Planes, Trains, and More Planes: Hacking Our Way to Europe for the Holidays

Buenos dias everyone!

My partner and I just embarked on a bit of a ridiculous trip for the holidays. This trip started out from a mistake rate for a club room at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile – I booked 3 nights at a rate of 3,000 points + €18; normally a standard room award goes for 15,000 points, and the club upgrade is 3,000 points in addition to the standard room rate. About a month ago, well after the hotel decided to honor the reservations, we decided we actually wanted to go – neither of us have ever been to Paris before.

View from the Hyatt Paris Etoile. Photo from

View from the Hyatt Paris Etoile. Photo from

Since we made this decision so late, award availability was pretty scarce – but ultimately I was able to find an open jaw award itinerary on a combination of Lufthansa and United, for a total cost of 140,000 United miles. Before I pulled the trigger on that though, I did some more searching and randomly discovered a revenue fare from Miami to London on Virgin Atlantic for just $505 roundtrip. I decided to jump on that, and booked it with 67,220 Ultimate Rewards points. We’ll also each earn 4,425 Delta or Singapore miles from the flights.

I didn’t hesitate to book those tickets because I figured it would be easy to get from Mexico City to Miami. I was wrong. There was absolutely no award availability for the dates we needed, and revenue fares were looking to be nearly as much as I’d paid for our transatlantic flights. After much searching and manipulating, and several booked-then-cancelled tickets, I was able to book a somewhat bizarre itinerary: Mexico City-Monterrey on Aeromexico, an overnight layover in Monterrey, and then Monterrey-Atlanta-Fort Lauderdale on Delta. That ticket came out to $153 per person, including a Priceline booking fee, and we’ll earn a total of 3,160 Alaska miles from the flights – plus a bit of portal cashback.

Getting from London to Paris and back also turned out to be more challenging than I expected. Revenue tickets from Heathrow were outrageously expensive, and there was no economy availability on British Airways, so I ended up spending 15,500 Avios + $80 to book two business class tickets on BA from London Heathrow to Paris Orly. This one’s not going on my list of best value redemptions. For our return to London, I booked two Eurostar train tickets for £126.

British Airways Club Europe Business Class – not exactly an aspirational redemption.

British Airways Club Europe Business Class – not exactly an aspirational redemption. Photo from

On the way back, I couldn’t find anything reasonable to get from Miami to Mexico City around New Year’s (Matrix was showing a tantalizingly cheap reverse version of that Monterrey-Atlanta ticket, but I couldn’t get it to price out anywhere). So instead I found a cheap Jetblue ticket to Cancun that I booked with 11,200 points (which I earned from the Jetblue Points Match promotion last summer), and we’ll be spending 4 nights in Cancun before taking a domestic flight on Volaris back to Mexico City ($117 each). I used travel credits from the Barclay Arrival Plus card to offset the cost of the Delta, Eurostar, and Volaris tickets.

Our flight routing, courtesy of GreatCircleMapper.

Our flight routing, courtesy of GreatCircleMapper.

The hotel side of things is nearly as convoluted as the flights – here’s what we ended up with:

  • One night in a king studio room at the Hampton Inn Monterrey Airport: 2000 Hilton points + $30
  • Three nights at the Holiday Inn Paris Gare de L’Est, booked at a discounted travel consultant rate
  • Three nights at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile, using the aforementioned mistake rate
  • One additional night at the Hyatt Regency, booked with a free night credit from the Hyatt card
  • Three nights at the London Marriott Hotel Maida Vale, booked with 35,000 Starwood points
  • One night at the Holiday Inn Express London Heathrow, again with a travel consultant discount
  • One night at the Hyatt House Ft Lauderdale Airport, booked with points + cash by a friend who’s trying to requalify for Hyatt Diamond (I pay the cash portion).
  • Four nights in Cancun TBD.

This isn’t a particularly inexpensive adventure, though it’s a great deal for a last minute trip to Europe over the holidays. The points we earn from inexpensive revenue tickets and stays will help offset our costs too. (Too bad there’s no IHG Accelerate promotion in the second half of December…)

Are you using points and miles or travel hacks to go somewhere interesting for the holidays? Are there any flights or hotels you’d like to see a trip report from? And most importantly – do you have any must-see tips for Paris, London, or Cancun? Let me know in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Planes, Trains, and More Planes: Hacking Our Way to Europe for the Holidays

  1. Genise

    Just finished finalizing my upcoming itinerary: PDX-YVR-CDG-MAD booked on Delta/AF a while ago for $461.
    From MAD I take Ryanair for $27 to SXF (Berlin Schönefeld) to spend a couple of days in awesome Berlin with my expat son.
    From SXF I will fly Norwegian for $48 to Oslo where I will spend a few days with family.
    From OSL I will fly SAS for $58 to CDG (Paris) to spend a couple of days with my expat daughter, who will roll in by Eurostar from her location in London), meet up at Gare du Nord, ride the Metro and use 2 free nights at the Intercontinental Paris Vendôme and one free night at the Park Hyatt (which I like better, but so be it). The Christmas village at The Champs Elysée is a wonderful long stroll at night, highly recommend !
    Both of us say our farewells again at Gare du Nord, from which I take the train to Charles de Gaulle airport and from which she will ride the Eurostar back to London Victoria Station.
    (I actually have taken this route from London many times in the past, to avoid paying the nasty UK “APD” tax upon departure from the UK – it is very convenient !)
    From CDG I fly on the latest flight possible back to Madrid with Iberia for $49, transfer at Madrid airport from Terminal 4 to Terminal 2 – which already takes some time – arrive at around midnight and wait a few hours to take my next flight very early morning – which is the return part of the original Delta ticket – to AMS and from there connect to SEA, onto YVR and PDX.
    Needless to say that I travel ultra-light, since the LCCs in Europe are very strict with weight and size of your carry-on luggage, if any is allowed free of charge.
    Lately Ryanair is getting much better tho and don’t seem so extremely strict about weight and size (or I got just plain lucky !).

    Similar to the above itinerary, I book one every couple of months or so (in coach but with C+ as a Delta Elite) and do a little “Europe-tour” to get together with my children and family – depending where they’re located at that time.

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