To celebrate the 1-year anniversary of the Avios program, you can receive 25% off Avios long-haul rewards bookings that are ticketed by Monday, November 19 with all travel completed by May 31. (HT: Head for Points) The promotional page has clear terms and conditions, but essentially you’ll receive 25% off the total Avios needed (not 25% off the pricey cash fuel surcharges!) and can only fly on British Airways or Iberia operated flights. They’ve defined long-haul flights as those outside of zones 1-3; essentially, this means long-haul flights will be discounted and short hops such as London to Berlin will not be discounted.
Avios have a bad reputation of being grouped into the “expensive” category since they usually include expensive fuel surcharges and the monstrosity of air passenger duty for flying out of London. I think it’s a bit unfair, since a ton of airlines charge fuel surcharges (especially European ones like Air France or Virgin Atlantic) and you’re responsible for the government taxes and fees on all flights, regardless of airline. A few of my suggestions…
Christmas in Barcelona
Christmas markets all over the Europe are a big thing, though I feel like I personally hear more about the ones in Germany, Austria, and thereabouts. Skip that and go to one of my favorite cities: Barcelona. You’ll find a great place to shop for gifts – and pick up items for your Catalan traditions – at the Fira de Santa LLucia market, just outside the cathedral which you’d probably be touring anyway. If that doesn’t fill your needs, you’ll find other markets outside La Sagrada Familia, Placa Catalunya, and the sometimes overlooked Esglesia Santa Maria del Pi. Stay for New Year’s if you can…since Barcelona is a party year-round, I’d imagine the celebrations would be great!
Remember, Avios are good for travel on British Airways or Iberia (and programs can be transferred/combined if necessary), and if you book through Iberia for Iberia-operated flights, you won’t be responsible for the same surcharges you are with British Airways. Better yet, if you transit via Madrid, there are no UK taxes. Iberia business class offers lie-flat seats and no last-minute ticketing charges, making this one a no-brainer. Tickets from 60,000 Avios round-trip in business class from New York or Boston to Barcelona (flights to BCN are marketed as “direct” with one-stop in Madrid). That’s fewer miles than would be required if booking through AA for the exact same Iberia-operated flights.
A Week of Pampering
Cruising isn’t for everybody, but I enjoy it as a vacation style when I’m looking to de-stress rather than explore. If you’re looking for your own piece of heaven, consider flying first class on British Airways to London. Plan plenty of time to take advantage of the first class lounges in New York-JFK and London Heathrow and then take advantage of wide open availability on the day-time flight so you don’t sleep through the attentive service provided. From there, you’ll have your pick of luxury hotels in London before heading to Southampton to pick up a weeklong cruise back to New York on the Queen Mary 2. Enjoy a week of downtime, including wonderful meal service, lectures and scheduled activities, and just reading on your balcony.
Somehow, it hurts less to pay the fuel surcharges in only one direction rather than two, so flying one-way and cruising the other will take a bit of sting off the final bill. Plan on flying eastbound and cruising westbound: you’ll save nearly $175 on your airline taxes (APD is charged leaving the UK rather than arriving) and when you cruise back to New York, you’ll actually be gaining time from crossing time zones, giving you a few extra hours of vacation without taking more time from work. First class tickets from 45,000 Avios one-way from JFK, with about $450 for a one-way fuel surcharge, requiring less miles and equal surcharges than if booking through American Airlines.
The “Long Way” to Asia
Flying around the world seems glamorous, doesn’t it? While most awards from the USA to Asia route via the west coast, Avios makes it possible to head from the USA to Europe (with a stopover if you wish) before continuing from there to Asia. Considering winter is right around the corner, heading to somewhere warm sounds like a great idea to me. British Airways has quite a few Asian destinations, with just one great option being Thailand. With cities, mountains, history, culture, and beaches there’s something for everyone.
Perhaps counterintuitive, for those of us on the east coast of the USA, it is actually a shorter distance to route to several Asian destinations via London than it would be to route through Los Angeles. With so many airports on the east coast with nonstop service to London, this may be your simplest option for Asian routings, and British Airway’s availability can be downright incredible. While that’s the good news, you’ll need some serious cash to make this happen, with fuel surcharges on two long-haul segments adding up to a significant expense. Plan on business class tickets clocking in at around 67,500 miles one-way, more than the competition, but with flexible routing rules, a free stopover, and availability on many dates from a ton of gateway cities. Consider returning home via the Pacific for a complete circumnavigation of the globe (and an easier hit on your wallet, if you use AA or United miles to return home!).
February in Venice
So often, people overlook Europe as a winter destination, but I can think of two great reasons to head to Venice in February. First, make it out there for one of Europe’s largest Carnaval festivals (Fat Tuesday will be February 12, 2013). After the party, stay a few days longer to enjoy Valentine’s Day with your sweetheart in one of the world’s most romantic cities. Yes, travel is the way to my heart, not chocolates or flowers! Italy is a country easy enough to get around by rail, so if Venice doesn’t hold your attention long enough, consider heading south to Rome, Italy’s other city of love.
Since Iberia doesn’t charge fuel surcharges, even economy tickets can make sense during this sale. You won’t get a discount on the segment from Madrid to Venice, but you’ll still get a great discount on the transatlantic portion of your trip. Altogether, count on 45,000 miles round-trip from the east coast to Venice (via Madrid) in economy with no fuel surcharges. That’s more than it would cost with American Airlines (40K for off-peak), but since Avios are a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and AmEx Membership Rewards, you may find the upcharge acceptable. Traveling before the end of 2012? You can actually get to Venice for 41,250 Avios by including an additional discount on the MAD-VCE legs.
If you don’t have any Avios, you can still take advantage of some other ways to get awards at reduced mileage amounts, even through other frequent flyer programs.