Middle Age Miles

How to Use Flight Tickets Originating in Europe to Save Money on Your Travels

Middle Age Miles at the Colosseum in Rome

Introduction and Background

Middle Age Miles has two great trips coming up in 2019 that set our travel planning wheels spinning. First, we’re going to Italy in April with Middle Age Miles son Dylan and his fiancee. And later, we’re going to Switzerland in July with Middle Age Miles son Zack and his wife.

This situation presented a fantastic puzzle for me. We have two European trips within 3-4 months. The trips would have fixed dates, plus or minus 1 day perhaps, given that everyone besides me has a full-time job with vacation time constraints. The locations had been somewhat flexible, and we spent a lot of time checking options based on preference and price. But by the time I needed to book flights for Philly and me, the locations were fixed as well.

Our flights would involve flying between DFW and Rome in early April, and between DFW and Zurich in early July. The Rome flights would be in a medium-travel season, but the Zurich flights would be in the midst of heavy summer-travel season with little-to-no hope of any sale fares, especially from DFW.

Several factors would go into our planning and decision-making process of how to get the most value for our travel dollars (and our points and miles!), such as maximizing our earnings to qualify for elite status and flying in as much comfort as we could reasonably afford. But in today’s article, I want to focus on one specific trick that anyone planning multiple trips to Europe can take advantage of – using flight tickets originating in Europe to save money on your travels!

I’ve learned a ton from reading articles by excellent travel bloggers. And I always like to give credit where it’s due. In this situation, I remembered some good articles by Seth the Wandering Aramean and Ric of Loyalty Traveler on using European ticketing. We’d never had a solid opportunity to use these techniques ourselves, but now was our chance. We discovered great money-saving opportunities here, and we wanted to share this with Middle Age Miles readers in hopes you can get more value for your travel dollar to make your own travel dreams come true!

Middle Age Miles is looking forward to a return visit to Trevi Fountain!

How to Save Money – A Simple and Straightforward Example

We’ll use our own situation as our example, as we believe it will apply widely – especially from hubs like DFW that tend to have high pricing for European flights.

We need to fly round trip to Rome (FCO) in April and round trip to Zurich (ZRH) in July. The standard way to think about this is as two round trips:

  • Ticket 1: Round trip from USA to Europe – DFW-to-FCO and FCO-to-DFW a few days later
  • Ticket 2: Round trip from USA to Europe – DFW-to-ZRH and ZRH-to-DFW a few days later

Let’s look at the cost for Tickets 1 and 2:

  • Ticket 1 – R/T DFW-FCO:
    • Main Cabin: $1,572
    • Premium Economy: $2,912
    • Business: $5,298
  • Ticket 2 – R/T DFW-ZRH:
    • Main Cabin: $1,834
    • Premium Economy: $2,163
    • Business: $4,549
    • Main Cabin: $3,406
    • Premium Economy: $5,075
    • Business: $9,847

Now, let’s look at the trips in a different way (commonly called “nesting”):

  • Ticket 3 – Multi-City originating in USA – DFW-to-FCO in April (we’ll call this flight 3A) and ZRH-to-DFW in July (flight 3B)
  • Ticket 4 – Multi-City originating in Europe – FCO-to-DFW in April (flight 4A) and DFW-to-ZRH in July (flight 4B)
    • These tickets give us the exact same flights as Tickets 1 and 2 that we discussed above, just ordered a bit differently – flight 3A first, then 4A, then 4B, then 3B

And now, let’s check out the prices for Tickets 3 and 4, with Ticket 4 originating in Europe:

  • Ticket 3 – Multi-City, DFW-FCO then ZRH-DFW
    • Main Cabin: $1,725
    • Premium Economy: $2,774
    • Business: $5,052
  • Ticket 4 – Multi-City, FCO-DFW then DFW-ZRH (note how much lower these fares are)
    • Main Cabin: $1,082
    • Premium Economy: $1,736
    • Business: $3,644
    • Main Cabin: $2,807
    • Premium Economy: $4,510
    • Business: $8,696

Just by booking our trips differently, with one ticket originating in Europe, we’ve saved a bunch of money. How much?

  • Main Cabin: $3,406 – $2,807 = $599 savings (overall savings of 17.6%)
  • Premium Economy: $5,075 – $4,510 = $565 savings (overall savings of 11.1%)
  • Business: $9,847 – $8,696 = $1,151 savings (overall savings of 11.7%)

Wow. If we have 2 people traveling, even just flying in economy, we’ve saved ourselves a total of almost $1,200, and achieved an overall savings of 17.6%. Or, looking at it another way, we’ve paid normal price for one round trip but saved ourselves about 35% on the second trip to Europe!

We’re also looking forward to a return visit to the top of Mt. Pilatus in Switzerland, one of our very favorite places we’ve visited

I’ve purposely kept this example simple and straightforward for now, to show the savings most clearly. Note that this ticket-booking trick doesn’t require you to have or use any points or miles, and it doesn’t require you to have any elite status at all. Just book your tickets differently and save a bunch of money!

It’s also worth noting that if you book tickets like Tickets 3 and 4, you should still be able to purchase the tickets using Amex/Chase/Citi points through their respective travel portals, as usual. You shouldn’t have any problems, as long as you’re booking the same cabin on each leg of your trip (for example, all economy, or all business; the travel portals don’t seem to do mixed-cabin tickets well if at all).

Is There Any Risk in Booking This Way?

Generally, no. You are buying legitimate tickets offered by the airlines at the airlines’ own prices. One exception may be if you try to use this technique to circumvent a minimum stay requirement – in our example, if the DFW-to-Rome flight would normally require a 7 night stay but we’re trying to return in 5. Regardless, though, I wouldn’t go out of my way to call the fact that I’m nesting tickets to the attention of the airline.

More Advanced Trick – Use Award Tickets to Position, Especially for the Flights That Would Be More Expensive

Let’s keep the analysis going by considering another option. Think back to our scenario with Tickets 3 & 4. Basically, Ticket 3 is regular price, and Ticket 4 is the one that gets us a big discount by originating in Europe.

How about if we use award tickets to replace paying cash for Ticket 3 – that is, get ourselves from DFW to Rome on a one-way award ticket, and then get ourselves back from Zurich to DFW on another one-way award ticket?

That gives us the best bang for using our miles – we can use miles to pay for the “expensive” Ticket 3 originating in the US, and use cash (or Amex/Chase/Citi points) to pay for the “cheap” Ticket 4 originating in Europe.

For our upcoming Middle Age Miles trips, that’s exactly what we’ve done. Right now, our ticketing looks like this:

  • AA Saver-level mileage tickets in business class from DFW to FCO in early April (I know, it’s a miracle – Saver-level business class tickets between DFW and Europe on AA metal??? Yay!)
  • Multi-City paid ticket from FCO back to DFW at the end of our April trip, plus DFW to ZRH for the start of our July trip
  • AA Anytime mileage tickets in business class from ZRH back to DFW at the end of our July trip

Another option here would be if you can find a cheap one-way paid fare to get to Europe on your first trip. One-way tickets from the USA to Europe are generally exorbitantly priced on the major US carriers, so that’s not an option. But depending on where you live and perhaps whether you can reasonably position, you might be able to find a one-way ticket from the USA to Europe at a good price on another carrier such as Norwegian.

Another More Advanced Trick – Keep the Fun Rolling by Starting Another Round-Trip Flight Originating in Europe at the End of This Sequence

In our example, we saved a bunch of money by purchasing a round-trip (multi-city) ticket originating in Europe once. But why not keep the fun rolling by using this trick over and over? If you want to take multiple trips to Europe with no more than a few months in between (and honestly, who among us doesn’t?), why not plan ahead and start your third trip by booking the USA-to-Europe leg as the back end of another round-trip/multi-city ticket originating in Europe?

Thinking back to the Wandering Aramean article we mentioned earlier, this is exactly what Seth did for about 3½ years – constantly booked his flights as round-trip or multi-city tickets originating in Europe. This involves a lot of planning, and potentially some uncertainty at times of having a flight that goes to Europe without a ticket booked to come home. But if you can plan and book correctly, you can potentially save many thousands of dollars (or many hundreds of thousands of Amex/Chase/Citi points).

We’re considering this for our situation. For the past 3 years, we’ve made a trip to Europe in the late November/early December time frame. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed those trips. The weather can be chilly, but the cities and sites aren’t crowded with tourists, travel costs can be much less as airfares and hotel rates tend to be lower, and we’ve had a really good time at the European Christmas markets. So, we might be able to keep our Euro-travel party rolling for less, by booking another set of tickets, where we’d originate in Zurich in July and then return to a European city for the start of a trip in late November or early December.

To do that, we’d need to be able to book by mid-June, a few weeks ahead of our return flight from ZRH to DFW. And although right now we have award tickets booked to return from ZRH to DFW, we could simply cancel those tickets (and as Executive Platinum members, we’d get all our points and fees refunded – which is a great benefit and another reason to want to continue qualifying for Executive Platinum).

Then, our ticket sequence would look like this (we’ll semi-randomly choose Vienna as our destination for late Fall):

  • AA Saver-level mileage tickets in business class from DFW to FCO in early April
  • Multi-City paid ticket from FCO back to DFW at the end of our April trip, plus DFW to ZRH for the start of our July trip
  • Multi-City paid ticket from ZRH back to DFW at the end of our July trip, plus DFW to VIE for the start of our late Fall trip
  • … and book an award ticket from VIE back to DFW at the end of the Fall trip, or start another Multi-City ticket for yet another trip!

A Few Other Things We’ve Learned About Flight Tickets Originating in Europe

Here are a few other things we’ve learned or were reminded of while we were considering booking flight tickets originating in Europe:

  • As we mentioned earlier, you should be able to book through the Amex/Chase/Citi travel portals and use their respective points currencies
    • However, none of these portals seem to allow for mixed-cabin tickets – which could be an issue as sometimes you may want to book one leg in main cabin and the other in premium economy or business, depending on the pricing in each class on each leg
  • You can’t use AA gift cards on itineraries that originate outside the US
  • The American Express International Airline Program only works on itineraries originating in the US
  • The British Airways AARP discount only works on itineraries originating in the US

We hoped you’ve enjoyed this article with a great tip on getting more value for your travel dollar by using tickets originating in Europe. Do you have experience with this technique, or questions about using it? Please let us know in the Comments!

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