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Being points and miles savvy comes in handy for all travel — but it’s especially useful when you’re planning the most special of trips: the honeymoon. TPG Contributor William Morse shares how he gave his friends the ultimate gift by helping them book an amazing European itinerary.
My close friends were getting married and they had just begun to plan their honeymoon. I didn’t know what to get them — but I did know that toasters break and dining sets are lame. Experiences, on the other hand, last a lifetime. Having traveled with with my friend Mark before on a points and miles adventure to Peru, he was all too familiar with how to travel on next to nothing and had just started to get into the strategy himself. So we set out together on a quest to use points and miles to send Mark and his new bride on an unforgettable trip to Europe.
Mark flies Delta regularly for work and currently holds Delta Silver Medallion status. He had a bank of roughly 95,000 miles and wanted to fly from Denver to Amsterdam and leave from Milan coming back to Denver. But we had a small problem: Delta was charging 105,000 miles for those flights. Luckily Mark has the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, which earned him a 30,000-point sign-up bonus (since he was able to get in on a limited-time offer, which is no longer available). He’s also a crazy SPG loyalist — seriously, he gets a little weird and I never look him in the eyes when he talks about it — and currently has Platinum status.
Since they were about 10k miles short, we transferred 20,000 Starpoints to Delta SkyMiles, which gave them a 5,000-mile bonus. And seeing that the next stop after Amsterdam was Prague, we were able to secure that flight with the remaining 15,000 miles.
Originally Mark was going to apply for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, which currently offers 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months, but after seeing the drastic differences in how many miles Delta charges to Europe, he’s now vowed to change his airline to United or American.
Speaking of American, a search on the carrier for similar itineraries was 30,000 miles each way — a big difference from Delta. And if you can fly after October 15, you’ll pay only 20,000 miles each way in economy, as Off Peak SAAver awards come into play (though off-peak awards will jump to 22,500 miles in 2016). Plus, if you have the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, you’ll earn 10% of your miles back at the end of the year. Factoring in this rebate, you can get to Europe round-trip for only 36,000 miles in economy. For now, American also offers business awards for 50,000 each way — or 90,000 round-trip after 10% back — though that same award will run you 57,500 miles each way next year. Finally, United was also competitive, with routes starting at 30,000 miles in economy and 70,000 in business, booked on a partner airline.
As I mentioned, Mark practically salivates over SPG points, so naturally we started looking there. The Category 6 W Amsterdam was scheduled to open a few weeks before they arrived, so we were excited to find award availability for 23,000 points. Plus, Mark would submit one of his Suite Night Awards in hopes of being upgraded.
However, 10 days before they were to arrive, they received a call from The W saying that the brand-new hotel wasn’t finished and they were being switched to the Amsterdam Airport Sheraton — a huge downgrade from a suite at the uber-chic W!
After a gentle reminder that this was his honeymoon, the hotel regrouped and booked a room for them at the beautiful Art’otel free of charge, as well as a handwritten letter and a gigantic chocolate bar, which Mark undoubtedly snuck-ate in entirety alone in the bathroom while Rebecca was sleeping.
With rates starting around $385 per night, this truly avant garde hotel is a Category 7 Club Carlson property that can also be booked with 70,000 Gold points per night. The hotel is modern to the max, with art at every turn and it sits in the heart of the city. Your stay even comes along with complimentary homemade breakfast.
From Amsterdam, the couple continued on to Prague (PRG) in the Czech Republic. They used the rest of their Delta SkyMiles to book one of the tickets for 15,000 miles and paid about $225 for the other one-way-fare.
They chose the Augustine, a Category 5 Starwood property that dates back to 1284 and is part of the Luxury Collection. The sophisticated 101-room property can be booked for 12,000 points or about $310 per night. While you’re there, make sure to have a drink in the Refectory Bar 1887, which is set in a barrel-vaulted hall that was once a monastery refectory and features restored 19th century baroque ceiling frescoes.
Prague is a great place to find a five-star-hotel for a bargain, so you may want to hang on to your points and pay with cash. This would also be a great opportunity to maximize your cash + points options. Or if you want to try something local, there’s the U Zlate Studne Hotel, which most travelers rave about for its home-away-from-home feeling, impeccable service and stunning city views. Rates start at about $200 per night.
Even though flying within Europe can be quite inexpensive, the couple chose to take advantage of Europe’s efficient rail system and booked a Eurail Four Country Select Pass for about $400 per person. While there’s no option to redeem points to buy a Eurail pass, you could use your Chase Sapphire Preferred to get 2x points on travel purchases (including trains). You could also book this with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, which would also earn you 2x point on travel. The card currently comes with a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles when you spend $3,000 or more in the first three months. You could redeem the 40,000 miles for almost exactly the cost of one Eurail pass and earn 5% miles back when you redeem for travel.
From Prague, the couple planned to use their passes to visit Vienna, Slovakia and Italy, spending the majority of their time in the latter.
Famous for its music, its rich quality of life and delicious desserts, Vienna offers plenty of options when it comes to redeeming points. Here, the couple again went with a Starwood Property — Le Meridien Vienna — a Category 4 hotel available for only 10,000 SPG points per night. Overall the hotel was nice, with sharp service, but it was the location that really made it great.
After a night at the opera and some horsing around at the prestigious Vienna Riding school, the newlyweds said goodbye to Vienna and continued on a Vienna Rail sleeper-car-train to Venice. The sleeper car cost them roughly $90 and offered them some privacy and a unique experience — plus there’s nothing like going to sleep in one country and waking up in another.
Unfortunately, Venice isn’t flush with points hotels, however there are a few properties worth considering if cash rates are too high. The couple booked one of the best options: the Westin Europa for 20,000 Starpoints a night. That’s arguably a lot of points to spend, but location is everything in Venice, and the Westin Europa sits at the mouth of the Grand Canal — a great spot to sit back and watch all the action on the water. Plus, had the couple not used points, their stay would have cost them roughly $700.
From there, the couple decided to play it by ear. A few days traveling the Italian countryside sounded nice after the local authorities chased Mark out of Venice for single-handedly creating a region-wide carb-shortage. A night or two in Bologna? Maybe a few days enjoying Florence, or a trip up the coast to Cinque Terre where the towns cling to cliffs above the Italian Riviera? They would decide where to next on the fly, eventually making their way back to Milan for their flight back to the US.
Visiting four countries over two weeks for next to nothing, Mark and Rebecca proved that a luxury trip throughout Europe is possible almost entirely on points and miles. With a few credit card bonuses and some strategic spending, you could be well on your way to planning a similar trip. Congrats to the beautiful couple!
What are your tips for using points and miles for a luxurious honeymoon?
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