Recently I got a very good comment from one of the readers on one of my first posts. And I thought I should take the opportunity and expand upon that comment in a post of itself on what’s the best award program and the cheapest way to get to London.
Now since there was no further location information provided by the reader, we will just explore both Delta and Chase programs with regards to costs of getting to London and whether those two programs actually make the most sense or if there are some better alternatives that you can be utilizing. I will also base all the travel examples from my own hub, Minneapolis, but the principles that I’ll go through can be applied to any departure airport of your choosing.
Let’s look at at Delta program first. Since the credit cards (Amex undersigned) are issued directly through Delta all miles earned on these cards go directly to your lined Delta account, one loses the flexibility of of choosing other award partners that are offered through Amex directly.
I’ve put together a simple itinerary between Minneapolis (MSP) and London-Heathrow (LHR) in the next two month, both in terms of actual fare cost and award redemption cost. Let’s look at coach fare first:
Now let’s look at the same itinerary in terms of mile cost:
Two things immediatelly stand out to me: 1) There’s a fairly decent availabilty of “low” priced award and 2) that as Stephanie mentions in her comment the fees are fairly high. In fact, it’s a fact that fees/taxes for Delta flights into London are one of the highest. So now let’s consider the redemption rate and determine whether you’re actually geting a good deal for your miles. If we narrow down March 8 – March 15 itinerary we get $(984.66-192.16)/60,000miles = 1.32cent/mile redemption rate. I consider this to be on the lower end of the redemptions and as I wrote yesterday the key strategy is aim to redeem closer, or even above, a 2cent/mile rate.
I also checked Gatwick (LGW), an alternative English airport to see if the numbers were any different, both in costs/miles and taxes. Out-of-pocket flight costs were in the $1400 region and award travel was almost non-existant but the few spoty tickets that were available had taxes of $170 so not much difference.
To see if value of award travel can be improved for the same itinerary I did a search for First/Business class tickets instead and here’s what I found:
Crazy — right? And that’s the lowest fare. So out of curiosity let’s see what it would it would be in miles.
The redemtion rates look fairly reasonable and are definitely one of the lowest redemtions that you’ll find on Delta to Europe in First Class. Let’s do the math to see what the miles are worth in this case, for an itinerary of Mar 8 – 15th: $(7,976.36 – 295.86)/125,000miles you’re getting a whopping 6.14cents/mile redemption rate. This is obviously a much better use of your mileage, but if you’re traveling with a spouse and a child you’re looking at 375K miles out of pocket, even with a typical sign-up bonus of 50K miles per credit card you’re looking at managing 7 cards for this one trip.
But, let’s keep going and see if there’s anything else we can come up with. One of my key travel tools is utilizing Google-Flights data base to search for straight-out costs of tickets. While google doesn’t allow you to book directly through them they do provide you links to booking websites and will plan out a detailed itinerary for you that you can then call into airline directly and book with them.
My cheapest option is $940, incidentally this a Delta flight which is listed cheaper than Delta lists themselves on their website. The flight is a code-share for Virgin Atlantic so I think that’s why the Delta search turns up a different cost value.
So at this point what would I do if I wanted to fly my family to London? Since my son is under 2 I would bring him as a lapchild and only book 2 tickets. And I would actually by the coach fare tickets outright, because I think 1.3 cent/mile redemtion is lower than what I can find for award travel and the 6.14cent/mile redemption for first class while a phenomenal deal costs a lot out-of-pocket in miles that I would save for a more excotic destination than London in March. But… I’d sign up for a Braclay Arrival Plus card that currently offers 40,000 point sign-up bonus. Each point is worth 1 cent but you actually earn 2 points per every dollar spent. Barclay also has a shopping portal that gives you a multiplier for your points and gives you another %5 bonus everytime you redeem your points for travel, so in this case your redemption rate would actually be 2.1cents/point which is very reasonable. In order to receive the 40,000 point bonus you have to spend $3000 in 3 months and you can actually purchase these tickets to go towards that minimum spend. I’d try to purchase the tickets through the already mentioned travel portal so I would earn an additional 5640 points from Barclay, giving me at least 50,274 points (40,000+940*2[tickets]*3[portal points] + 1120[remaining spend]*2[normal points] +5% redemption bonus) which have a value of $502.74. If both you and your spose would did a similar stragety your London trip would cost you 874.52$ out of pocket vs. $384.32 that you would pay in taxes, get a poor redemption rate of 1.3cent/mile and these tickets would actually earn you Delta reward mileage which you can further redeem on future Delta travel.
In summary, there are lot of factors that are in play here, I’m somewhat limited/tied to Delta out of my major hub so my costs and redemptions of getting to London are severely limited compared to someone that’s say flying out of New York (JFK or similar). But the excercise that I went through here of searching flights (both for purchase and award flights) is something that can be simply done and checked vs. Google Flights for references. But what this excercise also shows the importants of understanding the redemtion costs and also having options and knowledge on how to best extract value. I have to say I’m actually surprised how far ahead the fixed reward Barclay card comes out when compared to Delta awards, at least for this specific flight scenario and for coach. If you’re treating yourself and will be traveling first class then Delta offers an incredible value of maximizing your points.