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For the next Award Redemption of the Week, I want to share a story from TPG reader David, who used favorable transfer ratios to book premium transatlantic flights:
I recently started accumulating points and miles mostly through welcome bonuses. The idea was to have enough for a sightseeing trip to Europe for my wife and me. After many hours of trying to piece this trip together, and using your guide to maximizing Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, I was able to discover great value when using VS miles to book Delta flights.
After researching flights and dates, I transferred 77,000 Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic, which gave me 100,000 miles due to the 30% transfer bonus from Amex. I also transferred 77,000 ThankYou points to Virgin Atlantic, taking advantage of another 30% transfer bonus from Citi to give myself a total of 200,000 miles.
With those miles I booked us one-way Delta One flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Amsterdam for 50,000 miles and $5.60 per person, and back from Dublin to New York-JFK for 50,000 miles and $157.64 per person. Although over $150 in taxes is a bit high, it’s significantly less than the $250 to $500 I saw for flights out of London and other European cities like Amsterdam, Paris or Milan. Our outbound flight was going for over $8,200, giving me a whopping redemption value of 21.4 cents per Amex point! Our return flight was going for over $3,500, giving me still a very good redemption value of 9.1 cents per ThankYou point.
The next step was to get us to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) and back from JFK, as we live in Texas. I used United Airlines miles to book economy flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to MSP (arriving about six hours before our flight to Amsterdam) and Newark to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) the day after we got back to JFK. Those flights cost 25,000 miles and $11.20 per person. I then used the United Excursionist Perk to book a flight from Amsterdam to Venice for zero miles + $44 per person. Finally, I found a flight from Venice (VCE) to Barcelona for 15,000 miles + $44 per person.
During Iberia’s recent promotion, I purchased two flights for about $40 each and was awarded 18,000 points, which I put toward the rest of our itinerary. I found a flight from Barcelona (BCN) to London-Heathrow for 7,500 points and $21 per person. I then transferred 9,000 points from Chase Ultimate Rewards and booked flights from London-Heathrow (LHR) to Dublin (DUB) for 4,500 points and $55 per person.
All told, we’ll be visiting Amsterdam, Venice, Barcelona, London and Dublin for a total of 77,000 Membership Rewards points, 77,000 ThankYou points, 80,000 United miles, 24,000 Avios and approximately $520 in taxes and fees.
Several parts of this story stand out to me as exemplary. One is how thoughtfully David scheduled his positioning flight to Minneapolis and his flight home from New York. You might be tempted in a similar situation to try and book the shortest turnaround you can find, but cutting your connections too close is playing with fire when you’re flying on separate tickets. A lengthy delay on the DFW-MSP leg could have been disastrous, since David would have been on the hook for any additional cost to rebook his transatlantic flight. Instead he left plenty of room for error, and I agree it’s better to give yourself an ample buffer and spend some extra time in the lounge than risk blowing up your trip before it’s really started.
Another notable aspect of this story is David’s creative use of United’s routing rules. TPG Senior Points and Miles Contributor Richard Kerr does a great job breaking down how to maximize the Excursionist Perk, and one of his key takeaways is that your free segment can occur anywhere so long as it’s not the same region where your itinerary begins and ends. David was able to tack a flight within Europe onto his award for just the cost of taxes and fees. He could likely have found a similarly inexpensive ticket on one of Europe’s low-cost carriers, but this way he was able to fly with a full-service airline and avoid fees for baggage or other add-ons.
Finally, David made excellent use of transfer bonuses to amass miles quickly. Delta flights have historically been one of the best options for booking Virgin Atlantic Flying Club awards, since mileage requirements are low on many routes and availability tends to be good. Those bonuses compounded the already excellent value David got from his points. Virgin Atlantic did recently start to add hefty carrier-imposed surcharges to awards on Delta metal, but these have since disappeared, and a statement from the carrier confirmed that nothing has changed along these lines. Assuming those surcharges don’t return in the future, there’s still a lot of value to be found in booking on Delta and other partners.
In appreciation for sharing his story, we’re sending David 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 Pedro Szekely/Flickr
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
- Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
- Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms apply.
- See Rates & Fees