Traveling to the 2014 NFL International Series

Traveling to the 2014 NFL International Series
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The NFL recently announced the schedule for games slated to take place at Wembley Stadium in London next season, and already we’ve received several requests for a follow-up to our series covering our journey to the Jaguars/49ers game in London this year.

Following last night’s glorious victory over the historically bad Houston Texans, we’re sure the requests are only going to increase in number, so we’re going to start looking at how to travel to next year’s London games right now!

Schedule of Games

The first game of next year’s NFL International Series will take place September 28th 2014, when the Oakland Raiders play the Miami Dolphins.

The second game pits the Atlanta Falcons against the Detroit Lions on October 26th.

The finale matchup will see the Dallas Cowboys play against the returning Jacksonville Jaguars on November 9th.

Many Jaguars fans have expressed interest in making the trip, including reader Jason, who would like to travel to the game from Jacksonville with his wife after being inspired from reading all of the tweets from fans on the ground in London and seeing the coverage of the 2013 game. However, this year we’ve also heard from reader Sam, a Cowboys fan in Honolulu looking to make the trip!

There’s an incredible secret about the best way to book this trip: whether you’re coming from Honolulu or Jacksonville, the clearest path to a free trip is exactly the same, and because that’s true, some very interesting award chart hacks become possible! Let’s dive in:

American’s Awesome Off-Peak Awards

As I explained in the series about our trip to the 2013 International Series game, American Airlines offers exceptional value for award bookings during its off-season travel period. This off-peak discount is available from October 15 – May 15, a full seven months of the year! Unfortunately, traveling Raiders and Dolphins fans can’t take advantage of this discount, but Falcons and Lions fans can as well as Cowboys and Jaguars fans.

During the off-peak period, flights from North America to Europe require just 20,000 AAdvantage miles each way! During the peak season, these same flights require 30,000 miles, so we’re looking at a savings of 20,000 miles over the course of a roundtrip.

The Hawaii Hack

Here’s what’s really incredible about this discount: for purposes of travel to Europe, American defines North America as the Continental US, Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. To miles and points beginners, this may seem like common sense. However, most carriers don’t define Hawaii as part of the same travel category as the Continental US, instead charging more miles given how much farther away the 50th state is from European destinations.

Indeed, American itself applies this logic to its domestic award tickets. Flights within the US and Canada require just 12,500 miles each way. During a short off-peak season, the same number of miles can take you to Mexico or the Caribbean, while peak travel to these destinations requires a higher 17,500 miles.

Travel to Hawaii from the US, Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean ups the ante once again. While traveling during off-peak periods of January 12 – March 13 and August 22 – December 15 requires 17,500, travel at any other time during the year requires 22,500 miles!

To put that into perspective, there’s a fair-sized chunk of the year where it takes less miles to fly from North America to Europe than it does to fly from North America to Hawaii! Thus, it’s truly exciting that travel from Hawaii to Europe requires no more miles than, say, a flight from New York.

Plotting A Stopover

This may sound like a good deal for Hawaiians, but it’s actually a great deal for anyone interested in planning a trip to Hawaii. That’s because American’s booking rules allow for a stopover in a North American Gateway City. A gateway city is one from which you depart for an international flight. For example, Dallas Fort-Worth, Miami and New York are all gateway cities for American. While many people take advantage of this rule in order to spend a few days in the gateway city itself, the reality is you can stretch a stopover out to last much, much longer.

For example, consider this award flight I searched for beginning early next year. This booking would take me from Jacksonville to London on January 28th and then take me from London to New York City on February 3rd. The next flight on this ticket heads from Newark to Honolulu, but wouldn’t take place until September 12th! Now THAT’s a stopover.

Believe it or not, this roundtrip:

Takes the same number of miles as this trip:

If I were interested in traveling to Europe and then going to Hawaii several months later, I could purchase cheap one-way tickets from New York to Jacksonville and from Jacksonville to Newark to fill in the gaps on this itinerary, saving hundreds of dollars. Then, the only remaining challenge is the flight home from Honolulu, which could be paid for or redeemed as a separate award ticket. This could be a great strategy for attending both an NFL International Series Game in London and the Pro Bowl, for example, while having many of the most expensive flight segments wiped away.

This same strategy can be applied to any AA North American Gateway City, so creating a stopover in Miami or elsewhere and catching a cheap cash flight to Jacksonville would allow you to later enjoy a “free” one-way from that gateway city to a destination in the Caribbean, somewhere in Canada, across the country or pretty much anywhere else your imagine can take you.

Finding the Miles

Back to the mission at hand: whether you’re interested in taking advantage of this stopover rule or just getting to and from London for the least money possible, there’s one way to rapidly accumulate the miles you’ll need for this trip. This link for the Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World MasterCard offers 50,000 miles after $3,000 in spending within the first 3 months of cardmembership.

The card also offers a 10% Redemption Bonus worth up to 10,000 AAdvantage miles per calendar year and a host of benefits, including 25% off in-flight food and beverage purchases, group one boarding and free checked bag on domestic flights. Best of all, the card’s $95 annual fee is waived for the first 12 months, so you can take advantage of this bonus and decide in a year whether you’d like to keep the card or not.

Since roundtrips to Europe are just 40,000 miles during the off-peak season, the sign-up bonus alone more than covers the trip! Because you’ll earn at least 1 mile per dollar in meeting the minimum spend requirement and because you earn 10% of your miles back on redemptions, you’d actually end up with enough miles for a free one-way flight in the US and Canada after redeeming for a roundtrip to Europe.

This is a better offer than the one that was open to me last year; I received just 40,000 miles for signing up for my Citi AAdvantage card, so you’ll have the opportunity to do better!

Ready, Set, Go!

The good news for traveling fans is we’re still far enough away from the games that flights aren’t even available to book just yet. Presently, bookings only go out to the very beginning of November 2014. However, that means award space will start appearing in the next few weeks for the Cowboys/Jaguars game, so now’s the time to start planning!

I booked my tickets for the 2013 game in February, and I’d recommend you follow that same early-bird strategy to ensure you’re able to book free space. I’m a little concerned about award availability this year given American’s hub in Dallas and the likelihood that regular American flyers from Dallas might be interested in using some miles to see the Cowboys play, so it’s up to Jaguars fans to act quickly to take advantage of this deal.

If you’re concerned about the impact of applying for credit cards, I’d recommend reading our credit primer. If you’re concerned about reaching the minimum spend requirement in time, check out our guide to conquering minimum spends.

As I’m sure you know, we occasionally recommend credit cards for which we can receive an affiliate bonus if you sign up. Regardless, I always recommend what’s best for any travel scenario. I don’t receive any bonus or commission on the Citi AAdvantage cards, but American offers by far the best value for travel to the NFL International Series in London, and that value just skyrockets if you decide to take advantage of the stopover rule to build in a free one-way flight for a future trip. I’m letting you know about this for one reason: I want to see all of you there!

Yes, even Cowboys fans.

Questions? Let us know in the comments!

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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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