Booked: AA Business to London, Norwegian to New York
Last week, I booked my second redemption (read about my first here), and I wanted to share the details.
Since getting my master's degree in the U.K., I've been a fan of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. When I lived in Edinburgh I made a few trips to see them play at White Hart Lane in North London, but haven't been back since. I did see them play an off-season friendly match in Chicago, but obviously it's not the same. When news broke last year that Spurs had finalized plans for a new stadium, a couple friends (and fellow American fans) and I started to talk about flying over to see one more match at the Lane.
We decided on a match in February – the weather in London might not be great, but it’s a match which we expect to be able to get tickets for, and the off-peak travel season meant we should have no trouble with flights.
Early this summer I received a targeted mailer for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card offering 50K miles for meeting a manageable minimum spend. Although I hadn't been planning to apply for a new card, it seemed like this could come in handy for a London trip down the road. Between the bonus and the miles I already had, I would end up with around 66,500 AAdvantage miles. During the off-peak season, an economy saver seat between New York and London can be had for 22,500 miles each way, plus fees (more on that later), while a business class saver ticket goes for 57,500 each way.
Once we decided on the match, I started looking for flights. Each of us is taking separate flights and meeting on Friday morning, returning early the next week.
One of the challenges when booking award flights to or from the U.K. is that British aviation taxes, and fees are exorbitant on flights originating from anywhere in the country, or on U.K. carriers like British Airways or Virgin Atlantic (which also add inflated fuel surcharges). It's even worse if one of your flights is out of Heathrow, which adds an additional airport charge. Using BA Avios to book a flight to continental Europe or the U.K., even on other OneWorld carriers, can add even more costs. With all of these complicated fees, you can sometimes find that the entire price of a revenue ticket on a budget airline, or even a legacy carrier, can be close to the fees you'd pay on a U.K. award ticket.
When I searched for flights I found plenty of economy saver availability on AA metal. I chose an outbound and return flight, which had fees of about $163 in addition to costing 45K miles. Because I had more than enough miles to fly business class one-way on a saver award ticket, I figured that was a good option if I could find a cheap cash flight back. I knew that if I flew business to England rather than from, I would avoid most of the U.K. fees. Since I would have to pay at least $163 anyway, I might be able to fly there in a premium cabin and return for not too much more in economy.
I started keeping my eyes on AA business class award availability for that Thursday night. AA has a very generous policy of allowing AAdvantage members to hold award tickets for several days without booking. This is particularly useful if you need to confirm other travel plans, or transfer miles from a partner like Starwood Preferred Guest. When a saver-level spot opened up, I quickly jumped on it.
This would only be worthwhile if I could find a cheap flight home, and fortunately I was able to. I found two options, including a fifth-freedom Air India route from LHR-EWR, and Norwegian Airlines from LGW-JFK. When I looked closer, it turned out that Norwegian has some incredibly low-cost fares over the winter.
As a side note for anyone thinking about flying Norwegian, chances are good that you’ll find different prices on their U.S., Norwegian, and other European websites. The price listed on the American site was $272, and I ended up buying a one-way economy ticket on the British site for £179, or $218, plus a $3.60 credit card fee. I also decided to treat myself and pay £25, or about $31, to choose my seat in advance, not wanting to be stuck in a middle. There ended up being a window exit row seat available (6A), so I went with that, taking Zach Honig's advice at The Points Guy. Since I won't have any checked baggage, I should be able to avoid the extra costs associated with most low-cost carriers.
I finished booking my outbound ticket in business for 57,500 AAdvantage miles and $5.60. I’ll be flying American Airlines' newly retrofitted 777-200 from JFK to LHR. Considering that the trip is for a long weekend, I'm looking forward to getting a few quality hours of sleep on the plane's new lie-flat seats. Plus, I'll have access to the AA Arrivals Lounge at LHR, meaning I can take a shower and freshen up as soon as I land to get ready for a full day.
Some people in the game are obsessed with calculating the value per point on each redemption. That's a bit tricky to do here because the only one-way cash tickets I could find were full-fare refundable, which are wildly inflated. In fact, when I selected sample round-trip itineraries, they were cheaper than the one-ways! Because of that, I’ll compare my award pricing to both the refundable one-way fares, and the entire nonrefundable round-trip.
This doesn't factor in the fact that, as a Citi AAdvantage cardholder, I get 10% of all redeemed miles back, which meant the trip ended up costing even fewer miles.
In economy, the one-way fare for JFK-LHR on the flight I picked is listed as $1,499, or as low as $947 as part of a round-trip booking. For the one-way flight, at 22,500 miles and $5.60, that’s about a whopping 6.6¢/mile redemption. For the roundtrip, which was 45K miles and $163, that’s a more expected 1.7¢/mile.
In business, the one-way fare for the same flight is a sky-high $7,952 (also refundable), or as low as $4,965 as part of a round-trip. If I compare my award flight, at 57.5K miles + $5.60, to the one-way price it comes to 13.8¢/mile. Even comparing my one-way award ticket to the non-refundable round-trip cash price, it still comes to a tremendous 8.6¢/mile.
So, depending on whether you look at the full refundable one-way fare or not, this redemption is coming out at a value of between 8.6–13.8¢/mile, far and away my personal best and well above the 1.5¢/mile at which The Points Guy values AAdvantage miles.
For this long weekend in London, I decided to splurge a little bit by flying outbound in a premium cabin. I’m usually one to choose economy in order to save points and travel more, rather than squeeze the maximum cpp from my redemptions, but this seemed like a fun opportunity. With a total cost for flights of $227.20 for round-trip to London with a leg in international business class, the points and miles game helped me secure a great deal. I can't wait for my first premium flight since a lucky upgrade when I was younger, and I’m especially excited to starting a full day in London refreshed and showered. I’m also looking forward to my first ever flight in a 787 Dreamliner when I return with Norwegian.
Planning this redemption, I learned that there is incredible value to be had in AAdvantage miles, particularly when looking at one-way tickets which may only be available at full fare. I also learned that American seems to release saver availability in premium cabins fairly irregularly, so it’s often worth checking back often if you don’t see what you’re hoping for.
Looking forward to reporting back after the trip! Come on you Spurs!
Stay tuned for my next post: a follow up on flying United domestically.