It’s been a while since our last reader trip, so today we’ll combine two similar requests to provide a few great answers! Ute want to travel from Jacksonville to Dusseldorf, Germany this November to visit family. Roger wants to travel to Munich next Spring with his wife to relive a trip they took there many years ago. Ute’s starting from scratch, with no miles or points in store. Roger, on the other hand, has some serious mileage stashed away:
- 80,000 Delta SkyMiles
- 149,000 US Airways Miles
- 16,279 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points
- 58,000 Marriott Points
We’ll talk about the best way for beginners to make this trip happen first, then take a look at the options at Roger’s disposal given the miles he has on hand.
Whether you’re heading to Munich, Dusseldorf, Berlin or elsewhere, the miles required won’t change and taxes will differ by just a few dollars. So, this advice will apply no matter where in Germany you’d like to go!
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 Roger and Ute, coming from Jacksonville. Since Ute’s planning to travel in November and Roger in the Spring, it’s possible for both of them to take advantage of this great value. Of course, Roger already has some miles on hand, so it’s best for him to use those, but Ute can definitely benefit since she’s starting from scratch.
Since Ute wants to bring along a traveling companion, she’ll need a total of 80,000 AAdvantage Miles. That’s a lot, but 120,000 would be required during peak travel times or if flying through, say, United’s program. As is often the case with beginners, we recommend considering one of the travel credit cards that are out there due to a huge sign-up bonus. There are plenty of ways to earn miles, but few can match the speed and power of these promotions, which is why they’re a great way to get started earning miles and points. Plus, you can continue earning more future free travel on your everyday spending just by using the card!
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, Ute and her companion 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.
It’s possible she 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 Ute and her companion both choose to start earning miles on their everyday spending while earning huge sign-up bonuses.
Plotting The Route
Looking at Ute’s window for travel, availability with American is pretty great going all the way from Jacksonville to Dusseldorf in November, regardless of when precisely she’d like to travel. Here’s a look at the departure dates presently available:
Here’s a look at return days:
The good news is it’s possible to travel basically any day in November using American miles. However, it’s important to understand some of the potential hurdles that come with this trip. As we’ve said time and again in the past, it’s best to avoid British Airways redemptions for transatlantic flights using American miles because American passes along BA’s massive fuel surcharges. These can add hundreds of dollars to the cash cost of an award ticket, turning a great deal into a just-okay one. That means any long-haul segments with BA should be dismissed right away. Instead, focus on flying with American, US Air or Oneworld partner Airberlin for the transatlantic segment.
Flights into London on American or US Airways that then connect on to Germany will still be some of the search engine’s favorite ones to propagate. Fuel surcharges on British Airways aren’t nearly as bad for the shorter trip to Germany, but between those fees and the UK’s exit tax charged to all passengers departing, even on connecting flights, the cost for an award ticket that goes through London is still substantially higher, even if you avoid BA for the oceanic flight.
For example, here’s a flight that connects in London on the way over to Europe, avoiding a stop in the UK on the way back:
$234 in fees is pretty steep, but it’d be much higher if we’d flown British Airways more than once. Let’s take BA and the UK’s exit tax out of the equation by skipping directly to Germany for a connection:
As you can see, we knock $100 off the roundtrip flight just by avoiding BA and a stop in London! The hours on this itinerary aren’t as optimal, though, so expect to see options like this buried beneath more convenient but more expensive flights involving BA connections.
We harp on what a great value American’s program can be for European travel much of the year, but what if you already have miles stored up in another program like Roger?
US Air and Delta both require a minimum of 60,000 miles per passenger roundtrip. Unfortunately, neither program allows for one-way awards at this time. That is likely to eventually change as US Air’s Dividend Miles program is absorbed into American’s AAdvantage program as part of their ongoing merger. For its part, new rules go into effect for SkyMiles awards on January 1st, 2015, allowing for one-way award redemptions as part of a revamped earnings scheme and award chart.
That means it’s important to have at least 120,000 miles saved up if you want to book two award tickets using Delta or US Air. Thankfully, Roger has nearly 150,000 US Air miles, making them an option for us.
US Air’s award availability is ugly compared to American’s, given the airline quotes low, medium and high rates for tickets, instead of just Saver and Standard fares like American. Only the lightest blue days can be booked for 30,000 miles each way; others take 45,000 or 60,000 miles each.
That’s one reason we rarely talk about US Air’s program here. Like Delta, award availability at low mileage levels is so rare to find that it’s almost a teaser rate, with most dates falling into the more expensive 45,000 mile category.
That said, I found one itinerary that might make sense for Roger, from March 2nd to the 10th:
A total of $168 in fees isn’t terrible, especially considering it includes US Air’s mandatory $50 award processing fee, another ticky-tacky reason we often avoid discussing US Air.
Once again, we see it’s hard to argue with good value, and that’s what American’s chart brings to the table for off-peak travel to Europe. This holds true whether your destination is Dusseldorf, Munich or anywhere in Europe. It’s merely important to avoid choosing routings that can result in high fees.
While BA fuel surcharges are unique to British Airways flights, the UK’s exit tax applies to all passengers leaving the UK, so avoiding routings through London on your way elsewhere when possible is sound advice for any award ticket.
Even though the fees might be a nuisance, it’s worth remembering just how much is being saved on these itineraries.
In Ute’s case, the cheapest cash flights for the same days would go for about $1,178 each on United.
Roger’s dates would cost about $1,122 each via US Airways.
That means savings of about $1,000 per passenger. Given that Roger and Ute both want to bring a companion, that’s a solid $2,000 in savings for each of them thanks to using miles!