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Brexit getaway? Award seats to London are widely available

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Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes “Cashing In,” a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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QuestionDear Cashing In,
I’d like to take advantage of the post-Brexit turmoil to get a good deal on a trip to Europe this summer. I’ve got a good stash of points in different programs. Would it make more sense to use rewards or pay cash? – Carmela

AnswerDear Carmela,
There is a word in German – schadenfreude – that translates roughly as taking delight in another’s misery. Now, you’re not necessarily delighting in Britain’s misery following its vote to leave the European Union. You just want to travel there to take advantage of the newly favorable exchange rates.

The British pound plunged more than 10 percent the day after the vote, flirting with a 31-year low against the dollar. For Americans, it’s as though the whole country suddenly became 10 percent cheaper – once you get there. 

And how do you get there? Well, there’s good news for those looking to head to London this summer: Plane tickets using frequent flier miles or points are widely available at the lowest levels in July and August.

That means that if you have a cache of miles or points, odds are you can find some dates for award flights that fit your schedule. Remember, London in the summer is the high season, with round-trip fares going for at least $1,000, and in many cases, more like $1,500 or $1,700. 

I took an informal survey of award availability to London from four cities (Washington, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh) on the three major U.S. airlines (United, American and Delta). I was surprised that in most cases, there were award seats available at the lowest award levels in more than 90 percent of the days in July and August.

That suggests that if you have 60,000 miles or points, the minimum number of points for a round-trip to Europe, seats to London should be pretty easy to find. Given the relative high cost of buying a ticket to London, cashing in points at the lowest level is a good deal. You would be wringing 2.5 cents out of each mile or point. That’s a far better deal than redeeming 25,000 miles/points for a $300 plane ticket, which works out to a point value of 1.2 cents. 

Let’s look at how you might get there, depending on your cards and reward balances:

United. You would need United MileagePlus miles, which you can earn using one of several Chase United Airlines cards. If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can transfer points from that program to MileagePlus on a 1:1 basis. 

American. To accumulate American AAdvantage miles to fly to London, you could use one of Citi’s American AAdvantage cards. Or, if you have points accumulated through American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can transfer those 1:1 to British Airways, then book award flights on American using the British Airways portal. If the flights are available at the least expensive level on American, they should also be available through the BA website.

Delta. For Delta SkyMiles, you can use one of the Delta American Express cards, or you can transfer miles to Delta from Starwood or American Express Membership Rewards. 

In this case, using a bank card that allows you to buy a ticket on virtually any airline using points – such as a Capital One Venture or a Barclaycard Arrival card – is going to make less sense than it might in other situations, because the airfares are relatively high this time of year, and redemption levels for flights on in those cards’ programs are based on the dollar price of the flight.

Depending on where your points or miles are, you should have plenty of choices. It sounds like a trip worth considering.

Percentage of days in July-August 2016 in which lowest-level award seats are available to London:
From United American Delta
Washington 98.3 95.2 95.2
Oklahoma City 95.1 75.8 71
Los Angeles 91.9 82.3 90.3
Pittsburgh 98.3 85.5 85.5
Source: research. Survey conducted June 26, 2016.

See related:My husband won’t let me get an EMV chip card for our European trip!, British Airways Avois program both confusing and useful

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