Here’s a simple way to get to Europe. It requires a reasonably low amount of miles and only a couple hundred dollars. If you want a hint, just look above at the title — I’m talking about the art of the one way.

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Norwegian can be used for cheap one ways between the US and Europe. Photo by Aero Icarus

So you’ve signed up for your first airline credit card and received your 30,000 mile bonus. Or maybe you’ve slowly accumulated around that amount through casual travel. But that’s not enough to get you Barcelona and back! “Great, I’m only halfway there.” Wrong. There is a much easier way to simply taking that trip and its a part of the game that’s often overlooked. An amazing trend that’s only expanding its impact on the US airline market is the arrival of Trans-Atlantic budget carriers. WOW, Norwegian are primarily the first two, but the market is growing. Even Ryan Air (ahhhh!) has tempted us with the thought of ridiculously cheap flights across the pond. They might be coming. And the structuring of airfare is only going to change further.

Luckily, if you’re using miles, everything is booked by the “segment”. There is a way to combine these two approaches to budget travel into a way that’s wallet friendly and mile friendly as well. United, American, Delta, Alaska, and most other US airlines have one-way award tickets between North America and Europe for 30,000 (or less) plus some fees. As long as you’re not flying an airline that charges outrageous “fuel surcharges”, you’re looking at something less than $100, usually less than $50. This is one of the legs of your trip and exactly where your miles are going.

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Now comes the recently available combination where your book one leg with miles and the other on a budget carrier.

The number one ranked budget airline in Europe is Norwegian (voted on by Skytrax). We’ll use them as an example as they offer ridiculously cheap flights to Europe as long as you book a decent amount in advance. If you live in one of their U.S. destinations (LA, New York, Boston, Bay Area, and more) you can usually get a sub three hundred dollar ticket to or from a variety of destinations in Europe. The thing that you have to keep in mind is that Norwegian, like all budget carriers, charge for all sorts of things. Norwegian has a quite a bit better of a reputation because they aren’t as much of “nickel and dime” cost structure. On their flights, you can bring on “Hand Baggage” which is your standard carry-on on the flight with no charge. Norwegian however, does charge for meals, so either figure that into your ticket price, or bring food on board with you. But look at the cost of the flight —

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I’m pretty sure you can survive the transatlantic flight with the sandwich and snacks you bring on board. Plus, their on-board entertainment is top notch.

So now using this scenario you’ve got a round trip to Barcelona using 30,000 miles (sign-up bonus) plus $219. Not to bad right? My point with showing this combination is to jazz you up on how easy this all can be. It’s not that hard to be a player of “the game”. Money saved is beer earned? Right?

SOME THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

  • Choosing between the right order on using miles or money for the outbound or inbound flight will depend on you mileage program and the taxes and fees that are being charged. In general, flying back into the US using miles has higher taxes, and depending on the mileage program can be the deal-breaker on using it for the inbound flight. For example, when I tried that in the above scenario, Delta wanted $200 plus miles. Outrageous! So depending on which mileage program you’re using, the above outbound on miles, inbound on budget airline combo might be preferred. Make sure to compare and contrast this before you book. One potential advantage to flying back on a legacy carrier using miles is that you’ll be able to check you bag for free. You’ll have too keep in mind that your bag is going to be likely more full and bulging at the seems with souvenirs on your way back, aka, more likely to go over the size or weight limit. Just make sure you’re packing light and plan ahead and you’ll be okay.
  • Explore your options with budget carriers and what they charge for and what a trip on them entails. WOW only flies through Iceland and also has a funky baggage policy. They’ve recently loosened the carry-on (free) bag’s weight restriction, however the bag allowed is a weird size (not a standard carry-on). Also, no on-board entertainment! Norwegian has some great sales, but the closer you book to your departure date, only the more expensive fares will be left. Lastly, budget airlines, often only offer flights between destinations on specific days so that may effect your choice if you’re time restricted.
  • On the mileage end of your flight, its very possible on most itineraries, to include a stop-over. You could use your 5 day “stop-over” and hop over to another city which you’ll fly out of. Alaska’s MileagePlan seems to have the most liberal rules on stop-overs, but depending which program your miles are in, you can probably make this work if desired.

OVERALL

Using a combination between Miles and Budget Airlines creates a whole lot more opportunities on getting to Europe. Hopefully we’ll see a bit more of an expansion on reasonably priced budget flights to Asia soon! You’ll have to consider your price-point before choosing to book this way, but it could save you a lot of time saving up miles, and further delaying that trip you’ve always wanted. This is simply, in my opinion, the best way to get to Europe off of a single airline credit card bonus.

Let me know if this works out for you, or if you have anything to add! Cheers!

SkyMiles is a copywright of Delta Air Lines, Inc. MileagePlan is a copywright of Alaska Airlines, Inc. Norwegian Air Shuttle is owned by Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA.