What’s the Best Credit Card for Europe Travel? – Factors to Consider

Wednesday 12th, June 2013 / 19:49 Written by
What’s the Best Credit Card for Europe Travel? – Factors to Consider
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This is an article in a series on finding the best travel credit cards for travel to Europe from Victoria.

Related Articles:

The Skinny

When choosing which credit card you want to earn your miles and points in, especially for international travel, consider the following factors:

  • The number of seats available on any given flight
    • If you are planning on traveling in a large group, getting many award seats on a single flight may prove difficult
  • Accessing flights from certain airports
    • Make sure that the program you are earning miles in has partner airlines that fly into your preferred airport(s)
  • International routings
    • Ensure you have the ability to route through countries (USA) where the partner airlines will route through
  • Changing values of point programs
    • Be aware of the risk that the amount of miles / points you require for your trip might change before you can book the flight
  • Advantages of award tickets vs revenue tickets
    • Know the pros and cons of booking your ticket as an award ticket vs a revenue ticket
    • If you value a free stopover, an award ticket becomes more valuable

 

I recently was sent an email with a request on a credit card suggestion. I thought I would put up the analysis as an article for this site.

I’m wondering if you can recommend a credit card for my situation.

Based in Victoria, I want to fly my family to Europe in about 2 years from now.  2 adults, 3 kids.  We put about $60k a year on our credit card, and will be doing a house reno.  So I can probably do about $150k to $200k in the next 2 years.

We don’t care where in continental Europe we fly to, or what airline.  We’ll probably fly during the off season.

-Randy

Thanks for the request, Randy. I would love to help you out.

 

In response to Randy’s request, I am going to split my answer up into a few articles. The first part (this one) will focus on what to consider when looking at what to consider when planning for a trip like this and what factors will influence which points you are trying to earn. The next part will focus on establishing how many points you need in each program that you may be interested in using for this trip. The lastt part will focus on finding the best credit cards to get those points.

Assumptions

Before we start, here are some assumptions that we are going to make so we can make a fair analysis. Note that changing these will make a big impact on which card I suggest.

  • No Balance: Randy will not be using this card as a line of credit and will always pay his balance in full
    • If he is paying interest charges then he should focus on reducing the interest instead of chasing credit card rewards
  • Economy Class:Randy and his family are happy flying economy class
  • Western Europe: Randy and his family would like to go to Western Europe
    • Let’s assume London, Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt
  • Cash or Points: Randy wants the profits of his credit card spending to offset the price he would otherwise pay for airfare to Europe
    • In other words, Randy would be ok with earning cash and putting any cash earned from the credit card into a fund that will be used when he buys his tickets as if he didn’t have any points
  • Flexibility: Randy is flexible enough to take an indirect route, add a reasonable connection, or fly a different day or week if the savings will be substantial
  • Alternate Airports: Randy, preferring to fly out of Victoria, will also be ok with flying out of Vancouver (YVR), Seattle (SEA) or Bellingham (BLI)

Factors to consider

There are a few things that we will have to consider when we are looking at using points to book a flight:

Number of seats available on any single flight

Randy and his family will require 5 seats, preferably on the same flight. When looking at redeeming points for flights, there is always the issue of finding availability. Finding a routing that works for 2 seats is generally not a problem, but as you increase the number of seats you require on the same flight, it gets more and more difficult.
It is a very real concern that Randy may end up having earned enough points in the program of his choice, but can’t find any routings that work for 5 people all on the same flights.
Randy, are you willing to take the chance that 2 of you will fly on one flight and the other 3 fly on another?

Accessing flights from certain airports

Randy lives in Victoria, BC. Undoubtedly one of Canada’s charming cities. Unfortunately, the airport in Victoria (YYJ), is not serviced by as many carriers as we would like. This means that certain promotions to get the best airline point redemptions will not be accessible to those who want to ensure they are flying out of Victoria. (US Airways, I am looking at you)

Fortunately, for Randy, Victoria is very close to airports that are accessed by many more carriers. Vancouver (YVR), Seattle (SEA) and Bellingham (BLI) are all within a few hours of Victoria.

Randy, how willing are you to fly out of YVR, SEA or BLI?
(I will assume all of these are reasonable solutions for you)

US Routings

With many of the points programs, there will be certain routings that will be much more tax efficient than others. For example, as I mention in my writeup on Aeroplan’s taxes and fees, redeeming Aeroplan miles on flights on Air Canada will incur hefty fuel surcharges, while redeeming miles on certain carriers, for example United, will not incur such hefty surcharges. In the example to Europe, I discuss how you can save $500 / person in taxes and fees by routing on United instead of Air Canada.

Randy, are you ok with routing through the US should it be cheaper?

Changing values of points programs

Over time, points programs tend to change value. New award charts come out and the number of points / miles required for any given redemption changes. If you are storing your wealth in airline points programs, you are always at the mercy of the incumbent carrier to stay in business and not reduce the value of the points, relative to the flights they are offering.

With cash that you earn, the value is fixed (in terms of dollars). The price of tickets might go up in terms of dollars if the price of fuel goes up, the number of flights reduces, or there is an increase in the airport taxes or there are big shifts in the North American economy.

Randy, which risk are you willing to take? Changes in the value of the airline point values vs increases in cash prices of tickets?

Advantages of award tickets vs Revenue tickets

Award flights from frequent flier programs tend to have certain advantages over revenue tickets. For example, American Airlines AAdvantage award tickets allow you to change the date of your flight (not the origin or destination airports) any time provided the flight you want has availability. Almost all of the programs also offer free stopovers, which allow you to visit more cities in a single trip.

At the same time, revenue tickets do have advantages, mainly that Randy can earn frequent flier miles as well as status by flying on revenue tickets. Also, buying revenue tickets allows more flexibility by buying the specific flights Randy might want. A complicated itinerary may not be viable to purchase using miles, while it might be using a revenue ticket.

Randy, how valuable are the benefits to you?

Recap

Randy wanted to know what the best credit card is (in Canada) for him. He wants to use his credit card rewards to book a flight for his family of 5 to go to Europe in 2 years during off-peak time. Here are some things he should consider when deciding which program to earn his rewards in:

  • Will there be enough award seats on any single flight to get you the award you want?
  • Do your miles give you the ability to buy flights between the airports you want to use?
  • Can you travel to the countries that the partner airlines will request you fly through?
  • Are you willing to take the risk that your rewards may change their schedule and be worth less in the future than they are today?
  • How much do you value the extra benefits that an award flight gets you over a revenue ticket?

In the next article in this series, I’ll go over the different programs that he can earn points and miles in and then I’ll make a suggestion on which credit cards he should use to earn those points.

,

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