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Whether you’ve seen the crown jewels at the Tower of London, climbed the dome at St. Paul’s, perused the artifacts at the British Museum and wandered Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, there’s always something new and interesting to discover in London.
The city’s neighborhoods range from the tidy row houses of Kensington to Shoreditch’s grittily cool corners; and from the bustle of Piccadilly to the delightfully dusty antiques shops of Portobello Road. There are literally hundreds of interesting districts to explore these days. The city has one of the world’s best collections of museums, and one of the Europe’s most exciting restaurant scenes. In short, it’s a fabulous place to visit, no matter what your interests or your budget.
Though the UK is typically considered an expensive destination, the exchange rate at the moment is about £1 : $1.30. That makes now a pretty good time to travel if you’re on a tight budget, both in terms of money and miles.
You might consider saving your regular airline miles and forego transferring points from Amex, Chase or Citi to one of their airline partner programs. Instead, we’ve been seeing some truly phenomenal flight deals to London, including one-ways for as low as $51 in one case, or $279 round-trip in August.
You could book one of these flights using a card like the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, then redeem your miles at a fixed value for a statement credit toward the travel purchase. That $51 flight? It would cost you just 5,100 Venture miles, or 4,845 Arrival miles (though keep in mind, you must redeem at least 10,000 miles with the Arrival Plus).
Certain airlines like Norwegian and WOW that tend to offer the lowest fares are not typically bookable through Amex Travel or the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, so that does restrict your options somewhat. However, the $279 sale was on Icelandair, which is bookable through either portal, so you could redeem Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards points through them. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, for instance, you could redeem Ultimate Rewards points directly at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece, and you’d only need 18,600 total for the round-trip.
If you still want to use traditional airline miles, Delta has been posting some ultra-cheap flash award sales, including one to London for just 36,000 miles round-trip in August, or 30,000 miles on another occasion in August. The program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards if you have a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express.
At the budget end of the spending spectrum, avoid redeeming miles for flights on British Airways so you are spared carrier-imposed surcharges that can range up to several hundred dollars each way.
Where to Stay
London has a plethora of low-category hotels from the major chains where you can redeem points for award nights at relatively inexpensive rates.
At the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – Tower of London, for instance, room rates start as low 32,000 points per night.
At the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – Kensington, rates start as low as 31,000 points per night, while if you’re willing to stay out near one of the airports, I found awards as low as 19,000 points per night.
With World of Hyatt, which you can also transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve, your choices are more limited since the chain only has four properties in and around the city. Its two budget ones are rather far out, but the Hyatt Place London Heathrow and Hyatt Place West London/Hayes are each just 12,000 points per night.
If you have IHG Rewards points, another Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, you could stay at either the Holiday Inn London – Oxford Circus or the Crowne Plaza London – Kings Cross for just 35,000 points per night.
Marriott Rewards is another Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. Most of its properties in the city are at the higher end of the redemption range However, it does field some budget hotels as well, including several where you can spend just 35,000 points per night, like the London Marriott Hotel Kensington, Hotel Xenia Autograph Collection and London Marriott Hotel Regents Park.
If you’re willing to stay farther afield, there are some properties for as low as 25,000 points per night, like the Moxy London Stratford, Moxy London Excel and Aloft London Excel.
Radisson Rewards doesn’t have too many non-airport budget hotels, but you could use 44,000 points to stay at the Park Plaza London Park Royal.
You’ll probably want to save money getting around, so the Tube and buses are your best options. When purchasing fares or a Visitor Oyster card that you can reload with value and use on various modes of transport, remember to use a credit card that earns multiple points or miles per dollar on travel expenses, specifically mass transit. Such cards include the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Citi Premier Card and the World of Hyatt Credit Card, the latter of which earns 2x points per dollar on purchases of local transit and commuting services.
Have a few more dollars and points to spare? Even a small stockpile will get you a lot further in a city like London, both in terms of the airline awards you’re able to secure and the types of hotels you book as awards.
As with the budget traveler, if you’re looking to save some money on your airline ticket, your first order of business should be to avoid British Airways. Not only is the airline’s business class starting to look quite old at this point, but the airline also imposes surcharges that can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on the class of ticket that you book.
Instead, consider redeeming United MileagePlus miles for United flights to/from the UK. The program is a 1:1 Chase transfer partner, and will charge 30,000 miles each way in economy, or 60,000 in business class. Or you could also get lucky and find a business-class award on its Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand, from Los Angeles (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR) for 70,000 miles each way.
Virgin Atlantic has decent mileage redemption rates, but also charges exorbitant fees for award tickets to/from the UK. Instead, you can use Delta SkyMiles to book awards on the airline at a rate of 32,500 miles each way in economy…
Or a reasonable but not cheap 75,000 miles in Upper Class, with just $5.60 in taxes and fees to worry about.
Not bad compared to the 67,500 Virgin Atlantic miles you’d need for the same award…plus $527 in taxes and fees!
Where to Stay
If you’ve been diligently socking away points and miles for a rainy day, London might be just the destination where you can put them to good use. Here are a few ideas of where you can stay for free using your hotel points.
Hilton Honors members have dozens of hotels to choose from at the middle and high end of the spectrum. The Conrad London St. James, which opened in 2012 as an InterContinental but was rebranded two years later as a Conrad, is a contemporary luxury property in the heart of the city, and costs between 68,000-80,000 points per night.
The imposing, neoclassical Waldorf Hilton, London is a landmark right near the city’s theater (or theatre, I suppose) district. Rooms go for a reasonable 58,000-74,000 points per night.
The Trafalgar St. James London, Curio Collection by Hilton is a distinctive property in a sought-after central location, and consistently costs 70,000 points per night.
For IHG Rewards enthusiasts, the InterContinental London Park Lane is the chain’s top property in the city, and costs 70,000 points per night.
The Hotel Indigo London – 1 Leicester Square is also a good option. It just opened in a super central location in May and is going for around 60,000 points per night.
Hyatt, meanwhile, has both the staid Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill in the West End, and the Andaz London Liverpool Street with an edgier vibe near Shoreditch. Both cost 25,000 points per night.
Marriott, meanwhile, offers a plethora of choices including the W London – Leicester Square…
And stately Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott Hotel, all for 60,000 points per night.
For those with Radisson Rewards points, there are plenty of high-category hotels here, but save your 70,000 points per night for standouts like The May Fair, the Radisson Blu Edwardian Kenilworth and the Radisson Blu Portman Hotel.
If you want to stay above ground during your visit, your best bet will be either to take taxis or Uber. Uber tends to be cheaper, though the company is in a legal battle to continue operating in the city, so stay tuned on further developments there. If it does still have drivers in London by the time you visit, use one of these credit cards for your rides. The Platinum Card from American Express gives cardholders $200 in Uber credits annually, while Uber purchases count toward the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel statement credits.
If there’s one thing England does well, it’s luxury. Just think of all those palaces and castles. Luckily, there are some ways to squeeze value from your points and miles, or to enjoy extra benefits and perks thanks to your credit cards, even if you plan to splurge on your trip.
Rather than talking too much about how miles will save you a bundle, we’re going to cover some ways to score premium tickets at a discount. But first, if you do want to go purely points and miles for a business- or first-class redemption, we have a few posts for you to check out. Those include Booking First Class Awards to Europe, The Top 5 Ways to Fly to Europe in First Class and The Top 10 Ways to Fly Business Class to Europe Using Miles. If you have the money and miles to spare, it could also be worth considering the British Airways Visa Signature Card’s “Travel Together” Companion Ticket. We have a whole post on the topic here.
The short version is, if you have the card and spend $30,000 within a calendar year, you get a two-for-one award voucher. You still have to use British Airways Avios to book an award on the airline, but then you’ll get a second equivalent award ticket for a companion on your same reservation for no additional Avios. The one caveat is that you have to pay taxes and fees on the tickets, which can be well over $1,000 round-trip in business and first class. That said, you can save a significant amount of Avios and pay a fraction of the price of what a full-fare business-class or first-class ticket would normally cost. It’s also a good points strategy in that British Airways releases quite a lot of business and first-class awards on its flights to and from the US.
The first is the cards’ International Airline Program, which can include significant discounts on premium economy, business-class and first-class tickets on over 20 participating airlines. Partner carriers include Air France, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Delta, KLM, Lufthansa and Swiss, among others. You can even use Pay With Points to pay for the tickets, which means a 35% points rebate on business and first-class redemptions for Business Platinum cardholders in particular.
In our tests of the International Airline Program we found savings of hundreds or even thousands of dollars on flights to Europe. Again, this is only a good option if you wanted to pay for your ticket anyway — you might as well save money and points when doing so, while still earning airline miles and elite credit.
Where to Stay
If you’re really out for a splurge, London has no end of luxurious hotels to suit your mood. Instead of spending points on a stay at a major chain property, there are some other options that just might intrigue you.
Cardholders of the Platinum Card from American Express and the Business Platinum Card from American Express have access to Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts collection. When you use your associated card to book directly through the program, you can enjoy on-property perks like a room upgrade, free daily breakfast, guaranteed late check-out, credits for spa and dining and more.
Participating FHR hotels in London include 45 Park Lane – Dorchester Collection, Baglioni Hotel London, Browns Hotel, Bulgari Hotel London, Claridge’s, Corinthia Hotel London, Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, Grosvenor House Suites by Jumeirah Living, Ham Yard Hotel, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, Rosewood London, Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard London, The Beaumont, The Berkeley, The Connaught, The Dorchester Hotel, The Goring, The Lanesborough Oetker Collection Hotel, The Langham London, The Ritz London and The Savoy, a Fairmont Managed Hotel.
If you have a Visa Signature card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, United Explorer Card, Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, or many, many others, you can also consider booking through the Visa Signature Hotels portal. Doing so might earn you benefits like room upgrades, free Wi-Fi, on-property credits and more. There are 24 participating London hotels, including the Sanderson, the Nobu Hotel Shoreditch, the Rosewood London, One Aldwych, COMO The Halkin, The Connaught, Claridge’s, The Savoy, The Langham and The Berkeley among many others.
And don’t forget about Leading Hotels of the World, which is in the process of revamping its Leaders Club so members can earn and redeem points at the collection’s 400+ luxury hotels across the world. Those in London include the Baglioni Hotel London, Hotel Café Royal, One Aldwych, Brown’s Hotel, the Landmark London, The Lanesborough Oetker Collection, The Milestone Hotel & Residences and the landmark The Ritz London.
One final note on paid stays: If this is indeed your strategy and you want to splurge on a hotel stay, luxury or otherwise, consider using your Citi Prestige. Here’s a post on how to get a fourth night free using your Citi Prestige.
Featured image by ivanastar / Getty Images.
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
- Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
- Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms apply.
- See Rates & Fees