spreadsheets and suitcases

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Award travel success- transatlantic flights

on February 21, 2018

I plugged our voyage  into the Great Circle Mapper, an excellent site to determine flight miles between destinations, potentially very useful in the near future (see Flights to Spain and Flights within Spain further down).  This is what came back!

europe trip route map

The eagle-eyed among you will see London-Heathrow (LHR) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) listed as an air link in my route map despite the London-Paris segment planned for the Eurostar train.  I threw it in there to calculate our total travel miles, which are over 20,000!  You will also see our projected layover cities- Seattle (SEA), Munich (MUC), San Francisco (SFO).

This upcoming European trip’s “air time” is pretty extensive. Here’s what it looks like on the Budget tab of my trip planning spreadsheet:

Spain and France in 2018 or So Help Me
Estimated Actual
Main Transit Costs
Flights to/from US Mainland $ 2,500.00
Flights to Europe $ 30.00
Eurostar to France $ 630.00
Flights to Spain $ 500.00
Flights within Spain $ 420.00
Flights to US Mainland $ 200.00

Breaking this down a bit- the Flights to/from the Mainland are estimated using the Alaska Airlines Companion Fare prices we’ve been able to get over the last few years to Disney.  The flight TO the East Coast will be more expensive than FROM, because of the dates: one in the popular travel days before Christmas, and one a full week after New Year’s when most are already back at work/school.  Our dates are available to book as of today, but my preferred flight times/routes are well over this budget.  That often happens when cash flights are first available, then they go down after they’ve been out for a while.  I’ll be checking every few days, using Incognito mode on my browser so the site doesn’t track my searches.  I may have to up this budget a bit, which I hate.  But we’ll see.  I also put a Google Flights alert on my ideal itinerary.

Skipping Flights to Europe and Flights to US Mainland for now as I will go into detail below.

Eurostar to France is a very high estimate, as I think it might be $500 or even lower.  They put out fares approximately 6 months in advance, and like cruises, the earlier you buy, the cheaper the fare.  I’ll be online at the exact moment to snag the cheapest fares possible for our one-way trip.

Flights to Spain and Flights within Spain are kind of an educated guess based on searches I made in October 2017 for December 2017 as a trial run.  Vueling and Iberia both have flights from Paris to Seville, with Iberia being more expensive as Vueling is a low-cost carrier, and Iberia forces a layover in Madrid, boo.  Iberia’s miles program is IberiaPlus Avios.  That whole program is kind of confusing to me and the rest of the world apparently.  To add to the confusion, some Vueling flights can be booked with Avios.  I’m setting up a fare alert for this route on Kayak, and will hope to buy when the price is ~$120 or less, or possibly when my flights are available to book with miles.  I’m really only looking at the nonstops here, though, to save time.

For the second set of flights, as you see on the route map above, it is 504 miles from Seville to Barcelona.  With British Airways Avios frequent flyer program, partner flights (Iberia in this case) below 650 miles within Europe are redeemable with 4,500 Avios for the one-way, or 18,000 for the 4 of us.  Side note: yes, both airlines’ programs are called Avios, and transfer to/from each other.  We still have 30K SPG points to work with, and SPG transfers to British Airways 1:1, as does Ultimate Rewards.  So we may have something here.  I have to check the expiration date on my existing IberiaPlus account balance as it expires after 3 years, but I may be able to use SPG Points/Ultimate Rewards points to get both of these short flights as awards, either directly through IberiaPlus site or through the British Airways site for travel on Iberia and have very little OOP cost.  The flights are currently pretty inexpensive at ~$105 pp, but getting them as an award is still nearly $400 saved after accounting for taxes/fees…and will help a lot if we have to eat the full cost of the Paris hotel. Whew- keeping track of all that is tricky!


Finally, the award travel success you’ve been waiting for! Flights to Europe has an estimated budget of $30. But how?!  You may recall that when I first found out my sister was moving to North Carolina, I dedicated myself to searching the best flight options to Europe from Raleigh.  And I found the Raleigh (RDU)- London (LHR) direct flight on American Airlines.  It was a dream- a direct flight, under 8 hrs, that would allow us an unexpected day in London (one of my favorite cities in the world), plus it meant that we could squeeze a train trip to Paris into our itinerary.  I set out to make sure we had the American Airlines miles needed to make this happen (120k total).  I had a great stash of over 50K built up, and once I received my anniversary 10K miles from my American AAdvantage Aviator card, I was all set to book 2 of our 4 tickets.  BTW, the anniversary miles are a grandfathered benefit from the old US Airways card, and no longer available.  This benefit means that I happily pay the $89 annual fee for this card.  Anyway… Next up was DH.  He had a little over 56K miles and we got it to a little over 60k for him as well with an SPG point transfer.

So, at exactly 330 days out from our preferred travel date, we simultaneously logged on the American Airlines site from 2 different computers.  Great- our date was available to book!  We clicked on the nonstop, advertised as 30K miles pp for Economy, hit continue, and saw “This flight is no longer available.  Please see available flights below.” 

And, when we clicked on the many other “available flights below” (which were connecting flights, not what I wanted at all), most of them threw the same error message.  After a good hour, I theorized that while, yes, our departure date was available to book, the system might be having trouble with our arrival date, which was 331 days later.  We gave up for the night.

The next day, something similar happened.  But, as an experiment, I tried selecting “our” flight on a different, earlier day.  Say we wanted to leave on the 10th and arrive on the 11th.  I looked at the flight going out on the 8th and arriving on the 9th.  It was available to book, no problem.  So, I figured that waiting another day would do the trick.

And, lo and behold….it worked!  We were able to book RDU-LHR nonstop for 30k miles pp in Economy, and since it was an American flight, we only paid $5.60 in taxes pp, for a total of $22.40.  Plus, since DH and I are both American cardholders (me with the aforementioned Aviator card, and he with the Citi AAdvantage card), we both got a 10% rebate on the redeemed miles, preferred boarding, and other perks.

spock win

Spock memes never get old.

Now, moving on to the Flights to US Mainland.  A similar process occurred here.  I had just about enough United miles for 3 tickets (me + the kids) at 30K each, and surpassed 90K miles with a small top-up from Ultimate Rewards.  My husband needed just 30K for his ticket- he had plenty of Ultimate Rewards left, so no problem to transfer to United, right?  Well…..Ultimate Rewards-earning cards have 2 tiers.  Those with annual fees offer instant transfer to other travel programs like United, and those without annual fees (like the Chase Freedom card, which DH has) only offer cash back using the URs.  The very-much-within-the-rules workaround? He can transfer points to his spouse, which must be an authorized user of the Freedom card and living at the same address.  Check and check.  The required number of his UR points came to my UR account instantly.  Then, as someone who has an annual fee card (the Chase Sapphire Preferred), I can transfer those UR points to his United account.  So, that’s what we did.  It went off without a hitch, and we were ready to book.

This time I set my reminder for 337 days prior to the date we wanted to travel because my prior experience booking with United is that they release award seats a bit earlier.  I was hoping to book the nonstop Barcelona (BCN) to Newark (EWR) flight, but knew it was a long shot to be available at 30K.  That flight is operated by Lufthansa.  I had been trial-running this award booking as well, and never saw it go below 70k pp, one-way.  I guess it’s a popular route.  So I found the best combination of flights, with a decent enough layover to not be rushing, and no overnight flights, and booked that.  We wound up with a flight from Barcelona to Munich (MUC), then onto Newark.  These are also on Lufthansa.  With taxes, we paid $255.24 out of pocket.  Again, since we both hold the United MileagePlus Explorer card, we got free checked bags, etc.  So now my chart looks like this:

Spain and France in 2018 or So Help Me
Estimated Actual
Main Transit Costs
Flights to/from US Mainland $ 2,500.00
Flights to Europe $ 30.00  $22.40
Eurostar to France $ 630.00
Flights to Spain $ 500.00
Flights within Spain $ 420.00
Flights to US Mainland $ 200.00  $255.24

I’ll call that a good start.  I’ll keep updating as I’m able to book more!

2 responses to “Award travel success- transatlantic flights

  1. Gina says:

    Excellent information!


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