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Today, TPG Contributor Lori Zaino offers her best tips and tricks for using points and miles for getting around Europe. (All photos are by the author unless otherwise noted.)
Chances are, you’re planing to visit more than one European city — or country — while you’re in the area. If you’ve managed to bank a ton of points and miles, the good news is you can use them to not only get to Europe, but to get around Europe as well. Here are six easy tips for saving money during your European adventure, listed here in no particular order since they’re all equally useful.
1. Always Do the Points & Miles Math to See if Paying Cash is Smarter
If you can take a train or fly on a low-cost carrier affordably — especially on one of Europe’s low-cost carriers — you may not want to waste your precious points and miles if it means you really aren’t getting a good value from it.
To be sure, do the math before you book. Take the cost of the flight in cash divided by the cost in miles to see how many cents in value you’ll be getting for each mile. Then check the value you’d be getting against TPG’s monthly valuation to confirm if it’s really worth your while. For example, if you can buy a flight on British Airways for $100 or 10,000 Avios, you’re really getting a value of one cent per Avios — after checking that value against TPG’s most recent valuation, which puts Avios at 1.5 cents per mile, you can see this isn’t a great deal. In this case, you may just want to buy the flight for $100 — or a $40 Ryanair flight instead.
Additionally, hefty taxes and fees on award tickets can sometimes cost almost as much as the ticket itself. If that $100 ticket costs 10,000 Avios and $40 in taxes and fees, it’s definitely not worth wasting them on, so just buy the ticket with cash.
If you end up deciding to pay for your ticket in cash instead of redeeming an award ticket, pay with a credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred that’ll give you 2x points for travel-related expenses — alternatively, Citi ThankYou Premier and Citi Prestige also give you 3x points on air travel and hotels.
Ryanair, Wizz Air, Flybe, Volotea, Pegasus Airlines, Vueling and EasyJet are low-cost airline alternatives if you prefer to pay cash for your flight, just read all the fine print before booking to make sure you’re clear on all rules and added costs.
Train travel is also another alternative to consider for cheap and rapid travel within European countries and cities.
2. Know Your Airline Alliances
Great news for travelers: Europe is actually home to a number of alliance-affiliated airlines. Oneworld has Air Berlin, British Airways, Finnair and Iberia, while Star Alliance has 11 European members: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, Swiss, TAP Portugal and Turkish Airlines. SkyTeam has Aeroflot, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, Czech Airlines, KLM and Tarom, a Romanian-based airline.
At the very least, you can earn miles for flying these airlines and bank them to your American Airlines, Delta or United account, so make sure you always add your frequent flyer number for any flights you may have on these partner airlines.
Also note that when searching for partner availability, you may not be able to find much unless you use other websites, especially with Oneworld partners. For example, you can use Qantas to show Iberia award availability and then call American Airlines to book. Or try searching Flying Blue for SkyTeam awards. United’s website should pull in most of its European partners when searching, though you can use the ANA and Aeroplan sites to search as well.
3. Take Advantage of Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses
Right now, The Platinum Card from American Express is offering a sign-up bonus of 40,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening your account. These points can then be transferred to partner airline programs, giving you more options for intra-European travel redemptions.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is offering a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after you spend $4,000 on the card within the first three months, while the Chase Ink Plus Business Card’s current sign-up bonus is 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. If you were to sign up for both Chase cards and meet the spending requirements, you could potentially end up with 110,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which could then be transferred to partners like United or British Airways. According to TPG’s most recent point valuation, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are valued at 2.1 cents apiece, meaning your new 110,000 points are really worth about $2,310! That could definitely get you (and possibly a few friends) around Europe during a future trip.
4. Use Online Shopping Portals to Earn an Extra Bonus
Always watch for any type of bonus that could help you earn some extra miles — the easiest way to do that of course is by keeping an eye on this site, which is updated several times throughout each day with the latest points and miles info. But you already knew that.
TPG usually details whether or not these extra-buy bonuses are worth it and posts when there are transfer bonuses that could help give your mileage account the extra boost it needs when transferring between programs, giving you just enough miles for say, a one-way ticket from London to Budapest.
5. Maximize Connections and Open-Jaw Itineraries
If you’re using points and miles to get to Europe, consider extending any connection you may have from three hours to 23 hours so you can spend a whole day exploring a new city. For example, if you’re heading to Amsterdam but have a layover in London, extend the layover so you can spend the day there.
Anything less than 24 hours is considered a connection and it’s a fun way to check out a new place without having to spend more on a hotel room. In fact, some airports, like Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport (IST), offer free tours of the city if you book a long layover when you fly on Turkish Airways, a Star Alliance partner. So, for instance, you could fly from the US to Turkey, enjoy a city tour of Istanbul, then fly to your final destination — not a bad use of United Airlines miles if you can swing it!
Open-jaw itineraries also may make more sense as well, meaning you fly into one city and out of another, like going into London and leaving from Paris. This way, you only need to get from London to Paris on a one-way ticket instead of round-trip, meaning you are really maximizing those points and miles. However, make sure to read the fine print before booking stopovers, open jaws and connections as each airline has its own specific rules for these types of routing options.
With a little planning and by paying attention to airline alliances and when to take advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses, you can easily turn those points and miles into the ultimate European vacation. Bon voyage!
What are your secrets for getting around Europe with points and miles? Let us know below.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards