Jonathan wants to take his girlfriend away to France for a big birthday bash. She’s never been to Europe before and seeing Paris is at the very top of her bucket list. While there, Jonathan’s hoping to steal away to Cannes for a few nights as well. Right now, he has the following mileage amounts saved up:
- 130,000 Membership Rewards Points
- 39,647 Delta SkyMiles
- 13,000 Starwood Preferred Group Points
- 66,000 Ultimate Rewards Points
- 55,000 American Airlines Miles
In addition, his girlfriend has an additional 70,000 Ultimate Rewards Points to help out.
Jonathan will need two tickets from New York City for this trip, and he’s hoping to leave either July 17th or 18th and return home on the 28th or 29th.
Just as with our last reader trip, we’re again faced with a request that comes with particular dates attached. While there’s nothing particularly remarkable about mid-July, this is a peak time for tourism, as well, meaning booking seats as early as possible is normally the best idea. We’re just a few months away at this point – not close enough for last-minute seats to open up, but close enough that many of the most obvious award flights have already been taken.
Naturally, there’s a way to make it happen, despite these challenges. Let’s dive in and see how we can save Jonathan thousands of dollars on this great trip idea:
New York to Paris
What was most surprising about the flight to Paris was how easy it was to find. In fact, my very first search brought it up! American has two great nonstop options for us out of JFK on July 17th, which is exactly when Jonathan was hoping to leave.
These flights couldn’t be more straightforward: for 30,000 AAdvantage Miles + $2.50 each, Jonathan and his girlfriend can be in Paris the next morning.
If you’re thinking about visiting Paris, remember that between October and May, American offers an Off-Peak Economy rate of just 20,000 miles each way, versus the 30,000 required here. 30,000’s still a good deal, but 20,000 is downright spectacular, and is one of the best features of the AAdvantage program.
As we mentioned above, Jonathan currently has 55,000 American miles, leaving him a bit short of the 60,000 needed for both tickets. Not to worry! Transferring 5,000 Starpoints from his SPG account will get the job done.
SPG points are highly versatile in situations like these, since they can be transferred to a wide variety of airline programs at a 1:1 rate. When transferred in increments of 20,000, they also come with 5,000 bonus miles. We’ll miss out on that in this case, but can easily scrape together enough AAdvantage miles for both tickets without having to pay to top off the account.
Paris to Cannes (or Nice!)
Jonathan wanted to build a few days in Cannes onto this trip, which sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to fly directly to Cannes. Rather, our travelers would need a flight from Paris to Nice, home to the closest airport. From there, a bus service costing just a few Euros can take them back and forth to Cannes, just a short ride away.
The best option from Paris to Nice is on Air France. Booking an Air France award ticket would make zero sense in this case, at a whopping 12,500 miles per person in Economy, given the paltry cash cost of the flight at $69 on Kayak:
In cases like these, when I’d still prefer not to pay for a ticket but paying the normal award rate makes no sense, I often consider booking the flight through Ultimate Rewards instead. While I normally only recommend transferring points out to Ultimate Rewards partners like British Airways, Southwest, United and Hyatt, it is possible to book award travel through the Ultimate Rewards website directly.
You receive a 20% discount when paying with points, while each point is valued at 1¢ each. You can pay in part with cash and in part with points, or completely with points. If you book using a mixture, you only receive the 20% discount on the portion of a fare paid for with points.
Normally, the Ultimate Rewards booking engine will be within a dollar or two of the price found on other travel sites, making this a good deal. However, in this case the same flight is listed not at $69, but at $96.40!
It’s rare to see a flight gauged in this fashion through the booking engine, but even with the 20% discount, Jonathan would need to spend 7,712 points per person for a ticket valued at $69 elsewhere. Because of this, the best bet in this case would be to actually take a statement credit of 6,900 points per person. At a cent per point, this would offset the cost of simply purchasing the tickets and earning a few miles and points along the way.
Of course, Jonathan might simply opt to pay the cheap cash fare rather than part with his points at only 1¢ per piece, but this would be the best way to cover this particular positioning flight.
Cannes Back Home
All good things must end, and now we must find a way for Jonathan and his girlfriend to head home. I checked a variety of options, and ran into trouble at every turn. Transferring Ultimate Rewards points to United was a no-go due to lack of award availability. Going through British Airways and using Avios was a poor choice due to hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges tacked onto the tickets. Flying with American again would be impossible given Jonathan’s stash was depleted on the outbound journey.
After some more research, it became clear that the best option would be to transfer Membership Rewards points to Air France. As I explain in Chapter 6 of the PointsAway Book, Air France allows for one-way awards, unlike its SkyTeam partner Delta, though its award rates aren’t the best we’ve ever seen.
In this case, 42,500 miles per person would be required for a return flight from Cannes to New York, connecting in Paris. Jonathan can get these points in minutes be converting some of his Membership Rewards points at a 1:1 rate into Air France/KLM Flying Blue Miles. Taxes and fees of $185.26 can be expected per person, as well, though this isn’t much higher than we might expect, given some of the exit fees and other surcharges imposed on all award flights leaving France.
As you can see, on August 13th, a return flight for a mere 25,000 miles would be possible. Air France’s promotional rates can be difficult to work into your travel plans sometimes, but deal fares like that one are ones to plan around if your schedule permits.
Jonathan could eliminate these fees entirely by paying them using a Barclaycard Arrival, then offsetting them with some of the $460+ in travel credit the card offers in return for making at least $3,000 in purchases with the card within three months.
Arrival credit can be used to offset any travel purchase, so he could also mostly offset the cost of the cash flights from Paris to Nice using it if he’d prefer to hold onto his Ultimate Rewards points, perhaps putting them to use at the Grand Hyatt in Cannes or the Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme instead.
I always love being able to put a total savings of 100% at the bottom of a trip. We can’t forget about the $5 in security fees levied by American, however, even if we fully offset the cash flights and Air France taxes and fees with a mixture of Ultimate Rewards points and Arrival statement credit. So, while I would not suggest actually doing so, for the sake of reaching that 100%, I’m going to spend 500 more of Jonathan’s Ultimate Rewards points on a $5 statement credit, just enough to offset the last fee in sight!
Sometimes, it’s worth the extra push to take a trip from nearly free to completely free, and for me, at least, that’s worth $5!
|Trip Component||Cheapest Cash Price||Points + Cash||Savings|
|American Award Flight: New York to Paris||$612 per person on XL Airways||30,000 American Miles + $2.50 Taxes/Fees Per Person – 250 Ultimate Rewards Points (Statement Credit)||$5,581|
|Air France Flight: Paris to Nice • Economy 2 Passengers||$69 per person on Air France||$69 Cash per passenger – 6,900 Ultimate Rewards Points (Statement Credit) each||$138|
|Air France Award Flight: Nice to New York via Paris • Economy 2 Passengers||$849 per person on Norwegian via Copenhagen||42,500 Membership Rewards Points (Converted to FlyingBlue Miles) each + $185.26 in taxes/fees each – $370.52 in Arrival Credit||$1,698|
|Total:||$3,060||60,000 American Miles + 85,000 Membership Rewards Points + 14,300 Ultimate Rewards Points + $370.52 in Arrival Credit||$3,060(100% Off!)|