Today, we kick off a series about Rebekah and my most recent international trip.  But before we dive into the stories from the trip, we wanted to take a minute to break down redeeming frequent flyer miles.

Our trip, like any good trip, started with the classic question:  “Where should we go?”  Rebekah and I had accumulated 120,000 miles in our American Airlines frequent flyer accounts, and the miles were burning a hole in our pockets.  Where should we go?

London - Picadilly Circus

London – Picadilly Circus

Redeeming American Airlines’ Frequent Flyer Miles:  Since we were redeeming miles, we figured a good place to start was the American Airlines website.  The Awards Map, a relatively new feature, helps find possible destinations based on the number of frequent flyer miles you wish to redeem.  Using this option, the website shows possible destinations in a selected area (such as Asia Pacific, Europe, Central and South America, etc.) originating from a specific airport, ours being DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) Airport.  We set the miles we were willing to spend to 30,000 miles per person (one-way).  Based on the dates of travel, we realized we did not have enough miles for Asia or Africa and few options for South America.  Europe seemed to be the best fit.  By eliminating the countries we had already visited in Europe, we only had 45 countries to choose from.  Ha.  Still daunting.

When booking flights using miles, we were shocked to find the additional taxes and fees to be extraordinary.  Some options, such as a flight to Gibraltar, cost 30,000 miles and $760 per person one way.  We quickly ruled out these locations.  In general, we found flights connecting through London Heathrow were more expensive than connecting through other airports.  Also, direct flights were normally the cheapest, since less airports equals less fees.

One benefit of using frequent flyer miles is that you can easily book one-way tickets for half of the miles of a round trip ticket (based on the dates).  We quickly realized there was no benefit for us to book a round trip ticket, and started to view each way as an independent option.  However, the Award Map became even more difficult to use for a one-way return ticket, as you have to select one city in Europe at a time, and select continental US as the return.  Once you do this, you can see if DFW airport is available from the selected European city.  The American Airlines Award Map can be a frustrating tool because of its limitations, but after a lot of work, it helped us narrow down our final destinations.

After much searching, we decided to fly home from Paris, mostly because it was a direct flight back to DFW with ideal departure and landing times and minimal taxes.  After even more struggles, we found a great flight to Prague.  We wanted to explore Eastern Europe if possible, and this was as far east as we could fly on 30,000 miles.

Prague - View of the Charles Bridge

Prague – View of the Charles Bridge

Modifying a Frequent Flyer Ticket Itinerary:  Later, we discovered another benefit of using miles:  no change fees.  After looking at our work schedules again, we were able to extend our trip by two days.  I was not sure what fees would be associated with such a change, but thought the extra time in Europe would be worth a try.  I was pleasantly surprised to find there was no fee.  As long as a flight for the same number of miles is available, the only cost would be the difference in taxes.  In our case, we only changed the return flight, knowing we would not find another flight to Prague.  We easily found a new return flight from Paris, and the taxes for the later flight was the same as the previous flight.  There was no cost to modify our itinerary.

Overall, the representatives at American Airlines were very helpful.  However, if they book the tickets for you directly, there is a fee, so avoid the extra fee by letting them help you make an online booking.  Once you have an online booking, they can assist you with any changes.

When all the planning was complete, we booked a 1 stop flight from DFW to Prague, with a layover in London Heathrow (a rare exception to the high taxes).  The cost for each person was 30,000 miles and $96.80.  The return flight was direct from Charles de Gaulle Airport to DFW for 30,000 miles and $90.90 each.  For those keeping score at home, our “free” tickets cost us a total of 120,000 miles and $375.40.  When it comes to airlines, “free” is not always free.  This definitely made us rethink the value of frequent flyer mile programs.

Our Itinerary:  After a lot of work, Rebekah and I were going to Europe.  We would visit the following locations:

Paris - View of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe

Paris – View of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe

In the coming weeks, we will break down each of these four destinations, sharing highlights and the most memorable experiences from each location.  We look forward to sharing our experiences with you!

If you have successfully booked a flight with frequent flyer miles and have any tips, feel free to share in the comments section!