Best Use of FF Miles for International Trip?

Discussion in 'Newbies' started by moongoddess, Aug 27, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    Hello! I’m new to using FF miles, and could use some guidance on how to make the most of the ones I have. I’m not a frequent flyer (2-3 times/year); to date, most of my travel has been domestic, but I have visited the UK and New Zealand, and am about to go to Central Europe for three weeks this September. Assuming traveling solo in Europe doesn’t totally freak me out, I plan to do more international travel in the future. Specifically, I’m in the very early stages of planning a 2-week trip to the Netherlands and Belgium in April 2012, and am thinking about possibly spending 2-3 weeks in Switzerland and Austria in September 2012.

    I’m a member of the American Airlines FF program, and right now have 82,000 AAdvantage miles to play with. I don’t fly enough to care about getting elite status; the perks that come with a business class ticket are enough for me. So I’m mainly interested in using my miles for award tickets or upgrades. I do have the Citibank AAdvantiage card, and estimate I can get between 10,000 to 30,000 miles per year just from using that card.

    So, here’s my (pleasant!) dilemma: which of the following three options uses those precious miles the most efficiently?

    Option 1: I can get a round-trip coach class award ticket from my home airport of OMA to BRU, routing through ORD, departing Sunday April 15 and returning Saturday April 28. (Those dates are perfect for me!) PROS: Free ticket! What’s not to like about free? And the award ticket only costs 40,000 miles, leaving me plenty for that possible Switzerland trip. CONS: It’s coach class both ways. My prior LAX-AKL coach experience has me appreciating the merits of flying business class on long-haul flights (especially overnight ones). And AA isn’t showing a direct OMA-ORD connection for the departure leg; instead, I’d have to go OMA – DFW – ORD. It does allow me to get very early flights, so if everything went well I’d be in ORD by noonish – plenty of time to catch the 5 PM flight to BRU, and (more important), it allows time to fix things if anything goes wrong. But any time you add a connection, you increase the chances of a problem; a direct OMA-ORD morning flight would be better.

    Option 2: I could spend 70,000 miles to get an award ticket with a business-class seat on the ORD – BRU leg (50,000 miles), and come back in coach (20,000 miles). PROS: Free ticket! And it offers a good compromise between comfort and affordability – business class when I need to sleep, icky coach class on a daytime flight where I’m going to be awake anyway. And I can get a direct OMA-ORD flight. CONS: I still have to put up with a coach class seat on the return flight. The only direct OMA-ORD flight AA will let me choose leaves in the afternoon; I’d only have a two-hour layover in ORD. If anything goes wrong with that flight, I’ll probably miss my international flight. And April is thunderstorm season on the Great Plains, and they generally start forming in the afternoon… And it’s nearly twice the FF miles as the 100% coach-class ticket; I won’t have as many miles left to play with next fall.

    Option 3: If I’m correctly understanding what’s posted on the AA site, I could buy a round trip coach-class OMA-BRU ticket, then pay 50,000 miles and $700 to upgrade the two international segments to business class seats. PROS: Business class both ways! It only costs 10,000 more miles than the round trip coach class award ticket; I’d have a reasonable number of miles left for next September’s trip. Plus, I’d earn economy miles on the flights (and more miles if I paid the fees with my AAdvantiage credit card), making the actual total FF miles expended on the upgrades less. And I could probably get that morning direct OMA-ORD leg that I’d prefer. CONS: It’s not a free ticket. (Although paying less than $2,000 for a round trip international flight is not bad at all…) I can’t book it myself; I’d have to call the AA Reservations line and have an agent book it for me – which means I can’t be certain I’d even be able to get the upgrades at this point. I’d have to talk to the agent first to find out. I’ll have to pay a $20 booking fee, too.

    So – which option do you think makes the most sense to pursue? Right now I’m inclining toward option 3, although option 1 is also tempting.
     
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  2. traveler
    Original Member

    traveler Gold Member

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    Where in Central Europe are you about to visit? Central/Eastern Europe has some magical places and they may change your mind as to where you want to go next year! I have been totally WOWED by formerly Iron Curtain countries since my first visit to Prague in 2004. Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, the Baltic countries and Russia (Turkey too) have all amazed me and most of these places are cheaper and less crowded than most of Western Europe.
     
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  3. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    I'm going on a tour of Prague and Budapest (where I have a friend - I'm sticking around an extra day there after the tour to visit with her), then venturing back west on my own to visit Vienna and Bremen (I have friends in both those cities as well). Since this is the first time I've ever traveled to a place where English is not the native language, I thought I'd start out easy (as I do speak a very little German). I'd love to see the tulip fields in bloom in the spring, and since I also have several friends who live in the Netherlands and that corner of Europe is supposed to be fairly easy for monolingual English speakers to navigate, I thought it would be a good choice for my first 100% solo trip. But after that, who knows! The Alps aren't going anywhere; I can always see Switzerland later if another destination excites my imagination more.

    So many wonderful places in the world to see, and so little time to visit them...
     
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  4. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    I'd hate to almost zero out my account with a mix of business and coach, and I'd never pay the kind of money you'd pay to both fly and upgrade a September flight, so I'd go with option 1 just to keep some miles in my account. I have some photos from Brussels this year linked below, and I have been to Keukenhof to see the tulips about 10 years ago Think I took the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Haarlem, and then bus over from there. Look at doing an open jaw award ticket into one country and home from the other. You might pay the BA fuel surcharge for that but it would be for a short segment (say LHR-AMS).

    Be careful about Switzerland, although I see you're over a year out from that trip. The Swiss franc hit a record high against the U.S. dollar last week and it will be very expensive to travel there (photos below of it, too). Austria less so as they're on the euro. Last time I was in Vienna I flew into London, bought a separate BA ticket into Salzburg, had an Austrian rail pass to get around, and came home from Zurich (had to buy a single ticket Bregenz to Zurich for around $30-40).
     
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  5. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    Thanks for the advice.! Option 1 is certainly tempting in terms of what I get for so few miles expended; if I could just get a direct OMA-ORD morning flight on that ticket, I'd probably book it now and plan on just toughing it out in coach. The money and miles saved would buy a lot of future travel! Maybe I 'll get lucky and AA will open up one of the morning OMA-ORD flights to award booking later.

    My original plan was an open-jaw flight into AMS then returning via BRU, but AA isn't showing any award availability on the AMS flights. I haven't checked any of the other Oneworld Alliance members' schedules yet, though (and won't until my upcoming trip is over). But given how close Brussels and Amsterdam are, I'd be fine with obtaining a round-trip ticket into either of them and using the train to get to where I actually want to be at first (probably Haarlem). And who knows what award seats will be available when I'm actually ready to book the tickets? I'm discovering that the planning's definitely more complicated than when you're just buying your tickets outright. But the savings seem to be worth it!

    The crazy expensive cost of Switzerland these days is one of the reasons that trip is tentative. I may substitute a US trip to the Rockies instead to get my mountain fix, and let the wallet recover a bit before seeing the Alps. The tentative itinerary I've drawn up will keep!
     
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  6. Million Mile Secrets

    Million Mile Secrets Silver Member

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    Prague and Budapest are absolutely delightful, and Vienna is one of my favorite European cities. You'll have a great time!

    I haven't really noticed a language problem in my travels in Europe. Learn a few basic words (or carry a 1 page list), say "please" and "thank you" a lot, and most folks will patiently help you out!

    Switzerland is very expensive, and a meal at McDonalds cost USD 15! But it really is picture perfect.
     
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  7. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    I didn't think the language isse would be a big problem, but it's good to have confirmation of that! I'll have the appropriate phrasebooks with me, and will definitely learn a few Czech, Magyar, and German polite phrases.

    $15 for a hamburger?! At those prices, Switzerland will definitely be the trip of a lifetime - because ther's no way I could afford to go more than once!
     
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