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Lyn writes about flying nearly free around the US on Southwest on her blog, GotoTravelGal.com. But she and her family recently took their first international trip together using miles, and I’ve asked her to share her strategy.
Lyn: Are you within driving distance of Boston, Chicago, Hartford, New York, Newark, or Washington, DC? Because your family could save thousands flying to Europe using miles!
This summer, my family of 4, including my husband and 2 school-age boys, took our first family trip to Europe. And we flew there using miles and points.
I’ll share how easy it is! And how 1 or 2 credit card sign-up bonuses can get you and your travel companions on your way to eating pasta in Italy, sipping Guinness in Dublin, and cruising down the Seine in Paris.
How to Fly a Family of 4 to Europe Using Miles
1. Getting From the US to Europe
Aer Lingus flies non-stop from several US cities to Dublin:
- New York City (JFK)
- Washington, DC
You can fly from these cities to Dublin (and in a few cases, Shannon, Ireland) for 26,000 British Airways Avios points per person during their off-peak dates, which are two-thirds of the year. Off-peak dates include:
- January 5 to April 6
- April 24 to June 16
- September 11 to December 15
For 4 people, you’ll pay a total of 104,000 British Airways Avios points (4 x 26,000 points).
You’ll pay taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges in addition to points. We chose to fly from Chicago, which is just a few hours from us by car. And we paid ~$113 per person each way in surcharges.
The further your airport from Dublin, the higher the fuel surcharge. You can see the complete list of Aer Lingus fuel surcharges by city. These fuel surcharges are less than they would be if you used British Airways Avios points to book British Airways or American Airlines flights.
2. Flying Around Europe
We cobbled enough points together to book intra-Europe flights from Dublin to Paris, and from Bologna (Italy) back to Dublin on Aer Lingus. We did this by transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood to British Airways.
Plus, Starwood gives you a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 Starwood points you transfer to airlines with a 1:1 transfer ratio, like British Airways. We then transferred British Airways Avios points to Aer Lingus Avios points to book the flights.
Flights from Dublin to Paris cost 4,000 Aer Lingus Avios points one-way. And to fly from Bologna to Dublin costs 6,500 points one-way. Aer Lingus has a distance-based award chart, so shorter flights cost fewer points. Price also depends on if your travel dates fall within their “peak” or “off-peak” seasons.
We paid a total of 42,000 Aer Lingus Avios points for the 4 of us for these 2 flights (4,000 points X 4 = 16,000 points, plus 6,500 points X 4 = 26,000 points).
- 20,000 + 5,000 (bonus) Starwood points transferred to British Airways, then to Aer Lingus
- 17,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to British Airways, then to Aer Lingus
Note: It takes up to ~7 days for Starwood points to transfer to British Airways, so be sure to allow time.
We booked paid tickets on Ryanair from Paris to Bologna for ~$300 for 4 of us, because it was cheaper than a train and took significantly less time than train travel.
Alternately, you could rent a car from a company like Hertz Europe (we rented a car in Italy and drove through Tuscany) and take a European car trip! Renting cars in Europe can incur additional fees when crossing borders or picking up / dropping off at different cities, so be sure you are aware of all the fees and charges. Tolls can also be confusing so get advice from the rental agency before heading out.
Earning British Airways Avios Points
British Airways is a Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner. We put together our plan for the transatlantic flights using Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to British Airways, and then to Aer Lingus.
To earn the 104,000 points we needed for our flights to Dublin, we signed-up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve when the 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards point bonus offer was available.
The current sign-up bonus is 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.
Once we met the minimum spending of $4,000, we earned 104,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, then transferred them to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio to book our flights.
While the 100,000-point Chase Sapphire Reserve offer is no longer available, there are other options for quickly earning the points you need, like:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening (this is Daraius’ favorite card for beginners)
- Chase Ink Business Preferred – 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening
- British Airways Visa Signature Card – 100,000 British Airways Avios points after meeting tiered minimum spending requirements
You can also move Starwood points to British Airways, from cards like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express. You’ll get a 5,000 British Airways Avios point bonus for every 20,000 Starwood points you transfer.
Or consider transferring points from American Express Membership Rewards card like the The Platinum Card® from American Express. But keep in mind, the transfer ratio isn’t as good (5 AMEX Membership Rewards points = 4 British Airways Avios points).
Transferring Flexible Points to British Airways
British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Iberia use the same points currency, called Avios. This means you can easily transfer Avios points between them.
Most travel blogs recommended booking Aer Lingus award flights by calling British Airways. You can’t search for Aer Lingus award flights on BritishAirways.com, but you can find available award seats on United.com.
So I booked our intra-Europe flights online as he suggested, and it was much simpler and showed more award seats! I’ll show you how I did it.
How to Book Aer Lingus Award Flights Online
If you are using Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you will want to transfer them to British Airways Avios first, because Aer Lingus is not a transfer partner. Here are the steps:
1. Sign-Up for British Airways Executive Club & Aer Lingus Aer Club Accounts
First, you will need to sign up for a British Airways Executive Club account, as well as Aer Lingus’ loyalty program, AerClub. It’s free to join both.
2. Log-In to Chase Ultimate Rewards
Go to Chase Ultimate Rewards and log-in to your account.
3. Choose Use Points and Transfer to Travel Partners
Select “Use Points“ then “Transfer to Travel Partners.” Look for British Airways as an option and then transfer the number of points needed, which usually happens instantly or within 1 business day.
At this point, you could skip to “Finding a Flight“ below and call British Airways to book your preferred flight directly. Or you could continue on as I did to book the flights online.
4. Log-In to Avios.com Using Your Aer Club or British Airways Executive Club Passwords
The next step requires you to transfer British Airways Avios points to Aer Lingus Avios points. First, you’ll need to log-in to Avios.com, using either account’s information.
5. Combine Avios Points
Once logged-in, go to “My Account“ and look for “Combine My Avios“ in the “Overview“ section. Once you select “Combine My Avios,” you may need to log-in to the other airline’s loyalty account, as well.
Here, you’ll want to select “British Airways to Avios“ and then enter the number of Avios points you need to transfer. Select “Transfer Points.“ Avios.com serves as the “middle man,” if you will, between British Airways and Aer Lingus, and is where you will book your flight.
You can follow the same process if you already have British Airways Avios points from the Chase British Airways card, or other means.
6. Find Your Flight
Once you’ve accumulated the miles you need, it’s time to book your flight.
To search for flights, log-in to your Aer Club account and choose “Aer Club,“ “Spending Avios,” and then the green “Spend Your Avios Points“ button. Alternately, you can visit Avios.com and select “Spend.“
Next, enter your desired departure airport with Dublin as your arrival airport, along with dates, and number of passengers. Avios will show you available award flights, as well as the additional fees and surcharges required. There is also an option to book with points and cash if you do not have the total points required.
When you find an option that works, you can either select “Continue With Booking,“ which will take you to the final payment screen. Or you could call Aer Lingus at 800-474-7424 to book the flights.
Note: You can also search for available award seats on AerLingus.com, then call British Airways to book the flights with British Airways Avios points without having to transfer them to Aer Lingus.
It is absolutely possible to fly a family to Europe using miles by signing-up for 1 or 2 credit cards and taking advantage of Aer Lingus’ reduced awards during their off-peak dates.
Early in the summer season is a great choice for families.
In my next post, I’ll share our Aer Lingus flight experience!