Our family just got back from an epic European adventure, made possible primarily by miles and points. When the Villain was still living in China I used US Airways miles from the US Airways Mastercard sign up bonus to book an award flight to go visit him. I convinced my soon-to-be in laws at the time they should do the same, and helped them both to sign up for the card. Unfortunately, award space to China in the summer is not nearly as good in the summer as it was in the dead of winter (don’t go to Northern China in January…brrr!) so they were never able to use their miles. Since we wanted them to put them to good use, we convinced them to come along with us to Germany. Caleb’s brother and sister-in-law decided to join the fun as well and this time a year ago we were busy signing them all up for their first travel rewards earning credit cards.
For our flights, Caleb and I were flying out of Denver and the rest of our family flew from Kansas City. We were a bit luckier that we flew Lufthansa the whole way, and flew directly from Denver to Frankfurt. I was impressed with Lufthansa’s economy class, serving two meals and plenty of free booze on our long haul flights, and sandwiches, chocolate bars and more free drinks even on our 45 minute flights. What it would be like if US domestic airlines had the same customer service!
Lufthansa was almost, if not just as great, as Qatar and Emirates, my favorite airlines to fly. Our tickets were booked with 60,000 United miles each, which we earned from each signing up for the United Card (I got in at the 55,000 offer almost two years ago and Caleb with a 35,000 mile offer). We used Ultimate Reward points from Chase cards transferred into our United accounts to make up the difference.
Our parents flew on US Airways miles, which as I mentioned they earned from the US Airways Mastercard (40,000 miles each). We paid to transfer points between US Airways accounts to make up the difference there. His brother and sister-in-law flew on United miles, 60,000 each (35,000 each from the United credit card, 25,000 transferred from our Ultimate Rewards–which I’m not saying is allowed, but we were able to do it). At the time of booking, US Airways and United were both in the Star Alliance so we were able to get them on all the same flights.
Since each person was booked under an individual award ticket, I did have to call the airline to request seats together. Though they booked using United and US Air miles, their flights were mostly on partner airlines, including Scandinavian Airlines and Air Canada. If you want to ensure seats together when booking on partner airlines, you’ll need to call the airline you booked through to request confirmation codes for each individual airline. Then you can call that airline and present each passengers’ code and request seats together. Only about half of my calls resulted in successful seat assignments, as some as I was told they’d just have to ask at the check-in counter to be re-seated. Though United could not give me Scandinavian’s codes, I called anyway and using the last name they were able to seat them next to each other. Calling for seat assignments is an extra step that some people probably think unnecessary, as you could do online when you check in or at the counter if possible, but it was important for us since Caleb’s parents don’t fly often and aren’t particularly fond of flying at all.
For all of the flights we were able to book open jaw tickets, meaning we all flew into Munich and flew home from Paris. Additionally, on the United tickets we were able to include a stopover in Venice. Basically this allows you to add in a free flight to your itinerary.
Our itinerary looked like this:
Denver > Munich, Venice > Paris (stopover), Paris > Denver (open jaw)
All of this was included in the 60,000 mile award ticket price, along with $192 each in taxes and fees (slightly more expensive than the US Airways tickets without a stopover, which were $118). This is a great benefit of United miles because it saved us having to buy an additional ticket in the middle of our trip and allowed us to easily visit an extra country. Since our parents were on US Airways and stopovers are not allowed, they paid out of pocket for a flight from Venice to Paris. They were able to fly nonstop on Air France, while we had a layover in Frankfurt on Lufthansa, but luckily the times were around the same so we could all travel to and from the airport together.
Originally I booked their tickets on Ryan Air, not Air France. Ryan Air is a budget airline, comparable to say Spirit Airlines in the US. A few months before the flight, I received an email saying their flight time had changed. I was expecting a few minutes difference, but was shocked to see it had been bumped up from a 4:30pm flight to an 8 am flight! Once I was finally able to get ahold of someone at Ryan Air via online chat, they did refund at least a portion of our money. We rebooked them on an Air France flight, which was pricier than Ryan Air but still under $100 a person. Inter-European flights are generally fairly cheap and a good alternative to taking the train or renting a car.
Using miles to book our flights saved our family over $10,000 and significantly decreased the total cost of our trip!