A Honeymoon In Brussels

A Honeymoon In Brussels
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Image courtesy: Wolfgang Staudt
 

Trip Information

Marc loves Belgium. Brussels, Brugges, Ghent: he visited all of these places and more on a tour years ago. Now, he’d like to take his wife there for their honeymoon, which has been put on hold until now. Though they were married in April, money was tight after the wedding, which meant putting off the honeymoon until later. They’d like to travel this coming November from Jacksonville to Brussels and want to see if miles and points can help them bring this dream trip into reach.

Marc has a smattering of points on hand in a few different programs we cover:

  • 16,422 Delta SkyMiles
  • 4,680 IHG Rewards Club Points
  • 2,844 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points
  • 1,386 Marriott Points

My Take

For this trip, one program certainly stands out above the rest. It’s one we’ve turned to time and again for trips to Europe during this time of year, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective. We’ll take a look at Marc’s best shot at a cheap trip to Brussels, and some of the ways he can avoid potential pitfalls.

American’s Off-Peak Rates To Europe

From October 15th until May 15th, it’s possible to travel from North America to Europe for just 20,000 miles each way with American’s AAdvantage frequent flyer program.

During peak times, American charges 30,000 miles, which is the same amount charged year-round by United and the minimum Delta would require at any point during the year. This is one of the best values on American’s chart, especially considering that even origination points as far-flung as Hawaii are rolled into the definition of North America for international travel. That means whether you’re heading to Europe from Honolulu or New York, the number of miles required will be just 20,000 for more than half the year!

Of course, the same will hold true for Marc, coming from Jacksonville, and because he’s planning to travel in early November, this trip will happily fall inside the off-peak dates. In order to cover both tickets in both directions, he’d need a total of 80,000 AAdvantage Miles, while 120,000 would be required during peak travel times or if flying through, say, United’s program.

80,000 miles is a lot, but it’s a much more feasible number than 120,000. Marc’s only credit card at the moment is one issued through his bank, so he’s potentially in a good position to add a travel credit card to his inventory.

The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard offers a whopping 50,000 AAdvantage miles as a sign-up bonus after making $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. The card also earns 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases. When redeeming miles for award travel, cardholders get 10% of their miles back for use on a future trip, and are also eligible for reduced mileage awards on domestic travel between certain cities. Additionally, cardholders receive a free checked bag and priority boarding. The annual fee for the card is waived for the first year, meaning it’s possible to earn these miles and enjoy the card’s benefits without paying any kind of upfront fee.

The good news is, Marc and his wife could both earn these miles if they separately applied for cards, rather than sharing one account. I often recommend this as a method to consider for couples looking to travel together starting without a substantial number of miles and points. That means meeting two purchasing thresholds at the same time, but this should be in reach of most people following our guide to conquering minimum spend requirements.

Marc mentioned he purchased the PointsAway Book, so he’s already familiar with many of the other great ways to earn AAdvantage miles, such as the AAdvantage Dining Program, AAdvantage eShopping and more.

It’s possible he could earn enough extra miles through outlets like these to come within striking distance of 80,000 miles using the sign-up boost offered by just one card, covering both tickets without the need to double-dip on the bonus miles opportunity the Citi AAdvantage card offers. Once close, it’s always possible to simply purchase the last few thousand miles one might need. Of course, free is always better, so we’ll assume Marc and his wife both choose to start earning miles on their everyday spending while earning huge sign-up bonuses.

Plotting The Route

Looking at Marc’s window for travel, availability with American is fair if not great going all the way from Jacksonville to Brussels. Here’s a look at the departure dates presently available:

Availability in October is much better for whatever reason, if Marc could push his trip up a bit. Remember, the off-peak period begins on October 15th, so any flights after that date will take just 20,000 miles:

If availability for the specific dates Marc decides to travel appears slim, he should also consider award flights that depart from New York, Miami, Chicago, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Washington or Dallas. These are all American or US Air hubs, and all can be reached affordably from Jacksonville. Sometimes, award flights from non-hub airports like Jacksonville can seem hard to find because award seats between Jacksonville and the hub are scarce, while award seats on the expensive transatlantic flight from the hub to the final destination are open. Take a look at this chart of availability from New York, for example, and compare it to the dates available from Jacksonville:

As you can see, these departure dates congregate closer to weekends than some of the November dates possible right from Jacksonville. This is precisely the trick I used for our flight to London last Fall: award space from Orlando was scarce, so we booked cash flights to JFK for less than $100 a piece to begin our award flight before returning all the way to Orlando on an award flight when the trip was over. If need be, Marc could always patch his trip in a similar matter.

Choosing An Award Flight With American

When choosing an award flight with American, it’s important to take into consideration which carriers are involved. That’s because American passes along fuel surcharges levied by British Airways when including the airline in itineraries. Some of these charges and fees are quite difficult to evade – British Airways is often the American partner offering continuing passage from its hub in London to other destinations in Europe – but by ensuring British Airways is not the operating carrier for the transatlantic leg of an award ticket, fees can be minimized.

For example, one flight to Brussels would see Marc fly from Jacksonville to Dallas on American, then continue on to London and then Brussels on British Airways. The total taxes and fees for two passengers comes to $658.80! That’s a high price to pay for two supposedly “free” tickets.

Compare that to flying American to Dallas, then American again to London before transferring to British Airways for the final hop to Brussels. The total taxes and fees for two passengers come to just $206.80 for that one-way trip, a difference of $452 just for being certain to fly with American instead of British Airways for the international jump. The same savings can be accomplished by flying on US Airways instead of British Airways, now that US Air award seats are bookable using American miles.

Plotting The Trip

In this case, we selected a departure date of October 30th as a good example, following the path of our second option above by flying on American from Jacksonville to Dallas to London before transferring to British Airways for the final segment to Brussels.

On the way back, an itinerary exclusively leveraging US Air made good sense as a way to continue minimizing out of pocket expenses:

In all, we’d be looking at a cost of 80,000 miles + $380.20 for this itinerary, or about $190 per person for the full roundtrip! Not too bad at all, considering the cheapest cash flight we could find for those dates came in at $1,014 each via Lufthansa:

Wrapping Up

Sometimes, I feel like I keep trying to drive home the same key points; the value of American’s off-peak rates to Europe is one of these. On one hand, I kind of wish there were other ways that made as much sense so I could offer a new twist of some sort. On the other, it’s just hard to argue with good value.

American’s off-peak rates to Europe are not just among the best values in the AAdvantage program but also some of the best values for Economy travel miles in any program has to offer. That the trips can be earned in one fell swoop thanks to the sign-up bonus offered by Citi’s AAdvantage cards just makes the deal all the sweeter. Hopefully, Marc and his wife will finally get the honeymoon they deserve and save a bundle doing so. After all, good things are worth the wait!

Trip Component Cheapest Cash Price Points + Cash Savings
American Award Flight: Jacksonville to Brussels, Roundtrip $1,014 Per Person on Lufthansa & Partners 40,000 AAdvantage Miles + $190.10 Taxes/Fees Per Person $823.90
Total: $2,028.00 80,000 AAdvantage Miles + $380.20 Taxes/Fees $1,647.80(82% Off!)

Happy travels!

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About PointsAway
Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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