My Positive Experience Using Avios for Intra-European Flights

Jul 19, 2012

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I recently wrote about using miles for intra-European awards and I came to the conclusion that it can make sense – even in business class – since intra-European fares can be expensive even on the low cost carriers. This weekend I’m off to Europe on an AA award to London using 62,500 miles and $353 one way in British Airways First Class. Not bad, for a ticket that sells for $10,234 (and believe it or not, there are people who actually pay those prices). However, after spending a couple days in London, I’m off to meet friends in Copenhagen and AA does not allow stopovers on one-way awards, so I was on the hook for the 2-hour flight to Denmark.

No big deal – I have a boatload of Avios and Chase Ultimate Rewards (which can be instantly transferred into United miles) and both programs allow one-way awards and have low fees on intra-European awards. Or I figured I’d just buy a ticket, even on a low-cost carrier, since it’s only a short flight.

However, the low-cost carriers weren’t really cheap and the departures at less than ideal times – out of London Stansted and really early in the morning. Easyjet was coming in at $241. No thanks, since there are tons of other fees and a cattle-call-like experience (I did fly them on a Madrid-Marrakech flight a few years ago and had a perfectly fine experience).
I then pulled up United.com and lo and behold several SAS options opened up at great times: 12,500 miles for economy or 20,000 miles for business class and $78.50 in fees per person (my itinerary consisted of two people, hence the 40,000 miles).
I then decided to price out awards using Avios and to my delight, I found several options that provided huge value. Economy tickets weren’t available on my date, but business class was readily available at only 9,000 Avios and $26 per ticket. To extract even more value, I opted to go for the Cash & Avios option of 4,500 Avios and $91 per ticket, essentially buying Avios at 1.4 cents a piece. This same exact flight was retailing on Britishairways.com for $1,031 in business or $444 in economy. Even if you peg the value to the economy ticket, I got 7.8 cents per Avios in value from this redemption, and an astounding 21 cents per Avios if you peg it to the business class fare. Either way, a great deal and much better than blowing 20,000 United miles or huffing it to Stansted in the wee hours of the morning to fly Easyjet.
Another thing to consider is that British Airways does not charge late redemption fees on Avios awards, while United charges $75 for tickets booked within 21 days of travel. Though it is still expensive to redeem Avios on transatlantic flights between the US and Europe, Avios can provide extreme value elsewhere and Chase is ow offering a 50,000 Avios bonus after spending $3,000 on the British Airways Visa Signature Card. British Airways is also an instant 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, so there are lots of options out there, and you shouldn’t discount this program if you need to get around Europe on the cheap!

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