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Anyone who has traveled to Europe in the off-season usually raves about the experience: the museums and other tourist sites have no lines, you can get a table in a restaurant, and you even stand a chance of interacting with a local now and then. For many travelers, those benefits easily outweigh the possibility of cold weather and precipitation.
On top of that, it’s cheaper. Airfares are lower over the winter, as airlines try to lure passengers onto planes. In many cases, mileage redemptions are reduced as well. Most carriers will run sporadic sales during the cold months, but there are two reliable sources of deals: American Airlines off-peak fares and Flying Blue Promo Awards. We’ll examine both in detail.
AA offers discounted redemptions to quite a few regions, although some deals are better than others (prices are for one-way coach fares, with the normal fare in parentheses):
- Europe: 22,500 miles (30,000), January 10-March 14.
- Hawaii: 20,000 (22,500). To Hawaii: December 29-March 12; from Hawaii: January 7-March 19.
- South America Region 1 (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Manaus (Brazil): 17,500 (20,000), January 16-June 14.
- Caribbean, Mexico and Central America: 12,5000 miles (15,000), April 27-May 20.
- Asia Region 1 (Japan and South Korea): 32,500 (35,000). To Japan: January 1-April 30; from Japan: January 16-April 19 and May 2-31. To South Korea: January 1-April 30; From South Korea: January 16-May 31.
- Asia Region 2 (China and Hong Kong): 32,500 (35,000). To: January 1-April 30, July 1-September 30 and October 11-November 30. From: February 1-May 31, September 1-19 and October 2-December 31.
There are some restrictions to be aware of. These redemption rates are for coach seats only—no premium cabins are allowed. All flights must be on American, and you’ll need to find award space at the Saver level (partner airlines are allowed on flights to Europe but be careful of exorbitant fees and fuel surcharges, particularly on British Airways and Iberia). Lastly, discounts only apply to the regions named, and no domestic destinations are included.
Even with the restrictions, Europe emerges as the sweet spot in the lineup. If the weather is a concern, aim for warmer southern countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Italy rather than Germany or Scandinavia. Also, be on the alert for AA’s new Web Specials, where you can snag a one-way European flight for as little as 9,000 miles. Web Specials are regular Economy seats and have none of the disadvantages of Basic Economy.
Finally, remember that American allows you to book one-way award flights. In addition to opening up more flexibility in booking, this allows you to fly into one city and travel overland for a while before returning from a different destination. Other airlines do run off-peak winter sales, and it pays to stay alert for any opportunities, but AA offers the most comprehensive pattern of discounts among the U.S. legacy airlines.
The easiest way to quickly earn a pile of AAdvantage miles is to apply for a co-branded credit card and meet the minimum spending requirements. AAdvantage cards are issued by both Barclays and Citibank and include some attractive options:
- Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard: 60,000 miles after making your first purchase within 90 days and paying the $99 annual fee.
- Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard: 65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, plus another 10,000 miles when a purchase is made on an employee card ($95 annual fee).
- Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in your first three months, with the $99 annual fee waived the first year.
- Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard: 70,000 miles after spending $4,000 in the first four months ($99 annual fee).
- CitiBusiness/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard: 70,000 miles after spending $4,000 in the first four months, with the $99 annual fee waived the first year.
Flying Blue Promo Awards
These little-known award redemptions from Flying Blue (the frequent flyer program for Air France and KLM) are the gift that keeps on giving. They’re released monthly and feature discounts of up to 50% from select gateway cities; you have a three-month window for reservations (space permitting). They must be booked online.
The current batch of Promo Awards needs to be booked by January 30 for travel between February 29 and April 29. Discounted flights from North America to Europe include 50% off from Houston in Economy (14,000 miles each way) and Premium Economy (28,750 miles each way), 25% off from Mexico City in Business (48,750 miles each way) and 50% off from Minneapolis in Economy (14,500 miles each way). The only downside is that taxes and fees can be high on these flights.
Even so, one of the best things about Flying Blue is the ease of accumulating a balance in your frequent flyer account. Flying Blue is a transfer partner of Chase, American Express, Citibank, Capital One and Marriott Bonvoy; on top of that, if you’re fortunate enough to take advantage of a transfer bonus, your miles can escalate very quickly.
While there are other, more complex ways to redeem for an off-peak ticket (such as using Virgin Atlantic miles on Delta or transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Aer Lingus), these two options are the most solid and reliable methods of traveling at a discount during the off-season.
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