Getting a flight deal to Europe from the United States is one of the most sought after travel deals. There are plenty of ways to do it, from budget airlines to sales watching and member alerts. One of my favorite ways though is through miles and points redemptions.
How to score a $5 flight and make it a stress-free win by avoiding the pitfalls.
You’ve heard about people using points and miles to get cheap flights,but did you know that a lot can go wrong when attempting to cash in on those points?
Biggest Mistake #1
Don’t transfer the points to a frequent flier program unless you are absolutely positive that you’ll be able to use them.
There are several things you should check before you transfer your points to an airline.
- First, check the terms and conditions of the airline. Find out what the exact rules are, what the maximum amount of points you can transfer is, and what the minimum amount of points you’ll need are.
- Check the dates of your intended plans and know how flexible you can be with those dates. There can be a difference in the amount of tickets available from one day to the next and the amount of points necessary to book those tickets can change daily also.
- Find out if there are any blackout dates that points cannot be used for.
- Once you have checked dates at the airline you really want to fly with, check the alternatives and compare them. Competitors can offer cheaper tickets and more flexible schedules sometimes even for the same dates.
6 Do’s and Don’ts in Travel Redemptions
Don’t forget to consider the other parts of your travel plans. Just because the flight is a good deal during those dates, doesn’t always mean the hotel will be too. There could be a conference or special event happening that could make your dates suddenly unappealing in price and atmosphere.
Don’t transfer points just because there is a special bonus going on. Do your homework first and make sure that it’s a good deal before you commit. This is the time when it’s best to book a deal based on plans you already have in place instead of making plans after because you saw a deal. If you have a good travel agent, they won’t mind helping you book a deal even if you use points because you would be booking hotels and tours with them as well.
Don’t expect travel agents to provide you with everything or to work for free. You should be prepared to pay a fee for the services you receive if getting help with points redemption. You should also be very clear about what services they are providing and what you will have to pay for.
When using points to book flights, inclusions will depend on the type of flight you are booking and the airline you are booking it through. Some might provide a basic economy flight with one carry-on bag included and you will have to purchase extra items like food and beverages or checked luggage.
Do be prepared to pay for the extras if you book an economy flight using points. It may not include checked bags or an upgraded seat. If that’s something you would really like to experience, it’s best to book it in the first place.
Do verify and re-verify that your account numbers are correct because once it’s transferred to the wrong number, you will never see those points again.
Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find a good deal to maximize the value of your points redemption. You may need to be more flexible with your timing or use a different program.
Many air loyalty programs are using dynamic pricing which means that a flight that is priced lower in cash will typically require less in points also. As the demand and price changes, so will the points value. If you see it and it works for you, book it or you could lose it.
How I booked a $5 flight to Portugal
The first thing I do when I want to travel is lookup possible dates by checking the flight prices on google or Momondo. I start with the month I’d like to travel and then narrow down the least expensive dates.
Warning: the least expensive dates on google do not always correspond with the least expensive points dates through loyalty points bookings. You’ll notice dates and values when you are inside the member booking area.
For access to most airline miles/points redemption tables, you will need an account for that particular airline. You should also pay attention to which airlines partner together. There are 3 major airline alliances in the world, SkyTeam, Star Alliance, and OneWorld. Each alliance works together to help make connections and you can often see partnerships outside of the alliances as well.
These alliances and partnerships allow you to use credit card points, hotel points, and airline miles to book airline tickets. They can also be transferred for other travel redemptions as well.
Once I have an idea of dates that should be affordable, I prefer to start by checking a Star Alliance partner to see what’s available on points, such as, SIngapore Krisflyer or United Airlines.
I suggest that you start searching at least 6 months ahead of time for best availability. Some people book 1 year ahead of time. When trying to book more than 1 or 2 tickets or when trying to book around the holidays, it is highly important to book ahead as much as possible.
I started looking for my November one-way flight to Lisbon in April, 2022. I was able to find availability on a range of airlines and dates. Knowing that I would be trying to meet a transatlantic cruise in Funchal, Madeira Islands, Portugal meant that I wanted enough time to explore Portugal and still fly to the island with enough leeway for any unexpected delays or problems. I planned to give myself 10 days before the cruise to explore Lisbon and Porto. With the final 3 days dedicated to getting to Funchal in time to explore prior to embarkation.
I was able to find 5 tickets through the Star Alliance that were 27,500 points each for basic economy + $5.60 fee for each ticket. The total was 137,500 miles transferred for a Singapore airlines miles redemption from AmEx during a 10% bonus redemption (125,000 transferred plus an additional 12,500 bonus given) and a whopping $28.
Flights were on United Airlines from Tampa to Newark, New Jersey (1 connection) then TAP Portugal from Newark, NJ to Lisbon, Portugal overnight. Checked bags were included plus seat assignments and meals on TAP Portugal. Traveling to Portugal is much easier if you travel light and organized, so I recommend Solgaard’s award-winning Carry-On Closet suitcase.
Similar options on various airlines like Virgin Atlantic or Delta were pricing slightly higher or close for the amount of points but much higher in fees. Be sure to compare different loyalty programs and see what’s available unless you are less flexible and desire certain accommodations. The difference in price might be worth it in experience to you.
Business and First Class redemptions are much higher in point value but given the right circumstances, those might be exactly what you want or you could have an opportunity to upgrade for a reasonable fare. If you want first class though, book it, don’t count on upgrade options.
At the time of booking, that flight combination was around $600 but rose to over $1000 the week before our departure. Last minute deals only work when you are completely flexible or the perfect chances arise.
And just like that, I knew how we’d get to Lisbon and how we’d make it back to the U.S and I saved thousands doing it.
The planning didn’t stop there though, there were still more flights to plan, hotels, transportation/rental cars, shuttles, and tours. But, the biggest and most expensive parts were done.
If that sounds like too much work, maybe you would love a curated experience from Travel and Leisure GO instead. Become a member and get access to customized itineraries and preferred pricing when you book.