Avoiding Expensive One-Way Airfare — Reader Success Story
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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Alexander, who used points to save on an overpriced flight home from Europe. Here's what he had to say:
My fiancée and I had our sights set on going to Spain for our honeymoon this August. We’re based in Chicago, and American Airlines has non-stop Dreamliner service to Barcelona, so we both signed up for the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard when it had a 60,000-mile sign-up bonus. Saver award options were plentiful for our dates, and with the sign-up bonus we both had enough to fly round-trip in economy, but we also noticed there were business class MileSAAver awards for 57,500 miles each way. That piqued our interest, since neither of us have flown business class internationally.
Without even thinking about the return leg, we booked our one-way business class seats to Barcelona, and figured we’d just buy one-way tickets back home in cash. To my surprise, one-way tickets in economy were $2,900, even though round-trip tickets in economy were only around $1,200 during our dates. I was then stuck trying to figure out how to get back home without spending an arm and a leg or blowing all the Ultimate Rewards points I’d been saving.
Then I thought of your articles about Chase travel partners, and remembered that as a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder, I could transfer to Iberia Airlines for a points + cash redemption. One-way tickets to Chicago from Madrid (where we planned on ending our trip) were available in premium economy for 7,000 Avios and $398 dollars per person. I quickly transferred 14,000 Ultimate Rewards points to my new Iberia Plus account and booked our return leg home. Thanks for helping us get a much better price!
The cost of airfare changes rapidly, so it's smart to book quickly when you find a good deal no matter how you're paying for it. You might not have time to sort out the rest of your travel plans before buying, but remember you can generally cancel within 24 hours for a full refund (with some important exceptions). That should give you long enough to make sure your whole itinerary is viable, including the cost. Fortunately, Alexander and his fiancée were able to find another solution for their return trip, and ended up paying a reasonable amount for premium economy seats on an Iberia long-haul.
The cash price of one-way international flights on major carriers tends to be disproportionately high. In fairness, those higher rates are often for flexible tickets that can be changed or cancelled without penalty, so the comparison isn't apples to apples; even so, two one-way cash fares will usually carry a premium over the round-trip equivalent. In contrast, one-way awards are usually just half the price of round-trip awards, so you can avoid those premiums by redeeming miles when there's availability. When you're stuck paying cash, consider buying the less expensive round-trip ticket and ditching the return, or check rates on low-cost carriers if you don't mind (likely) adding a layover and won't incur too many ancillary fees.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Alexander for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to email@example.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
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