From basic economy to first class — here are 3 ways to do Paris on points
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Paris is a bucket list destination of travelers around the world, and rightfully so. Home to some of the most iconic artistic, architectural and culinary treasures in the world, there’s always plenty to see, do and taste in The City of Light — the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Élysées, the Louvre and Nutella-filled crêpes, to name a few.
This summer will be an especially busy one for the city as it will be one of the first major European destinations to reopen to Americans. Come June 9, Americans will once again be able to visit France so long as they’re eligible for a “health pass” that proves that they’re either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or hold a recent negative PCR test.
With that in mind, a trip there can get expensive, making it the perfect opportunity to put your hard-earned points and miles to use. Here are three ways to visit the city using points and miles, depending on your budget and interests.
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Paris on a budget
Although Paris is a pricey destination, savvy travelers can still get the full experience without shelling out a ton of cash. For instance, many museums, including the Louvre during some parts of the year, offer free admission on the first Sunday of the month. You can also score a free Seine River cruise by hopping on the boat that shuttles between the Corentin Cariou Métro station and the Le Millenaire mall.
As with the rest of Europe, there are plenty of ways to get to Paris on a budget. And believe it or not, the best option may be to save your regular airline miles and forego transferring points from Amex, Capital One, Chase or Citi to one of their airline partner programs. Instead, it could make more sense to redeem your points directly through your credit card.
We’ve seen some solid flight deals from the U.S. to Paris, including fares for around $310 round-trip on low-cost carriers and sub-$500 fares on full-service carriers (albeit in basic economy). If you’re a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder, you could book your flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal and redeem your points at a flat 1.5 cents each. Meanwhile, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card cardholders can redeem at 1.25 cents each. In other words, you might be able to book your ticket from around 20,000 points round-trip, which is pretty great.
If you’re fixated on using airline miles, or there aren’t any cheap cash flights for your dates, you still have many options. For instance, although Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue program uses dynamic award pricing, you can often find economy flights starting at 21,500 miles each way. If you’re short on Flying Blue miles, you can transfer points from any major transferable points programs, including American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou. Just beware of fuel surcharges that may become so high that they defeat the purpose of redeeming miles in the first place, especially if paid tickets aren’t exorbitant.
If your travel dates fall between January 10 and March 14 or November 1 and December 14, you might want to consider booking a MileSAAver Off Peak award through the American Airlines AAdvantage program. These low-season flights cost 45,000 miles round-trip (instead of 60,000 miles), and as long as you pick flights that are operated by the airline itself (as opposed to a partner), you won’t incur any fuel surcharges. You may also be able to save by booking a Web Special award.
One thing to take note of when making travel arrangements is that Paris has two airports — Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY). If you’re flying a low-cost carrier, chances are you’ll be flying into ORY. Although CDG is Paris’ main airport, ORY is generally preferred by passengers as it’s closer to the city and smaller.
Where to stay
Budget-friendly hotel options aren’t as plentiful as flights, but they’re still there. As with flights, t might make more sense to redeem points for a hotel stay using the fixed-rate approach as opposed to transferring them to a hotel loyalty program, so you’ll always want to compare the actual cost of a hotel with the cost in points.
With more than ten Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express hotels in the city, typically ranging in price from around 15,000 to 50,000 points per night, IHG offers the greatest selection of economical options. Among them, the Holiday Inn Paris Opera – Grands Blvds and Holiday Inn Paris Notre Dame are the best located. As a reminder, international Holiday Inn properties tend to be nicer than the ones you’ll find in the US, and you’ll always get complimentary breakfast when staying at a Holiday Inn Express. Holders of the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card could save even more thanks to the card’s fourth-night reward perk.
The category 5 Moxy Paris Bastille and Courtyard Paris Gare de Lyon cost 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for an off-peak night, 35,000 for a standard night and 40,000 for a peak night. You could score even lower rates on stays more than four nights by leveraging Marriott’s fifth-night free benefit on award redemptions. You can also use your annual free night certificate that comes with many Bonvoy credit cards for a standard award night at either of these properties.
If you want something a little nicer without paying more, you could stay at the Le Méridien Etoile, located on the city’s northwestern side near the Arc de Triomphe.
Located just across the street from the Le Méridien is the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile. Rooms here go for 15,000 points per night, making it a solid option for free night certificates from the World of Hyatt Credit Card. Once Hyatt implements peak and off-peak pricing in July 2021, redemption rates will range from 12,000-18,000 points per night.
If you don’t have the World of Hyatt points necessary, you can also transfer them in from Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.
If you’re willing to stay farther afield, Hilton offers the Hampton by Hilton Paris Clichy, where room awards range from 24,000 – 39,000 points per night.
Paris for moderate budgets
If you have a few more points and miles to spare, you could make your trip to Paris a whole lot more comfortable, both in terms of how you’ll get there and where you’ll stay. And with the money you save by using your points and miles, you might even have a little cash left over to shop on the Champs-Élysées.
As with budget flights, there are plenty of ways to use miles to book premium cabin flights to Paris.
One of the most convenient and reasonably priced premium flight options would be Air France premium economy, booked through the carrier’s own Flying Blue program — a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One.
As previously mentioned, Flying Blue awards vary based on the price of the actual ticket. But to give you a general idea, a round-trip premium economy award from New York (JFK) costs a minimum of 91,000 miles and a minimum of 109,000 miles out of Los Angeles (LAX). That said, thanks to the monthly Promo Rewards, you may be able to score awards for much less.
Air France offers premium economy on its entire long-haul fleet, though not everyone’s a fan of the seats due to their shell-like design (which is the same as Aeroflot — another SkyTeam carrier). If you want something a bit more comfortable, consider booking a business class award for a minimum of 115,000 miles round-trip out of JFK or 135,000 miles out of LAX. Again, you could score fantastic savings through the monthly Promo Rewards, where business class awards can drop under 80,000 miles round-trip.
Alternatively, you could fly American Airlines business class for 115,000 AAdvantage miles round-trip (or less, depending on what Web Specials are available). Saver business-class award space to Europe isn’t terribly hard to come by, and unlike Air France and its Oneworld counterparts, AA-operated flights don’t come with any fuel surcharges. The carrier offers nonstop flights to Paris from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK) and Philadelphia (PHL) using a combo of 787s and 777s.
If you’re looking to redeem credit card points instead, you can book this award through Etihad Guest for just 100,000 miles round-trip. You can transfer points to Etihad from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards and Citi ThankYou.
Star Alliance flyers will find themselves on United Airlines for direct flights from the U.S. to Paris. For a long time, the best way to book these awards was through United’s MileagePlus program (a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards), but that’s no longer the case now that United has implemented a dynamic pricing structure.
Nowadays, the best ways to book United awards are typically through either Aeroplan or Avianca LifeMiles. Aeroplan requires just 55,000-57,500 for one-way for business class awards to Europe (depending on your destination), while LifeMiles charges a flat 63,000 miles one-way for this type of award. Aeroplan is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and 2:1.5 transfer partner of Capital One, while Avianca is a 1:1 transfer partner of both of those programs, as well as Citi ThankYou Rewards.
An even cheaper option is ANA Mileage Club, which charges just 88,000 miles round-trip for business class. Plus, you can add a stopover to your ticket at no additional cost. However, there must be round-trip saver award availability since you can’t book one-way tickets, and you’ll pay high fuel surcharges on some carriers. You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy points to ANA Mileage Club.
While the airline isn’t a part of a major alliance, meaning there aren’t many ways to nook award flights using miles, another option is to fly the all-business-class airline, La Compagnie. It’s not quite as luxurious as other business class flights running the same routes, but it’s a lot more affordable, and there are somewhat frequent sales offering flights as low as $998 round-trip. This could also be a good opportunity to redeem your points using the fixed-value approach previously discussed. The only limitation with La Compagnie is that it only flies between Newark (EWR) and Paris-Orly.
Where to stay
A few more points could go a long way when booking accommodations in Paris.
In the Marriott family, you can spend 50,000, 60,000 or 70,000 points per night to stay at the Paris Marriott Opera Ambassador Hotel or Renaissance Paris Republique Hotel, depending on your travel dates.
Alternatively, you can book the Category 6 Hotel Banke Opera, part of the Autograph Collection, or Le Metropolitan, a Tribute Portfolio Hote, for 40,000 to 60,000 points per night. You would almost have enough points for two nights at these properties with the current welcome offers on some of Marriott’s credit cards. For instance, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card is currently offering three free nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. You’ll also receive an annual free night award (worth up to 35,000 points), 15 elite qualifying night credits per year and more.
Remember to use the program’s Points Advance feature to book these rooms even if you don’t have enough points in your account.
Hilton also has several great options in Paris, mostly located in the city center. You book a room for 60,000 to 80,000 points per night at hotels like the Canopy by Hilton Paris Trocadero, Hilton Paris Opera, Le Belgrand Hotel Paris Champs Elysees, Tapestry Collection by Hilton and Maison Astor Paris, Curio Collection by Hilton.
If you’re low on Hilton points, consider opening a Hilton cobranded credit card. Each comes with a solid welcome bonus and valuable perks like automatic elite status. With the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, you can earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. Perks include automatic Gold elite status and the ability to upgrade to Diamond status by spending $40,000 in eligible purchases in a calendar year, as well as a weekend night certificate when you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year.
Though the points can be harder to earn, as you can transfer them in from any of the major credit card point programs, let’s not forget about Radisson Rewards. You could use 70,000 points per night to stay at the Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees, Paris.
Paris for luxury travelers
It should come as no surprise that as one of the most expensive cities in the world, Paris has no shortage of opportunities to splurge in terms of first-class flights, world-class hotels and Michelin-starred meals. Just remember that although French cuisine is obviously a highlight of any trip to France, there are many other options on offer in Paris, including Michelin-starred Asian restaurants.
If you really want to splurge, you need to arrive in style. By that, I mean flying in first class (cue the heavenly choir).
Naturally, your first option is to fly Air France’s “La Première” first class. It’s a terrific product overall, but as explained in our Ultimate Guide to Air France’s La Première, it’s incredibly difficult to book with miles. Award space is only released to Flying Blue elite members (sorry, elite members of partner airlines aren’t eligible). Plus, Flying Blue elites can only redeem at the “flex” level (i.e., not saver), meaning a ticket between the US and Europe will cost 200,000 miles one-way.
While you’d need to add a layover in Frankfurt (FRA), a much better option (both in terms of accessibility and experience) is Lufthansa first class. It’s undoubtedly one of the finest ways to cross the Atlantic and relatively attainable using points and miles, That is, assuming you’re fine with booking your flights at the last minute. Let me explain.
One of the best ways to book Lufthansa first class is through Avianca LifeMiles, a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One and Citi ThankYou Rewards. A round-trip ticket booked through the program will set you back 174,000 miles and a low $30.60 in taxes and fees. Most other programs, including Lufthansa’s own Miles & More, have similar redemption rates but add several hundred dollars worth of taxes and fees.
However, you’ll generally have to wait until 15 days before departure to book a Lufthansa first class award through a partner. While the airline often releases last-minute award space, it’s not a guarantee, so you might want to book a flexible backup option.
Where to stay
If you want to sleep in luxury, Paris is ready to bring it.
Arguably the best points redemption you can make in the city is the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, which prices out at 30,000 points per night. That will go to 25,000-35,000 points per night come July. The property’s been visited by TPG staffers (as well as TPG himself) a few times over the years, and it’s never disappointed.
For a potentially even more luxurious stay, you can book at the category 8 Le Pavillon de la Reine & Spa for 40,000 points per night (35,000-45,000 points starting in July). The hotel is part of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), so World of Hyatt members get extra perks like free breakfast, early check-in, late check-out and a room upgrade — even for general members.
Other top-tier Hyatt properties in the area include the Hyatt Paris Madeleine and Hôtel du Louvre by Hyatt. Award nights at both properties are available for 25,000 points per night (21,000-29,000 points starting in July). Both properties are on the smaller side, making them ideal for those looking for a luxury option with a boutique feel.
Marriott’s two highest-level hotels in the city, both part of The Luxury Collection, will each set you back 70,000 to 100,000 points per night.
Another solid option includes The Westin Paris Vendôme for 50,000 to 70,000 points per night. You might be wondering what this hotel is doing in the “luxury” section, but trust us, this isn’t your typical Westin.
Meanwhile, IHG has the InterContinental Paris Le Grand for 64,000 points per night and up and the InterContinental Paris Champs-Elysées Etoile from around 50,000 points per night. Then, later this year, IHG will open the much-awaited Kimpton St Honoré Paris in the Opéra district, where rooms will start around 58,000 points per night.
Hilton’s most luxurious property is the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace Versailles. Rooms here cost a reasonable 60,000 – 80,000 points per night, but the hotel is located in Versailles, so you’d be a roughly 45-minute drive from the city center.
If you plan on paying cash for your flights, you should think about doing so with The Platinum Card® from American Express. Besides being able to earn 5X points on the airfare purchased directly through airlines or Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), you can leverage the International Airline Program to score significant discounts on premium economy, business and first-class tickets on over 20 participating airlines, including Air France and Lufthansa. While you won’t necessarily get the highest value redemption, if you have The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, you could pay with points and get a 35% rebate on business and first-class bookings (up to 1 million points per calendar year).
Likewise, Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders have access to the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) collection. Meanwhile, cardholders of many Chase credit cards (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and United Explorer Card) have access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection (LHRC). These programs can unlock valuable perks at luxury hotels, such as room upgrades, free daily breakfast, late check-out, credits for spa or dining and more.
The 19 participating FHR hotels in Paris include the Mandarin Oriental, the Peninsula, the Four Seasons Hotel, Hôtel de Crillon, and Le Royal Monceau Raffles. The LHRC has 21 participating hotels, several of which overlap with FHR and the others, including hotels like the Pavillon de la Reine, the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg, the Grand Hotel du Palais Royal and the Hotel du Louvre Paris.
It’s no secret that a trip to Paris can cost you a pretty penny, but as you can see, if you play your cards right, it doesn’t have to. Hopefully, the tips and tricks discussed will allow you to say bonjour to the French capital in no time. Plus, if you visit early in the reopening, you’ll have an easier time finding award availability and avoid big crowds. Just remember not to make these mistakes on your first trip there.
Featured photo by V_E / Shutterstock.com
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