What are the Best Ways to Use Miles for a Last Minute Trip to Paris?
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
TPG Twitter follower Antwoinne is turning 30 and wants to go to Paris:
"@thepointsguy do you have any thoughts on best mileage usage to get to Paris on award travel early December? Last minute 30th birthday trip!"
Without knowing exactly where Antwoinne is flying from and what class of service he's interested in, I do have a few different options and suggestions for him.
Flying Blue Promo Awards
Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program of Air France and KLM, and every few months it comes out with a list of Promo Awards where you can score award flights on Air France and KLM for as few as 50-75% of the miles normally needed from major gateways all over the world. Aside from the fact that you might not end up saving a huge amount thanks to the recent Flying Blue award chart devaluation, there are still bargains to be had.
The current list is available for travel 5 months from November 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014. You just need to book between October 30 – November 30. Blackout dates are from December 18-23, 2013 and from January 2-6, 2014.
The gateway cities in North America for flights to Europe include:
- Boston: 46,875 one-way, 25% discount Air France
- Cancun: 46,875 one-way, 25% discount Air France
- Chicago: 31,250 miles one-way, 50% discount KLM
- Detroit: 46,875 one-way, 25% discount Air France
- Houston: 31,250 miles one-way, 50% discount Air France
- Montreal: 46,875 one-way, 25% discount Air France
- New York JFK: 46,875 one-way, 25% discount Air France/KLM
- Toronto: 31,250 miles one-way, 50% discount KLM
- Vancouver: 31,250 miles one-way, 50% discount KLM
- Washington DC: 46,875 one-way, 25% discount Air France/KLM
Economy and Premium Economy
- Atlanta: 18,750 miles one-way, 25% discount Air France
- Boston: 18,750 miles one-way, 25% discount Air France
- Calgary: 18,750 miles one-way, 25% discount KLM
- Cancun: 18,750 miles one-way, 25% discount, Premium Economy 25,000 miles each way, 50% discount Air France
- Chicago: 12,500 miles one-way, 50% discount
- Detroit: 18,750 miles one-way, 25% discount Air France
- Houston: 12,500 miles one-way, 50% discount, Premium Economy 37,500 miles each way, 25% discount Air France/KLM
- Los Angeles: 12,500 miles one-way, 50% discount
- Mexico City: 18,750 miles one-way, 25% discount KLM
- Montreal: 18,750 miles one-way, 25% discount, Premium Economy 25,000 miles each way, 50% discount Air France
- New York JFK: 18,750 miles one-way, 25% discount Air France/KLM
- San Francisco: 12,500 miles one-way, 50% discount Air France/KLM
- Vancouver: 18,750 miles one-way, 25% discount KLM
- Toronto: 12,500 miles one-way, 50% discount, Premium Economy 25,000 miles each way, 50% discount Air France/KLM
- Washington DC: 12,500 miles one-way, 50% discount Air France/KLM
So Antwoinne has a lot of options and there's generally a lot of availability. For instance, let's say he's coming from Chicago and wants to fly Economy, there are several discounted dates late in November and early in December when he's thinking of going.
You might not have any Flying Blue miles, or even be a member of the program, but it's a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards - so if you have a card like the Premier Rewards Gold, Platinum, Business Gold Rewards or Business Platinum card, you can transfer points from your Membership Rewards account into a Flying Blue account. It's also a partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, so you can transfer in points from there, and for every 20,000 points you transfer, you get an extra 5,000 for a 25% bonus, so you would actually only need 20,000 Starpoints to book a discounted economy Promo award.
Just beware of fuel surcharges that will run about 130 euros ($175) roundtrip on economy awards.
But that's just the beginning of your options.
American Airlines Off Peak Awards
One of the sweet spots in the American award chart is its off-peak economy awards, which are discounted economy tickets based on seasonal travel to various continents besides the US and Canada and that include roundtrip awards to Europe from October 15-May 15 for just 40,000 miles. And again, there are plenty of dates with the discounted economy award mileage available in early December, including this itinerary the first weekend in December for 40,000 miles and $92 in taxes and fees.
Just beware, American will charge non-elites a $75 fee for booking awards within 21 days of travel.
British Airways Avios on Aer Lingus or Air Berlin
Although flying British Airways to Europe can be expensive thanks to huge fuel surcharges and taxes when flying to London that can add $500-$1,200 to your ticket depending on the class of service, its partners Air Berlin and Aer Lingus do not have nearly as high fees so it can make a lot of sense to use your Avios to book awards on them instead, which I did myself this past summer on Aer Lingus to Dublin, and Air Berlin on a return from Europe.
Aer Lingus awards can only be booked over the phone, but you can first search ExpertFlyer to find Aer Lingus award availability before calling BA and then ask the agent to waive the phone booking fee since you cannot book online. One of the sweet spot redemptions in BA's distance-based award chart is from Boston to Dublin which requires just 25,000 Avios roundtrip in Economy and 50,000 Avios roundtrip in Business Class – an incredible value for airfares to Europe - though you'll be spending 9,000 more Avios roundtrip to get to Paris from there in economy, or 18,000 Avios in business class, and about $110 in taxes.
However, thanks to the current 20% Amex transfer bonus to British Airways, you'd only need 29,000 Amex points for an economy award or 50,000 Amex points for a business class award - pretty great values.
Air Berlin, which also charges much lower fees, flies nonstop from Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL) to Chicago-O’Hare, Miami, and seasonally to Los Angeles. From Dusseldorf Airport (DUS) they fly direct to New York-JFK, Fort Myers, Miami, and Los Angeles. For example, each direction of a Business Class ticket from JFK-TXL requires just 40,000 Avios and economy is just 20,000 Avios. Then adding on the Paris flight, you're looking at 89,000 Avios (75,000 Amex points) for business class roundtrip, or 49,000 Avios (41,000 Amex points) for economy - pretty good discount.
One great thing about booking your award through British Airways is that they don't charge last-minute booking fees on close-in awards.
Check out this post for more ideas on Leveraging the Maximizing Partner Redemptions With the Current Current Amex Transfer Bonus to British Airways.
Another Amex and Starwood transfer partner, Aeroplan is the mileage program of Air Canada, and one of the sweet spots in its award chart - at least until the huge mileage devaluation planned to go into effect January 1 - is 90,000 miles for a roundtrip business class award from North America to Europe.
Also remember that now through December 9, 2013, you can earn up 25,000 bonus miles when converting points from a selection of partner loyalty programs, including the following:
- SPG Starwood Preferred Guest
- Marriott Rewards
- Hilton HHonors
- Club Carlson
- Best Western Rewards
- Wyndham Rewards
- Accor AClub
- Choice Privileges
- Coast Rewards
- Golden Circle Award (Shangri-La Hotels)
- Points.com (note that only exchanges are eligible for the bonus but not points trades with other members)
Unfortunately Amex Membership Rewards, which is a 1:1 transfer partner of the program, do not count for this promo.
The bonus is tiered and you earn points in the following amounts:
So you would only need to convert your other points into the equivalent of 76,000 Aeroplan miles to score the 24,000 extra for your 90,000 total award requirement. Or if we're just talking Starpoints here, also a 1:1 transfer partner, and include the 5,000-mile bonus you get for transferring increments of 20,000 Starpoints, you'd only need to transfer 65,000 Starpoints to end up with 90,000 Aeroplan miles during this promo. That all might be a long shot, but it's still an option, and you can always transfer in points from Amex instead then use your miles to fly a Star Alliance partner like Lufthansa, United, SAS or even Air Canada itself to Europe in business class. You can use United.com or ANA's search tool to find Star Alliance availability on various routes as well.
Just beware that Aeroplan does add fuel surcharges to award tickets, so you could end up paying anywhere from $100-$1,000 on your ticket depending on the carrier and class of service. For more information, check out my Overview of Aeroplan Star Alliance Award Taxes and Fees.
So you've got lots of options, Antwoinne, and I hope you make it to Paris for your birthday!