I love many, many things about using frequent flyer miles to travel (like, you know, flying for free) but nothing makes me happier in this little game than redeeming miles for an off-peak award and saving even more miles!
It’s like the cherry on top…or more appropriately, its like the cherry on top of the cherry on top. Double cherries. Can’t beat that!
Currently, there are two Stateside airlines, American Airlines and USAirways, that offer off-peak awards and while they both offer the potential for great value, the rules and stipulations surrounding their off-peak travel tickets are drastically different.
Here is a chart I’ve created to keep the information handy and in one place. Please feel free to download it here and save it on your computer if you’d like or simply refer back to it on this page.
First, we’ll look at the differences between the two programs and then dive in to each individually.
There are three very important differences between USAirways and American Airlines and their off-peak awards:
1. One-way Tickets
American Airlines allows you to book one-way tickets, meaning you could theoretically book an off-peak ticket to go to a destination and then a peak ticket to return if that is how your dates fell.
With USAirways you can only book roundtrip tickets, which means both your flights (the outgoing and return) have to fall within the off-peak parameters or you are forced to book a peak tickets.
2. Flying on Partner Airlines on an Off-Peak Award
American Airlines allows you to book off-peak award tickets and fly on partners airlines whereas USAirways only allows you to get the off-peak rate if you fly on a USAirways flight and not a partner flight.
For example, if you wanted to fly from JFK to Madrid and use AA miles, you COULD fly on Iberia (a OneWorld partner) and pay the off-peak price of 40,000 miles roundtrip.
If you wanted to fly that same itinerary and use USAirways miles you would not be able to get the off-peak price since USAirways itself does not operate that route.
Instead, you’d have to fly on one of USAirways partners (TAP, Swiss Air, Aer Lingus, etc.) and pay the regular peak price of 60,000.
However, if you did some sleuthing, you’d find that USAirways does operate a flight from Philadelphia to Madrid. If you booked a flight on this route, you WOULD be able to get the off-peak price of 35,000 miles since you were flying USAirways metal (their own flight).
3. Off-Peak Awards for Economy and Business Class
USAirways offers off-peak rates for both economy class and business class whereas AA only offers off-peak prices for economy class.
Now that you understand the differences in the two programs, lets unpack them individually.
The reason I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE American Airlines off-peak offerings is that they are so generous with their timeframes. Take a look at these dates:
Hawaii: Jan. 12 – Mar. 8; Aug. 22 – Dec. 15
The Caribbean and Mexico: Sep. 7 – Nov. 14
Central America and South American Zone 1 (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela): Jan. 16 – Jun. 14; Sep. 7 – Nov. 14
South America Zone 2 (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay): Mar. 1 – May 31; Aug. 16 – Nov. 30
Europe: Oct. 15 – May 15
Japan: Oct. 1 – Apr. 30
Ok, now take a look again. A good, long look…
Those are CRAZY!
If you’re planning on flying to Central America or any country in Zone 1 of South America, you have over 7 months of off-peak time. 7 MONTHS! That is more off-peak time each year than peak time!
Flying to South America Zone 2 “only” gives you about 6 months of off-peak and 6 months of peak. Boo hoo!
And then come my two favorites: Europe and Japan. Just like South America, these two areas also have a ton of time considered off-peak, but even better, it is continious!
Both have 7 STRAIGHT MONTHS that are considered off-peak, and best of all, there are no blackout dates!
Back when I was a newbie, I assumed that there would be absolutely no way that I could fly from Tokyo home to America and then back during the Christmas season at an off-peak rate.
Sure, the award chart said Oct. 1-Apr. 30th, and yes, obviously late December and early January fell in that block of time. But no way would a company allow me to snag a seat for 25k when paid tickets were being sold at a 100% markup during the holiday season.
Much to my chagrin, I was WRONG! 7 straight months of off-peak means 7 straight months of off-peak, with NO EXCEPTIONS. Amazing!
I hate to bludgeon this idea to death, but its one that many people for some reason forget: American Airlines allows you to buy one-way award tickets and so the prices listed on their award chart are for one way travel.
This is great for many reasons, but especially works in our favor when booking off-peak.
If you plan on leaving during an off-peak time and returning during peak season, you’ll still be able to get the first ticket at the 0ff-peak rate and save some miles (although you’ll have to pay the peak price for the return flight).
Ideally, you’d like to travel during off-peak for both legs of the flights and therefore save even more miles.
If you look at the chart above you can see that many off-peak times save you a substantial amount of miles on a roundtrip flight. Traveling off-peak to South America Zone 2 and Europe offer you the best value, saving you a whopping 20k each, meaning you’re paying only 2/3rds the price of a regular ticket!
Japan also provides good value, giving you a 15k discount, and even shorter flights like Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Mexico allow you to save 10k.
If you’re like me and don’t mind “slumming” it in economy class, American Airlines offers amazing off-peak opportunities. Whenever I can, I plan on my trips using AA miles during off-peak times, which isn’t too difficult since their off-peak award windows are HUGE!
Every mile saved is a mile towards yet another free flight!
Need American Airlines Miles?
You can rack up a cool 100k American Airlines miles by signing up for the Citi/AAdvantage Visa and the business version as well.
Unfortunately, USAirways is much more stringent on their off-peak award dates and because they don’t offer one-way awards, your entire trip must be completed in that timeframe.
For Europe, you’re looking at a month and a half window in the middle of winter, which doesn’t entice me too much but is good for those looking to ski or just trying to see Europe at a less touristy time.
For South America, you get two full months, but for some odd reason, they aren’t continouis. March and May are off-peak, whereas April isn’t. If anyone can explain this to me, please do so, as I’m pretty perplexed.
Interestingly enough, you could plan a trip to arrive in South America in March, stay through April, and then leave sometime in May. If you have that much vacation time, lucky you (and how do I sign up)?
Unlike AA, the dates USAirways lists as off-peak truly do seem to be off-peak travel times for the destinations. And while it may not be anywhere near as amazing as AA, it still does provide some nice savings if you can fit it to your schedule.
Where USAirways does best AA is the cost of their award tickets and the availability of both economy and business class tickets.
An off-peak award ticket to Europe or South America in economy is 35k (5k less than AA), and if you hold a USAirways credit card, you can get an additional 5k off each ticket.
That off-peak award ticket to Europe or South America is now only 30k miles! That, my friends, is some incredible value!
Business class travel offers some even greater values when traveling off-peak. Whereas a regular business ticket to Europe or South America is 100k miles, an off-peak business class ticket only runs 60k, a 40k savings.
That’s enough for an additional off-peak economy ticket!
USAirways doesn’t offer the huge amount of dates that AA does but it does offer an amazing value for people who can find a way to fit their travel within the off-peak travel time periods. Also, the fact that it offers off-peak tickets for business class is a huge bonus for those people who have become accustomed to riding in style!
Need USAirways Miles?
As I touched on briefly above, USAirways offers a 5k discount on all award tickets, off-peak or peak, to all Barclays USAirways credit card holders, a really nice perk that allows you to stretch your miles even further!
If you haven’t gotten the card yet, I highly suggest you do, as you also get a pretty decent signup bonus of 40k miles and you don’t have to make any minimum spend.
What’s your favorite way to ssstttrrreeetttccchhh your miles? Have any awesome plans coming up for off-peak travel? Shout it out in the comments below.