Free Eurotrip For My Parents

My parents have traveled quite a bit  around the Soviet Union in the early days and have a bunch of interesting stories to tell about that. However, when it comes to the western part of the continent, only my dad has ventured out to Berlin a couple of times on business trips before and overnighted in Frankfurt and Zurich on other occasions and that's about it. Of course, we also had the Frankfurt fiasco a month ago on the way back from Ukraine, but I wouldn't count that as much of an experience.

Christmas market at Römer

So I figured why not give them a little taste of what I have been up to the last couple of years? Paris, Vienna, Rome… The actual plans are still up in the air, but it will be a quick trip hitting up some of the European highlights later in the spring.

Rathaus (city hall) and one of Habsburg notables

The plan is to do it in style, while, hopefully, paying very little for it.

A luxury trip to western Europe for three people for [nearly] free? You heard me right! And here's my game plan.


A round trip economy class ticket on Star Alliance costs 60,000 frequent flier miles. The business class seat goes for 100,000. I would like to save up enough United miles for the business class seats at least for my parents, so that's a target of at least 260,000 miles.

I still have 65,000 United miles and 127,627 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (that can be converted 1:1 to United miles) from a round of credit card sign on bonuses I collected over the summer. My parents currently have 10,800 UR points left. I will probably use up 60,000 of those for my trip to northern Europe thou so that sets me back to 143,427 miles to start with.

The game plan

  • Credit Card Sign-on Bonuses- apply for credit cards to get a large bonus amount of miles after meeting spend requirements. Since the plan is to book on Star Alliance through United, only United credit card or few other Chase cards that give Ultimate Rewards (UR) points will work. Unfortunately, both my parents and I have already taken advantage of the United card (and other) bonuses in 2012 so there were only a couple cards left we could apply for.
    • Chase Ink Credit Card - this is a business card I applied for that comes with 50,000 UR points. Unfortunately I was denied due to a large amount of my credit lines being nearly maxed out on other cards (sitting in my checking accounts, earning myself handy 3% return).
    • Chase Sapphire Credit Card - my dad and I have this card already but my mom does not. So she applied for it and should get the 40,000 UR point bonus as well as 2,500 points for spending the amount required to get the bonus.
    • Chase Freedom Card - same as Sapphire, only my mom does not have this card and if I can track down the elusive 30,000 UR points sign up bonus, it will be added to the mix.
  • Credit Card Bonus Spend- various cards come with various bonus points for spending in certain categories and they are very lucrative right now
    • Chase Freedom currently gives 5 UR points per $1 spend on gas and groceries up to $1500. It also gives a 10% point bonus for the total of 5.1UR point per $1 plus 10 UR points per transaction because we also have checking accounts with Chase. If we maximize this on both of our cards, we should get 2 x (5.1 x 1500 + 3 x 10) = 15,360 UR points or 23,040 UR points if we get the card for my mom as well.
    • Every February Chase Sapphire gives out 7% UR point bonus on points earned during the previous year. That should net me extra 3125 UR points and my dad about 3430.
    • Chase Ink Bold always awards 5 UR points per $1 spent at office supplies stores so I may use that to get the remaining points as needed.

Thank you, Chase!

Between all of that, we should be able to get about 65,000 points for the total of 208,000 United miles - a bit short of 260,000 needed, but still enough to get all three of us economy class tickets in the worst case. More than likely though, I will try to use my 70,000 US Airways, 130,000 American Airlines, or 90,000 Delta miles to get my ticket to northern Europe instead, saving up the United miles for this trip. Maybe we can even plan these trips so that I don't have to come back from Europe, saving the 60,000 in the first place.


When I travel by myself, I either couchsurf or stay at a hostel. It is cheap and I get to meat a ton of awesome people that way and usually have someone else to partner up with for a day of exploring wherever I happen to be at.

Traveling with my parents will be different though as they would want to stay in a hotel. Considering that we'll be visiting the capitals, ie the most expensive cities, finding cheap hotels is pretty much out of the question. Sure there are always deals to be had, but those are usually at properties outside of city centers, requiring extra time (often, quite a bit of it) to get to the sights.

Instead, for the first time ever, I (well, we) have applied for a few hotel-branded credit cards. Between them, they should cover for most of the nights my parents spend in Europe and put them in hotels right in middle of the action.

Of course, I will still plan on staying at hostels nearby :)

The game plan

  • US Bank ClubCarlson Premier Rewards - a new offering on the market, the card comes with 85,000 ClubCarlson points. It is the only card that does not waive the annual fee for the first year, but it is still a good deal as for $75 (personal/$60 business) you get enough points for up to nine stays at Radisson, Country Inn, and Park Inn properties. Of course, the redemptions are not nearly as good when you go to downtown Paris/Rome, where 85k would get you two nights in the best case. Still, it is a good card to have because it waives the fee for the last night of a stay booked with points. In other words, a two night stay only costs one night worth of points. Unfortunately, I was denied for the personal card, but did get approved for their business card. My parents' applications are pending and I still have 87,000 points from my 2012 shenanigans (when I booked cheap rooms and didn't stay there just so I could get huge amounts of bonus points).
  • American Express Starwood Preferred Guest - 25,000 SPG points are worth quite a bit with some properties available for as low as 2,000 points per night. Realistically though, I don't expect more than two nights if we have to redeem them in Europe.
  • Citi Hilton HHonors - 50,000 HHonors points x 2 (me and my mom) = two or three free nights at top Hilton hotels.
  • Chase Marriott Rewards - 30,000 points plus two free nights. 30,000 Marriott Rewards could net as many as four extra nights, but again, realistically in Europe they translate into about one or two extra nights (plus the other two).

Waldorf Astoria in Rome

My hotel credit card points game is nowhere near my free flying skills and we are still waiting to see if my parents are approved for Club Carlson offers. Still, we should have enough points from these offers for them to stay 8 nights for free. With ClubCarlson in the mix, including second night free stays, it can go up to as high as 20!

The Actual Expenses

So if all goes according to my plans, our only actual expenses will be food and train travel in-between the cities. Redeeming points for award flights on United has the benefit of getting an extra stop on the itinerary for free, so at least one of the travel segments in Europe will be taken care of as well. We have also gotten the Barclays US Airways cards with 40,000 Dividend Miles each that we may redeem for flights in Europe (although, we will likely try to save them for the future).

Of course, it is all not totally free. There will be some small surcharges for award ticket taxes and the ClubCarlson cards come with $75/$60 fees up front. There will be some additional spending and hassle involved to meet the minimum spend requirements on all these cards in the next couple of months, but overall, this should be one fine [and mostly free] trip!

The Tally

While it is pretty useless to add up all of these points since they all have drastically different values, for the point geeks out there it is fun nonetheless. So here are the results of our latest churn (sign on bonuses only, not counting the points from spending):

Me: 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles + 40,000 US Airways Dividend miles + 50,000 Hilton HHonors + 25,000 Starwood SPG points + 85,000 ClubCarlson points

Dad: 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles + 40,000 US Airways Dividend miles + 85,000 ClubCarlson points + 30,000 Marriott points (and 2 free nights)

Mom: 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points + 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles + 85,000 ClubCarlson points + 50,000 Hilton HHonors

Grand total [drum roll please!]..... 680,000 brand spanking new points! And two Marriott nights.