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Let’s talk about how to use American Airlines miles for awards to Europe. This is not the best use of American Airlines miles because award space isn’t great, and American collects fuel surcharges on two partners to Europe. But there are routes with no fuel surcharges and good award space that you should know about.

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Me at Trakai Castle in Lithuania

What You’re Reading

For a limited time, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months. That means you’ll have 82,500 American Airlines miles after meeting the spending requirement. That’s enough miles for two roundtrips to Europe.

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Included in the $450 annual fee, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers Admirals Club lounge membership, meaning you can access over 90 American Airlines Clubs in airports around the world whenever you’re flying–even if you’re not flying on American. Plus you can bring in any two guests for free OR your spouse and all children under 18 for free on each visit.

If you find this guide to redeeming the most valuable miles in the world to be useful and want to apply for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®, please use my link. The commission is what allows me to dedicate the time to writing this series.

“Redeeming American Airlines Miles” Series Index

The Partners for Europe Awards

Here are the American Airlines partners with direct flights from North America to Europe:

  • American/US Airways
  • British Airways
  • Iberia
  • airberlin
  • Finnair

Award space on all the partners except Iberia is searchable on aa.com. Here’s how to search aa.com.

Award space on Iberia is searchable on ba.com. Here’s how to search ba.com.

Pricing

From North America to Europe, American Airlines charges:

  • 20,000 miles one way in economy from October 15 to May 15
  • 30,000 miles one way in economy from May 16 to October 14
  • 50,000 miles one way in Business Class
  • 62,500 miles one way in First Class

These miles prices are the same whether you fly directly or with connections, so even your tiny home airport to Mykonos, Greece with a few connections and flying multiple partners costs the same number of miles.

These prices are significantly less than United and Delta charge for the same awards.

In addition to the miles, you pay government taxes on all awards. In addition to taxes, you pay fuel surcharges on American Airlines awards that fly British Airways and Iberia. The fuel surcharges on British Airways flights are humungous: over $400 each way.

Washington to London in British Airways First Class is 62,500 American Airlines miles + $442.
Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.05.59 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.06.05 PM

Washington to Madrid roundtrip in British Airways First Class is 125,000 American Airlines miles + $1,026.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.08.21 PM

Because of the fuel surcharges, I won’t be mentioning British Airways flights again in this post, which is a bummer because it is the American Airlines partner offering the most award space to Europe.

Fuel surcharges on Iberia are much smaller, at under $100 each way.

Routes & Award Space

American Airlines has a decent route network to Europe from New York and Philadelphia.
Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.51.45 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.54.28 PM

American also flies transatlantic flights from Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, and Raleigh.

Award Space on AA Flights

Award space varies by destination and season, but the general pattern on American Airlines flights to Europe is OK economy award space and poor Business and First Class award space.

For instance, Raleigh to London is typical in having good award space in economy and basically none in Business Class.

All calendars show award space for two passengers unless otherwise noted.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.56.41 PM

There are exceptions to the basically-no-Business-Class-award-space “rule.” Let’s look at some of the American Airlines routes with more award space.

New York to London has award space in economy daily outside of peak travel times.
Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.58.43 PM

And it also has Business Class award space on Mondays through Wednesdays.
Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.58.48 PM

New York to Paris has less of a pattern of Business Class award space, but it is available if you are flexible.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.59.22 PM

Oddly I often see more premium cabin award space on longer American Airlines flights. For instance, Dallas to London has more First Class award space than New York to London.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.03.08 PM

Chicago to London has pretty regular First Class award space.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.04.38 PM

Your secret weapon for Business and First Class award space to Europe will be American Airlines flights to Madrid (and from there to anywhere else in Europe on connecting Iberia flights.) There is great Business Class and First Class space from Madrid to Miami.
Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.09.36 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.09.40 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.10.16 PM

Unfortunately, American Airlines does not open up last second award space in premium cabins on its European flights. Here is the award space from New York to London this week. There is some economy space, but nothing in Business or First.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.01.19 PM

Iberia, Finnair, and airberlin Award Space

Iberia, Finnair, and airberlin fly from six American cities to Europe, including four American Airlines hubs. Let’s go through their award space one at a time.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.47.25 PM

Finnair

A lot of Finnair award space shows up on aa.com, but it is nearly all phantom award space. Check the real space on ba.com, and don’t get your hopes up.

airberlin

Airberlin has the best award space of these three partners, and is your best way to get to Europe with American Airlines miles other than the routes mentioned in the American Airlines section above.

For instance, Dusseldorf to New York has a lot of Business Class award space in March 2016.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.29.05 PM

Award space in Business Class is not nearly as good from New York to Dusseldorf in May or June, but there is still some.Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.29.33 PM

Instead check out New York to Berlin, which has great economy and good Business Class space in June 2016.Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.32.35 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.32.40 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.32.48 PM

Dusseldorf and Berlin are both airberlin hubs with connections all over Europe.

Iberia

Iberia has great economy award space and OK Business Class award space as long as you book in advance. For instance, here are the days with Iberia Business Class awards in the first week of May 2016 from New York, Miami, and Chicago to Madrid.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.25.49 PM Here is the economy space the same week on the same routes.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.26.00 PM

What about last minute award space? Here is the economy award space this week on the same three routes. There is no Business Class award space this week on Iberia flights on the three routes.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.26.28 PM

 

From Madrid, you can connect all over Europe on Iberia.

Booking the Award

Search segment-by-segment if necessary to find award space from your airport to an international gateway, the transatlantic flight, and any connecting flights in Europe.

If all your award space is searchable on aa.com, book online. If your award includes Iberia flights, you need to book by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880. The good news is that you will pay zero phone booking fee, since that fee was waived when an award can’t be booked online.

Pay your award taxes with your Citi Prestige® Card, since it comes with a $250 Air Travel Credit every calendar year that will cover the award taxes and fees on these ticket. If you haven’t used the credit yet, buy pay the taxes with your Prestige, and you will receive an offsetting credit on your next statement.

Even if you’ve already used your $250 credit for this year, the card offers 3x on all airfare purchases.

Bottom Line

American Airlines are not very good to Europe. There are some American Airlines, some Iberia, and some airberlin routes with decent award space if you know what to search and can be flexible. But I’d rather use my American Airlines miles to Asia and South America and book Europe with United, Delta, Flying Blue, or Virgin Atlantic miles.

If you find space though, awards to Europe with American Airlines miles are cheap.

Right now, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months.

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4

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I’m on record saying that I don’t think the British Airways devaluation from last month is a big deal. Only Business and First Class awards went up in price, and the vast majority of good Avios redemptions are short, direct, economy awards.

Well there’s another good part of the “devaluation” that I haven’t covered yet: the introduction of cheaper off peak awards on British Airways and Iberia flights. Here’s the new award chart that shows off peak award prices next to peak award prices.

New Award Chart

Off peak awards are only possible on British Airways and Iberia flights. Other partner flights always price at peak level.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.49.32 PM

As a reminder, each British Airways flight on an award has its own price determined by three things: distance, cabin, and whether it is an off peak or peak date.

For distance, the zones are broken down like this:

  1. Up to 650 miles flown
  2. 651 to 1,151 miles flown
  3. 1,152 to 2,000 miles flown
  4. 2,001 to 3,000 miles flown
  5. 3,001 to 4,000 miles flown
  6. 4,001 to 5,500 miles flown
  7. 5,501 to 6,500 miles flown
  8. 6,501 to 7,000 miles flown
  9. 7,001+ miles flown

For a one segment award, read its price off the new award chart above. For an award of two or more segments, read the price of each segment off the above chart and add them up to get the whole award’s price.

What Dates Are Off Peak

British Airways promises that for British Airways flights: “Two thirds of the year is off-peak, including every Tuesday and Wednesday.” Here are the exact dates through April 2016.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.44.54 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.45.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.45.12 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.45.20 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.45.29 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.45.41 PM

You can find the most up-to-date off peak calendar for British Airways and the separate Iberia off peak calendar here.

Good Deals?

Longhaul

There definitely are some good deals at off peak prices, but not every off peak flight is a good deal.

Longhaul flights have the problem of huge fuel surcharges. For instance, a British Airways flight this summer from New York to London costs 50,000 Avios + $442 in Business Class. Over $400 of that is a fuel surcharge.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.03.41 PM

Considering this award cost only 40,000 Avios one way before the devaluation, and you can book transatlantic Business Class on United flights with various types of Star Alliance miles for 40,000 to 58,000 miles without fuel surcharges, I’d say this isn’t a very good deal.

Better off peak deals are offered on longhaul economy and Premium Economy flights. That same New York to London flight costs only 13,000 Avios + $257 on off peak dates even during the summer. Or you can use Cash & Avios options to pay only 4,550 Avios and $342.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.10.59 PM

British Airways’ Premium Economy, which reminds me of domestic First Class, from New York to London on off peak dates is 26,000 Avios + $257 or 10,400 Avios + $411.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.11.19 PM

The value of longhaul off peak awards is severely hampered by the devaluation of Business and First Class awards last month and by the huge fuel surcharges on longhaul British Airways flights. If you find a longhaul off peak award you love, share it in the comments.

Shorthaul

Shorthaul off peak awards are almost all going to be Reward Flight Saver awards too, offering a better deal on fuel surcharges. Reward Flight Saver flights are Zone 1-4 awards to or from London on British Airways. Instead of paying taxes and fuel surcharges, you pay one flat fee.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.54.42 PM

Notice the fee is cheaper in euros, so you may want to set your Executive Club address to one in continental Europe. I set mine to continental Europe during a recent sale of Avios that was cheapest is euros.

I found award space in economy and Business Class (intra-Europe this is just an economy seat with the seat next to you empty) from London to Istanbul on an off peak date this summer.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.51.37 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.52.29 PM

The Business Class redemption would cost 17,000 Avios + $34.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.52.08 PM

The economy redemption would cost 8,500 Avios + $24 or 3,400 Avios + $81.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.52.45 PM

I value Avios at 1.7 cents each, so spending 3,400 Avios + $81 is like expending $139 of value for me. That seems like a very good deal from London to Istanbul, which is an almost four hour international flight.

But a quick search shows a low cost carrier offering even cheaper flights near the date I found award space.Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.55.12 PMI think there is more potential for value on shorthaul Avios off peak awards because shorthaul awards are a better value with Avios normally, and Reward Flight Saver awards avoid big fuel surcharges. But the value of shorthaul off peak awards is muted, since so many low cost carriers fly from London to Europe so cheaply.

BA Availability Calendar

Normally searching award space on ba.com is very slow, but when searching for British Airways award space, as you will be doing when hunting for off peak awards, searching is much faster. Click the blue button on your results that says “View calendar of BA availability” instead of clicking day by day to search.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.05.56 PM The calendar shows award space that you can cross-reference with the off peak calendars above.Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.06.06 PM

Iberia Off Peak

Iberia and British Airways are owned by the same company, and both use Avios as their rewards currency, so it makes sense that Iberia flights can also be booked off peak with British Airways Avios.

The off peak dates for Iberia flights are different. Not every Tuesday and Wednesday is off peak for instance. Selected Iberia off peak dates:

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.55.57 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.56.09 PM

Another difference with Iberia flights is that they do not qualify for the Reward Flight Saver reduction in fees.

I searched Paris to Madird to see how Iberia off peak flights price out.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.06.57 PM

Oddly, ba.com didn’t give the off peak discount at all even though the words “OFF-PEAK” appeared next to the space I selected. Economy was 7,500 Avios and Business 15,000 Avios instead of the off peak prices on British Airways’ chart: 6,500 and 12,750 Avios for a zone 2 redemption. (Another side note: ORY-MAD is 639 miles, so it should be zone 1. Maybe it prices as zone 2 because CDG-MAD is 660 miles, and the whole city is geographically located at CDG for the purposes of Avios zones. But that’s just a guess.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.56.29 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.56.54 PMCan you get Iberia flights to price at the correct off peak prices? Leave the date, route, and cabin in the comments.

Bottom Line

British Airways’ “devaluation” last month is mostly no big deal. The bad values–longhaul Business and First Class–got worse. The good values–short, direct, economy awards–were untouched.

Simultaneously British Airways introduced off peak awards for Iberia and British Airways flights that lower the cost of an award in each cabin to any destination for eight months out of the year and every single Tuesday and Wednesday. (That’s the off peak calendar for British Airways flights. The Iberia off peak calendar differs substantially.)

These off peak awards will offer some value in some cases though many off peak awards will still be a poor value because of a high Avios price or big fuel surcharges.

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13

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Remember that Avios devaluation from last week? British Airways is jacking up the number of Avios you need to redeem for mid- and long-haul Business Class awards and for First Class awards. Of course, I said it was no big deal since the best Avios awards are short, direct, economy redemptions on awards without fuel surcharges.

Iberia and British Airways are owned by the same company but maintain separate loyalty programs that both call their miles “Avios.” You can freely convert British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios as long as you have both accounts and they’ve been open for at least three months. Open your Iberia Avios account now to start that clock for the existing benefit of Iberia Avios and the upcoming one that this post is about.

Iberia and British Airways Avios currently have identical charts.

The Current Reason to Use Iberia Avios

The current reason to use Iberia Avios is to book Iberia flights.

Iberia collects far lower fuel surcharges on its own award flights than British Airways collects. For instance the same New York to Madrid flight in Iberia Business Class costs 40,000 British Airways Avios + $456.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 4.41.27 PM

The same flight costs the same 40,000 Iberia Avios + 75 euros ($85.) That’s a savings of $371 by using Iberia Avios for an Iberia flight.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 4.05.24 PM

 

For other partners, Iberia and British Airways collect identical surcharges, so I find it easier to use British Airways Avios for all other awards.

The Reason to Use Iberia Avios April 1

Iberia Avios is changing its chart April 1. (The BA Avios changes happen April 28.) Most of the changes mirror the negative changes to the BA chart, but Iberia is adding an Off Peak Season and it lowers the price of awards from the United States to Spain for much of the year.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 4.24.19 PM

For the off peak season, flights to Madrid from:

  • New York and Boston are 34,000 Iberia Avios one way in Iberia Business Class
  • Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles are 42,500 Iberia Avios one way in Iberia Business Class

The off peak season is all the dates below NOT highlighted in red. The only summer dates included are in early June and September. Most of the rest of the year other than Christmas and New Year is off peak.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 4.02.45 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 4.02.54 PM

There is good award space on Iberia in Business Class, often for two passengers during all of the off peak windows including those in the summer. You can search this on iberia.com or ba.com.

The Product

Iberia A330s and “new” A340-600s feature fully flat 6’6″ beds in Business Class.  The A340-300 and old A340-600s feature angled seats. Check your operating airplane carefully.

The Bottom Line

Starting April 1, this will be a great chance to book a one way Business Class award to Europe for 34,000 miles. Of course, like all Avios awards, you will need to pay extra Avios for each segment of your award including the connecting flights. That means if you don’t live in New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, or Los Angeles, or you don’t want to go to Madrid, your award will cost more miles.

Open your Iberia Avios account now, and in three months, you can freely transfer British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios to take advantage of the deal.

Hat Tip Head for Points

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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British Airways is offering a 25% discount on its longhaul awards–flown by BA or Iberia. That would be great except British Airways charges humungous surcharges that make any redemptions an awful deal in my mind. To wit, British Airways business class from New York to London:

As the screen shot indicates, this is normally a 40,000 Avios award, so there is a 10,000 Avios, or 25%, discount. But the taxes and fees of $438 oneway make this an award I would not purchase. Roundtrip, taxes and fees would be over $1,000 because of the UK Air Passenger Duty.

Luckily Iberia is also offering the same sale that British Airways is offering! Link to promo.

And if you use Iberia Avios to book awards on Iberia flights, your out of pocket cost will be much lower!

Iberia and British Airways are owned by the same company. They both have a loyalty program with a currency named Avios, but the loyalty programs are separate and slightly different. Let me run through Iberia’s if you’re not familiar with it, so you can take advantage of its superior promo.

Iberia’s program is distance based, such that each flight adds to the cost of an award. Here’s its chart.

Blue class is discounted economy. Iberia offers more award space at “Full Fare (Turist),” which is called “Economy” on the award booking page. Both Blue and Full Fare/Turist/Economy are economy class, but the multi-named one costs 50% more.

We’re interested in booking Blue class and Business class, which costs double Blue class.

Every segment adds to the cost, so if you fly New York to Madrid to Venice, that will cost 27,500 Iberia Avios–20,000 for New York to Madrid and 7,500 more for Madrid to Venice.

Iberia charges big surcharges on British Airways flights and even American Airlines flights, but it doesn’t charge quite such large surcharges on Iberia flights.

Iberia’s current 25% off promotion offers 25% off the Iberia Avios price for all flights operated by Iberia and BA “from zones 4 and beyond.” I’m not sure what “from zones 4 and beyond” means exactly, but by poking around, it looks like all BA and Iberia flights of 7,500 Avios or more are 25% off. 4,500 Avios flights are full price.

How do you get Iberia Avios?

There are two easy ways.

You can transfer your BA Avios over. Both accounts need to be open for 90 days to make this work, so open your Iberia Avios account now to do this in the future if you don’t already have one open. Sign up here.

On ba.com, click on Manage My Account after signing in.

Next choose Combine My Avios.

Next click the red button that says Combine My Avios on the next page.

After that, select Iberia Plus from the drop down and type in your account info.

At this point, hopefully you’ll have a smooth, intuitive transfer. Unfortunately I got an error. I called BA at 800-AIRWAYS (hit 1, 1 to get to the Executive Club where you want to be) to straighten it out. The agent did a manual transfer that he said will show up in 24-48 hours.

The second way to get Iberia Avios is via a Membership Rewards transfer. Instead of selecting British Airways Executive Club, select Iberia Plus. It should be an easy, instant 1:1 transfer.

How do you search for Iberia Avios awards?

Sign into your account at iberia.com. Then click Redeem Avios under My Iberia Plus.

The default setting is to search only Iberia flights. Since this trick of using Iberia Avios only saves us money on those bookings, leave the default setting as-is. Select your departure city; they’re grouped by continent. Select your arrival city; some of the codes are not airport codes but city codes like NYC, LON, and PAR for New York-JFK, London-Heathrow, and Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

The search screen should show Blue, Economy, and Business. Remember that Blue is discounted economy, so that and business are what we want.

An X means there is no space. For itineraries with layovers, you have to select each individual flight. Once you’ve made your flight selections, you can click Consult to see the price. Here is New York to Madrid roundtrip in economy.

30k Avios and $166, not too bad for roundtrip to Europe!

This is about $400 less out of pocket than British Airways would charge for the same route!

Over $500 in taxes and surcharges roundtrip with BA Avios for the same JFK-MAD route

There’s probably an easy way to convert the taxes and surcharges from displaying in Euros to dollars on iberia.com that I am missing. If you can’t find it either, just type this into google for a conversion: “XXX eur to usd.” And while on the subject of currencies, make sure to book with a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Even if quoted in dollars, your card company may consider it a foreign transaction.

New York to Madrid should be 20k Iberia Avios each way, so 30k roundtrip is a 10k, or 25% discount, as promised.

What about adding on an intra-Spain leg?

39k Avios and $231 to Seville

As I mentioned earlier, 4,500 Avios legs don’t seem to be discounted, so adding an intra-Spain leg bumps the price to 39k roundtrip and increases the taxes quite a bit.

What about seeing somewhere other than Spain?

41,250 Avios and $248 to Venice

Venice is normally 7,500 Avios each way from Madrid, but 25% was knocked off, so the total is 41,250 Avios instead of 55,000 Avios.

All the awards I’ve shown are economy class, Iberia also flies with angled lie flat business class seats. This space is searchable on Expert Flyer, like so:

For more information on using Expert Flyer, see my beginner’s post on Using Expertflyer.com. Unfortunately I searched from several cities in the US to Madrid and I saw just two total flights–one BOS-MAD and one MAD-JFK–with any space in business class. This deal seems basically limited to people interested in economy class flights.

Where does Iberia fly in the US?

Prices are listed in Blue/Business class per direction.

Boston <-> Madrid (20k/40k)

New York <-> Madrid (20k/40k)

Chicago <-> Madrid (25k/50k)

Miami <-> Madrid (25k/50k)

Los Angeles <-> Madrid (25k/50k)

I found economy class space available on all these routes, most readily on the shorter routes.

Is the Iberia promo a good deal?

Yes, there are two things I love about it. First it uses Avios or Membership Rewards for transatlantic travel with out of pocket costs of only ~$200 roundtrip. That’s pretty great for those of us with a ton of these currencies who can’t use them all up on 25k roundtrips to Hawaii or hopping around Australia or South America–the normal best uses.

Second the Avios price is incredibly low for the seasons it encompasses. Bookings must be made by November 19, 2012, but travel can run through May 31, 2013, when Spain and much of Europe are pretty nice. Last week I ran through all the off-peak-to-Europe deals, and Iberia’s promo’s dates are better than all of their dates.

You really can’t beat flying from New York to Madrid in May roundtrip for 30k Avios and under $200.

Recap

British Airways has a dud of a promotion running this week. You can knock 25% off the BA Avios price of awards to Europe and beyond, but not 25% off the insane, disgusting fees.

Iberia is running an identical promotion though, unlocking Iberia’s lower surcharges to Europe on its own planes. If you book between now and  November 19, you can fly through May 31, 2013 with a 25% discount on the Iberia Avios price.

Iberia Avios prices are already very low from the east coast to Madrid and quite reasonable from the west coast or to other points in Europe, so another 25% off is incredible. The taxes and surcharges are approximately $200 for a roundtrip in economy class.

Getting Iberia Avios–which are different from BA Avios–is easy. You can transfer directly from your BA Avios account online if both accounts are over 90 days old, or you can transfer 1:1 from Membership Rewards.

When the news of the BA Avios promotion circulated, I wasn’t excited, but the Iberia Avios promotion is a much better deal.

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