Low-cost AAdvantage Saver level business class awards to Greece aren’t easy, but they can be done

Flying around Japan in 2014 gave Chris and I a very strong reminder of how much we enjoyed traveling to a far-off, unfamiliar place. He had mentioned upon our return how much he would love to repeat the experience in Greece, where his family (a few generations back) came from. So in October 2014 I took it upon myself to start casually searching for cheap award flights on American Airlines’ site. With our stockpile of ThankYou & HawaiianMiles points drained after Japan, AAdvantage miles were going to be our lifeline to reaching Europe in a lie-flat seat while on a budget.

And believe me, we’re on a budget. Ever since my husband gave up his “golden handcuffs” job to reconnect with the vocation he actually went to school for, we’ve seen our disposable income levels plummet. But I wasn’t going to let that fact get in the way of giving him a comfortable trip if I could help it. Over the last several years I had managed to save up around 250,000 miles, thanks in part to the amazing Citi Executive Card deal in 2014 that allowed us to earn 100,000 miles by spending $10,000. Thanks to the now-defunct WIlliamPaid, I actually managed to do this without any of the so-called “manufactured spending” tricks people often talk about, which often turn out to be more time-consuming than I can bring myself to bother with.

We knew where we wanted to start our next adventure but we weren’t totally sure on where it would end yet, so I started looking for one-way tickets to Greece. AA’s award system prefers to put Greece itineraries on British Airways flights via London, but I wanted to avoid the hefty fuel surcharges BA attaches to awards on their planes. Long story short, after looking up and holding two separate itineraries, I was able to get us from Los Angeles to Mykonos via American’s A321 Transcon service and AirBerlin with a couple of somewhat confusing phone calls.

Using AirBerlin for an award flight can sometimes be tricky if you want to fly in business or first class because they don’t have a true business class product on their regional jets. Rather, they offer to keep the seat next to you free if you’re connecting from an international flight in business class (if the space is available). As a result they only provide AA with economy space on their connecting flights throughout Europe and for some reason this occasionally trips up award searches. But searching for flights from Los Angeles to Berlin in business and flights from Berlin to Mykonos in economy separately, I was able to work out an itinerary that would price out at the First Class Saver award level of 62,500 miles per ticket.

Or was it 50,000 miles per ticket? I kept hearing different stories while trying to ticket this award. And when it finally did ticket, he receipt said the trip cost 0 miles. Math is hard!

This itinerary kept confusing reservations agents, first when I had them combine the itineraries, then again when AA attempted to ticket the award, and once more when I called to see about moving us to an earlier LAX-JFK flight. AA’s computers couldn’t figure out which rules applied to this award. Typically the class of the first leg (in this case, first in a three-cabin plane) dictates the award level and price. But when I called about switching to an earlier flight, the agent insisted that it was the international leg of our itinerary which should have determined the award level and price. Since the international leg was in business class, the Saver price of 50,000 miles should have applied.

I spent a lot of time on hold during that third call. Then she came back on the line.
“Oh, you ARE in first class. It’s a technical glitch. Sorry about the confusion. You won’t get any miles back. That AirBerlin flight really threw me off.”

Girl, I bet it did. All I can say is that she was a sweetheart for trying.

Back when I originally booked this award, US Airways’ international flights weren’t loaded into the Advantage system so flying their LAX-PHL-ATH route wasn’t an option. However, that wasn’t the case when I finally began looking for our return flights. Towards the end of January, US Airways’ European routes began trickling into the Advantage award system. First Paris showed up, then Venice, then Athens. By then we had decided we’d be going from Greece to France for a visit to Strasbourg & Paris, so I snatched business saver seats on US for CDG-CLT-LAX. Then a week later, an e-mail arrived announcing US international awards were available through AA’s site at the medium and high level. No mention of saver level awards, though. And sure enough, subsequent searches (on dates other than the ones we were traveling) pulled up zero saver level seats for any US flights to or from Europe. Either I got lucky via a glitch, or those saver seats went mighty fast (I’m guessing the latter).

An unexpected find.

A new adventure is just a few months away! That’s almost enough time to plan the rest of the trip.

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