The pleasures of Spain are almost too numerous to list. Filled with history, incredible scenery and some of the world's best food and wine, Spain is the country where everyone can find something to enjoy. The buzzy nightlife of Madrid and Barcelona. Some of the world's best football (or soccer if you prefer). Tapas that vary by region, by city and even by restaurant. The incredible art, history and archictecture of the Sagrada Familia, the Prado, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and the magical Alhambra outside of Granada. The list goes on.
Madrid Barajas (MAD) and Barcelona El Prat (BCN) airports are the best destinations to
search for award flights into Spain, as they are very large airports well served by most
international carriers. Award seats with connections can sometimes be found to Palma de Mallorca (PMI),
Valencia (VLC) and Malaga Costa del Sol (AGP), depending on the time of year. All the major US
international airlines fly direct from the US into MAD and BCN, and the options increase with their
With Star Alliance, great award seats can be found not only on United but also with Lufthansa, and TAP Air Portugal. Within SkyTeam, Delta flies direct between Atlanta (ATL) and MAD & BCN, New York (JFK) and MAD & BCN, and also Miami (MIA) and MAD. Delta's partners Air France and KLM also offer numerous flights into many cities in Spain via their respective hubs in Paris and Amsterdam.
Finally, while Spain's national carrier Iberia is a member of OneWorld, when using American's AAdvantage Miles to fly free to Spain, be very careful to watch out for flights on British Airways into or out of the UK as BA attaches high cash surcharges to award flights on their metal when transiting the UK.
You might be surprised, but really the art of optimizing miles and points involves knowing
when NOT to use them, and instead use cash. (Domestic US flights are often an example). While
AwardSecrets are huge fans of award travel, travel within Spain is often easier
and cheaper by rail or ferry. RENFE, Spain's national train
service, operates an extensive and convenient network all around the country. Train times can
often rival flying time, and train tickets are often reasonably priced.
For example, almost hourly service is operated between Madrid and Barcelona, with the trip taking as little as 2.5 hours door-to-door and costing as little as €40 one-way. Given airport locations outside city centers and checkin and security times, many Spaniards prefer to take the train on this route. Similarly, Madrid and Seville have good connections with the trip talking a similar 2.5 hours for as little as €40 and up.
If you're trying to reach the Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Menorca or Ibiza, a very convenient, reasonably priced and enjoyable way to get from the large Spanish port towns on the Mediterranean (such as Barcelona, Denia, Javea, Valencia) is to take one of the frequent ferry services. Two companies with online booking of tickets (for people and/or cars and/or pets) are Balearia and Trasmediterranea.
Most large Spanish cities will have a significant number of award chain hotel properties, and
these can provide good value for hotel award points, particularly during the busy summer months.
Additionally, a number of properties are quite luxurious and/or in historically significant buildings,
making them good aspirational award redemptions.
The historic Intercontinental Madrid, located on the grand Paseo de la Castellano, can be booked in early summer for EUR €200 or 40,000 IHG points. In Barcelona, the trendy W Barcelona has rates in late June from EUR €507 or for 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. And you can use 30,000 Hyatt points or EUR €536 cash at the amazing Nobu Hotel Marbella.
We have 3 tips for enjoying Spain.
Tip #1: You've probably heard that, especially in summer, the Spanish eat late. They eat really late. Many restaurants, even in large cities like Madrid and Barcelona, don't open their doors until 9pm. And at 9pm you will literally be the only person there. It's not uncommon to eat dinner as late as 11pm or midnight, and it's common to see families with grandparents and children out for an after dinner stroll at 2am. If a restaurant is open at 5:30 or 6:30pm, it's a tourist restaurant. Period. The good news is there's plenty of time to sleep as mornings often don't get going until well after 9am or even 10am. And lunch, the largest and most important meal of the day in Spain, is often taken leisurely from 2-4pm. After a few days, you'll get used to it.
Tip #2: Speaking of food, while an afternoon lunch is the biggest meal of the day, dinner is typically spent going from tapas bar to tapas bar. Order a small drink at the counter of a neighberhood spot and you'll almost always be given some olives in one place, a small plate of jamón in another, or a small plate of cheese. Going from spot to spot and sampling the tapas is called "el tapeo."
Tip #3: All across Spain you can find "paradores", lovely hotels often located in well updated historic monasteries or castles. These vary in price and luxury can be amazing places to stay for an evening, especially if travelling around Spain via car or train. There are dozens spread across Spain that you can find listed at Paradores de Turismo de España.