How to Use American Airline Miles to Europe and Avoid Fees

Frank – @dugup46 American Airlines has a great point system that can get you just about anywhere in the world.  While their point system is fantastic, their international flight availability can sometimes leave you wondering if you made the right choice.  To circumvent those issues, you can book any of the One World partners such as Iberia, Cathay Pacific, and several others using AA miles.  Throughout this guide we will show you not only how to search for partner availability but exactly how to book your first flight to Italy.  So let’s begin…

Italy is a great country to choose for this example, because not only is it a popular destination, but finding flights directly through American Airlines is nearly impossible without paying huge fuel surcharges.  For this article, let’s book Pittsburgh, PA to Milan, Italy next year departing October 31st and returning November 5th for two people.

Let’s first try to search for our flights through AA.com (maybe we will find AA flights and get very lucky).  Here are our search results:

Boom!  We found availability at the lowest price… who needs this article, right?  Not so quick.  When we click through, we see all that availability is only on the partner airline that adds hefty fuel surcharges – British Airways (booo!).  So while the flights cost the same amount of your hard-churned miles, this itinerary will cost you an additional whopping $703.60 in taxes and fees per person!  For that, you may as well just pay for the flight yourself!

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 1.45.04 PM

So how do we resolve this problem?  We can fix this by searching for availability on AA’s OneWorld partners through the British Airways website.  Yes, we realize it seems strange to use BA’s website to avoid them, but stick with us.  The following three airlines are OneWorld partners with routes from the US to Europe.

Air BerlinD-ABDY

Air Berlin is a German-based airline with low fees and no fuel surcharges.  They fly the following routes from the US to Germany:

  • Miami (MIA) – Berlin (TXL)/ Dusseldorf (DUS)
  • Fort Myers (RSW) – Dusseldorf (DUS)
  • New York (JFK) – Berlin (TXL)/ Dusseldorf (DUS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Berlin (TXL)/ Dusseldorf (DUS)
  • Additional routes from DFW, SFO, and BOS coming in 2016

Finnairfinnair-a350-900-10flt-1finnairlrw

Finnair is the largest carrier in Finland.  Like Air Berlin, their fees are low with no fuel surcharges.  Routes from the US include:

  • Miami (MIA) – Helsinki (HEL)
  • New York (JFK) – Helsinki (HEL)
  • Chicago (ORD) – Helsinki (HEL)

Iberiaiberia-nueva-librea_640x300

Iberia is the largest airline in Spain, with their hub in Madrid.  They offer low fees, and much more reasonable fuel surcharges than British Airways.  They offer the following routes:

  • Miami (MIA) – Madrid (MAD)
  • Boston (BOS) – Madrid (MAD)
  • New York (JFK) – Madrid (MAD)
  • Chicago (ORD) – Madrid (MAD)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Madrid (MAD)

Ok, let’s put this all together for a trip to Italy!  From previous research I also know Iberia has the best availability, is based out of Madrid, has low surcharge fees, and has flights to/from Miami frequently.  Armed with this knowledge, we can build an itinerary step by step to Milan.  Remember to write down all of your flight information as you go.  Let’s get started!

Step 1: Pittsburgh -> Miami (using AA.com)

With a quick award search, we find the following flights –

  • 10/31 – AA4495 – PIT (5:30am) -> PHL (6:50am)
  • 10/31 – AA1878 – PHL (10am) -> MIA (1:01pm)

Step 2: Miami -> Madrid (using BA.com)

You will need an Executive Club account to search award availability on BA.com, so go ahead and create one if you don’t already have one.  British Airways will show partner award availability if they don’t fly a route themselves.  Since they don’t fly MIA->MAD we know we will get Iberia availability.  So let’s click on Executive Club -> Spending Avios -> Book a Flight.  Now we search 10/31 MIA-MAD and see what pops up.

screenshot-www.britishairways.com 2015-12-15 20-24-59

  • 10/31 – IB6124 – MIA (4:55pm) -> MAD (7:40am) next day

Look at that!  Space for two from Miami to Madrid on Iberia… Perfect!  Remember to write that flight number down!

Step 3: Madrid -> Milan (using BA.com)

We have one more leg to go!  Using the same method above, we find:

  • 11/1 – IB3250 – MAD (9:05am) -> MXP (11:15am)

Now that we have all of the pieces, let’s recap our entire flight plan from Pittsburgh to Milan:

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 8.08.27 AM

  • 10/31 – AA4495 – PIT (5:30am) -> PHL (6:50am)
  • 10/31 – AA1878 – PHL (10am) -> MIA (1:01pm)
  • 10/31 – IB6124 – MIA (4:55pm) -> MAD (7:40am) next day
  • 11/1 – IB3250 – MAD (9:05am) -> MXP (11:15am)

Step 4: Call American Airlines to Book

From there you can just call up AA at 1-800-433-7300 and tell the agent you want to book an award flight that you have already routed.  Provide the dates and flight numbers you wrote down in Steps 1-3, and they can book the ticket for you.  The entire route will only be charged 20,000 AA miles per person, since off-peak begins on October 15th for Europe.  They will also waive the phone booking fee since the flight can not be booked through the AA.com website!

Rinse and repeat all the above steps for your return and you’ll be flying anywhere in the world using AA miles while avoiding huge surcharges in no time at all.  From start to finish, after you get this process down, you will be able to search and book routes in under 15 minutes!  Iberia does charge fuel surcharges but instead of $704 you’ll be looking at a much more reasonable $140 per ticket.  This saves $1,128 on a two-person itinerary!  Not bad for a few minutes of work!

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5 thoughts on “How to Use American Airline Miles to Europe and Avoid Fees

  1. Im confused, do you first get this 3 leg trip route from the AA points flight system? How do you determine where in Europe to end up so that you can find that flight to your final destination?

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    • Hey Shayha! It’s just about knowing your flight routing rules. In the article you’ll see what airlines fly into which European hubs. From there you can search from the hub to your final destination. For instance, Iberia’s hub is Madrid. So I know I can do PIT-JFK-MAD-Final destination.

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