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European Vacation for Under $300: TPG Reader Success Story

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives: the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

Moving forward, I want to share these success stories with all of you more often, to help inspire you the way you inspire me! So every other week or so I’ll select a story that catches my eye and post it here for everyone to enjoy. Two weeks ago I posted a story from TPG reader Brad, who helped his wife get to an important family event by transferring Starwood points to British Airways.

Today I want to share a story from TPG Reader Christopher, who just used an array of points and miles to book a European vacation with his wife for under $300. Here’s what he had to say:

Christopher and his wife will spend four days each in London and Vienna. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

I’ve traveled using points for over ten years now and have been to some truly amazing places. However, I didn’t understand just how valuable points could be until coming across your website. I used to redeem points from one program to fund a portion of my travels (like airline tickets), but recently I’ve figured out how to book complete award travel itineraries by pulling points from multiple programsThere’s still much to learn, but I recently made a booking that has put a big smile on my face.

My wife and I have wanted to go to Europe for several years now. She wants to see London, while I want to experience the beauty of Vienna. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of combining the two cities into one trip; it simply would have been too expensive. That’s why I was amazed at how easily I was able to use points to cover the majority of the cost.

I usually don’t plan trips a year in advance, but with the impending devaluation of Club Carlson’s award chart and the loss of the Bonus Award Night program for its co-branded credit cardholders, I decided to be proactive and book our 2016 adventure early so I could take advantage of the better rates and benefits. 

To get us there, I booked two one-way tickets from Salt Lake City to London for 18,000 AAdvantage miles each using American Airlines off-peak awards and my Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard for the 10% redemption rebate. I was able to avoid British Airways’ fuel surcharges by finding flights on Alaska and American. The taxes came out to only $11 each.

The challenge in finding hotels in London wasn’t a lack of availability, but having too many hotels to choose from! We decided to spend two nights at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hampshire and two nights at The Mayfair for a total of 120,000 Club Carlson points. The same itinerary would have cost me 280,000 points if had waited until June to book.

To get to Vienna, I transferred Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways and booked two one-way awards from London to Vienna for 13,000 Avios and $55.00 in taxes. For our hotels there, we finished draining my Club Carlson account by booking two award nights at the Radisson Blu Style Hotel for 50,000 points. I then applied for the Hyatt Credit Card, and we’ll use the two award nights from the sign-up bonus at the luxurious Park Hyatt Vienna. The hotel looks stunning and it will certainly be one of the highlights of our trip. To celebrate our booking success, we’re planning to see Puccini’s Tosca at the Vienna State Opera!

Getting back to Salt Lake City from Vienna was a bit tricky, as almost every award routed us through London, incurring high taxes and fuel surcharges. However, we were able to find the availability we wanted by splitting the routing into two different itineraries and later combining them into one. We’ll fly from Vienna to Chicago on Air Berlin, and then from Chicago back to Salt Lake City on Alaska Airlines. I called American Airlines and gave the agent the flight numbersand was able to again book our flights for 18,000 AAdvantage miles each. The taxes came in at a reasonable $110 per person. In the end, the airline tickets and hotel stays for our European adventure totaled just $297!

Your website provides such a great service by teaching the fundamentals of traveling with points. It has helped me take my family places that would have been impossible to visit otherwise on our budget. I’ve also enjoyed sharing the information you provide with other people. I’m currently helping my neighbor (who is originally from Japan) plan a trip using points to take her family to visit relatives. There’s tremendous satisfaction in helping someone else utilize the value of points. Thanks you for all you do!

Amen, Christopher. I know exactly the satisfaction you’re talking about!

This story demonstrates award travel savvy on a number of different levels. Christopher and his wife recognized how much value they could get by redeeming their Club Carlson points before the program changed, and fortunately they were in a position to act. Points and miles are easiest to use when you plan ahead, and while they may not have been had a trip to Europe on the calendar, they had the flexibility to go while the going was good.

Christopher’s story also illustrates how important it is to diversify your travel rewards. With points or miles from just one program, it’s more difficult to efficiently book a trip involving multiple destinations, airlines and hotel brands. By mixing AAdvantage miles with Ultimate Rewards points, Club Carlson points and free nights from Hyatt, Christopher was able to utilize each program where it counted most.

The sign-up bonus from the Chase Hyatt Visa card is enough for two nights at the luxurious Park Hyatt Vienna.

I love this story, and I want to hear more like it! To thank Christopher for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on his travels, and I’d like to do the same for you.

If the tips and strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me (and the whole TPG team) with your own award travel success stories by emailing and putting “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, you’ll have our utmost appreciation, and a gift card to jump-start your next adventure (purchased from Office Depot with my Ink Plus Business Card, of course).

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

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