As I mentioned few months ago, we are planning a trip to Europe next year for the whole family, in-laws and all. Everything was set except for a few intra-Europe flights. That’s why in August, I applied (in my husband’s name) for an increased Chase United Explorer card that came with 55,000 miles bonus. Chase has sent out an identical targeted offer (expires November 30th) to some MileagePlus members. You can check and see if you qualify by going to UnitedExplorerCard.com/Join
I wrote a post on how I participated in several promotions in order to have a total of 60,000 miles. Why that amount? Because that’s enough to cover 4 one-way economy tickets on Lufthansa, United partner, with no fuel surcharges. Thankfully, the availability was there and I was able to book the tickets online. The website bogged down a couple of times, and I actually had to start over, which was an annoyance.
Using 15,000 miles+$41 in taxes per ticket for a short European flight was a bit painful. But the same non-stop flight on Lufthansa was running at $672, and I didn’t want to take a $250 flight that went through Madrid. When you travel with kids, you look for the most convenient option.
OK, one flight down, two more to go. I had to get us from Naples, Italy to Grodno, Belarus, which is my hometown. Flying to Minsk, my country’s capital, is prohibitively expensive and involves several connections. So I looked into flights to Lithuania and Poland. As expected, there weren’t any good options to be had.
I settled on Naples-Katowice (Poland) route on Wizzair It’s a discount niche carrier that has been around for quite a few years.
I’ve never flown that airline, but the price was $110 per person (I prepaid 2 checked bags, because it’s cheaper to do it ahead). Considering the fact that it’s a very obscure route, we did OK. Unfortunately, we will need to take a train to Warsaw and spend a night there, before catching a bus to Grodno the next day. But in a way, it’s probably better because it will give my kids a chance to rest. My mom is planning to meet us in Katowice, which will make things considerably easier on me.
On to the next one. I had to get us from Belarus to Dublin, where we will spend one night before catching our flight to Orlando, Florida the next day.
The only decent option was Vilnius-Dublin route on Ryanair This is an equivalent of Spirit Airlines, but with an Irish twist. One time they were thinking about charging passengers to use a bathroom. This is another one I have never tried, so am a little apprehensive as to what to expect.
Seth from Wandering Aramean blog has written a cheekily titled post I flew Ryanair and I liked it! if you want to familiarize yourself with this carrier. The cost of a one-way ticket was $100 per person, so not bad at all. Of course, trying to book it was another story. I put in all the info and was ready to reserve the tickets, when this game popped up. Free prizes, how can I say No?
It started asking me questions from “The Simpsons” show (?) in United States. Well, I didn’t win anything and the website went berserk as a result. I had to redo my reservation with all the details 10 times. I was literally screaming at my computer. Finally, I got it all booked. I did prepay the checked bags here as well.
If this is a preview of my experience with Ryanair, shoot me now! The title of my post will be “I flew Ryanair and I wanted to kill myself!” Maybe it won’t be so bad after all.
Europe has many carriers that can’t be booked with miles. However, many times it makes more sense to pay for your ticket, so always compare the price to mileage costs on major carriers. Try to look outside of this hobby, whether you are flying in the United States or planning a trip to Europe. Still, sometimes miles redemption can be the best, most convenient option, as was in the case of our Munich-Naples flight.
Even if we went with a connecting flight or a train option, it would cost us $250 per person and mean a very long travel day with small kids. Instead, I applied for 1 card, did a few promotions that didn’t cost me anything but my time, and paid $165 total for 4 people. That means I got an $835 value out of one sign-up bonus, plus the exact flights we wanted.
Most of you will not be redeeming United miles for Europe flights, but domestic coach that goes for 12,500 miles one-way within the lower 48 States and Canada. Sure, it’s not the most glamorous redemption, but if you can save money and get the schedule you need, burn those miles and don’t look back.
Some Ways to get United miles
Even if you can’t get the increased Mileage Plus offer to come up, there is a way to get United miles by transferring points from Chase Sapphire Preferred (pays me commission). It comes with a sign-up bonus of 45,000 points after adding an authorized user. If you meet the $3,000 minimum spend, you would get 48,000 points, which is just 2,000 points shy of getting enough to transfer to United and redeem for 4 one-way tickets.
Usually, I prefer to transfer Ultimate Rewards to Southwest. However, if you have a lot of points in that program already and need to fly non-stop to destination served by United Airlines, this option is something to consider.
Out of all legacy carriers, United has the best award availability, so with some flexibility, even a family of four can usually find something. Just don’t hope to get it during Christmas or after Thanksgiving, not at a saver level, at least. Oh, and don’t use your miles to go to Alaska, which will run 5,000 miles extra each way.
This hobby can seem very intimidating to people who’ve never dealt with miles and points. Sure, there are websites that focus on advanced travel hacking techniques. However, most of it is just common sense and good fiscal habits, and that’s it.
“Miles and points” game, if done right, can be incredibly lucrative. Is it for everyone? No. But I’m not going back to paying for flights if I don’t have to.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.