The Cheapest* Way to Europe: Iberia Plus

As we continue to move through the list of Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) partners, it's inevitable that people accruing URs begin to dream of a free (or almost free) European vacation. Based on the award charts, the cheapest* way to get there is the Iberia Plus program.

Iberia Airlines Overview

Iberia Airlines is the flagship carrier of Spain. It is part of IAG (parent company of British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia) and a member of Oneworld Alliance (along with American Airlines). Points, called Avios in all 3 IAG programs, are transferable between these programs, provided each has been open long enough. To transfer British Avios (also a UR and MR transfer partner) to Iberia Avios, the Iberia account must be 3+ months old and you must have previously earned points (a prior UR/MR transfer works). It is best to create a loyalty account with all three programs ASAP.

Although not convenient for all travelers, Iberia flies direct to Boston, Chicago, LAX, Miami, NYC, and San Francisco from its headquarters in Madrid. JFK in New York offers two daily flights, while all other destinations are once daily. The MAD-JFK route is operated by a new Airbus 350, which is pictured above. I would not consider the LAX and SFO flights. The price is considerably higher, given the extra distance (see below).

Iberia Plus Program to Fly Iberia

Much like British and Aer Lingus, Iberia Plus has a distance-based award chart. The schedule is also broken down into peak and off-peak travel. Peak is mid-May to mid-September and mid-December through early-January. However, all is not lost for those than must travel during the December holidays and over the summer! Here is the monthly chart for June 2020, where you can see EXCELLENT fares available:

JFK-MAD Economy Award Calendar for June 2020

As you can see, “saver” economy fares begin at 17,000 miles to/from Madrid to NYC. A round-trip economy flight, even during “peak” times is possible for 34,000 miles and $180 in taxes:

Round-trip Economy: JFK-MAD during “peak” season

Although not widely available, I did find premium economy from JFK to Madrid and business from Madrid to JFK on the first date I searched during “peak” season and it is very reasonably priced: 59,500 points and $191 in taxes.

JFK-MAD, premium economy to Europe and Business to USA in “peak” season

If you can find “saver” availability, business is 68,000 points and $200ish in taxes for round-trip flights to Europe, even if you tack on an intra-Europe flight and travel beyond Madrid. During my award searches on Iberia, almost all European cities have some level of “saver” fares (even if only economy) on almost all days. The hardest part in building an award itinerary is the trans-Atlantic crossings.

Quite simply, absent a mistake fare, there is no cheaper way to travel to Europe in business. 68,000 miles is $1,050 if used with a CSR in the Chase portal, so this redemption is the equivalent of $1,240 round-trip business flights from the East Coast to many destinations throughout Europe. Although there are cheaper ways to travel in economy, with all of the sub-$400 fares to Europe these days, the 34,000 points and $180 in taxes is the cheapest scheduled way to travel in economy. These fares work for flights from Chicago and eastward. For SFO, the flights are only operated in “peak” season and the distance-based award chart makes “saver” fares 51,000+ miles and $190+ taxes. Although LAX fares are available year-round, the same holds true for cost. You can do much better in the Chase portal, as this equals a minimum of a $955 fare (with a CSR).

Iberia Plus Program to Fly Oneworld Partners (Think American Airlines)

Whenever you need or want to fly American Airlines (which is NOT a transfer partner of Chase UR), it is almost ALWAYS cheaper to do so with its Oneworld Alliance partners Iberia or British Airways. Remember that all the IAG programs use a distance-based award chart and most flights in the USA are relatively short flights.

Iberia really shines on flights that are NOT non-stop, versus British Airways that will charge you per leg of a flight. Iberia combines all flights in your itinerary and calculates the total distance. Round-trip economy flights on American Airlines with Iberia avios are as follows:

Round-trip flight miles Iberia American
1-600 11,000 25,000+
601-1,000 12,000 25,000+
1,001-2,000 17,000 25,000+
2,001-4,000 23,000 25,000+
4,001-5,000 28,000 25,000+
5,001-8,000 42,000 60,000+
8,001-12,400 65,000 70,000+

Clearly, Iberia wins in almost all instances. Once you factor in that Iberia is a transfer partner of UR and MR and American Airlines' only partner is Marriott, it becomes a no-brainer to always look to Iberia (and British for non-stop flights) for booking American Airlines!

Closing Thoughts

Now that you are stockpiling URs (and maybe MRs too?), you're ready to start planning that dream trip to Europe. For 34,000 points and taxes in round-trip economy or 68,000 points and taxes in round-trip business, you can get to Europe faster than you think. One Chase Sapphire Preferred sign up bonus of 60,000 points and you have 2 people ready to go!

*Teaser Alert: We're intentionally keeping you hanging on what the “cheapest” way to Europe is! Stay tuned for a follow-up post on this topic!

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