Parents Eurotrip Booked - For [nearly] Free!

At the beginning of this year I conceived an idea to take my parents to Europe and tour some of the highlights with them. Furthermore, I wanted to do it as cheap as possible, while still doing it in style. I have written before how I was planning on doing with points and miles, chiefly from a few credit cards sign up bonuses as well as a few other creative strategies to get the points needed. In this post, I will show you just how we are going to do this for the grand total of $532 $553 (late night math is no good). Yes, you read it right. And no, there is no magic involved - read on to find out how!

Choosing Destinations

The time frame for this trip is two weeks as my dad would need to take days off work. Originally, I was thinking that we could hit up four to five destinations but then quickly realized that it might be a bit too much time spent on the go. So we narrowed it down to three cities - Paris, Rome and Barcelona:

Three historic destinations - Paris, Rome, and Barcelona

We will have three and a half days in Paris (plus the evening of the day when they get in), three days (plus an evening) in Rome and four and a half days in Barcelona.

Unfortunately, this left one weekend day before and after the trip "unused" due to very poor availability of award flights across the pond in May. On the bright side, having those days should provide for a little less hectic packing before the trip and a day to get back into the groove of things after my parents come back.

Flying in Business Class for Free!

As I have mentioned in my prep post, I wanted to fly my parents over in style not just because it is nice and my dad would appreciate plenty of legroom, but also because it should be less hectic for them.

Turns out, May is a very popular time for traveling to Europe (who would of thought, eh?), so award space on flights was pretty much non-existent. After playing around with days, destinations, and using other strategies, I was able to find two business seats on fights between Chicago and Munich as well as on the way back:

To Paris through Munich, to Barcelona through Zurich, and back again through Munich

In addition to transatlantic Business, they are booked in Lufthansa First Class from Munich to Paris and from Barcelona back to Munich. Because no Star Alliance carrier flies between Rome and Barcelona, my parents will have to go through Zurich on Swiss (in first class).

Lufthansa A340 Business Class (Chicago - Munich)

All those flights (as well as Tulsa-Chicago and Chicago-Tulsa) are actually on a single ticket. Contrary to what many believe, a round-trip award ticket does not mean that you can only have one destination! I set up this ticket with an open jaw (arriving to Paris, departing from Rome) and a third destination (Barcelona). You can read more on what that means in my previous post about award booking rules.

But what it really comes down to is the savings - booking with miles, each of their tickets only costed $160.50. In Business class!

Two Business Class tickets using United miles

For kicks and giggles, I had the same itinerary priced at $10066 per person!

Pricing for exactly the same itinerary

Pretty cool, eh?

The only thing that this ticket did not cover is getting from Paris to Rome. For that, I snagged a couple tickets on Vueling for $127 each including exit row seats with leg room and baggage allowance. They are a Spanish low cost airline but somehow have a direct flight from Orly to Fiumicino. Not that I wasn't going to complain!

Top of the Line Hotels - For Free as Well!

If you recall, one of my objectives was to have my parents stay somewhere central so they don't have to waste precious time getting to the main attractions. Normally, I am not a fan of hotel loyalty points programs as they are way more complicated than dealing with airline miles. But this time around we got a few hotel-branded credit cards as well to get some amazing rooms!

Two nights at Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan - 16th century building, rated one of "World's Top 25 Hotels with a View", 10 minute walk from both the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe (photo from Radisson Blu)

Two nights at Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees - the former Louis Vuitton headquarters. The picture is pretty self-explanatory... (photo from Radisson Blu)

Radisson Blu es. Hotel, Rome - right by the train station with the largest roof-top terrace in Rome, including a roof-top pool! (photo from Radisson Blu)

Rome Cavalieri - "Rome's most prestigious address" and one of the top Waldorf Astoria properties with its own art collection and voted #1 Hotel Spa in Europe by readers of Travel + Leisure Magazine. The view of the entire Rome and the Vatican from here is mind blowing! (photo from Waldorf Astoria)

Two nights at Le Méridien Barcelona - right in the heart of the old city on La Rambla. Fancy artwork, another rooftop pool and two blocks away from Plaça de Catalunya (photo from Le Méridien)

You may recollect that I was not very fond of Barcelona and instead was blown away by the old city in Girona and the Pyrenees just a bit up north so I am thinking about taking my parents there for a couple of days or one of the nearby beaches. This part is still up in the air. We would need to be back for their last night in Barcelona as their flight departs at 8:30 in the morning.

One night at AC Hotel Palau de Bellavista - a modern Marriott property situated on top of the hill overlooking the old city (photo from AC Hotels)

One night at AC Hotel Som - another Marriott property. Not very exciting but close(r) to Montjuïc and the airport

Pretty cool x 2, eh?

You might be wondering why the stays are split up into two nights each - I did that intentionally for Radisson Blu properties (part of ClubCarlson). As a ClubCarlson credit card holder, I get the last night on an award reservation for free - meaning that if a stay is just two nights, it essentially translates into getting the room for half the price (in points). Unfortunately, two consecutive stays are not allowed at the same hotel so my parents would have to move after two days. Fortunately, the hotels in Paris are located just a few blocks apart and, similarly, going from Radisson Blu in Rome to Rome Cavalieri should be easy with their shuttle service.

Two nights at Rome Cavalieri was the max we could 'afford' since we only had a total of 100,000 HHonors points (more on that later). As a side note, due to a recent devaluation trashing of HHonors program, the same stay at Rome Cavalieri would cost over 126,000 HHonors points per night. No wonder people that have been hoarding HHonors points are quite a bit upset:

Rome Cavalieri redemption rate went up over 250%!

Similarly, two nights at Le Méridien Barcelona was the max I could do with 32,000 SPG points. Interestingly, there is another SPG property not too far from the center that only goes for 4,000 points a night! But I wanted to give my parents the benefit of being right in the middle of it all. I don't really want to stay more than two days in Barcelona anyways, so that worked out pretty good.

So here is the total "damage" for our hotels (room prices as quoted at time of booking):

  • Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan: two nights @ €280.00 = $730. Our price: 50,000 ClubCarlson points.
  • Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees: two nights @ €280.00 = $876. Our price: 50,000 ClubCarlson points.
  • Radisson Blu es. Hotel, Rome: two nights @ €177.20 = $462. Our price: 50,000 ClubCarlson points.
  • Rome Cavalieri: two nights @ €400.00 = $1043. Our price: 100,000 HHonors points.
  • Le Méridien Barcelona: two nights @ €249.00 = $649. Our price: 32,000 SPG points.
  • AC Hotel Palau de Bellavista: two nights @ €59.00 = $154. Our price: two free night certificates.
  • AC Hotel Som: one night @ €195.00 = $254. Our price: 25,000 Marriott points.
  • Total: $4168. Our price: FREE!

Note: I have not booked the last two AC hotels just yet as we are still deciding whether we will stay in Barcelona or go to Girona.

Pretty cool x 3, eh?

Our Actual Total Cost (Flight + Lodging + Points costs)

To recap, the total price for my parents' tickets is $321 and all of the lodging is free. As I just broken out for you, that amounts to savings of $23,979! In other words, a 98.7% discount!

But some may rightfully question how we have gotten all these points and miles. So here is a quick breakdown including the costs we incurred:

  • Citi HiltonHonors Visa (me and my mom) - 50,000 points each after $1500 spend. Our total cost to meet the minimum spend: $23.70
  • Chase Marriott Visa (my dad) - 30,000 points and 2 free nights after $1000 spend. Total cost to meet the spend: $7.90
  • ClubCarlson Visa (me) - 85,000 points and 'last night free' after $2500 spend (I already had 95,000 ClubCarlson points from their summer promo). Total cost to meet the spend: $20.25
  • Chase Sapphire (my mom) - 40,000 points after $3000 spend. Total cost to meet the spend: $0 (normal day-to-day spend)
  • American Express Starwood (me) - 25,000 points after $5000 spend. Total cost to meet the spend (and $2k more for a total of 32,000 points): $52.35
  • Extra 40,000 United miles I needed to get all three of us tickets in Business Class - IB + $500 oVs at OD -> VR -> MVD (for those that play the game): $127.40
  • Total: $231.60

Spending accelerators

So our true cost for a trip for two to Paris, Rome, and Barcelona flying in Business Class and staying at top of the line hotels for two weeks: $553 ($321 + $232). A 97.7% discount!

Pretty freaking cool, eh????

Tips & Tricks, Traveldima