Europe is an exciting place to visit. Within this relatively small area there are many countries, hundreds of spoken languages and dialects, great food, and adventures to last a lifetime.
The continent becomes even more exciting when you realize that you can fly into one city and out of another for minimal United MileagePlus miles. The MileagePlus rewards program is one of the best options for redeeming one-way flights to and from Europe, making it a particularly useful program for amazing vacations.
I thought it would be helpful to show you how a welcome bonus from one credit card can save you, literally, thousands of dollars and can open the doors to experiencing the diversity of Europe.
When searching for award tickets, you are looking for “Saver Awards.” These are the lowest priced award tickets and, typically, between the U.S. and Europe start at 30,000 miles each way (plus taxes and fees). However, the MileagePlus program recently changed to dynamic pricing which essentially means the price is variable.
In addition, these awards can be redeemed on routes that United Airlines, United Express and partners of United Airlines fly.
The best part about using United Airlines is they fly into several major European cities including Rome, Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, and Athens. However, before we plan all the details of this trip, let’s obtain the points first…
HOW DO I GET UNITED POINTS?
Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points are the key to this equation. UR points can be transferred from Chase to MileagePlus miles (aka United Miles) at a one-to-one rate. For example, 60,000 UR points = 60,000 MileagePlus miles therefore Chase Sapphire cards are good options for obtaining United miles.
At the moment, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (CSP) has the following sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Alternatively, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (CSR) has the following sign-up bonus: Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
If you live in (or near) a United Airlines hub (e.g. Chicago (ORD), New York (EWR), Houston (IAH), San Francisco (SFO), etc.), it is possible to arrive in Europe on a non-stop flight. Fortunately, if you don’t live in (or near) a United hub, United does not charge additional miles for connections.
So, let’s start with an example to show the possibilities. Let’s say these are our search criteria:
- Origin: Los Angeles (LAX)
- Destination: London (LHR)
- Departure Date: October 2020
- Time Frame: 1 week
STEP 1: Search United.com for award availability by selecting the “book with miles” box.
STEP 2: Select the flights that you desire. In this case, I selected a non-stop economy saver award on the 787 Dreamliner for my outgoing:
…and a connection on my return flight.
For a grand total of 32,000 miles and $194.85, that’s not bad for a roundtrip to Europe.
There are days with nonstops on the return but for this example, it works. You may notice that the surcharges/taxes/fees are fairly expensive ($189.35USD). Unfortunately, the surcharges for all flights departing from the UK are notoriously high. However, we can get around that.
HOW TO GET AROUND IT!
At first glance, that may appear exciting but there is an amazing (and under-utilized) hack within United’s MileagePlus program that can create amazing value. It’s called the United Excursionist Perk, and it works like this: When you book a round-trip flight using United miles, you can add another one-way flight for no additional miles.
Let’s expand our criteria a bit more. Let’s say these are our search criteria:
- Origin: Los Angeles (LAX)
- Destinations: London (LHR) and Madrid (MAD)
- Departure Date: October 2020
- Time Frame: 1 week in each destination
STEP 1: Search United.com for award availability by selecting the “advanced search.”
STEP 2: Select “multi-city” and select the cites that you desire. In this case, I selected LAX-LHR, LHR-MAD, and be sure to “add another destination”…our MAD-LAX leg.
MY FIRST LEG:
MY 2ND LEG…
AND MY FINAL LEG…
You may be saying to yourself, “geez, there are a lot of connections.” I selected flights with layovers on purpose. Yes, it is possible to select non-stop flights between these cities but what fun is that? If you’re extremely adventurous, it’s also possible to schedule a long layover (up to 24 hours) in certain cities.
In this example, your “roundtrip” is from the US to Europe, therefore the one-way that requires no additional miles is the LHR-MAD leg. However, you will be responsible for the taxes, $57.30 in this case.
PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER
Do you remember that credit card that I mentioned at the beginning of this article (the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card) that had a welcome bonus of 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening?
Think about this, you could:
- fly Los Angeles (LAX) to London (LHR)
- spend a week in London
- fly London (LHR) to Madrid (MAD) – via Lisbon (LIS)
- spend up to 24 hours in Lisbon and a week in Madrid
- fly Madrid (MAD) to Los Angeles (LAX) – via Zurich (ZRH)
- and spend up to 24 hours in Zurich
Four European countries all for a grand total of 44,500 miles + $117.15 USD and still have ~15,000 miles remaining from the welcome bonus. Not bad at all!!
The reason that I highlighted the United route above is because typically United charges 30k miles one-way to Europe. The first leg from Los Angeles to London (14,500 miles) is the lowest we’ve EVER SEEN United charge to arrive in Europe.
The combination of the low rates and the Excursionist perk makes this an amazing deal!!
We’re only scratching the surface with these examples but with a bit of creativity, the Excursionist Perk can be a mind-blowing tool to help you see the world.
While the excursionist perk can appear complicated to understand, it’s worth the work. Once you put it into practice and travel to 4 beautiful European countries, you’ll say “why didn’t I get this credit card before now!?”
Pro-Tip #1: You could also return to a different US city. This route only cost me $107.15. See if you can generate the same results.
Pro-Tip #2: If you’re in the Los Angeles area (or don’t mind positioning), I would encourage you to take a look at award availability starting this week all the way to the end of the year. 😉