3 Weeks in France on a College Budget — 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.
I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! From time to time I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you're interested in sharing your own story, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!
Recently, I posted a success story from Eu, who redeemed Alaska miles to help a friend get to Hong Kong for an important family event. Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Evan, who used travel rewards and credit card benefits to help pay for a holiday in France. Here's what he had to say:
I’m a 21-year-old college student with a travel habit I just can’t kick. I started reading TPG about a year ago, and have been channeling my spending through rewards credit cards ever since in the hopes of getting to travel more frequently on my limited budget. Thanks to the strategies I’ve picked up, I just spent three weeks in France, including New Year’s in Nice, all for about the same price I would've spent staying at home!
I signed up for the US Airways Premier MasterCard early in 2015 (right before it went away), and earned an easy 50,000 miles for the cost of the annual fee. I later picked up the Citi Prestige Card with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 ThankYou points. In addition to helping me avoid foreign transaction fees during my two-week tour of China last summer, those cards (and bonuses) were instrumental in booking my trip to France.
My plan was to use AAdvantage miles to book off-peak awards for just 20,000 miles each way. Unfortunately, the only MileSAAver award space to Nice was on British Airways, so I decided to use a different strategy and avoid BA’s hefty fuel surcharges. I transferred 25,000 ThankYou points to Flying Blue and booked myself on Air France from JFK to NCE with a short layover at CDG. I was also able to offset the $100 in taxes with the Citi Prestige air travel credit.
I was able to find an off-peak award back from Paris to New York for 20,000 AAdvantage Miles plus $80 in taxes and surcharges (again paid for with the Prestige card). Since my US Airways card was converted to an Aviator Red Card, I received 10% of my redeemed miles back, so my net cost for that flight was only 18,000 miles! I know international economy class is nothing exciting, but I only have so many miles, and I sleep well on planes anyway (it’s good to be young). I got about 12 cents apiece for my ThankYou points and 8 cents apiece for my AAdvantage miles, so I was happy to save the rest for spring break.
Once my flights were taken care of, I started looking into hotels. I chose hostels in Nice and Paris since I didn't need anything fancy, but I was still able to take advantage of card benefits to get a discount. By booking through the Citi Travel concierge, I got my fourth night free and saved $40. It's not a king's ransom, but it helped make the trip more feasible on my budget.
I’ll also be spending two days each in Aix-en-Provence and Avignon, where I booked Airbnb rentals (earning Virgin America points in the process). I paid for one stay with my Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express and got a $50 rebate through Amex offers, and used miles from my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to erase the other charge.
Finally, I used Rocketmiles to book an inexpensive boutique hotel in central Nîmes, and earned bonus AAdvantage miles by paying with my Aviator Red card (1,000 miles per night and a first-use bonus of 5,000 miles). All of the hotel/Airbnb charges not otherwise covered will be paid for using cash back that I earned by maximizing the 5% cash back categories on my Discover it Card.
My total out of pocket cost for transatlantic flights and three weeks of accommodation was $0 — that’s an amount I think just about any college student can afford! I could have been even more efficient with my rewards by sniping a MileSAAver off-peak award to France that wasn’t on BA, but I still got excellent value and met my travel goals, which is what really matters!
That left me paying only for dining, transportation between cities, museum admissions and souvenirs. I brought my new Hyatt Credit Card along to pay for food, earning 2 Hyatt bonus points per dollar while working on the $2,000 spending requirement for the sign-up bonus. Ground transportation either went on my Discover card (since it earns me 10% cash back) or Venture card (where the charges were erased). Non-bonus spending went on my Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card to work toward the annual free weekend night certificate after $10,000 in purchases.
The trip had plenty of highlights; I especially enjoyed visiting the Roman ruins in the south. Besides the UNESCO world heritage listed Pont du Gard, I was impressed by the Théâtre Antique of Orange and Les Arènes de Nîmes. I would highly recommend visiting all three.
Before I started reading TPG, this trip would have been out of reach. Even if I had managed to go, I definitely would’ve made the mistake of using cash and paying ATM and foreign exchange fees. Thanks again for making it easier to reach my travel goals!
Evan's story is a great example of how diversifying your points and miles can help you get more value from each award redemption. Using AAdvantage miles on his flight to Europe would have involved costly fuel surcharges, so he smartly decided to find another way to cross the pond. His Air France award cost more strictly in terms of the number of miles used, but it was likely a better value overall, and helped keep cash costs to a minimum.
Evan also did a great job turning his remaining expenses into earning opportunities. He brought several cards on his trip to take advantage of bonus categories, along with new ones offering lucrative sign-up and spending bonuses. He also jumped on partnerships like the one between Airbnb and Virgin America, and promotions like the bonus offered by Rocketmiles. By getting a solid return for each dollar spent, he's putting himself in position to take his next award travel adventure, wherever that may lead him.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Evan 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 (purchased from Office Depot with my Chase Ink Plus, of course), and I’d like to do the same for you.
Again, if the 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 by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). You’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
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