How to go to Europe — just for the weekend — from the East Coast
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Time is a resource you can’t make more of, and sometimes you have to make the most of what you have. If you live on the East Coast and only have a weekend to work with, can you squeeze in a quick trip to Europe using your points and miles?
That’s the question that TPG reader Ryan recently asked. So Ryan, this one’s for you.
Here’s how to make that weekend trip to Europe — including tips for what airlines to fly, which hotels to book and the key sights to see in three of our favorite European cities.
Let’s start by stating the obvious. These weekend adventures will be really short, whirlwind trips! If you have more time than just a weekend, take it so you can explore more of a city.
Nonstop flights will be essential to making the most of the weekend, so we’ll assume you value time over the cheapest flight option.
You’ll depart on a Friday (the earlier, the better), arrive at your destination as early as possible on Saturday morning (or late Friday night if you leave the U.S. on Friday morning) and depart as late as possible on Sunday. At best, you’re going to have 30 to 40 hours on the ground.
Note, too, that trips such as these have the potential — especially in the winter months or during thunderstorms — to become a “trip in vain.” That’s when a weather, mechanical, operational or other delay happens on your outbound flight, making the rest of the trip unrealistic (i.e., your rescheduled outbound flight would arrive in Europe after your return flight is scheduled to depart).
For these quick jaunts, we recommend Paris, London or Lisbon due to the number of nonstop flights to these cities that clock in between 7.5 and 8.5 hours. They are also three of Europe’s most compelling destinations.
Europe for the weekend flight basics
Watch for cash deals
Recently, we’ve seen some terrific fares to Europe from the East Coast. Try $259 round-trip from JFK, Newark or Los Angeles to London and Paris, $232 round-trip from East Coast cities to London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid and Brussels or $258 round-trip from Newark to Paris. We’ve also seen $1,000 round-trip fares in business class on La Compagnie. So, you may want to save your miles and points and just pay cash if a deal becomes available.
Also, look to low-cost carriers like Norwegian, French Bee (starting flights from Newark in June 2020) and LEVEL to see if paying cash makes more sense than using loyalty currency. (Of course, if you are going to pay cash, book an airline where you earn frequent flyer miles — unless you can snag a deal that’s so good, it doesn’t matter if you forgo a miles-earning opportunity).
Pay with points
Watch for saver award availability or flash sales, like those from Delta with round-trip flights to Europe for as low as 22,000 SkyMiles — even on some nonstop routes. (Remember, you need that nonstop flight for a quick trip.)
FlyingBlue (Air France/KLM) has similar promotions, with recent Europe one-way awards going for 10,750 miles for economy and 39,750 miles for business class.
If you don’t have enough frequent flyer miles, you can transfer points to top off your account. If you have American Express Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Capital One miles or Citi ThankYou points, you can transfer them to the following airlines and then make an award reservation. Be sure the flights you want have availability before you transfer your points to your frequent flyer account. Use a service like ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG parent company Red Ventures) to help you search for award availability.
Broaden your flight choices with partner airlines
Remember that if you have miles or points with one airline, you can use them to book an award on a partner airline. There are three alliances — Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance — as well as some individual partnerships that will help you get to Paris, London and Lisbon.
Beware of fees on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic
British Airways can tack on some hefty taxes and fuel surcharges on top of the cash or points required for some award redemptions to Europe. If you must use Avios, price out the award flights completely before deciding if they are a good deal, or look at one of BA’s partners like Iberia where some fees are less expensive.
Since American and British Airways are both part of OneWorld, searching award availability on American’s website or app will return a lot of BA options that you should rule out. That being said, American does have some of its own metal flights, so definitely check availability and you could luck out.
Virgin Atlantic falls into a similar bucket as British Airways. It can charge higher fees on its award flights than if you booked with Delta SkyMiles (the airlines have a partnership), so just be sure to compare apples to apples.
Consider one-way bookings
It will be important that you select flight pairs that allow for the most time at your destination. You may need to book on one airline one direction and another on the way home. Just know that may increase the price in some situations, so price it out.
Travel in a premium cabin, if possible
You don’t have a lot of time on the ground in Europe so you want to arrive as rested as possible. Try to book premium economy, business or first class — at least on your flight headed to Europe. It’s often easier to sleep when you have more room to spread out. You will not have time to nap away that first day.
Save time at the outbound airport
Now’s the time to make sure you’ve got TSA PreCheck or CLEAR or anything else that can help speed you through security and shave off a bit of wait time at the outbound airport. You do not want to miss your outbound flight when every minute counts.
Europe for the weekend hotel basics
Use programs and status for early check-in and late checkout
Since time will be of the essence, consider booking hotels where you can possibly check in late or have guaranteed late checkout. For example, if you book a hotel through American Express’ Fine Hotels & Resorts program, you can request early check-in (at noon) and you’ll get it when available. Late checkout at 4 p.m. is guaranteed.
Certain levels of elite status in different hotel loyalty programs also confer late checkout. For example, Marriott Bonvoy Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador Elite members get guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout at most properties with a few exceptions (though Silver and Gold elites can also request it based on availability). World of Hyatt has similar terms, with Discoverists and Explorists getting 2 p.m. late checkout, upon request and pending availability, while Globalists get the checkout time extended to 4 p.m.
Use a free night certificate at the hotel
A weekend trip like this is the perfect time to use a free night certificate, the type you earn on the anniversary of certain cobranded hotel credit cards. Here are some credit cards that come with an annual free night. In Paris, Lisbon and London, you’ll want to focus on:
- World of Hyatt Credit Card: Earn one Category 1–4 free night certificate on your card anniversary.
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: You’ll earn an Anniversary Free Night certificate on your card anniversary that you can use at any hotel that costs 40k points or less per night.
- The following Hilton credit cards offer a Free Weekend Night Award (some are conferred on your card anniversary while other certificates are delivered at account start): Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card or the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card. You can use this award at nearly any Hilton hotel with these exceptions.
- Get an up to 35k Marriott free night certificate on your card anniversary with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.
- Get an up to 50k Marriott free night certificate on your card anniversary with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
OK. Are you ready to plan your European express vacation? Let’s get started.
How to spend a weekend in Paris
You’ve probably heard that Paris is beautiful in the spring. But the rest of the year isn’t too shabby, either. Even winter in Paris can be wonderful. The only time I try to avoid is late August, when many restaurants and shops close for summer vacation. Here’s a list of the things you should do on your first trip to Paris and what to eat while you’re there.
Flights to Paris
You’ve got a lot of nonstop flights to choose from for your weekend getaway to Paris. Here are some of the gateways and airlines that can get you to the City of Lights:
- Boston (BOS) to Paris (CDG) — Air France, Delta and Norwegian Air Shuttle
- From Newark (EWR) to CDG — United Airlines
- From Newark (EWR) to ORY — La Compagnie
- From New York (JFK) to CDG — Air France, American Airlines, Delta and Norwegian Air Shuttle
- From New York (JFK) to ORY — Air France
- *From Philadelphia (PHL) to CDG — American Airlines
- From Washington, D.C. (IAD) to CDG — Air France and Delta
Use Google Flights or a tool like ExpertFlyer to search for all the nonstop flights out of the airport of your choice. If you haven’t used Google Flights before, here’s how to find cheap flights and how to become an advanced user.
Here’s an example of a good long weekend routing to Paris:
- On Friday: Depart New York JFK on Air France flight 23 at 4:40 p.m. and arrive in Paris (CDG) at 5:50 a.m. on Saturday morning
- On Monday: Depart CDG on Air France Flight 8 at 7:20 p.m. and arrive back at JFK at 9:55 p.m
- Duration: That gives you 61.5 hours in Paris from touchdown to wheels up.
You can book Air France flights with Flying Blue miles or Delta SkyMiles. Both programs have dynamic award charts, so we can’t tell you exactly how many miles you’ll spend, but we’ve seen round-trip economy tickets via these programs for as low as 22,000 miles. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to FlyingBlue and American Express Membership Rewards points to Flying Blue and Delta. All transfers are at a 1:1 basis.
Where to stay in Paris
You will be spoiled for choice when it comes to points hotels in Paris. Families should consider hotels that accommodate four people, which isn’t all that common in Europe with strict occupancy restrictions. (We also don’t usually recommend a weekend trip for little ones.)
You can take a few different approaches to your hotel selection. Since you’ll only be in town for a short time, you could simply pick the best deal on cash or points, or a hotel in a location that’s closest to the sights you most want to see.
We’ve split that difference here and are recommending well-located hotels that are available for a reasonable number of points, or ones where you can use free night certificates. Spending certificates in Paris can be a terrific value.
For location, it’s tough to beat World of Hyatt’s Hotel du Louvre (from 25k points) in the 1st arrondissement, just steps from the Louvre.
For value and location, use your Anniversary Free Night at the Holiday Inn Paris – St. Germain des Pres (from 35k points) near Notre Dame in the 6th, the Holiday Inn Paris – Elysees (from 40k points) for the Champs-Elysees and Madeleine neighborhoods in the 8th or the Holiday Inn Paris Opera – Grand Blvds (from 35k points) near Opera Garnier in the 9th arrondissement. For hotels that are more upscale than Holiday Inns, try Hilton Paris Opera (66k–80k points) and Maison Astor (71k–80k) both in the 8th arrondissement, where you can use your free Hilton Weekend Night Award.
Marriott loyalists can look into the Paris Marriott Champs Elysees Hotel (Category 7, from 60k points — though you can use your Marriott up to 50k free night certificate that you earned with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card when off-peak rates are 50k points per night). There are also these Category 6 properties: Paris Marriott Opera Ambassador Hotel and Hotel Banke Opera, Autograph Collection where you can use your 50k free night certificate on standard dates or spend from 40k points on off-peak dates.
There is too much to see and do in Paris to ever think you’ll do it all in a weekend. But you should definitely see the iconic postcard sights of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Grand Palais, Opera Garnier and Sacre-Coeur. A Big Bus Paris hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour can take you to all of those places. Or just map out a path from your hotel using foot power, the Metro and Uber ride-shares or taxi services. On your tour, make time to stroll through the gardens of the Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin de Tuileries, and window shop along the Champs-Elysees.
Take the time to sit at an outdoor table at a sidewalk cafe and watch Parisians and visitors go about their daily lives. Les Deux Magots, a traditional brasserie since 1885 in Saint-Germain des Pres, is one of the most famous cafes in all of Paris — but you can pick any spot you like.
It’s a shame to come all the way to Paris and not go inside the Louvre, but you might not have time in your schedule. If you feel it’s a must-see, buy tickets in advance so you can skip the long lines at the box office and go right to the security line instead. Even if you don’t go inside the museum, definitely enjoy the courtyard atmosphere and take in the unique pyramid-style architecture of the entrance.
Here’s some more Paris advice:
- 3 ways to do Paris on points
- 15 things to do on your first trip to Paris
- 8 mistakes travelers often make during their first trip to Paris
How to spend a weekend in Lisbon
This summer it seemed as if every TPG staffer and contributor was on the way to Portugal. It’s just about a perfect destination if you’re starting out from the East Coast, since it’s not all that far away. Nonstop flights from New York, for example, are just about seven hours.
Once in Lisbon, you’ll love wandering the historic neighborhoods, dining on Mediterranean cuisine (much of it seafood-based), visiting world-class museums and visiting a nightclub to listen to Portugal’s distinctive Fado music.
Flights to Lisbon
There are a variety of airlines flying from the East Coast to Lisbon. Here are your main choices.
- Boston (BOS) to LIS — Delta, TAP Air Portugal
- From Newark (EWR) to LIS — TAP Air Portugal and United
- From New York (JFK) to LIS — Delta, TAP Air Portugal
- From Washington, D.C. (IAD) to LIS — TAP Air Portugal and United
I didn’t come across any fantastic cash deals to Lisbon in my searches but that doesn’t mean you won’t for your dates. TPG has seen round-trip cash rates from $418 to $465 per person in the past. Also watch for flash sales from TAP Air Portugal.
If you can’t find a deal using dollars, rely on your miles. Here’s an example of a long-weekend award itinerary on United Airlines flights using United MileagePlus miles. In this case, the outbound flight was 30,000 miles plus taxes and fees per person, and the return was 45,000 miles plus taxes and fees.
To get the most hours out of your stay, here’s an example routing from the NYC area:
- On Friday: Depart Newark (EWR) on TAP Air Portugal flight 202 at 6:05 p.m. and arrive in Lisbon at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday morning
- On Monday: Depart LIS on TAP Air Portugal flight 209 at 5 p.m. and arrive back at JFK at 8 p.m
- Duration: That gives you 59 hours and 15 minutes in Lisbon from touchdown to wheels up.
Use your free night certificates in Lisbon
You’ve got some excellent points hotel choices in Lisbon, and you can use your free night certificates, earned from various cobranded credit cards, at some of the best properties in the city. Use your World of Hyatt Category 1–4 free night certificate at the Hotel Da Estrela (or, from 15k points per night) in the Estrela neighborhood near the Museu Joao de Deus.
If you’ve got a Hilton Weekend Night Reward certificate, book the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Lisbon – Fontana Park (or, from 28k to 50k points per night).
Stay at the InterContinental Lisbon with an IHG Anniversary Free Night or 40k points.
Marriott 35k free night certificates can be used at Altis Belem Hotel & Spa, Lisbon, a Member of Design Hotels; Lisbon Marriott Hotel; Memmo Principe Real, Lisbon (a Member of Design Hotels); and the Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa. If you’ve got a 50k certificate, book the Fontecruz Lisboa, Autograph Collection.
Learn more about Marriott’s free night certificates:
- Step-by-step: Using a Marriott Bonvoy 35,000-point certificate
- Using a free-night certificate at Category 7 Marriott properties
- Great uses of Marriott Bonvoy 35,000-point free night certificates
- 13 ways to redeem the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant 50k free night award
What to see in Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, with nearly a half-million residents. There’s plenty to explore here, including the Portuguese Riviera that stretches along the Atlantic coast.
History and architecture buffs should head for the religious sites of Lisbon Cathedral, built in 1147, and the Monastery of St. Jerome, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another UNESCO site worth seeking out is nearby Belem Tower, a fort and city gateway that dates to the 16th century. And, at St. George’s Castle, you’ll see just how far back history stretches in Lisbon. Fortifications here were built in the 1st century.
A visit to Lisbon has to include a ride on the Santa Justa Elevator on Rua de Santa Justa in the historic district, which connects the lower Baxia neighborhood with Largo do Carmo above it. There’s a viewing platform at the top where you can snap some great pictures of the city below.
Here’s some more advice about Lisbon:
- Traveling to Portugal: 7 things to know before you go
- Why the Lisbon coast Is Europe’s next hot spot
- Why every family you know is flying to Portugal — and why you should, too
How to spend a weekend in London
London is a fantastic place to visit, but there are two downsides for frequent flyers. No. 1: British Airways all but owns this market (along with Virgin Atlantic), but both add hefty fees and surcharges to award tickets, especially in premium cabins, which makes using points/miles less appealing.
A similar round-trip itinerary for two people in economy class on American Airlines from PHL to LHR will cost more miles — 120,000 — but only $355.86 in taxes and fees.
The other issue is that the UK levies an Air Passenger Duty fee in addition to a Passenger Service Charge.
So, while we’re listing British Airways and Virgin Atlantic from the following U.S. gateways, you may not want to book them if you’re using points or miles. You’ll pay less in fees if you instead book a flight on American Airlines or another airline that doesn’t charge fuel surcharges. If you’re looking to book on Virgin Atlantic, price the award out with your Delta SkyMiles to see if the fees are cheaper.
Flights to London
- From Boston (BOS) to LHR — American Airlines (beginning March 29, 2020), British Airways, Delta, Virgin Atlantic
- From Boston (BOS) to LGW — Norwegian Air UK, Delta (beginning May 22, 2020)
- From Baltimore (BWI) to LHR — British Airways
- From Newark (EWR) to LHR — British Airways, United, Virgin Atlantic
- From New York (JFK) to LHR — American, British Airways, Delta, Virgin Atlantic
- From New York (JFK) to LGW — British Airways, Norwegian Air UK, Virgin Atlantic (Virgin starts this route on May 21, 2020)
- From Philadelphia (PHL) to LHR — Aer Lingus, American Airlines, British Airways
- From Washington, D.C. (IAD) to LHR — British Airways, United, Virgin Atlantic
If you want to fly on Virgin Atlantic on miles, you might be better off booking using Delta SkyMiles. See the below round-trip itinerary from Washington Dullest to London on Virgin using your SkyMiles. Notice how the fees for two people are just $360.86.
Now, here are those same flight pairs using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles. Note how the fees for two people jump to $935.26, though you do spend 20k fewer miles.
An example routing that gives you as much time in London as possible over a weekend is:
- On Friday: Depart Washington, D.C. (IAD) on United flight 122 at 8:20 a.m. and arrive in London (LHR) on the same day at 8:50 p.m.
- On Monday: Depart LHR on United flight 925 at 4:20 p.m. and arrive back at IAD at 7:45 p.m (same day)
- Duration: That gives you 71 hours and 55 minutes in London from touchdown to wheels up.
Where to stay in London
London is home to many points hotels where you can use a free night certificate. Here are some good candidates:
Hilton Honors: If you’re a first-time visitor to London and plan to hit the main tourist sights like Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Tate Modern, the Hilton London Tower Bridge (42k–70k points per night) is a fantastic location. Another great home base is Mayfair, where you’ll find the London Hilton on Park Lane (66k–80k points), near Buckingham Palace, Knightsbridge and Bond Street.
IHG: You have a few good choices like Staybridge Suites London – Vauxhall; the Holiday Inn Express locations in Southwark, Victoria, London – City and Earl’s Court; or the Holiday Inns at Oxford Circus or Kensington High St. But, I’d probably go for either the Crowne Plaza London – Kings Cross or Hotel Indigo London – Kensington. All of these IHG properties are available from 40k points or a free night certificate.
Marriott: If you want to stay in one of the city’s fanciest hotels, visit when you can snag a Marriott Category 7 hotel as an off-peak award redemption at 50,000 points per night. When those hotels are redeemable for 50k points, you can also use your 50k free night certificate. Here are some excellent Category 7 options and here’s how to use a free-night certificate:
- W London – Leicester Square
- Le Meridien Piccadilly
- The Westbury Mayfair, a Luxury Collection Hotel
- The London EDITION
- JW Marriott Grosvenor House London
- The Park Tower Knightsbridge, a Luxury Collection Hotel
- Blakes Hotel London, a Member of Design Hotels
Top London sights
Even if you’re only in London for a day or two, try to visit some of the iconic sights like Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Westminster Abbey. Other top spots are St. Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, Kew Gardens, the West End, London Eye and Piccadilly Circus.
If you enjoy the art of afternoon tea, make time for a reservation at an iconic spot like Claridge’s, The Dorchester, The Savoy or The Lanesborough.
Here’s some more advice about London
- These are the best times to visit London
- The best way to get from Heathrow Airport to London
- How to spend a Sunday in London
Advice for quick trips
The approach you take to sightseeing a city in 24 to 48 hours is very different than if you have an entire week to play with. Here are some tips for quick trips.
Research the best ground transfer methods
Wherever you choose to visit, research the best transit options from the airport into the city center. Certain modes of transportation make more sense at different times of the day, so do your research and pick the quickest option.
Hop-on hop-off buses
When you’ve got limited time to see a new city, these hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses can be a terrific tool. Discount coupons/codes are often available at the tour operator’s website, the local visitors bureau office or on the printed maps hotel concierges distribute to guests. You can usually buy one or more days of unlimited access to the bus that travels a set route (or routes). There is often informative commentary (live or via recording on audio headsets). You can get off or on the bus at any stop on its route.
If you plan to visit a tourist hot spot, like the Louvre, be sure to buy tickets in advance. Sometimes, this is the only way to avoid long lines at the box office or even gain entry at all, since some museums reach capacity during high seasons. (Hint: The best time to visit the Louvre is at night.)
Don’t discount the idea of hiring a private guide. If you have a very specific wish list of what you want to see in a very little time, a knowledgeable guide can help make it happen. He or she knows the city inside and out and can create an itinerary to make the most of your time and suggest sights based on your particular preferences. Search the internet for guide options, ask your traveling friends and family, or inquire at the TPG Lounge Facebook group. Also look to sites like Viator, where private guides and tour operators promote their offerings.
While we love trying restaurants in every new city we visit, we recommend that you avoid sit-down dining experiences unless they are of the most casual sort or are an experience by themselves. Just don’t waste 90 minutes eating somewhere if the only goal is to fuel up. Focus on grab-and-go snacks from a local market or shop, fast food, a diner or sidewalk cafe where service may be relatively quick.
Finally, this will be a fast-paced weekend. Life is bound to get in the way at some point. You could get in a traffic jam from the airport into the city center, public transit workers could be on strike, a sight you really wanted to see may be closed for renovation, etc. When a roadblock presents itself, do your best to take it in stride. Don’t stress out, just move on to the next item on your itinerary. This will be an adventure, no matter what happens!
Have you visited a European city from the East Coast for just a weekend? How did it go? Would you do it again? Tell us about it in the comments.
Featured image by Tais Policanti/Getty Images.
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