In March I will be attending the world’s largest travel trade show at ITB Berlin. An estimated 17,000 attendees. Huge.
The past several days I have been studying options for flying to Berlin and back in March 2013 using American Airlines AAdvantage miles. It would be to my advantage if I had 30,000 United miles for the outbound trip since the schedules to Berlin with Lufthansa work out so much better from Monterey. But alas, my account balance is only sufficient for flying to Europe in economy at 20,000 AAdvantage miles each way.
The published airfares are $1,000 for the dates I need to be in Berlin. Over the past couple of months I have not seen the rates drop under $750.
One of the facets I enjoy about hotel awards and airline awards is the choice of where I travel is shaped by the options given to me through the loyalty program. This is exemplified by the AAdvantage award flights I have found to get me to Berlin and back again, many itineraries with overnight layovers and extended daytime layovers for the option to visit another European city or two or three taking the long way home.
- 9 hours during the day in Oslo or 23 hours with an overnight in Stockholm?
- 21 hours and an overnight in London?
- 21 hours and an overnight in Dusseldorf?
- 8 daylight hours in Miami or San Diego?
- Zurich, Vienna, Dublin, Milan, Lisbon or Madrid are possibilities for an intra-Europe ticket at 10,000 additional miles.
How much is a frequent flyer award ticket to Berlin, Germany?
First off is the realization that different frequent flyer awards with AAdvantage miles have very different fees and taxes. British Airways flights really hike up the award ticket fees.
Option 1: Monterey MRY (AA) – Los Angeles LAX (AA) – Miami MIA (AB) – Berlin TXL
AAdvantage Award cost is 20,000 miles + $5.00.
LAX-MIA is an overnight flight arriving in Miami at 6:45am and departing Miami at 4:05pm for a nonstop flight to Berlin on Air Berlin (AB). I can take the train into downtown Miami and back with at least 4 hours in the city for under $5. Alternatively, the airport express bus to Miami Beach is also under $5 roundtrip.
Back-to-back overnight flights is a brutal schedule.
Miami Beach for the day before a flight to Europe?
Option 2: Monterey MRY (AS) – San Diego SAN (AA) – Los Angeles LAX (AA) – London LHR (BA) – Stuttgart STR (AB) – Berlin TXL.
AAdvantage Award cost is 20,000 miles + $116.80.
Leaving Monterey via Alaska Airlines is available with AAdvantage miles. I can fly Alaska Airlines to San Diego and spend about 5 hours from 10am to 3pm outside of the airport before the flight to Los Angeles and a transatlantic flight on American Airlines.
Basically my options are limited flying from a feeder airport like Monterey.
San Francisco opens up many more possibilities. Since my trip is more than a week with a car I need to park at SFO, the option of an extended parking package at a San Francisco Airport hotel is another option and something to consider for a hotel night before a morning flight. SFO is a two hour drive from Monterey. Public transportation options really are quite limited in this part of California. High speed rail on the central coast? A far away dream.
Option 3: San Francisco (BA) – London LHR (BA) – Zurich (AB) – Berlin TXL.
AAdvantage Award cost is 20,000 miles +$336.90.
The schedule works out great flying British Airways direct to London, but that London flight with BA carries a high tax. And no time for leaving the airport on these flights passing through London and Switzerland.
Option 4: San Francisco (AA) – Miami MIA (AB) – Dusseldorf DUS (AB) – Berlin TXL
AAdvantage Award cost is 20,000 miles + $18.00.
No time to leave any airports with these flights, yet also avoids the all-day layover in Miami.
Seize the Possibilities
The options expand exponentially once in Berlin and planning the flights back to Monterey or San Francisco.
Intra-Europe flights are 10,000 AAdvantage miles. Tack on $50 and 10,000 miles and I can fly to another place in Europe from Berlin and ticket a 20,000 mile AAdvantage flight award from there.
I was never much of an AAdvantage flyer (250,000 miles with AA vs. 800,000 miles with UA). While stopovers were allowed with AA roundtrip award tickets several years ago, the side-trip destination options with one-way award tickets seem much greater to me for a low additional cost. One-way award planning combined with low-cost airline options to change locations intra-Europe before flying home to the US opens up possibilities for visiting many more cities at discounted cost.
Europe one-way side trips: What the Helsinki…Let’s Travel.
New York city subway car advertisement.
FinnAir (AY) as a OneWorld Alliance partner provides options to travel from Berlin to Helsinki on an inexpensive award flight.
Berlin TXL (AB) – Oslo OSL (AY) – Helsinki HEL (22.5 hours overnight in Oslo)
Berlin TXL (AB) – Stockholm ARN (AY) – Helsinki HEL (23 hours overnight in Stockholm)
In 1999 I started playing this loyalty travel game seriously and planned a set of flights to earn a 100,000 miles frequent flyer bonus by flying five OneWorld airlines. Those trips took us through Europe in late December with flights from London to Manchester to Amsterdam. From Amsterdam I had the choice of Helsinki on FinnAir or Barcelona on Iberia. We spent Christmas in Barcelona and I always kind of regretted not going to Helsinki. I wanted to stay at Starwood’s Hotel Kamp then. $50 and 10,000 miles can place me in Helsinki for another chance at Hotel Kamp.
AAdvantage Award Cost is 10,000 miles and $56.80 (Oslo) or $53.20 (Stockholm) with an overnight in either city on nearly a full-day layover.
The best feature of flying to Helsinki is the option of a 21-hour layover and overnight at LHR on the award ticket back to California. AAdvantage one-way award HEL-LHR-LAX-MRY allows an evening in London via FinnAir (AY) with total award cost 20,000 miles + $79.40.
HEL-MRY AAdvantage one-way award for $80 allows 21 hours overnight in London at minimal additional cost.
Copenhagen – the City of Spires
Air Berlin (AB) is a low cost European airline. A one-way paid flight from Berlin to Copenhagen is USD $65.17.
Air Berlin one-way flight March 12, 2013 Berlin-Copenhagen $65.17.
Paying for a flight from Berlin to Copenhagen saves 10,000 miles. My brief survey of the Google results provided common responses to the question Oslo, Stockholm or Helsinki?
Copenhagen was the overwhelming favorite from about 30 responses on three different forums I read.
AAdvantage one-way Award Copenhagen-Monterey is 20,000 miles + $61.50.
AAdvantage Copenhagen-Monterey one-way award ticket is 20,000 miles + $61.50 with the option of a 21-hour overnight layover in Dusseldorf.
Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Helsinki, London, Oslo, Stockholm – oh yeah, the purpose of the trip is Berlin. Too many award choices. Europe is distracting.
There are many opportunities to see additional cities with clever award planning for Europe. One way awards and low cost airlines allow a combination of cities using one way awards and/or paid flights to squeeze in more city viewing opportunities. Rather than spending $1,000 or more to visit Oslo or Stockholm or London for a week, I can tack on a day or two in other locations as an add-on to my Berlin trip for an additional $25 to $50 per city.
The overnight hotel expenses are not much of an issue with loads of Club Carlson points and a large selection of hotels in Europe for good value free award nights.
Of course, the amount of time I spent looking at award and paid flight options the past few days could have been used to earn $1,000 performing other work, but that is not as much fun as spending hours planning and daydreaming of potential travel destinations.
Ric Garrido, writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. You can follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.