My wife Kelley said she wanted me to take her to Amsterdam this winter. Ticket prices from San Francisco SFO hovering around $700 to $800 round trip to Amsterdam led me to seek out alternatives, like using miles for award tickets. Finding economy award space was an easy task and that could have been the uneventful end to the story.
After several months of little fare movement besides TAP Portugal offering fire sale prices to cities all across Europe, but no or minimal frequent flyer miles on cheap basic economy tickets, Finnair started offering deals to eastern Europe this month.
Then, the past couple weeks have seen some major action happening with SkyTeam launching fare wars to Star Alliance airline partner places like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Poland.
This may explain why Star Alliance airlines offered discount fares this week to Italy, a SkyTeam country with Italy’s ITA member airline based there.
There is a lot of movement happening in fares to Europe right now. I spent the past three days studying fares from SFO to Europe.
But realizing there are currently several places in Europe reachable with a $400 to $500 round trip ticket price meant low redemption value for my miles. Saving miles for USA domestic trips would be a better value.
Delta/SkyTeam had tickets to Poland and Italy for under $400 round trip. Since I am Star Alliance Gold elite I prefer to stick with Star Alliance carriers. Searching SFO to Europe I found two destinations, Milan MXP and Tallinn, Estonia under $500 round trip bookable on United.com with long haul transaltlantic flights on United and coded as United. Intra-Europe flights are Lufthansa, SAS and Swiss.
I earn Aegean Miles+Bonus elite tier points with UA deep discount economy fares booked in K class to maintain Star Alliance Gold elite and free airport lounge access.
My two itinerary priorities were:
- Nonstop flight from SFO to Europe. If I am going to be stuck somewhere I don’t want to be stuck at an airport in the USA.
- United for the long haul flights across the Atlantic to earn Aegean 50% tier points credit for flight miles. 10,000 flight miles on United earns 5,000 Aegean Miles+Bonus Tier points. 12,000 tier points + 4 Aegean/Olympic Airlines flight segments during membership year earns Aegean Gold = Star Alliance Gold elite status. My membership started Sep 29.
Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona are other United destinations with prices in the upper $400s and $500s for winter travel. There are other United/Star Alliance locations around Europe with cheap ticket prices, but for some places, like Greece, itineraries with both transatlantic flights on United operated aircraft, then connecting to Greece with Lufthansa, Austrian or Swiss flights only ticket at lowest prices through codeshare flights for United. United.com ticket prices were $200 to $300 more for the mostly United itinerary.
The primary challenge I had was locating ticket routings that could be booked on United.com at low fares.
SFO-MXP Milan caught my eye at $470 round trip. SFO-TLL Tallinn, Estonia at $447 round trip also caught my eye due to Estonia being the Baltic country I have not yet visited. Tallinn is a good place to burn off my Radisson points.
Nested tickets is a strategy I’ve used for many trips to Europe, especially when ticket prices from the USA were really high for Christmas and summer travel. Basically, the idea is I book a USA-Europe ticket for the start of my first trip and the end of my second trip, then buy a Europe-USA ticket at an even lower price to fly home to California at the end of first trip and fly back to Europe to start second trip.
Oslo – San Francisco $371 on UA coded ticket.
Oslo-SFO at $344 round trip flying SAS and United is the deal that got me thinking about planning our next two trips to Europe in tandem. While Oslo is frighteningly expensive for food, Choice Privileges hotel points make $400 room nights affordable for only $105 in points.
The kicker for this low fare deal was Oslo-SFO had a United coded itinerary that included SFO-AMS nonstop for the return. We planned to travel to Amsterdam for an extended stay on the first trip and then return to Amsterdam to start the second trip by skipping the AMS-OSL flight. After 30 hours of planning the trip, SAS dropped the AMS-OSL routing for Paris CDG. That threw my nested ticket plan into disarray.
Open-Jaw Ticket SFO – Milan MXP // Tallinn, Estonia – SFO $451 round trip.
A find that amazed me is United priced an open-jaw flying into Milan, Italy with return from Tallinn, Estonia at $451 round trip with more than 3 months between outbound and return. The open-jaw ticket price at $451 came out lower than flying SFO-MXP $470 round trip..
What took most of the 72 hours I spent planning trips around SFO-MXP, OSL-SFO and SFO-OSL, TLL-SFO was working out the exact dates to coincide with connecting flights to Amsterdam and Oslo and hotel deals.
Ticketed San Francisco to Milan with SFO-FRA on United, then Lufthansa to Milan MXP. UA basic economy K class.
Plan is travel from Milan to Ljublana by train for 4 nights and then to Venice for 4 nights. Fly Venice to Amsterdam for 8 nights and fly to Oslo for a few nights before flying back to SFO. Two months later fly back to Oslo to finish off OSL-SFO ticket. Burning 400,000 IHG points was easy between Amsterdam, Ljubljana and Venice.
The second trip is not planned yet. We start in Oslo and finish in Tallinn, Estonia to fly back to SFO. We would like to travel to Greece and Croatia. Six months left to plan that trip.
- United: SFO-MXP, TLL-SFO $451 round trip (Aegean 5,770 tier points)
- easyJet: VCE-AMS $47 one way
- SAS: AMS-OSL $91 one way
- United/SAS: OSL-SFO $372 round trip (Aegean 5,475 tier points)