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If you’ve got an itch to see the world but hate paying a premium for that overseas trip (and dread fighting the peak season crowds), then consider an offseason trip to your favorite international locale. Not only will prices be lower during the offseason, but you'll also likely have an easier time using your points or miles. Combined with flexible travel dates and a good rewards card, you’ll be set to jet before you know it.
My husband and I took an offseason (January) trip to London nearly entirely on points, including business class flights and a hotel in a prime location. Plus, there were virtually no crowds. You can’t beat that. Here are our tips on how to save big on offseason international travel:
Start saving points now
To help fund our getaway across the pond, my husband and I used the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, which offers 2x miles at restaurants, gas stations and on American Airlines purchases, as well as a sign-up bonus that's usually pretty solid.
American Airlines requires just 45,000 miles round-trip for an off-peak, saver-level economy class award to Europe, so the sign-up bonus from this card covers airfare for one. Offseason travel to Europe is defined as taking place Jan. 10 to March 14 and Nov. 1 to Dec. 14.
But there are many great options when it comes to travel credit cards, like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. It earns 2x miles on every purchase. The sign-up bonus is as follows: Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months..
The rewards from this card are great for booking cheap off-peak travel to Europe, since points are redeemable at 1 cent each.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is another good option. It offers 2x points on travel and dining anywhere in the world. As for the sign-up bonus? Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
You can transfer those points to United MileagePlus at a 1:1 ratio. Right now, it takes 60,000 miles for a round-trip ticket to Europe in economy class at the saver level, though United will soon institute a dynamic award chart that means prices will likely be more variable. Be sure to check for cheap airfare during the offseason before deciding how to redeem these points.
Once you’ve picked a card, commit to it. Then use it to pay for the regular purchases you make throughout the year. Think rent, groceries, utility bills or other monthly expenses. You’ll be racking up miles as you go.
Rewards credit cards can be powerful financial tools, given that they are used responsibly. In other words, use them only to pay for purchase you were going to make anyway and pay off the balance on time and in full every month. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
Not a planner? Then it might be time to become one. Booking early is one of your best chances for getting a good deal on flights.
We booked our London tickets five months in advance, which allowed us to not only pay with miles, but also to score business class on the outbound flight. The total cost came to 160,000 AAdvantage miles and $350 in fees for two people . While not quite first class, business class is still a luxurious option when it comes to air travel. It was one of the only times in my life when I wasn’t anxious to get off an airplane once we landed.
Some airlines have blackout days for award redemptions. If you plan on using airline miles, credit card points, or taking advantage of travel deals, then you'll need to plan ahead.
When to find low fares
The low-season in Europe, according to American Airlines, is from Jan. 10 to Mar. 14 and Nov. 1 to Dec. 14. Check your airline’s award chart to find out when to expect the cheapest fares based on their definition of off-peak travel.
Will your weather be ideal in the offseason? Probably not, but you may get lucky. Either way, throw on a raincoat or heavy jacket, get out there and explore.
Be flexible with travel dates
You can also save big on international travel if you’re flexible on travel dates. Use a tool such as Southwest Airlines' Low Fare Calendar to search for the cheapest fares. Sites like Kayak and Expedia can also be good places to find low fares from various airline carriers.
Google Flights can search up to six months in the future for the cheapest fares. We also like Skyscanner, which, as the name implies, scans more than 1,200 different sites for the lowest fares. It also gives you the option to search by month, another boon for flexible travelers.
Look at hotels
Planning an international trip during the offseason can also save you on hotel costs. For example, our London trip fell in January, admittedly the low season for this locale. And while it meant rainy, cold weather, it also meant better hotel rates.
We were able to book a room at the Andaz London Liverpool Street with a mix of points and cash. In the end, our room cost us around $150 per night, plus we got an upgrade due to my husband’s Hyatt elite status. For a swanky, boutique hotel in a prime location (with free breakfast, to boot), it was a steal.
The bottom line
International travel doesn't have to break the bank. In fact, with a bit of advance planning, smart credit card points management and flexibility, you can satisfy your wanderlust sooner (and cheaper) than you’d think.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you Travel to much of Europe will soon require an added step Best credit card offers for travel to Europe