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Looking for Best Award Flight Options for My Family Trip to Europe (Part One)

  1. Best options on American, Finnair and Iberia flights

  2. Best options on  Delta, United and Lufthansa flights

As some of you may know, our family is planning a trip to Europe in 2017. We will need five award tickets since my sister-in-law is coming with us, so finding these many seats on the same flight definitely presents a challenge. And I love a good challenge! As you can see, I decided to break it down in two parts because the post got extra long.

Originally, we were planning on going to Europe at the end of May, but it looks like it will be in July instead. I won’t be able to book my tickets for another few months, but wanted to share my findings. Hopefully, my research will help you plan your own trip to Europe. Without further ado:

My stash of miles and points

1) 205,000 AAdvantage miles

2) 150,000 United miles

3) 200,000 Membership Rewards points (should post at the end of August)

I’m saving United miles for the trip back and will focus more on this option in my second installment.

Redemption on American Airlines and Finnair

AAdvantage miles can be redeemed on American-operated flights as well as OneWorld partners that fly to Europe. British Airways option is out of the question due to huge fuel surcharges. One exception is if BA-operated flight is strictly within Europe. I don’t really want to fly Air Berlin on the account that they stink when it comes to overall comfort and leg room in economy. Also, award availability on Air Berlin isn’t great these days anyway.

Plus, I kind of want to visit a place where I haven’t been to yet. Originally, I was thinking about flying to Paris, but my sister-in-law is petrified to go there due to terrorism fears. So, it was decided (by her) that I would compromise. It’s complicated, sigh.

So, I was hoping  to go to Amsterdam instead. American Airlines does fly there non-stop from Miami or we could leave from Tampa and make a connection. The cost is the same: 30,000 AAdvantage miles one-way. Unfortunately, getting an award ticket (let alone five) at this price would be almost impossible. We are planning on flying during peak season, and AA program usually wants 65,000 miles for one-way AAnytime tickets during the summer. No thanks. Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky.

An interesting possibility is taking Finnair flight to Helsinki. Availability isn’t too bad, but I’m not that into visiting Helsinki. No offense to all of my Finnish readers. The architecture looks similar to Russia since Finland was a Russian province/colony for a long time. Though I’m sure it’s a lovely country.

Either way, I would love to burn AAdvantage miles and preserve flexible MR points if at all possible.

 Redemption on Iberia flight from Miami to Madrid

Best options: Iberia Plus and AAdvantage.

Iberia Plus miles transfer from Amex Membership Rewards (1,000:800 ratio). I should have plenty for five tickets as long as my Amex Platinum bonuses post as expected.

Another option: transfer from British Airways Avios 1:1, but you have to have Iberia frequent flyer membership  for at least 90 days and there has to be some activity in the account. Transferring 1,000 points from MR program should do the trick.

You can transfer AAdvantage miles from SPG program or accumulate them via a co-branded credit card.

Why Iberia?

Iberia flies non-stop from these US airports: New York, Chicago, Boston,  Miami, San Juan and Los Angeles. If I’ve missed any, let me know. Even though Miami is 3.5 hours from our home, the fact that we can fly non-stop is a huge plus. Iberia program is a bit of a mystery to folks. I hope I’ll demystify it somewhat in this post, and feel free to add any additional findings.

Finding availability on Iberia

Award seats on Iberia do not show up in search on AA.com, so you will have to find them a different way. You can look it up on ba.com, but ignore the amount in fuel surcharges displayed there. We won’t be booking Iberia flights via British Airways Avios program. One of the best places to search availability on OneWorld, which includes Iberia is Qantas website. First, you will need to join their frequent flyer program (free). qantas ffWhat’s nice about Qantas is that it shows a calendar of available flights, so it makes it easier to plan your trip.

Alternatively, you can just go to Iberia directly and click on Iberia Plus:iberia plus ff

Join the program, though you may need to try it  a few times. The website is a bit buggy. Afterwards, click on “Book flights with Avios.” These are not the Avios you are familiar with. British Airways is a parent company of Iberia, which is why the programs are very similar. In fact, both use “peak” and “off-peak” pricing for flights operated by BA and Iberia.

Band 5 includes New York, Chicago and Boston. And  Band 6 includes Miami, San Juan and Los Angeles. Blue class is a saver-level (or cheapest) one-way economy redemption.

iberia award chart miami

The flights are priced per segment based on distance, so your best bet is to fly non-stop whenever possible. The “peak” dates on Iberia differ from those on British Airways and many correspond to Spanish holidays. Click on this link on Iberia website to see the current calendar of peak and off-peak dates (scroll to the bottom). Here is how the pricing looks like during the current summer months. Peak dates are highlighted in red and white (but not blue). Grey color represents off-peak:

iberia calendar

As you can see, if you go at the end of May or the middle of June, you’ll be able to book flights at off-peak price. Confused yet?

An example

Let me give you a real-life example. Let’s say we need to fly  non-stop one-way from  Miami to Madrid. We’ll go ahead and put in MIA and MAD airport codes and our departure date, in this case May 19th, 2017:iberia taxAs you can see, the price is only 21,250 Avios per person in economy, plus a fairly modest tax of 75 euros (about $85). I had no problem finding 4 economy seats on the same flight. But it gets better. You know how BA Avios program adds a significantly higher surcharge on business class redemptions? Not Iberia. It’s only 10 extra euros per person. iberia business

 

The cash co-pay option is much better in economy, and could be a good way to stretch your Avios. The award rate is also quite reasonable compared to other programs. Remember, AAdvantage charges 57,500 miles for business class. If you have a big family, you can potentially get all six of you across the pond for a reasonable amount in miles. Leaving from New York, Chicago or Boston will cost you only 17,000 Avios one way+$85 per person in economy. Not bad.

But let’s say you want to add a flight within Europe. Some routes will cost you only extra 4,500 Avios. Here is an example of Miami-Madrid-Palma de Mallorca redemption for one economy seat:

iberia palma

This is a terrific option for those who are sitting on a huge pile of British Airways  Avios. Just a reminder, right now there is a promotion  that will let you get 35% bonus on transfers from SPG, among other programs. If you take advantage of it with the idea of transferring BA Avios to Iberia, make sure to open accounts in both programs right now. That way you will start the clock on 90-day requirement.

If you have a decent amount of MR points and nothing in SPG program, you have two options. You can consider signing up for Chase British Airways Visa Signature card (read about it here) Once you get the sign-up bonus of 50,000 BA Avios, dump it into Iberia. Here is how:

  1. Log in to your account on ba.com
  2. Click on “Executive club”
  3. Select ‘Manage My Account’ on the left
  4. Click on ‘Combine My Avios’
  5. Select Iberia Plus as the transfer  program

If you are having trouble with this transfer, try calling Avios service center. One of the options for getting some Iberia Plus miles is to transfer them from e-rewards.

You can also consider transferring MR points directly to Iberia despite poor ratio. If you are planning on going to Madrid and live near an airport served by Iberia, it could be worth it even with a surcharge.  Obviously, first, see if there is availability. Reportedly, the transfer is not instant, but takes less than a day.

Booking Iberia flights with AAdvantage miles

As I’ve said earlier, Iberia flights don’t display on aa.com. So, after you find availability on Qantas, BA website or Iberia, call AAdvantage and book it over the phone. They should waive the fee since it can’t be done online. The price is 30,000 miles one way+tax (American does add the fuel surcharges displayed on Iberia website) and 22,500 miles during off-peak season.

Who should consider it? 

  1. Those who have a lot of AAdvantage miles and hardly any flexible points.
  2. Those who live in Los Angeles and Miami and plan to fly during off-peak season in AAdvantage program. The price difference is very small, so I would probably save my flexible points, especially if transferring from MR program.
  3. You need to connect from another US airport. Remember, AAdvantage  charges flat rate for redemptions from US to Europe, so you won’t have to pay extra miles for adding more segments. So, if I wanted to add an AA-operated flight from Tampa to Miami and  planned on flying during peak season on Iberia calendar, AAdvantage program would be superior.

Bottom line

While redeeming miles on most OneWorld partners via AAdvantage  is relatively easy, one notable exception is Iberia. Maybe that’s why availability is relatively decent, most are simply not aware of this option. For those of you who happen to have a decent stash of British Airways Avios or SPG points, there is definitely an opportunity here. Whether you want to be in Spain at the end of July is another matter. The word “hot” comes to mind.

Stay tuned for my next installment where I discuss my options for flights via United, Lufthansa  and Delta.

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and 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.

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8 thoughts on “Looking for Best Award Flight Options for My Family Trip to Europe (Part One)

  1. Probably misunderstanding/missing something, but I thought iberia flights booked with avios had to be round trip, also were priced by total distance coming and going rather than by segment. Is that only in the US?

    • Audrey, flights on American Airlines do have to be roundtrip, yes. See this post for more details http://freequentflyerbook.com/blog/2015/11/23/british-airways-devaluation-got-you-down-book-with-iberia-instead?rq=iberia
      Most will do just as well (or better) with BA Avios, but there are few exceptions on short flights. Roundtrip requirement is, of course, a major bummer. Iberia is a weird program because it has different charts for different partners. I know it’s very confusing.
      I specifically focused on flights to Europe in this post because those represent the best value.
      Iberia flights can be booked one-way online, and in some cases value is pretty good. To fly from Chicago to Madrid non-stop in the second week of June for only 17,000 miles and $85 is a steal. For those who are sitting on a huge pile of SPG points, there is a decent opportunity here with 35% bonus to BA Avios. Especially considering the fact that many other programs charge at least 30K miles.

  2. The Iberia program is quirky, but availability is usually pretty good. We have a son living in Berlin and the Air Berlin flight from ORD-TXL and the return are real gems. You’re right about AB economy seats, we fly business (tight, but lie flat seats) but have flown AB from Berlin to Tenerife in coach. My point here is that I’m sorry you mentioned use of Iberia Avios as you can usually get a seat and this like all things will probably change.

    • @Russ I assure you, my blog is pretty small, so I doubt people will be flooding Iberia with redemptions as a result of my post. Plus, Iberia program has been mentioned on large blogs multiple times. It’s definitely no secret at this point. I wanted to create a simple guide for families precisely because availability is usually good. That’s the biggest challenge: finding 4 or 5 award seats at a reasonable cost in miles. But like I said, I absolutely don’t believe there will be a flood of bookings in the upcoming days. For one, most of my readers don’t have an Iberia account and it will take 90 days before they can even transfer miles from BA. I thought it deserved a mention due to current 35% transfer bonus to BA.
      That Air Berlin economy seat is something else! You should have seen my husband, he was miserable. Also, they have only few toilets on a plane, and there was always a line. BTW, the planes they use within Europe have more leg room, at least the ones we took. I’m not a spoiled brat, but it would take a lot to convince me to fly in economy on Air Berlin to cross the pond. We’ll do it, of course, if there are no other alternatives, but it’s a nightmare.

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