Good morning everyone, happy TGI Friday! First, I wanted to thank everyone for voting in my poll (Reader Feedback Needed: Which Blog Posts Should I Write First?). I was busy this week with 2 free movie screenings in SF (13 Hours and Pride & Prejudice & Zombies) and the SF Travel Hackers Meetup, but I’m finally getting around to writing about my upcoming trip to Europe. That was the overwhelming winner and since my trip starts tomorrow (1/16), I better write about it before I fly out of town.
I will share my thought process and booking experience with my flights and then about my hotels. Since I planned most of this trip back in March/April/May 2015, I was able to find award space to/from SFO very easily. Here is an overview of my paid and award flights:
- SFO-LAX (AA First) and LAX-LHR (AA Business) = 50,000 AA miles + $5.60 in taxes/fees
- LHR-CDG (British Airways economy) = 2,500 BA Avios + $57.50 in taxes/fees
- CDG-NCE (Air France economy) = $56.76
- NCE-MUC / MUC-VCE (Lufthansa economy) = $99.99
- VCE-LGW-DUB (British Airways / Aer Lingus economy) = $138.60
- DUB-SFO (Aer Lingus economy) = 25,000 BA Avios + $106.76 in taxes/fees
Some background information first. I like to travel fast and my favorite quote is, “If I love a place, I will go back.” That is the power of traveling and award tickets. Plus, all of the cities I am visiting are major international airports that are easily accessible from anywhere in the world. Since I am visiting 6 cities in 2 weeks, I only have about 2 days in each city. When I first started planning this trip, I knew I wanted to visit all of these cities (most of which I have been to before) and a few other cities that didn’t make the cut (Zurich, Lisbon, and Prague).
I knew I wanted to spend 2 weeks in Europe in the second half of January. Back in the (good) ol’ days, US Airways had round-trip off-peak award flights to Europe for 30,000 US Airways miles if you had the Barclays US Airways Credit Card or 35,000 US Airways miles without the credit card.
History lesson: Most long time readers know that I have never been approved for a Barclays credit card, but my parents have no problem getting approved for their cards. Over the years, US Airways used to “sell” miles for very cheaply through a combination of buy miles promotions and transfer bonuses between US Airways accounts. I would run the math and figure out how many US Airways miles I needed to buy and how many I would need to transfer to my parents’ accounts in order to get 30,000 US Airways miles. I would then book the award tickets online.
Since I had plenty of experience traveling to Europe during January, I wanted to go back again in January. Don’t get me wrong, I love Europe in the summer. The long summer days are amazing, but I don’t mind the cold. Living in California, we don’t get much cold weather and I generally like the lack of crowds and lower prices to/from and around Europe. Award space for flights and hotels is also very plentiful during the colder months.
With my travel period and destinations in mind, I started looking at award flights from SFO to Europe. I was lucky and found business class flights on the exact day I wanted to go to London. The total cost was 50,000 American Airlines miles and only $5.60 in taxes/fees (British Airways would have been around $300-$500 in taxes/fees). I then started to look for award flights back home from Europe. I found a non-stop flight from Dublin back to SFO on Aer Lingus. The best place to look for Aer Lingus award space is on United.com. If you book on United.com, the cost is 30,000 United miles plus taxes/fees for one-way in economy. However, if you book the award seats with British Airways, the cost is only 25,000 BA Avios and taxes/fees for one-way in economy. My initial search showed that there were 6-7 award seats available on the exact flight I wanted (but no business class seats on that flight).
I took a big gamble and didn’t book the award seats right away. Instead of using United miles or transferring Chase Ultimate Reward Points to British Airways, I decided to apply for the Chase British Airways Credit Card to get the 50,000 BA Avios bonus. After getting approved for that credit card and meeting the minimum spending, I received the 50,000 bonus British Airways Avios. I then searched for the flight on United.com again and there were still 5-6 award seats available. At that time, I called British Airways and booked the award flight over the phone. There was no phone booking fee and the process was very quick and easy.
At this point, I had both of my transatlantic award flights booked and now began the arduous task of finding flights around Europe to the 9-10 cities I wanted to visit. I like to spend around 2 full days in each city and fly out in the evening (around 7-9pm). All non-stop flights in Europe are very short, around 1.5 hours on average. If you add a connection somewhere, you can double or triple your total travel time. With that in mind, I looked for non-stop flights that departed after 7pm to all the cities on my list. I ran hundreds of searches and found some very cheap flights on great airlines like British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, and Aer Lingus (no low cost carriers for me). Since the prices were so low, taxes made up a large percentage of the flight costs. When I looked for award flights, you can usually offset the base fare, but not the taxes. If you do book an award ticket, you might be able to offset 25-50% of the total cost of the ticket, but you will still have to pay the taxes/fees.
The final list of cities came about after searching for flights for 9-10 hours. The cities that didn’t make the cut didn’t have non-stop flights, the flights didn’t leave after 7pm, or the prices were too high (probably a combination of the 3). With my flights all paid for, I started looking at hotels.
Up next, I will cover my hotel booking strategy. Here is an overview of my hotel stays:
- LHR: Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street = 2 nights for 50,000 Club Carlson points (BOGO)
- CDG: Hotel Indigo Paris = 2 free anniversary night certificates from the Chase IHG Credit Card (1 cert from last year and 1 cert from this year)
- NCE: Radisson Blu Nice = 2 nights for 50,000 Club Carlson points (BOGO)
- MUC: Hilton Munich City = 1 free weekend night from spending $10,000 on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Credit Card + 50,000 Hilton HHonors points
- VCE: Hilton Molino Stucky Venice = $120 x 3 nights (vs. 50,000 Hilton HHonors points vs. 20,000 Hilton HHonors points + $78)
- DUB: Radisson Blu Royal Dublin = 1 free night certificate from the US Bank Club Carlson Credit Card + 2 nights for 44,000 Club Carlson points (BOGO)
I was already planning on using a lot of Club Carlson points in Europe (that is the only place where I ever redeem Club Carlson points). After Club Carlson announced that the Last Night Free benefit was ending, I rushed to book as many Club Carlson stays as possible. I ended up using the Last Night Free (BOGO) for 3 properties. I would have liked to use more Club Carlson points, but I had IHG and Hilton free night certs that I needed to spend too.
If anyone has looked at booking hotels in London recently, you will be overwhelmed. According to Hotel Hustle, there are at least 200 hotels available on points. I narrowed the list down to only Club Carlson properties, but there were still 25 Club Carlson properties to chose from. I went on Trip Advisor, searched all Club Carlson properties in London and settled on the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street. This hotel took the longest to find, but all the other hotels were much simpler to find and book.
We were originally going to spend 2 days in Venice, Zurich, and Dublin, but we decided to skip Zurich and stay 3 days in Venice and Dublin. Since we made the change after the Club Carlson devaluation, I was going to use Club Carlson points to stay at the Radisson Blu Royal Dublin, but then I remembered that Club Carlson sent me a free night certificate after the loss of the Last Night Free benefit. I booked the free night cert online and called Club Carlson to have them link the reservations together.
For the Hilton Molino Stucky Venice, I was originally going to book all 3 nights at the Cash and Points price ($78 + 20,000 Hilton HHonors points). I try to use Cash and Points as often as possible, but I was short on Hilton HHonors points, so I booked the first night as a paid stay (around $120) and then used Points and Cash for the remaining 2 nights. As I was writing this post, I realized that the Points and Cash rate was not very good compared to the paid price. Instead of paying $120, I was going to “save” $42 by using 20,000 Hilton HHonors points (0.21 CPP). I value Hilton HHonors points around 0.5 CPP, so I decided to cancel the Points and Cash reservation and book the paid stay. If you are curious, you can also use 50,000 Hilton HHonors points to pay for the $120 stay (0.24 CPP) – still too low for me and I didn’t have enough Hilton HHonors points to make the booking. I recently status matched to Hilton HHonors Diamond and everyone who has stayed at the hotel tells me the hotel and breakfast is amazing. I am most looking forward to this hotel stay.
Lastly, I will be staying at the Hotel Indigo Paris, located near the Opera and the Park Hyatt Vendome. Last time I was in Paris, I used my Hyatt 2 free nights to stay at the Park Hyatt Vendome. It is a great hotel, especially with the upgraded room and breakfast they provided. Since the Hotel Indigo property is located nearby, I know that area fairly well. Easy access to the metro and nearby cafes. This will be my first stay at a Hotel Indigo property, but I wanted to check it out and there is no better place to check it out than Paris.
Will I do airline and hotel reviews?
Probably not, let me explain why. As far as airfare goes, I am sure there are several reviews of American Airlines international business class and no one cares about economy class reviews. As far as hotels go, I’m sure there are already several hotel reviews of the nicer hotel properties and no one cares about the lesser hotel properties.
With that said, I will bring my laptop with me, but I expect my posting frequency will go down over the next 2 weeks. I gotta start packing now, but if you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Have a great weekend everyone!