holiday sales required a 60-day advance purchase, we're now mostly looking at a seven-day purchase window. But if you're considering Thanksgiving flights, lock them up this weekend. And you'll be pressing your luck if you stretch your end-of-the-year booking much past next weekend. Even if the sales officially continue, seats may be gone. So spend some time right now if you're serious about being in Europe for the holidays.

For the Thanksgiving period, airlines are generally allowing departures between November 22 and November 28. Returns must be completed by December 3. For end-of-year travel, the departure window generally opens on December 15 and returns are permitted as early as December 26 to as late as January 7. But there are some carrier-to-carrier differences and some dates right before Christmas may already be gone. And while a few carriers are holding onto a Saturday-night stay for their cheapest end-of-year rates, most have settled on a three-day minimum stay.

One final note: The U.S. legacy carriers have gone dark on these promotions, so I've ignored them and focused on the European carriers. But U.S. carriers are matching prices in most cases and, in some instances, have coordinated fares and offerings with their joint-venture and alliance partners. My advice is to start with the international airline aligned with your preferred U.S. carrier and its frequent flyer program, then backtrack to the U.S. line's Web site if you really want to fly American metal.

Here's the alphabetical blow-by-blow:

AER LINGUS has priced New York/Kennedy-Shannon flights as low as $1,999 roundtrip. Dublin flights from Boston or New York start at $2,499 roundtrip. Chicago departures are $200 more. Aer Lingus also flies nonstop from San Francisco, but that gateway's holiday pricing is not competitive. Information: the Business Class page.

AIR FRANCE is selling business class from the New York area to Paris for as little as $2,311 roundtrip. Prices from the West Coast (specifically San Francisco) start at $3,438 roundtrip. By the way, ignore the fine print that claims fares require a 28-day or 60-day advance purchase--and especially ignore the "customize dates" link that inexplicably throws you into a calendar for 2010. Information: the Holiday Business Class page.

AIR NEW ZEALAND is the outlier here. Its single Europe route (LAX-London/Heathrow) is advertised as available only between December 21 and January 1 and only for $3,333 roundtrip. But I've seen fares with returns into mid-January for as little as $2,998 roundtrip and that would put it on par with the prices promoted by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. So check around. Information: the Business Premier page.

BRITISH AIRWAYS has prices as low as $2,409 roundtrip for business class from New York/JFK or Newark to London/Heathrow. (First class on those routes is priced at about $3,600 roundtrip and that's quite a bargain.) From Los Angeles, fares start at $2,999 roundtrip. Not all of the carrier's gateways have holiday pricing, however. Information: the Great Fares page.

KLM has business-class holiday promotions to its Amsterdam hub--starting at $2,632 roundtrip from New York--and a full range of connecting-fare sales, including $2,911 from Houston to Athens. Information: the Celebrating page.

LUFTHANSA holiday rates start at $2,169 roundtrip between New York/Kennedy and Dusseldorf, $2,599 from Charlotte to Munich and $3,149 from Los Angeles to Berlin. There are also sale rates to destinations around Europe via Lufthansa's Frankfurt and Munich hubs. Lufthansa is also promoting its annual holiday first-class sale. Prices start just north of $5,000 roundtrip (Boston-Brussels), but most fares are in the $6,000-$7,000 range. Business-class sale information: the Treat Yourself page. First-class sale information: the Fly First Class page.

OPENSKIES, which flies from New York/Kennedy and Newark to Paris/Orly, has posted business-class rates as low as $2,308 roundtrip. Its excellent premium-economy cabin is an especially notable value at $1,347 roundtrip, although there seem precious few holiday seats remaining at that price. Information: the Great Fares page for business class and the Cheapest round trip page for premium economy.

SAS is dealing on both its premium-economy and business-class cabins for the holidays. Prices start at $1,379 roundtrip (New York-Copenhagen in premium economy) and include $2,475 (Washington/Dulles-Stockholm in business); $2,505 (Chicago-Helsinki in business); and $3,009 (San Francisco-Oslo in business). There are surprisingly good rates here, especially if you're willing to connect over Copenhagen to Eastern and Northern Europe. Information: the Holiday Sale page.

SWISS has posted business-class fares as low as $2,217 roundtrip from New York to Geneva and $2,231 to Zurich. It is also offering bargains around Europe, including $2,899 roundtrip (San Francisco to Barcelona) and $2,995 (Chicago to Prague). Information: the Offers page.

VIRGIN ATLANTIC has aligned routes and fares with Delta Air Lines, which owns 49 percent of the carrier. That means a few new gateways than in previous years. But beware: You won't find the cheapest prices on Delta.com, so make sure you're booking directly with Virgin Atlantic. Sample prices: $2,406 roundtrip to London/Heathrow from New York/JFK or Newark and $2,826 from Washington/Dulles. Another caveat: Holiday prices from Delta's hubs are far too high to be considered a bargain. Information: the Upper Class page.

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