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Swapping Madrid for Barcelona, and What it Ended up Costing Me in Penalties

Few months ago I wrote a post on redeeming AAdvantage miles on 5 one-way tickets from Orlando to Madrid. The cost was 30,000 miles per person plus $5 tax, so I was quite happy with the outcome. Well, for the most part. My biggest issue was the fact that we were set to fly on Monday, and I would have preferred to leave on Saturday so we could maximize out time in Europe. But you can’t win them all, right? Well, actually, sometimes you can, but it may cost you dearly.

I’ve mentioned in the post that my sister-in-law is supposed to come with us. Me and her have a somewhat complicated relationship, due to her wanting to be the Alpha female in the family. And I pretty much let her have her way rather than create a huge argument. She is extremely good with my kids and they consider her a second mom (or maybe first?). They look like her too!

She isn’t married and doesn’t have her own children, so my husband and I try to include her in our plans as much as we can. I honestly could never repay her for all the help she provides. The above paragraph is meant to explain why I did the stupid thing that I did.

Barcelona what?

So, our flights were all booked and my sister-in-law called me and asked if we could possibly go to Barcelona instead of Madrid. She has been reading about the area and it looked interesting. I told her it would be quite complicated, but decided to investigate some options.

We didn’t yet book any lodging or tours in Madrid, so at least this part was in our favor. My first thought was to try to utilize Avios miles. After all, they are just sitting in my account and doing nothing. I wrote about my speculative transfer from SPG for a trip to St.John that didn’t  actually materialize. So now I’m a proud owner of a bunch of Avios miles with no plans to use them.

I could add a short flight from Madrid to Barcelona for 4,500 Avios (plus tax) per person, leaving the same day we land in Europe. Sure, it would be complicated, but  doable. I looked it up and was able to find four  tickets in economy and one in business class (9,000 Avios). The tax was $25 per person, so the grand total would end up being 27,000 Avios plus $125 in taxes.

I went ahead and reserved the tickets online that evening. Then the next morning I had an epiphany. I should have checked AA.com and see if there are any sAAver flights to Barcelona available via miles. Sure, we would pay penalties, but it would allow us to potentially have one connection instead of two, plus I would save Avios. While I don’t consider these points to be super valuable, they are definitely far from being worthless (see my post on Avios program). After all, I can always burn them on hotels instead of flights, though at poor ratio.

I checked AA.com and lo and behold, there were five SAAver tickets to Barcelona available on the same day. There was only one connection in Chicago. But what about penalties? Here is where I realized that I messed up. You see, I redeemed AA miles form my account for four tickets, and used my husband’s stash for the fifth one. Why is it an issue?

Because American charges $150 re-deposit penalty for the first passenger on the reservation, and $25 per person for each additional one. So, it would end up costing me $225+$150=$375. If I just used the miles from the same account, the penalty amount would be $250 total. Yikes. But what about my Avios reservation? Because it hasn’t yet been 24 hours since I booked my award tickets, I could cancel them and get a full refund of miles and taxes.

I decided to go for it

Here is why. Assuming I value Avios at a bit less than a penny each, we are talking about $375 (27,000 Avios plus $125 in award taxes). Yes, but you may say, one seat is in business class! The flight from Madrid to Barcelona is less than one hour, who cares.

That amount of $375 happens to match AAdvantage penalty for swapping our reservations. Not to mention, we would only have one connection and wouldn’t have to worry about delays etc. I’ll take it! Before proceeding with this change, I called Avios center to cancel the flights in order to avoid any potential surprises. The rep confirmed that I would get a full refund.

Now it was AAdvantage program’s turn. But before I called, I checked to see if by any chance there were five award seats on a Saturday or Sunday flight from Orlando to Barcelona. Well, on Sunday they had four sAAver seats (30,000 miles each) and one AAnytime award for 65,000 miles.

Reluctantly, I decided to go for this option. I wasn’t sure when we would be back in Spain and parting with extra 35,000 AA miles to add an extra day seemed worth it. Plus, it would allow me to reserve an exit row seat for my husband, a.k.a poor man’s busness class. Let’s do this.

Pleading and debating

I called AAdvantage and begged them to charge my husband an extra $25 rather than $150 since we are all flying together. No go. I even talked to a supervisor, but it wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t a jerk about the whole thing, but I did give it my best shot. I was charged $375 and my new flights were booked. Are you keeping up? Because there are few more twists coming.

So, several weeks later, I checked award flights and guess what? They had five sAAver tickets on Saturday, which is an even better option than Sunday. Not to mention, this flight would go through Philadelphia and had a more convenient departure time. Argh, what to do?

Here is the thing. I could swap four sAAver tickets to new route  without penalty, but that AAnytime award would incur a $150 charge. Again. I thought about it and decided to go for it. We would have one extra day in Spain, and I would be effectively buying 35,000 AA miles for $150. Considering the fact that I can redeem that amount for around $350 worth of hotel stays, I would say it’s a deal. So I went ahead and rebooked everything again.

One bright spot

When I booked my original award flights, I purchased travel insurance. The policy had  “cancel for any reason” option, so I went ahead and paid $35 extra for it. I didn’t get it with the idea of eventually swapping Madrid for Barcelona, but in case my husband would have issues with his job.

Since our trip dates changed, the policy wouldn’t be valid anyway. So, I decided to call and check if they would reimburse my mileage re-deposit fees. The policy specifies that they will only pay 75% of the costs, which is understandable. I talked to a nice lady at April Insurance and she told me to submit the claims for everyone in the party. And so I did. That was before I changed my tickets for the second time, but that $150 charge wouldn’t count anyway.

A month later I got a check for $278. Nice! Of course, I will need to purchase travel insurance again. I’m debating on whether I should only buy a medical policy since I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve to pay award taxes. The problem is, I’m pretty sure the benefits only apply to roundtrip itineraries. Since we used a different card for returning flights, we may have an issue in case things go south.

I plan to have another post on travel insurance at some point. It’s an important topic for any family who doesn’t have a ton of money in their savings account. I’m a great believer in travel insurance and obviously, in this particular case, it paid off big time.

Bottom line

Obviously, this whole thing was completely insane and not something I recommend you do. Pick a city and stick with it!

I’m certain Madrid would have been perfectly fine, and maybe few extra days in Spain aren’t that big of a deal. But travel with family isn’t always about logic. My sister-in-law does so much for us, and I’m certain that having her along on this trip will be very helpful and make things easier. She offered to reimburse me for all the penalties, but I declined.

Of course, then she went ahead and booked some super duper expensive tour from Barcelona for all of us, and insists on paying for the whole thing. Now that we have few extra days, we need to fill them from dusk to dawn (rolleyes. ) So, looks like I’ll get the rest of my money back after all.

In a perfect twist of irony, there were some super cheap summer fares from USA to Europe not too long ago. I didn’t even check the dates because I ain’t canceling no more!

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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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5 thoughts on “Swapping Madrid for Barcelona, and What it Ended up Costing Me in Penalties

  1. I think this is just what happens when you book travel early. When you have time to stew on things, sometimes you’ll notice better options coming along! I’m glad you figured something out.

    We’re going to Madrid and Barcelona along with a few other destinations for fall break 2017! We got one of those sales fares – flying into Madrid and home from Paris, our flights were $1,723 for the 4 of us. Now I just have to figure out how to upgrade my tall husband to Delta Comfort =)

    • @Holly I totally agree! Booking early can be a blessing and a curse. To be honest, I would have been perfectly happy with Madrid, but oh well. We have some very cool stuff planned in and around Barcelona. And I would LOVE to upgrade my husband to a bigger seat, but I doubt we’ll be able to afford it. We’ll see. Poor guy, he looks miserable in economy. He is 6 feet 4 inches, not a small man.
      Congrats on taking the kids to Europe!!! That sounds exciting. Adding Belarus to your itinerary? 🙂
      It’s crazy, right after I made all the changes, I saw these super cheap Europe fares pop up. Argh.

      • I’m going to use my Citi Prestige credits to upgrade my husband and one kid to Delta Comfort – right before I cancel our Prestige cards =) I probably wouldn’t pay in real money, but I’ll use travel credit for it. Might as well. My hubby is 6’3 so he’s in a similar situation. I’m 5/3 so I’m fine in coach.

        We’re not going to Belarus! lol We;re flying into Madrid, doing Madrid and Barcelona with a few days trips. Then to the Loire Valley then Paris. We picked stuff we thought our kids would like.

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