Monthly Archives: January 2013

Frequent flier miles or pay for tickets?

Several months ago I purchased air fare for our trip to Europe – planned for the summer of 2013, and now I feel like I can start to plan our vacation. My original plan was to use frequent flyer miles to purchase one or two of the tickets. However, if you are planning on using frequent flyer mile awards on any trip, you need to book as far in advance as possible.

Between my husband and me we had enough miles to purchase two round trip tickets with saver awards. A one-way saver award is 30,000 miles. So for two tickets to Europe we would have needed 120,000 miles. That’s if we could get the saver awards. A one-way standard award is 55,000 miles. For one roundtrip ticket on standard award travel that would be 110,000 miles. I was hoping to avoid that, and as a result I wanted to book our tickets as far in advance as I could.

When the tickets finally opened up for the dates I wanted to travel, I discovered I could get airfare from an alternate airport (Newark) for $564 per ticket LESS than what I had budgeted to pay flying out of an airport close to us. I had originally expected to purchase two tickets and use frequent flyer miles for the other two tickets. However, since I found airfare $564 less per ticket than I had originally budgeted, then it no longer made sense to use award miles for two tickets. The farthest we could travel on award miles for 25,000 miles round trip is to Alaska. A round-trip ticket to Alaska currently costs $797. Our airline ticket to Europe is less than that. I’d rather save the 120,000 miles and potentially use them towards a trip to Alaska or some other continental US destination.

Additionally, with all of us flying on the same reservation we are less likely to run into complications. If a flight is delayed or cancelled we are all on the same reservation. Had we purchased frequent flyer awards we could have potentially had four different reservations among us. Also, the cheapest flight needed to correlate to the frequent flyer miles ticket. If I can only get a frequent flyer ticket on a flight that normally costs $1500, that doesn’t save me any money if I could have gotten four tickets on a flight costing $500.

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Determining the trip destination

I am lucky to be on the East Coast.  As a result I have several major airports that I can easily get to via Amtrak or by driving.  When I started researching flights to Europe about six months ago I noticed that depending on where you departed from the price was different.  I noticed a flight out of my local airport might be $300 more expensive than one out of another airport a few hours away.

When I went to buy our airline tickets, I found one airport within a four hour radius of us to be $927 more expensive per ticket than what we actually paid.  Our local airport was $857 more expensive per ticket than what we actually paid.  Multiply that times four and we would have paid $3428 more than what we actually paid.  Of course, now we have the inconvenience of getting to our departure airport, however we’ll take Amtrak.  I project the Amtrak fare will cost around $300 round trip for ALL of us.  My kids love to ride on the train, I love how you are not confined to your seat, there’s a snack car, and you don’t have to stop to use the bathroom.

I also noticed the same was true for Europe destinations.  I knew that I primarily wanted our trip to focus on Germany.  However, we were also planning on visiting friends in other countries bordering Germany.  So I figured I should explore several European destinations as well, and that we would base our itinerary off of the location where we were going to land and depart.  When I changed our destination to Frankfurt, it was going to cost us an additional $309 per ticket at the cheapest East Coast airport.  Multiply that times four and it would have cost us an additional $1200.  If I changed our destination to Amsterdam, it was going to cost us an additional $255 per ticket at the cheapest East Coast airport.  You get the idea.

So, we are flying Newark to Berlin to Europe and we return home Dusseldorf to Newark – where I found the cheapest ticket.  My brother had reminded me I could do an open jaw ticket.  That’s where you fly into one city and depart out of another.  The open jaw ticket was only $16 more expensive than flying into the cheapest city (Dusseldorf) that I found.

I generally use a site such as Kayak to locate the cheapest airfare.  Then I go to that airline’s website to book the fair.  Our flight is operated by Lufthansa, which is a partner of United.  When I tried booking the flight on United I noticed I could not pick our seats.  I then went to Lufthansa’s website and booked the flight through them.  Their website allowed me to pick our seats.  You DON’T want to be stuck in a middle seat and separated from your family on a trip to Europe…

In conclusion, if you know you are going to be spending a lot of money on airline tickets, make sure you spend some time researching how much it costs to fly into various locations.  Driving to an airport two hours away to depart or landing at an airport three hours away from your primary destination may be a big pain, but in the end you may save yourself hundreds or thousands of dollars. We are saving over $1500 by taking a flight out of an airport that is not super close to us.

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