The Deal Mommy

5 Lessons Learned While Booking Spring Break Award Tickets to Europe

Yes, Please!  Image via Gran Canaria Tourism

Yes, Please! Image via Gran Canaria Tourism

I mentioned recently that it’s time to book next year’s Spring Break. Prime tickets are already going fast. Taking my own advice, I’ve been searching fervently for options that fit the Deal Family’s school holiday schedule. I finally found four tickets that worked and got them booked this morning. In doing so, I learned a few tips to share with you. Hope they help with your own planning.

  • American Airlines off-peak tickets to Europe are terrific value, but beware:  To recap, American Airlines offers award tickets in economy for only 20k miles one way October 15 to May 15.  When I started searching for tickets, every single day was showing at least 4 tickets on every single route.  I soon learned why: the vast majority of those flights are on British Airways, which attaches surcharges approx. $700/person/ticket.
  • There’s an easy work-around to find availability: Run your searches on American Airlines will list BA, AA, US, and occasionally Air Berlin or Finnair, but the best searches are run on Qantas.  Qantas also picks up Iberia availability. You want to find a flight that does NOT transit London Heathrow, especially on our way home.
  • It’s easier to find a way to Europe than to find a way home on prime dates: Work on getting back from Europe first, then fill in the rest.  In my experience people are a lot more flexible on the front of the trip and are all rushing to get home on the same dates.  Alternatively, if you can stretch your trip, stretch it on the back end.
  • Just get over the pond: I’ve booked multiple trips now departing from JFK that were not available from DC.  Those shuttle flights just weren’t available as awards.  By getting to JFK many non-stop options opened up to Europe.  Be sure to check JFK, Chicago O’Hare, Miami, LAX, DFW before giving up.
  • Once you find your longest leg, fill in the rest from there: Once I found tickets to Europe (JFK-Madrid in my case) it would have been easy to let it rest.  However, once you’ve found the longest leg intra-Europe connections (with less than 24 hours in-between) will be free.  Which leads me to our final destination: Gran Canaria!  From Madrid flights to Gran Canaria were wide open on both ends of the trip.

Where’s Gran Canaria?  Why there?

I visited Tenerife, a nearby Canary Island, in 2012 and have wanted to explore more ever since. The Canaries are prime territory to use Endless Vacation Rentals or there’s an oceanfront category 2 Sheraton that is highly rated on TripAdvisor.

So for a grand total of 160,000 AA miles (earned through 3 US Airways/AA credit card signups over the last year) and $860 in taxes Spring Break is booked. Considering cash tickets on the exact same route run $4,187, I’ll take it!

I heard from many of you who were working on Spring Break (or had already booked some amazing trips). If you’re just starting, what are you finding?  If you’ve been to Gran Canaria, I’d also love to hear from you.

spring break

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17 thoughts on “5 Lessons Learned While Booking Spring Break Award Tickets to Europe

  1. Pan

    Since you have just done extensive search, what else is available for a family of 4 from DC/NYC using AA miles over spring break? We have already been to Spain ( Madrid and Barcelona) in the last 2 years

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Hi Pan, if you can return Wed or later after easter, your options open up much more. I didn’t find anything out of DC that didn’t require LGA transfer to JFK. Also check from Philly. JFK to Madrid was wide open and remember you can then fly Iberia anywhere in Europe for free. I also saw JFK to Paris out, but not back- unless you connect in Madrid.

      1. Pan

        I found JFK to MAD for 4, JFK to BOS only 3 available max. How bad is the LGA to JFK transfer with 2 kids (7 & 10 yr old). Can’ be worse than megabus from DC to JFK right? Another option is to get 1 business ticket for bos-mad..
        Do you have to pay phone fee (part of $860)?

        1. thedealmommy Post author

          Hi Pan, my workaround is 1 way car rental each way from DCA to JFK. About $100 each way. No phone fees on American as Iberia is not bookable online. Lga-JFK is just a cab ride, I guess, but LGA is such a hassle I’d rather just drive to JFK as its so Much farther east of Manhattan.

    2. Kenny

      Most flights within Europe on Iberia are wide-open. If you can get to MAD you should have no problem continuing on from there. Another way to search is at, just be sure to search each segment individually.

  2. Lisa K

    I just booked tickets for a family of 4 from Milwaukee WI to Brisbane Australia in business class on Quantas over spring break. We are returning from Sydney in coach😰on United. Thrilled to be going and that I could put the trip together from Milwaukee. 62500 AA miles each for the trip there and 40,000 UA miles each for the return. A little concerned about coach but we have a layover in SFO to stretch. Heron Island, Sydney, & Urulu here we come!!

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Fantastic! I’ve got OZ on the calendar for 2017. (And you’ll live although I might suggest coach out and biz back next time. Slightly less painful☺️ )

      1. Jamie

        I know people always say stuff like this, but …. I flew to Australia in grad school. starting in des moines, and ending in Canberra. So, I think it was DSM-DEN-LAX-SYD-CBR. All in coach, of course, and I don’t remember it being a problem. of course, I was 22 or something and therefore much more flexible. Point being – sounds like an awesome trip and don’t let yourself get worried about the coach seats. not ideal, but hey, they’re getting you to Australia (or home, rather).
        Have fun, sounds like a fantastic trip!!!!!

  3. DaninMCI

    My experience has been much the same as yours but I’ve been trying to schedule a Europe trip with good connection to Israel as a side trip for 4 in Business (you think economy availability is weak) on SAAver fares to keep it to 400k miles. I’m in the middle of the USA so Chicago is a best bet but no matter what routes I find they all want to take me through LHR it seems. Even non-BA tickets through LHR are high on the taxes. Ideally I would go to Istanbul on Royal Jordanian in Business but all I’m finding is economy everywhere or a connection through LHR. South America is just as bad. Lots of availability but nothing in business or first. Sad. I never had these problems with US Airways in past years.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      It does seem like it was easier to Asia last fall. At least we can book one-ways, right?

  4. xshanex

    Gran Canaria is great. Was there in Feb. with 4 people too doing exactly what you did. The Radisson Blu was a great hotel we did 6 nights BOGO for a 150000 carlson pts. The Sheraton Golf Resort was fine too (though much more expensive if you are not going to leave the resort). Just be aware that the best pool is hidden on the top floor (there are like 7 scattered across the property).

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Great tips, thanks! Glad to hear it was swimming weather- that was my only real concern.

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  6. Sharon

    How cool, our family of 4 is also visiting the Canary Islands for Spring Break.
    We are DFW-BCN and booked it last Spring, this was my first award redemption and have learned so much since then 😉 Great tip on Qantas.

  7. J

    I don’t want to commit to spring break yet. We went to MCO this spring break 2016 for Disneyworld and so many deals were available to other places I was kicking myself. After all, Disney is still a lot with hacking. We booked spring break in the fall and it only required leaving a few days late and returning a few days late.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      I felt the same way about this summer. So many deals to Europe after we had already committed to dates and bought tickets.

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