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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
For the next Award Redemption of the Week, I want to share a story from TPG reader Sven, who redeemed AAdvantage miles to visit South America:
My girlfriend and I are recent college graduates living in Austin, which is a city that rarely sees any international flight deals. We both have two weeks of paid time off per year, so we try to squeeze every bit of vacation we can out of it. This has led to us to stretch holiday weekends into vacations of four or five days so we use one less day off. Travel during holiday weekends is more expensive, so we try to book as far in advance as possible.
Our motto is to always have ideas in the back of our minds as to where we want to travel, but not to chase any specific destination if we can’t find cheap flights or saver level awards. We had always wanted to go to Argentina and Uruguay, but had never found flights that worked well until we started planning a trip for Memorial Day in 2019. We found an itinerary that allows us to take just two days off, while giving us five full days in South America.
Conveniently, we had both just received a 60,000-mile sign-up bonus from the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard (offer not currently available). Using our AAdvantage miles, we booked our flights to Montevideo (via Miami) and home from Buenos Aires (via Dallas) for 30,000 miles per person each way. To connect between the two cities, we plan on taking a one-way, two-hour ferry ride.
Thanks to the 10% mileage rebate from our credit cards, the total ended up being 54,000 miles and $97 per person round-trip. The cash rate for this same journey was $1,767 per person, yielding a redemption value of over 3 cents per mile in economy.
While award charts get most of the attention, routing rules are a critical feature of frequent flyer programs that shouldn’t be overlooked. A program with favorable award pricing (like ANA Mileage Club) may lose some of its luster due to routing restrictions, and a program with mediocre award pricing (like Lufthansa’s Miles & More) can still stand out by offering flexible routing options. The takeaway is that airline programs can offer value in a variety of ways, and I encourage you to consider all of them when planning your next award itinerary.
The ability to book one-way awards may seem unremarkable, but it wasn’t long ago that even major domestic carriers like Delta and US Airways didn’t allow them. One-way awards can be incredibly useful — if you’re booking a last-minute flight or your return plans are uncertain, for example — but Sven and his girlfriend may have made their itinerary more complicated than necessary. American Airlines allows you to search for multi-city awards, so they could have just as easily booked the same flights on one ticket each. That would have lessened their exposure to fees in case their plans change.
One more consideration for flexible travelers is the impact routing has on your out-of-pocket costs, since taxes and fees may vary from one country or airport to the next. Sven and his girlfriend would have saved about $17 each by flying into Buenos Aires and back from Montevideo, since surcharges out of Argentina are slightly higher. That amount is likely too small to impact their decision, but the difference can be dramatic elsewhere.
For example, a multi-city United award from the US to London and back from Paris costs nearly $100 less than one that flies into Paris and returns from London. The UK is notorious for high duties imposed on departing passengers, so this is an extreme case. But if you’re not attached to a particular itinerary, it’s worth playing with routing options to see whether one is less expensive.
In appreciation for sharing his story, we’re sending Sven a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and we’d like to do the same for you. Please send your own award redemption stories to firstname.lastname@example.org; be sure to include details about the booking process and what you learned from it, and put “Award Redemption Story” in the subject line. As always, we’d also love to hear your success and mistake stories. If your submission gets published, we’ll send you a gift to spark your next adventure.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Featured photo by Alan Brutenic / EyeEm/ Getty Images