One for the Parents: Europe and Alaska in One Epic Award Booking
What good is the miles and points game if you can’t help your own family see more of the world? Our trip to London for the Jaguars/49ers Game last Fall was their first time traveling to Europe.
The travel bug has bitten them hard at this point. While they approached the trip to London and Paris as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they’ve since begun planning more future trips and even secured Global Entry credentials to make passing through US Customs easier on their future journeys!
The next trip on their roster is actually not one, but two separate adventures uniquely intertwined by one of our favorite American award chart secrets.
Inside, we’ll show you how they will travel from Miami to Milan, Zurich, Las Vegas and Anchorage on the same award flight. What might seem impossible on the surface is a strategy every award flyer should know about, allowing you to squeeze much more value out of your travels than a less savvy flyer. Here’s how it’s done:
Current Program Status
When building up the points and miles necessary to make our trip to London work, I made sure that my parents actually earned well more than would be needed for that trip alone, knowing they’d likely build up an appetite for future adventures. Together, they had about 87,000 AAdvantage Miles and 160,000 Ultimate Rewards Points left over.
Currently, they’re in the process of earning 200,000 Membership Rewards points thanks to a targeted offer for the American Express Platinum Card promising 100,000 points each after meeting a spending requirement. While relying almost entirely on the American miles and Ultimate Rewards points for this award, the Membership Rewards points did come in handy, as you’ll see later.
Weaving Two Trips Into One
My parents had their eyes set on two different trips for next year. The first was to visit Alaska during peak travel season in August. The second was to venture somewhere deeper into Europe than our last trip had taken us, allowing them to see some combination of portions of Italy, Germany, Austria and/or Switzerland.
The first step was to switch the order of these trips. American’s award chart offers an extremely generous off-peak season for travel to Europe, lasting from October 15th to May 15th. During this time period, only 20,000 miles are required each way, instead of the typical 30,000. That’s a savings of 20,000 miles for a roundtrip versus the peak-time rates!
They weren’t terribly interested in traveling to some of these more mountainous areas in late October through the end of the year, so we agreed they should go and begin their return journey prior to May 15th in order to slip in under the off-peak deadline. This was important not only because of the miles savings it offered in the abstract, but because they only had enough American miles remaining for one roundtrip off-peak ticket each; peak travel would require more miles than they had.
Here’s where things get interesting: we’ve spoken about the power of open-jaws and stopovers in booking award tickets previously and how they can lead to ridiculous redemptions. This trip is a perfect example of that at work. American not only allows open-jaw itineraries – meaning it’s possible to depart from and return to airports different from your original departure and arrival airports – but also allows for stopovers at their North American International Gateway cities. Any city from which American or its partners offers non-stop international travel is considered to be such a gateway city.
While my parents live in Orlando and award travel is possible from MCO on British Airways, awards on BA come with prohibitive fuel surcharges. As such, flying American transatlantic via Miami or New York is a much more palatable option.
While in theory this program is meant to offset taxes, fees, baggage charges and in-flight purchases, it’s often possible to use the credit to purchase gift cards for airlines including American that can be used toward cash flights in the future. My parents ordered several such gift cards which have been or are likely to be offset by statement credits by American Express thanks to this perk. Since the flights are cheap, the gift cards will easily offset the cash cost of the flight to Miami to begin their trip to Europe.
Their return itinerary has them leaving from Zurich, routing through Berlin and connecting on to Miami, flying with American partner AirBerlin.
That’s that, right? Not exactly. Since Miami is an international gateway city for American, and because award flights from Europe to anywhere in North America – including, yes, Alaska – require the same amount of miles, it’s possible to build in a stopover in Miami and then continue on to Anchorage months later. The outbound flight was truly Miami to Milan, but the inbound flight isn’t Zurich to Miami, it’s Zurich to Anchorage.
This can be pretty bizarre to think about, but it’s actually a perfectly valid booking with American. Best of all, even though they’ll be traveling literally months later on to Anchorage, well into the peak travel rates season for award flights to and from Europe, American charges at the rate offered when the journey begins.
In other words, since the return award begins prior to May 15th, the whole trip is booked at the off-peak 20,000 miles rate despite the fact the return award won’t end until a few months later.
Next up, we’ll take a look at two of the finest hotels in Milan and Zurich, and how we can nab two nights at each for free!