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Off-Season Mileage Bargains to Europe

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Off-Season Mileage Bargains to Europe

I love traveling off season. It’s less crowded and more affordable. American Airlines AAdvantage redemption rate for off-peak travel to Europe between October 15 and May 15 is only 40,000 miles.

This is a great deal, but it gets better. If you would like to visit more than one European city for the same 40,000 miles, you can do what I did last year. I visited four places on the same award ticket: Berlin, Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Madrid and San Diego. (More on that last stop later.)

One thing to remember: American Airlines does not allow stopovers outside North American gateway cities. That means you can’t have a full-blown vacation time in each of these cities even if you have the time. You can, however, build your itinerary to include a change of planes on the way to your destination, and as long as the stop does not exceed 24 hours it’s not considered a stopover. It’s considered a layover. And it is allowed under the airlines rules so you’re not breaking any doing this.

Keep in mind that you must be flexible and willing to spend some time building your perfect trip. I’m very flexible, especially when it comes to seeing a new destination. Before this trip, I had only been to London, so I was looking forward to seeing a few other European cities on my way there and back. Here is the itinerary I flew.

Trip to Europe
Trip to Europe

March 25: New York “ Berlin, with a 23-hour layover in Berlin March 26: Berlin “ Tenerife, with six days on Tenerife

April 2: Tenerife “ Madrid, with a 24-hour layover in Madrid

April 3: Madrid “ New York

That was the end of my European vacation, but I like to maximize rewards so I booked a stopover on my return to New York. American Airlines does allow stopovers (not to be confused with a layover) in one of their North American gateway cities on the way to or from your destination. So even though I live in New York I turned it into a stopover city. My final stop on this award ticket was San Diego. But I saved that one-way ticket for a summer trip to the west coast. In August I flew from New York to San Diego since I had a year to finish up my award ticket journey.

For more on how to do this, read: How I Booked a Free First Class Award Flight to Cancun.

You can still replicate the same trip as of now, but what might happen when American and US Airways integrate their frequent flyer programs this spring is anyone’s guess. So if you have the miles and want to take a European tour like mine, don’t procrastinate.

Here are a few tips to help with your planning:

Berlin Cathedral
Berlin Cathedral

  • Go to the American Airlines website and look for each segment separately. Use one-way travel. Do not use roundtrip or the multi-city tool just yet.
  • Chose the flight that arrives at your layover city early in the morning, so you have the whole day for sightseeing.
  • Try to choose the flight that departs from your layover city next morning, so you can get a good night’s sleep. But make sure it’s within 24 hours of your next flight. You’ll have to pay for a hotel for the night, but you will arrive at your destination well rested.
  • Repeat the same routine when booking the return trip.
  • You can use any of American’s oneworld partners, but avoid British Airways on trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flights. They impose draconian fuel surcharges. Most other airlines are fine. Air Berlin often has terrific availability.
  • Not all airlines can be accessed when booking an AAdvantage award ticket. If your travel plans include Spain for instance, you’ll have to call American to inquire about booking on Iberia.
  • When you have all your segments mapped out, write down the flight numbers, dates and times, and go to the multi-city tab and try to build your itinerary using this information. It should not cost more than 40,000 miles if you are traveling from October 15 to May 15.
  • If the total is more than 40,000 miles, call American and ask them to book your itinerary for you. Their website can be finicky sometimes.

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