Last summer, my family took our very first trip to Europe and all four of us flew entirely on miles. Now, with the introduction of two new credit cards (and their sign-up bonuses), we are making new travel plans.
Here’s how we did it last year: We took advantage of Aer Lingus’ off-peak season dates, which allow you to book a flight to Dublin from several major U.S. cities, such as New York and Chicago, for 26,000 miles round-trip per person plus fuel surcharges.
We amassed the miles in one shot by signing up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card when it had a 100,000-point bonus and then transferring our Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Aer Lingus, the airline of Ireland.
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How we will score free flights now: This spring, Chase introduced two new cards that could also allow you to earn the miles to take advantage of this cheap Aer Lingus deal: the Aer Lingus Visa Signature Card and the Iberia Visa Signature Card.
Collecting Avios to fly to Europe
Avios are the frequent flyer currency for Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia, and it’s easy to transfer Avios between each airline.
If you can collect Avios via any of these airline credit cards, especially through the initial sign-up bonuses, you have more opportunities to fly to Europe on miles.
For example, you currently can earn 50,000 Avios after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia Visa Signature cards.
If you are able to successfully apply and get approved for each and then meet the minimum spend, you’d have 159,000 (150,000 bonus points plus at least one point per dollar spent to reach each card’s minimum spend) to spend on flights to Europe.
That means you could take six people at once, three people twice or two people three times. I’m in!
And that’s not even including any Chase Ultimate Rewards you could transfer to Avios or Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest program, which also transfer at a 1:1 ratio to British Airways or Iberia and give you an additional 5,000 miles for every 20,000 points you transfer.
Beware the Chase 5/24 rule
One thing to keep in mind when applying for these cards is the Chase 5/24 rule, which appears to be in place for most Chase cards. This rule means that Chase won’t approve you for any new Chase card if you’ve opened five or more new cards – five cards from any issuers – in the last 24 months.
There are a few exceptions to the Chase 5/24 rule, however, according to credit blogger William Charles of Doctor of Credit. Charles says that the British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia cards do not have this rule applied to them, but the Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning cards, like Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve, do.
Chase also may limit you to a certain number of its cards. If this is the case, you can call the Chase reconsideration line, to ask if you can close an existing card or move credit lines between cards.
Aer Lingus’ off-peak season deal
If you decide to apply for one or more of these cards to earn Avios for a flight to Europe, here’s how to take advantage of the off-peak deal from Aer Lingus.
You can book a flight from six U.S. cities, including Chicago; Hartford, Connecticut; New York/Newark; and Washington, D.C., to Dublin (or in some cases Shannon), Ireland, for 26,000 Avios per person round-trip during their off-peak season.
For 2018, these off-peak dates run through June 15 and then start again Sept. 10 through Dec. 14.
You will need to pay fuel surcharges from between $90-$150 per person, per way. East Coast cities have the lowest fuel surcharges. Here is a complete list of Aer Lingus charges, taxes and fees.
Next, you will need to be a member of Aer Lingus’ frequent flyer program AerClub to book flights and to check award flight availability, which you will do on Avios.com. You also have the option when booking to pay part in Avios and part in cash.
If you earned Avios through a program other than Aer Lingus, such as British Airways or Iberia, you can transfer them to Aer Lingus on Avios.com easily.
Then when you find a good option for 26,000 points per person, book your flight. We did not have any trouble finding good award availability.
Once in Dublin, you can then use additional Avios to fly Aer Lingus to other major European cities, which when we looked was significantly fewer points than flying British Airways.
We flew to Paris from Dublin on Aer Lingus using Avios, and then paid for tickets on discount airline Ryanair to fly from Paris to Bologna, Italy, for just more than $300 for all four of us. Our last leg was from Bologna back to Dublin, which again we paid for with Avios.
Our family had an amazing first trip to Europe, visiting Dublin, Paris, Bologna and Tuscany, and we hope with these new card options to put another trip on our schedule for 2019.
See related: Are foreign airline cards worth it?, 3 simple ways to maximize your points for family travel, Video: How your points can pay for experiences