Booking Mileage Ticket Tricks to Europe

Me and my dad in Sete, France

Me and my dad in Sete, France

I fly over 100,000 miles a year but I don’t play the mileage game (paying more and/or making a stop just to fly one particular airline) anymore since I learned that it’s not worth it, and that the airlines really don’t care about their “frequent fliers” unless they spend the big dollars on full fare or premium tickets. And if American and United follow Delta Air Lines’ lead on changing their frequent flier rules then there’s really no more reason to fly a legacy airline domestically again since JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America offer superior economy products. If they don’t follow, however, then things will get interesting again and Delta will probably cave. But that’s a whole other story.

Since I don’t work for a big corporation or have a huge travel budget I fly whatever is cheapest and most convenient—except Spirit Airlines (I refuse to fly them). Therefore, I’m not a super elite flier on any one airline. Still, I do fly enough to have elite status on two of the three major US carriers: American and Delta (I just missed getting Silver on United for the first time in years). And each of these is a member of one of the three major airline alliances: oneworld, SkyTeam and Star, respectively.

What’s nice about having a good chunk of miles on those three airlines is that I can pretty much find a mileage ticket available when airfares are too expensive and that happens often in my case since a lot of my travel is at a moment’s notice, when airfare is at its highest.

Dad - ITAThis week I spent a good deal of time pricing out a ticket for my dad to go to Europe in early May to go on a Windstar Cruise. The ship departs from Spain and finishes up in Italy, so I was looking at a multi-city ticket (New York-Barcelona; Rome-New York). Fares online and from my travel agent (John Dekker at Surf City Travel) were about the same—$1,300. In this situation, I usually book with my travel agent since he can get seat assignments for free. And if something happens, like a storm or Iceland volcano erupting, I wouldn’t have to spend hours on the phone making alternate reservations as he can take care of it.

Here, I decided to see what my miles could do for me. I wanted my dad to fly business class but most of the airlines were charging an obscene amount for a seat there. I didn’t even bother to look at Delta at first since everyone knows SkyMiles are a joke and are triple the price of everyone else’s. So I first checked American Airlines. These days, they’re my go-to carrier since they almost always have space available and for a reasonable amount. Though, as of late I they haven’t had as much availability as they did pre-US Airways merger, but still—way better than Delta’s.

Dad AAAmerican has an easy website for using miles since you can see exactly how much each potential flight will cost, and the routing as well. As you can see from the screenshot above, the best deal I found was just 40,000 miles but because the flights were going through London on British Airways, there were some hefty taxes to pay as well—$475! I would’ve paid it if not for the layovers, which were just too long (21 hours) for my dad. Plus, I didn’t want to gamble with him flying standby.

DAD United
Then I logged onto United.com, which has a good website for seeing prices and availability—including for their partners—but in this case they didn’t have a lot of options and the ones they did have weren’t ideal (like 95,000 and $145). The biggest problem was not even the price; almost all of the flights were going through Newark and with all of EWRs problems this season I don’t want him trapped on a plane for hours before takeoff. RELATED: Here’s why to avoid Newark the next few months.

Dad DeltaThen I logged on to Delta’s website just for the fun of it. Their website is terrible for pricing out tickets, plain and simple. I had no idea how much any award cost but after some serious clicking, I shockingly found a pretty good deal (for Delta): 115,000 miles and $109 for a nonstop Delta flight in economy going there and an Alitalia and Delta business class trip on the return through Heathrow. The only problem now was that it kept giving me an error message when I tried to purchase it. After three tries, I finally called the number it listed and the agent (who I’m guessing was based in the Midwest based on her accent) told me there were no tickets for that cheap in her inventory and that she seriously doubted that I’d found one for that low that included Alitalia, since, as she explained, she can’t book miles with that codeshare partner. I told her I’d taken a screenshot (above), and so if she gave me her email, I’d shoot it over to her—but she said they couldn’t accept emails at work. How pathetic is that?

She then said she could look and book a ticket for me but it would cost an extra $25. She turned me down a couple of times when I politely argued that it mad no sense since I was trying to book online but their system wouldn’t let me book it—and fortunately, she later waived it. She also informed me that when you book online, just because you found fares/seats, nothing is set in stone until your credit card gets approved. Holding it means nothing. She said if they grab a seat with her system, it’s held even before you give them your credit card.

Not getting anywhere with the original fare I’d found, I figured I might as well see what kind of inventory she could find, so I had her look. She ended up finding a nonstop Delta flight from JFK to BCN (Barcelona) in economy and a FCO (Rome)-to-JFK nonstop in Delta business for 165,000 miles and $70. It’s a lot of miles, but my dad is worth it and I’ve seriously had enough of Delta’s mileage rip-offs. It’s actually the first time I’ve used my Delta miles (that I can remember) because they are so overpriced.

So what do you think? What’s your favorite mileage program and do you think this was a good deal or not?

Good to know:

  • It’s always a good idea to check first online for award seats but then call the airline if you don’t find exactly what you are looking for.
  • If you can’t use miles to go to some place like Rome then try and use then for nearby cities or countries and then either take a train or a low fare carrier. Just keep in mind that some low fare carriers charge hefty baggage fees and use secondary airports. So leave plenty of time in between flights (like a day or two)
  • You can no longer hold Delta award tickets, but after purchasing this one I had until midnight the following night to cancel or make changes for free. After that it’s $150 fee.
  • If you’re going to use Delta miles, the best bet is to sign up to Air France’s SkyBlue and use their website to price out Delta tickets. It’s a lot easier to use  and gives you the ability to see more partners than Delta. That’s why it’s great whatever Air France shows as classic availability then it is available for the lowest miles on delta but you have to call in to delta and suggest the flights you found. Also search by segment rather than round trip to have better luck.
  • And for those that don’t want to spend the time, consider signing up to a mileage service like Award Magic. I didn’t because I figured I know almost as much as them and what I don’t is not worth $139.
  • Here’s a good story by Chris Elliott titled, “Why I love Delta’s new loyalty program – and why you’ll probably hate it.”

Comments

  1. “Then I logged on to Delta’s website just for the fun of it.”

    Now THAT is a phrase I don’t see written very often! Congrats on finding something that worked, though, even if it was overpriced.

  2. It was a terrible deal. When using Delta miles it is best to use their partners which book at the lowest amount of miles. Last summer I booked two tickets on AF from JFK to JNB in business for 140,000 miles (now 160). Was able to spend a full day in Paris. Delta from NYC to JNB via ATL wanted 300,000 miles

    • Hello-I took your advice and enrolled in AF’s FF program. However, I did not see any link on their US site to access Delta flights.Do I need to call Air France? And why would AF charge me fewer miles than it’s partner?
      I want to use my Delta “pesos” soon and am looking at flying from FLL to either Sydney or South Africa. Please walk me thru the process. I looked at Delta’s site and the miles needed are absurd. I’m looking to fly business class rd. trip and have about 200k miles. Thanks to all for your help.

      Johnny- thank you for calling out Delta for their abysmal website and pathetic dilution of their FF program. I applaud you for being honest.

      • Johnny Jet Johnny Jet says:

        Hi Dave, I better change the wording but it doesn’t charge you less miles. Air France (AF) gives you the ability to see more partners than Delta does. That’s why it’s great whatever AF shows as classic availability then it is available for the lowest miles on delta but you have to call in to delta and suggest the flights you found. Also search by segment rather than round trip to have better luck.

  3. “Is it a good deal?” some will say yes, others no – for me, your Dad will have a wonderful trip and that’s why we do this mileage game to enjoy the savings and luxury extras for ourselves, friends and family. Best to burn the miles now for what you need – summer fares to Europe will always be insane in cost and miles so buyers remorse isn’t worth fretting over
    As for me, I find value in the BA program (using their partners for awards, upgrading to biz on BA and have the travel together 2-4-1 option) and even moreso now that I can redeem less miles for US/AA awards on the East Coast (9k to YYZ from PHL vs 25k or $600!).

  4. No, I don’t think it was a good deal unless you have 165,000 to throw away. IMO that is an outrageous amount of points for the ticket, especially in coach going over. I usually fly the opposite, business going over to sleep and economy coming back because it is daylight. I dumped all my skymiles last year on a B-class R/T to AMS on Delta for 100,000 points in July no less. I thought that was a score especially out of ATL direct! BTW, had the same problem booking it online, and after arguing, did get the fee waved also.

  5. after reading your blog,i have a question.is there any way to minimize the taxes charged for eurooe travel when you book thru american airlines and they almost always use british air with ridiculous taxes..
    any suggestions would be great.

  6. Johnny you get your good looks and big smile from your dad! I hope he has an absolutely fabulous time on his trip and hey tell him cruise calories don’t count :-)

  7. Not knowing the details of your Dad’s life before and after the cruise, I’d still suggest you check the transatlantic cruises to see if one’s going to Barcelona in time to catch his cruise there or leaving Rome at the end of his cruise. Not a lot of port stops; lots of at-sea days. Good for those who like to cruise. Usually very inexpensive. I saw an 11-day trip (Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona) starting at $299.

  8. At your recommendation I signed up for a Barclaycard. That was good for me, aside from the mileage, because I often travel overseas and they do not charge for foreign currency. But, how the heck do I use my Barclaycard mileage with various airlines?

    • Johnny Jet Johnny Jet says:

      Hi, you just pay with your credit card when you book your flight. then when it shows up on your bill you can use your miles (really points) to pay for it (or part of it)

    • i have a capital one card which gives you millage on any airline and no foreign transaction fees.i also noticed that there is no annual fee.

  9. Thanks for the mention, Johnny. Great post with lots of great advice! Hopefully more and more of your readers can begin to make the most of their miles and start to experience the Johnny-Jet-like good life :-)

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