Merry Christmas to Us: Saving $1746 on Flights to Europe and Day Trip: NYC

Day Trip: New York City

Christmas was a quiet, cozy affair. Instead of our typical drive-like-crazy-all-over-the-northeast-to-see-family habits, my husband and I spend a nice quiet Christmas day in our pajamas at home. It was actually the first Christmas we have ever spent alone, just the two of us. We’ve been married about a year and a half, and have known each other for 7 years, but this was the first major holiday by ourselves.

We did get to see my family on the weekend before Christmas, and we’ll see my in-laws the weekend before New Year’s, but other than that our travel schedule was minimal.

Despite the minimized schedule this year, we did do our traditional NYC visit (cue ‘Silver Bells’ music). My husband and I took the train from Harrisburg to Penn Station in New York City. It took about 3 hours, and was restful, relaxing, and incredibly simple.

We always visit NYC near Christmas time to see the lights, to get drinks and dinner and watch the ice skaters, and to go shopping at the little shops/stores nearby. This year we went to Bryant Park, though in other years we’ve also gone to Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller tends to be much more crowded and jam-packed full of tourists, so we’ve gravitated to nearby Bryant Park to avoid a little of the crush. They have a temporary restaurant set up for the Christmas season called Celcius – fantastic food and great drinks! I love the little shops they have there too – my mom got me a delicate bracelet as a gift, and I bought some Caribbean Jerk seasoning from a little tea/spices shop. It reminds me of the wonderfully intense jerk seasoned food in St. Kitts – I’ve been putting it on almost everything I eat since I got home!

Byrant Park at Christmas via Flickr

But even that one little day trip sparked my wanderlust.

After I saw British Airways was having a holiday sale, I started researching the flights to Europe again. I had 50,000 Avios in my account, with another 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points that could be transferred to Avios as needed. So while I originally wanted to minimize the use of points (I was looking at 25,000 Avios round trip per person from Boston to Dublin), I realized that I had a little leeway with my points balance – my main priority was reducing the out of pocket costs.

Europe Flight Options

From my previous research, I knew that flights on Aer Lingus, Air Berlin, and Iberia would have the lowest out of pocket costs. Flying American Airlines or British Airways across the Atlantic would have very high fuel surcharges.

  • Flying from New York City to Paris, France (on British Airways or American Airlines) would entail:
    – costs and time associated with getting to NYC (3 hours from me, 1 hour from my mom)
    – 40,000 points and $700+ each
  • Flying from Boston to Dublin, Ireland (on Aer Lingus) would entail:
    – costs and time associated with getting to Boston (8 hours from me, 3 hours from my mom)
    – costs and time getting from Dublin to mainland Europe (another flight or a train with a stop in London)
    – 25,000 points and $150 each
  • Flying from New York City to Dusseldorf, Germany (on Air Berlin) would entail:
    – costs and time associated with getting to NYC (3 hours from me, 1 hour from my mom)
    – 40,000 points and $103.10 each

One of the main reasons I started to lean toward flying into Germany instead of another country is that we are making a loop around Europe. We want to start out in Paris, visit Venice, and end up in Poland. Germany is a fairly short train ride from both the start and end points of our trip. When I saw that taxes and fuel charges on a direct flight from NYC to Germany were only $103 per person, I knew I had found the right combination of flights.

Website Headaches

Despite the recent revamp to the British Airways website, it is still very challenging to browse for flights if you don’t know exactly what dates you are looking for. Since they have several airline partners, I saw a lot of non-direct flights (JFK to MAD to DUS, or DUS to LHR to JFK). I had to click day-by-day on their flight selection calendar. If I clicked on “View calendar of British Airways availability”, I got a calendar that said there was no British Airways availability – it didn’t give me any information about the partner airlines.

I was very irritated with their site (especially the glitches that showed a blue tab indicating availability, but then didn’t show any available flights for that day). So I headed on over to the American Airlines site. This was MUCH easier to browse and navigate. I found the flight I wanted (a direct flight on Air Berlin on specific dates), and went back over to the British Airways website to complete the booking with my Avios.

My frustration knew no bounds as I finished the last step (payment) and clicked submit, only to get an error saying that I could not complete the booking online and would have to call them to make the reservation. I gave up for the night…

Booking by Phone

So on my nice relaxing train ride the next morning, I called their customer service line and was able to complete my booking. They were very pleasant, and I gave them the exact dates and flight numbers I wanted to book. They didn’t even try to charge the normal phone booking fee (that would have been the last thread of my patience), so I got off the phone 15 minutes later – $206.20 (and 80k points) poorer – but 2 round trip flights to Europe richer!

Exclusive Availability?

After I booked the flight, I tried to see what it would have cost out of pocket to book the flights with cash instead of points. Despite the fact that it still shows availability on Air Berlin for the direct JFK-DUS flight when paying with Avios, it does not show any Air Berlin flights at all when paying with cash. In fact, it does not show any direct flights at all when paying with cash – all are routed through London or Madrid. The cheapest round trip JFK-DUS flight on the website is $860, has a stop in London, and takes an extra 4 hours over the flight I booked.

I don’t know why British Airways doesn’t offer Air Berlin flights when paying with cash. I checked American Airlines’ website too, and they also do not offer Air Berlin flights. I went directly to Air Berlin’s website, and the exact flight I booked costs $976 per person. So in total, I saved $1746!

Onward!

Now that our flights are booked, I can start filling in the details regarding itinerary and hotel reservations – 6 months from today, we will be in Europe!

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Categories: Credit Cards, Day Trips, Itinerary, New York, Planning, Transportation

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 replies

Trackbacks

  1. Credit Card Points and (Mostly) Free Flights to Europe « wander one day
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