You have the miles but to search for award flights is a pain in the a**. Most of the time, finding award flights is like a treasure hunt. You know the gems are there but they are hidden from ordinary searching. The other day my objective was to find two one-way tickets from Los Angeles to Madrid, Spain in mid-April 2015. I have American Airline miles and British Airways Avios points, which can be used for Iberia as well. The obvious method is to go online and do a simple search on the carriers’ websites. But the obvious often results in a big fat zero or an inconvenient flight or one with high fees.
Bear with me on the details but you will see how many options there are to find award flights.
To Find Award Travel…Try Everything!
My ideal week of travel is leaving Los Angeles some time between April 12-18.
On AA.com…The result of the AA search came up with only one possible day for two Economy MileSAAvers awards of 20,000 miles. It was a convoluted route from LAX to Las Vegas, a 4-hour layover, then onto Heathrow, a 1-hour layover, and finally to Madrid. The worst part was the fees of $320 per ticket because of the routing through Heathrow. (Any flight through Heathrow will sock it to you on the fees.)
On Britishairways.com…The results for my preferred week was zero! There was one day the following week with two seats available from LAX to Heathrow and on to Madrid for 32,500 Avios miles plus $315 in fees per ticket.
On Iberia.com…I did a lot of research on Iberia’s website because I assumed I could easily transfer my British Airways Avios to Iberia. There was a flight available from LAX direct to Madrid for 35,500 plus $106 per ticket. HOWEVER, I discovered it is extremely difficult to transfer points to get those tickets. BA leads you to believe it’s easy but Iberia makes it very difficult. I read several bloggers’ suggestions of how to transfer but none worked for me. First you must have an Iberia account open for at least 3 months (which I have) and have some Avios in it before the transfer. I did an Iberia contest about 3 weeks ago for 50 Avios points but they have not posted so they are not in my account. I read one method of transferring to an Avios.com account that required I make up a fake UK address and phone number. I set up the account and I was able to transfer 100 Avios from BA into Avios.com but it still would not allow a transfer to Iberia. It was a bunch of work with no results!
When Website Searches Don’t Work–Call Direct
Calling each airline directly…After spending about 30 minutes on the phone with an AA reservationist, the best I could do for two 20k awards and avoid Heathrow’s high fees was Miami to Milan. In this case I would have to get a separate flight to Miami and another one from Milan to Madrid. Stupid! American also had LAX to Paris on April 16 or 17, which I put on hold while I tried to figure out how to get from Paris to Madrid.
British Airways told me nothing was available unless it’s on the website.
On Iberia.com there was tons of availability from Paris to Madrid using Avios but since I don’t have Avios in my Iberia account it was good for nothing. And yet, something was driving me crazy in this treasure hunt. I decided to call a new American reservationist and see if somehow she could piece together something with Iberia as a partner. After about 30 minutes she finally was able to get two award seats all the way through from LAX to Madrid via Paris on April 16 for 20k miles plus $94 ($94 of taxes and fees). The big negative is that we have to spend $25 to take a shuttle from Charles De Gaul airport to Orly in Paris. That’s a bummer but there was no way to fly direct without layovers.
Is the Time Spent Worth the Savings?
You can be the judge…The least expensive ticket for purchase was on Norwegian with a 6.5 hour layover in Gatwick for $467, which really isn’t bad but $94 is better. And remember, this blog is about saving money to travel and not about flying first class on a full fare ticket. For me the time spent was worth the savings of $226 per ticket and the least amount of time traveling.