How to Get to Europe With American Airlines Miles AND Avoid Heinous Fees

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I like American Airlines miles because, even though they aren’t a transfer partner of any of the major points programs (other than Marriott), they are easy to earn.  You can collect American Airlines miles with cards issued by Barclays and Citi:

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum, CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card, Barclays Aviator cards has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

But if you’re looking to book an award flight to Europe, American Airlines miles can be tricky to use.  Reader Gerald ran into this problem when looking into booking a Business Class award flight to Europe.  He found a round-trip flight for 115,000 miles, but was shocked to see $1,000 in fees added in addition to the miles!

There are ways to use American Airlines miles to fly to Europe without getting stuck with outrageous fees.  I’ll outline your options in this post.  And if want to learn even more about using American Airlines miles, be sure to check out our complete guide on how to use American Airlines miles.

You can use American Airlines miles to book low-fee award flights with Finnair

Using American Airlines Miles to Europe

American Airlines is part of the oneworld alliance, which includes these European airlines:

  • British Airways
  • Iberia
  • Finnair

They charge the following for one-way Saver awards from the mainland US & Canada to Europe:

  • 30,000 miles in coach during peak season (22,500 miles off-peak)
  • 40,000 miles in Premium Economy
  • 57,500 miles in Business Class
  • 85,000 miles in First Class

The 2019 off-peak dates to Europe are from January 10 to March 14 and November 1 to December 14.

When it comes to extra carrier-imposed surcharges, the good thing about American Airlines is that they don’t add fuel surcharges to award flights on their own planes or most of their partner awards.  The bad thing is that they do add these extra costs to Iberia and British Airways partner awards (although Iberia has much more reasonable fees than British Airways).  The fees on most British Airways flights are absurd at best.  You can regularly find cash flights for close to what you would pay in fees!

Also worth noting, American Airlines will add a $75 fee for award flights booked within 21 days of departure.  But there are ways to work around it.

If you see “BA” before the flight number run away! The fees on these particular flights were $600+ one-way!

Oneworld is already short on European airline partners, so the fact that award flights with British Airways are essentially a no go is a big hit.  It leaves us with 3 main options for getting from the US to Europe.

Keep in mind that Business Class awards with these airlines can be scarce if you’re not booking well in advance.  Also, American Airlines has increasingly been applying married segment restrictions to award flights.  What that means is you could find an available award flight to your final destination with a connection, but when you try to book a single nonstop leg of that flight the award seat is no longer available.  Essentially, this is a way for the airline to restrict or charge more miles for nonstop flights.

Fly on American Airlines Planes

You can book award flights to Europe with American Airlines with fees starting at $5.60 each way.  On top of that, American Airlines has an on going promotion called “web specials.”  With these deals, you can book one-way flights to Europe for as little as 6,000 miles and $5.60 in fees!  But there is a catch.

Not many available dates and two connections, but you can’t beat 6,000 American Airlines miles for a flight to Europe!

The cheapest prices are available on very limited dates and can sell out quickly.  Plus, the 6,000-mile flights I checked out had two connections between Los Angeles and Barcelona.  Although some of the 8,000-mile flights only had one connection, which is definitely a stellar deal.

The other issue with American Airlines’ web specials is that they don’t have an official sale page advertising which routes are on sale.  So no one really knows when they add or remove deals.  Right now these are the web special routes to Europe that we know about:

  • Los Angeles to Barcelona
  • Raleigh to London
  • St. Louis to Paris
  • Miami to Madrid

Even though the cheapest 6,000-mile flights won’t work for most people, there are a good number of web special deals from 12,000 to 20,000 miles, which is cheaper than even the regular off-peak awards to Europe.

But for the most part, if you want to use your American Airlines miles to get to Europe, plan on booking an Economy flight for 60,000 miles round-trip.  I’m heading to Italy this fall and found a solid number of award flights for 60,000 miles + $22 in fees.

Here are most of the European cities American Airlines serves or will begin service to this year (some of these routes are seasonal):

  • Athens
  • Barcelona
  • Berlin
  • Bologna
  • Budapest
  • Dublin
  • Dubrovnik
  • Edinburgh
  • Frankfurt
  • Lisbon
  • London
  • Manchester
  • Madrid
  • Milan
  • Munich
  • Paris
  • Prague
  • Reykjavik
  • Rome
  • Shannon
  • Venice
  • Zurich

Travel With Finnair

Finnair has a few flights from the US to Helsinki.  Even if Finland isn’t your final destination there’s a good chance you can find a cheap flight on Norwegian Air, which operates 18 year-round flights from Helsinki across Europe and just as many seasonal flights.

You can fly on Finnair to Helsinki from:

  • Chicago (seasonal)
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami (seasonal)
  • New York (JFK)
  • San Francisco

Just like with American Airlines, if you’re not booking far in advance, you’ll have a tough time finding Finnair Business Class awards.  I was able to find a good amount of available Business Class awards from November 2019 through January 2020.   And I found lots of one-way coach flights for 30,000 miles and only $5.60 in taxes.  That’s still a solid deal.

Book an Iberia Flight

Iberia can also be a decent option for using your American Airlines miles to get to Europe.  You will pay more in fees than with American Airlines or Finnair, but they aren’t as outrageous as what British Airways charges.

Iberia flies from these US cities to Madrid:

  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • New York (JFK)
  • San Francisco (seasonal)

The taxes and fees you pay will vary, but you can expect to pay in the $200 range for a round-trip coach flight.

If you have flexible points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards points or AMEX Membership Rewards points, you can book cheaper awards by converting your points into Iberia Avios points.  But because Iberia uses a distance based award chart, the price will vary based on the distance of your flight.

Bottom Line

American Airlines is part of the oneworld alliance, so they don’t have as many European partner airlines as United Airlines, which is part of the Star Alliance.  But that doesn’t mean they are completely useless for getting across the Atlantic.

As long as you plan in advance and avoid British Airways flights, you should be able to find a flight that works for you.  Most of the Business Class awards you can book with American Airlines miles get scooped up far in advance, but there are usually a good number of coach award seats available most times of the year.

What has your experience been using American Airlines miles to get to Europe?

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Jason Stauffer was a writer for Million Mile Secrets where he covered points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. His work has appeared in The Points Guy and NextAdvisor.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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