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Using Premium Cards for a Family Trip to Europe

Sept. 26, 2017
8 min read
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Premium credit cards typically have high annual fees, but they offer a ton of benefits that can make paying that amount worthwhile. My partner and I were able to take advantage of some of those perks this summer to have a cheap out-of-pocket trip to the UK with our family.

Earlier this year, we realized that my partner needed to be in Edinburgh, Scotland for a meeting, so we started looking at flight options to and around Edinburgh for our kids and me (work picked up the tab for her flight). As it happened, there were inexpensive flights from Philadelphia to London Heathrow, which we decided was close enough to where we wanted to be. Since the kids hadn’t yet visited London, we made it a longer trip, spending a week in each place.

We could’ve just paid cash for the flights to London, but I thought it was a good opportunity to road-test the Business Platinum Card® from American Express's 50% pay with points rebate (now 35% for those not grandfathered in for a year).

I used 119,118 points for the three Delta flights that cost $1,191.18 total.

The Amex terms and conditions indicated that it may have taken 6-10 weeks to get the points returned to my account, but my points were returned the next day. There are many recent reports that it now does take 6-10 weeks to get them back. I made another booking a few weeks ago and they haven’t been returned yet, so I expect to wait the full 6-10 weeks this time.

Ultimately, we paid a total of 59,559 points for three tickets, meaning the kids and I were able to get round trip flights to London for 19,853 Membership Rewards points each, or less than 10,000 points each way.

With the 50% rebate, we got 2 cents per point on the redemption. We probably could’ve gotten more “value” by transferring the points to a flight partner to fly in a premium cabin, but for a relatively short flight from the East Coast to the UK, we were happy with it.

Since these flights were booked through Amex Travel, they were mileage-earning tickets — although we didn't earn many miles since they were deeply discounted economy fares.

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The Business Platinum card also offered entry into the Delta Sky Club lounge since we were flying the carrier, but only for me as the cardholder, so while I went in briefly, I didn’t linger there.

Arrivals Lounge

We arrived at Heathrow early, so we decided to go to an arrivals lounge to get a snack and use Wi-Fi before we left the airport. I have Priority Pass lounge membership courtesy of both the Business Platinum card and the Citi Prestige card. The difference is that the Priority Pass membership with the Business Platinum only allows entry for the cardholder and two guests whereas Priority Pass membership with the Citi Prestige card allows entry for the cardholder and immediate family. I was careful to use the latter membership when we entered.

We had two arrivals options: the Plaza Premium Arrivals Lounge in Terminal 2 or the Plaza Premium Arrivals Lounge in Terminal 4. We chose the lounge in Terminal 2 since it was closer to the tube station we were using to get into the city, but it was tiny and I think the Terminal 4 lounge would’ve been a better option. Still, it was a nice enough place to charge devices, use free Wi-Fi and get free breakfast before we headed out.

Plaza Premium Lounge Arrivals at LHR's Terminal 2. Image courtesy of Priority Pass.

Hotels in London and Edinburgh

Hotel rooms in London are notoriously small, and it can be difficult to find a room that will fit a family of four. Rather than book two rooms, we opted for a family room at the Holiday Inn Express London Victoria. While the hotel isn’t exactly glamorous, it's located in a nice residential neighborhood close to the Pimlico tube station, and it offers free breakfast. We paid for the first two nights with our otherwise expiring free nights that come with both of our IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Cards and the rest of the nights with IHG points (mostly from IHG’s Priceless Experiences promotion, for which we filled out and mailed 94 postcards each to IHG).

Once we made our way to Edinburgh, we wanted to take advantage of my Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum status so we opted to stay at the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa Edinburgh. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to book two rooms there as there are no rooms that accommodate four people. For the first room, we used our Citi Prestige card’s 4th Night Free benefit. At the time, there was no option to book online so I used the more cumbersome process of calling Citi, asking them to make the reservation and waiting a day to get it confirmed by email (although note that while you can now book online to use this benefit, you're unlikely to accrue points or progress toward elite status, so if that's important to you, you'll still want to book by phone or email). In the end, we saved about $345 by using the Citi Prestige.

We couldn’t book a second room using the 4th Night Free perk, as overlapping stays don’t qualify, so we used points instead. In this case, because we were staying a total of five nights, we got our fifth night free. I emailed the hotel in advance asking for connecting rooms, which they reserved for us.

Between the two rooms, I earned 10 elite-qualifying nights. That, coupled with the 5 elite nights I get for holding the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the 5 elite nights for holding the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express meant I already had 20 nights just from that activity, or 40% of the nights I need for Platinum requalification this year, not counting the other elite nights I already had for the year.

Rental Car

After we left Edinburgh, we headed north into the Scottish Highlands to Inverness on a quest to see the Loch Ness Monster (we struck out). Needing a rental car to get from Inverness down to Loch Ness, I again pulled out my Citi Prestige card as it provides primary insurance coverage for rental cars when renting abroad (it provides secondary insurance only in the US). Since this was my first time driving on the other side of the road, and shifting with my left hand instead of my right, I drove more comfortably knowing that I had primary insurance protection on the car.

Flight Back to London

Because we had booked flights in and out of London, we needed to get back to London to catch our return flight home. We booked inexpensive tickets on EasyJet and I used my Citi Prestige card again for the charge. Since the Citi Prestige card comes with a $250 airfare credit, all of the airfare was refunded (note that I got the full $250 at one time because I'd bought a flight for my dad in the same billing cycle).

Bottom Line

I sometimes balk at the high annual fees that accompany premium cards, but I think I got plenty of value from those cards for this trip. Aside from the welcome bonuses that came with each card, we were able to leverage the benefits for a trip with very few out-of-pocket costs, including the transatlantic airfare, lounge access, hotels, complimentary rental car insurance coverage and the one-way airfare between Scotland and London.

Have premium travel rewards cards helped you keep costs down on trips?