PointsAway reader Frank wants to fly with one companion to Amsterdam from Jacksonville, Florida. He’s looking to travel right around Christmastime and spend about a week there.
Current Program Status
Frank’s travel companion has a small amount of Delta SkyMiles saved up, but neither of them have any other point balances or travel credit cards at the moment.
Christmas should be an interesting time to visit Amsterdam. While the Anglo-American celebration of the holiday takes place on December 25th, the Dutch actually hold their Christmas celebrations on December 5th and 6th!
Children celebrate the arrival of Sinterklaas, who leaves presents for the good children. Dutch children are told that he travels not from the North Pole, but from Spain to deliver their presents. He’s assisted in his travels by a servant named Zwarte Piet, a character that would likely shock many Americans. I’ll leave Wikipedia to tell you more on that one.
Nonetheless, celebrations continue near the end of December, as well, making this a great time to see the holiday lights and celebrations in a European city of much notoriety. Let’s see how we can get Frank and his traveling partner there as affordably as possible!
How to Fly
The cheapest cash fare from Jacksonville to Amsterdam around Frank’s travel dates is on Delta from Jax to Atlanta, connecting to a KLM Royal Dutch flight at $1,112 per person. Yikes! One SkyMiles award flight departure is available at the “Low” redemption level – the most affordable level – on Christmas Eve, but only “Medium” level redemptions are shown for the rest of the year. Searching other variations on the trip results in the same issue.
This means the roundtrip flight rings in per person, at minimum, at an astounding 77,500 SkyMiles + $65.00. There’s no easy way to accrue this level of miles quickly with Delta, and paying more than $1,000 per person for the flight isn’t appealing, either. Thankfully, a better option exists.
When it comes to transatlantic flights, one choice stands as the clear winner for travel during this time of year. American Airlines’ MileSAAver fares are a stunning value at just 20,000 miles each way during the airline’s extremely long off-peak season of October 15 to May 15. To put this into perspective, the lowest point redemption possible is for a MileSAAver domestic flight at 12,500 miles each way. Typical domestic redemptions come in at 25,000 points and even MileSAAver redemptions during peak times are 30,000 points, with AAnytime redemptions coming in at 60,000 miles.
This is precisely the redemption possibility I’m taking advantage of for my family’s trip to London from Jacksonville this October for the Jaguars game.
This points level is made easily possible with the Citi® Platinum Select AAdvantage® World MasterCard®, which offers a 40,000 mile bonus after $3,000 in purchases. The card also offers Zone One boarding, free checked bags and other amenities that come in handy on American flights. Best of all, 10% of redeemed miles are credited back to your account as a cardholder, so a 40,000 mile trip nets you back 4,000 miles for a future trip. You can find all the details on our Sign-Up Links page.
Finding MileSAAver Availability
What’s critical to understand about American award flights is that if any segment of the trip has no MileSAAver availability, the entire trip is bumped up to a higher award level. This might seem like an obvious statement to some, but it’s worth keeping in mind as we’ll see when looking at return flight possibilities.
When searching for award availability from JAX to AMS around Christmastime, we see that both 12/24 and 12/25 have routes available:
The best routes for this trip travel through American’s Miami hub. So, it’s valuable to see if the flight from Jacksonville to Miami is serving as a bottleneck, preventing us from seeing additional award availability. Sure enough, it is:
This is more important for the return trip. Coming back to Jacksonville, we see no availability:
Coming into Miami, though, four different days have availability:
American has hubs in Dallas, New York (JFK), Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago (O’Hare). If availability for a trip isn’t open all the way to your hometown, it can still be a much better value to pay for a one-way or round-trip ticket to and/or from a hub where availability does exist than to pay for the entirety of a flight.
In this example, we’ll assume that Frank is cool with departing on Christmas Eve, so he just needs a return flight from Miami to Jacksonville on the way home in order to overcome the lack of availability all the way home around New Year’s. Several flights per day exist are available – on American! – for $120 per person.
Minimizing Taxes & Fees
It’s important to choose award flights that actually take place on American, as opposed to on British Airways, as often as possible, as American doesn’t tack on a fuel surcharge to their own award flights, while British Airways does. This is especially critical for the transatlantic haul, where the fuel surcharge can amount to hundreds of dollars per person.
For example, one sample itinerary flying transatlantic on an American plane from 12/24 to 12/31 came back at 40,000 AAdvantage miles + $238.40 in fees per person. Compare this to 40,000 AAdvantage miles + a whopping $686.50 in fees per person when choosing a British Airways flight for the transatlantic segment! Though one could argue the mostly-BA flying experience may be somewhat better, there’s no doubt that the mostly-American itinerary is far more affordable.
Hopefully this itinerary helps you see how valuable American miles can be for transatlantic fares. It’s important to be creative in your routing, first checking for availability for each leg of your flight searching availability for one way trips and then taking advantage of the airline’s powerful multi-city search functionality to stitch together the best trip given your findings.
Remembering also how much money can be saved by ensuring the transatlantic segment of flights to and from Europe are flown on American metal rather than on a British Airways plane is also critical.
With this information and some more planning, Frank should be well on his way to saving thousands on his trip!
|Trip Component||Cash Price||Points + Cash||Savings|
|American: JAX -> AMS Roundtrip, 2 Adults: 12/24-12/31||$1,112 on Delta for entire trip per person.||40,000 AAdvantage Miles + $238.40 flight fees + $120 flight MIA -> JAX per person.||$753.60|
|Total:||$2,224 for 2 Adults||80,000 AAdvantage Miles + $476.80 fees + $240 MIA to JAX||$1,507.20 + 8,000 AAdvantage Miles for future travel|