Cleared for Takeoff: A couple’s trip from Detroit to Edinburgh with limited points

May 11, 2021

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Cleared for Takeoff is a weekly series showing readers like you the best ways to book post-pandemic adventures using points and miles. If you’d like tips on booking your own trip using miles, please email us with your preferred itinerary and current mileage balance.

Europe is expected to reopen this summer, and we’re assuming that the U.K. will quickly follow suit. TPG reader Cole Bahakel recently wrote in asking for help planning a future trip to Edinburgh:

“This is such a cool idea! My wife and I are planning a trip from DTW to EDI for a friend’s wedding and would love some help. We are hoping to travel at the end of August. As you might have guessed, we mostly fly Delta so Delta One (or similar SkyTeam cabin) is the goal.”

The couple has a stash of Delta SkyMiles and Chase Ultimate Rewards points to use on this trip. Let’s take a closer look at how they can maximize their available points balance for hotels and business-class flights from Detroit (DTW) to Edinburgh (EDI) later this summer.

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In This Post

Current points stash

Downtown Edinburgh
Downtown Edinburgh in the autumn. (Photo by f11photo/Shutterstock.com)

Cole has a limited number of points, and we’d like to see him and his wife diversify the types of points they earn going forward. That said, they have enough points to book a round-trip ticket to Edinburgh if they’re willing to make a couple of compromises.

Here’s a look at their Delta and Chase balances that we’ll use to help them book a trip across the Atlantic:

  • 370,000 Delta SkyMiles.
  • 90,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

I’ll discuss ways they can diversify their points balances as we move through the article.

Related: Diversify your travel rewards: TPG reader success story

Airfare from Detroit to Edinburgh

Delta 777 departing Los Angeles
It’s tough to use SkyMiles to fly to Edinburgh, but it’s possible. (Photo by Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock.com)

American, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines fly nonstop from the U.S. to Edinburgh (EDI). American flies seasonally from Philadelphia (PHL) while Delta flies year-round from its New York-JFK hub and seasonally from Boston (BOS). United flies year-round from Newark (EWR) and seasonally from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Washington Dulles (IAD).

Now for the bad news: Cole and his wife don’t have enough miles for a round-trip ticket in business class. Delta’s international award pricing has skyrocketed over the years, and nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to find a reasonably priced international business-class award.

Here’s a look at Delta pricing for one-way flights from Detroit to Edinburgh this August:

DTW to EDI one-way Delta award calendar pricing
(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

So, I had to get creative. I looked for flights from Detroit (DTW) to London Heathrow (LHR) and found connecting flights through New York-JFK and Atlanta (ATL) most days in August on Virgin Atlantic. You can book these tickets for 120,000 SkyMiles and $5.60 per person, which means the couple has enough SkyMiles for three one-way tickets. The couple could book two one-ways and then book premium economy on the way home.

DTW to LHR premium economy Delta award ticket
(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

Return pricing is the same 120,000 miles one-way per person, so the couple will have to fly back in a lower-service cabin. Return tickets from Edinburgh to Detroit via Paris (CDG) on Air France cost 70,000 miles and $467.67 in taxes and fees on many days in August. Taxes are high due to Air Passenger Duty taxes in the U.K. Plus, Delta charges higher fees on flights originating outside the U.S. and doesn’t allow mixed-cabin awards on the same itinerary.

EDI to DTW premium economy Delta award ticket
(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

Unfortunately, this totals 380,000 SkyMiles, which is 10,000 more than what’s in Cole’s account. The couple will have to purchase 10,000 SkyMiles to make this redemption. This costs $350, so it’s not a terrible way to top up mileage, considering the award will save the couple thousands of dollars on premium airfare to Edinburgh.

Buying Delta miles
(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

Of course, the couple will need to find alternate transit between London and Edinburgh. Flights on British Airways start at just $78 this August. They’ll need to conserve Chase points for hotels, so I think it’s in their best interest to book a standard paid ticket on this quick flight.

LHR to EDI itinerary on British Airways
(Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights)

Related: How I’m saving $4,600 with points and certificates this Memorial Day

How to book Delta award tickets with points

It’s easy to book this award ticket on Delta’s website. Head to Delta’s website, log in to your account and search for your desired itinerary. Make sure to select the “Shop with Miles” option underneath the search bar. Then, click the advanced options button, select your class of service from the drop-down and click the red arrow button to the right of the search field to initiate your search.

DTW to LHR award ticket search on Delta.com
(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

You’ll be redirected to a calendar search screen that shows you a week’s worth of award pricing. Click on the date you’d like to book and click the red “Continue” button at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.

Calendar award search
(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

You can view all flight options and their price per person at the center of the screen. Click on the flight you’d like to book, and you’ll be taken to the checkout screen.

Award flight options on Delta's website
(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

From here, follow the on-screen prompts to book the ticket.

Delta itinerary summary
(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

Related: How to redeem Delta SkyMiles for maximum value

How to earn enough miles to fly to Edinburgh

I don’t recommend booking U.S.-to-Europe awards with Delta SkyMiles. It can be an OK deal if you only have SkyMiles available to you, but if you’re planning a similar trip, focus on earning transferable points that you can transfer to Star Alliance airlines. This generally gives you a better deal for international business class and more flight options given Star Alliance’s large European footprint.

My favorite way to book Star Alliance U.S.-to-Europe awards is transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to ANA Mileage Club. You can book round-trip business-class tickets for 88,000 points (and moderate taxes) if flying with United, SAS, LOT Polish Airlines and other low-surcharge Star Alliance carriers. Plus, you can add a stopover for free to maximize your ticket further.

EDI itinerary on ANA
(Screenshot courtesy of ANA)

This is the best deal for round-trip Star Alliance tickets to Europe. Consider opening one of these Amex cards to earn points to book one of these award tickets:

  • American Express® Green Card: 30,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 3x points at restaurants, on travel and transit (including flights, hotels, taxis, tours and ride-sharing services), and 1x points on all other purchases ($150 annual fee; see rates and fees).
  • American Express® Gold Card: 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months of account opening. Earn 4x points at restaurants, 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year, then 1x points), 3x points on airfare purchased directly from airlines or American Express Travel, and 1x points on all other purchases ($250 annual fee; see rates and fees).
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: 75,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership. Earn 5x points on airfare purchased directly from airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), 5x on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel and Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, and 1x on all other purchases ($550 annual fee; see rates and fees).

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Book this, not that: Star Alliance award tickets

Edinburgh hotels you can book with points

With flights out of the way, let’s look at how the couple can redeem their points for hotels.

They’re left with 90,000 Chase points that they can transfer to Marriott, IHG and Hyatt. While Marriott and IHG don’t usually yield the best deals for Chase transfers, you can get great value by transferring Chase points to Hyatt.

Hyatt has one partner property in Edinburgh: the Nira Caledonia, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Under this partnership, you can earn and redeem World of Hyatt points at SLH hotels but not use your World of Hyatt elite status benefits.

The hotel costs 20,000 Hyatt points per night, so they can book four nights for 80,000 points. A four-night stay at the hotel (when booked through Hyatt) costs $1,464 in early August, so this redemption yields 1.83 cents per point in value.

The couple can extend their stay by signing up for a Hyatt credit card. Alternatively, they can sign up for a credit card with a different hotel group like Marriott, IHG or Hilton. I’ll dive into credit card options later in the article, but here are a few hotel options:

Hilton:

  • DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Edinburgh City Centre.
  • Hampton by Hilton Edinburgh West End.
  • Hilton Edinburgh Carlton.
  • Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh — The Caledonian.

IHG:

  • Crowne Plaza Edinburgh — Royal Terrace.
  • Hotel Indigo Edinburgh.
  • InterContinental Edinburgh The George.
  • Kimpton Charlotte Square.

Marriott:

  • Courtyard Edinburgh.
  • Edinburgh Marriott Hotel.
  • The Glasshouse, Autograph Collection.
  • Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh.

Related: The best ways to earn Hyatt points

How to book a Hyatt hotel with points

To book a Hyatt award night, head to the Hyatt website and sign in to your account. Then, enter your desired itinerary on the homepage, select the “Use Points” option and click the yellow “Find Hotels” button.

Setting up a booking on the Hyatt homepage
(Screenshot courtesy of Hyatt)

Find your desired hotel in the list of hotels on the left-hand side of the screen. Click the “View Rates” button and select the type of room you’d like to book. Then, follow the on-screen prompts to finalize your booking.

Booking award night on the Hyatt website
(Screenshot courtesy of Hyatt)

How to earn World of Hyatt hotel points

Remember, Chase points transfer to Hyatt at a 1:1 transfer ratio, so Cole and his wife can cover four nights at the Nira Caledonia with their stash of 90,000 Chase points. They can extend their stay by opening a World of Hyatt Credit Card, which offers up to 60,000 bonus points. They’ll earn 30,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning two bonus points per $1 spent in the first six months from account opening on purchases that normally earn one bonus point (on up to $15,000 spent).

Alternatively, they can open a credit card with a different hotel group to book more nights at a different hotel in Edinburgh. Marriott has the most intriguing options in the city, so they may want to consider one of these credit cards:

  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after using your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. Plus, earn up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first six months of card membership.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Earn 100,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after using your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $150 back in statement credits on eligible purchases made on your new card within the first three months of card membership. Offer ends May 12, 2021. Terms apply.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card: Earn 50,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

The Bonvoy Brilliant’s welcome bonus is enough to cover three nights at the Courtyard Edinburgh during peak dates in August. Plus, the card comes with an annual $300 Marriott statement credit and a free night certificate, good for use at hotels that cost up to 50,000 points per night.

Courtyard Edinburgh award pricing
(Screenshot courtesy of Marriott)

Related: Battle of the hotels: Why I think Marriott is the best

Bottom line

As you can see, it’s easy to turn a relatively small amount of points and miles into an international trip for two. The couple can use their existing points balances to fly round-trip to their friend’s wedding in Edinburgh and save money on a hotel room for at least part of the trip. Plus, they can extend their trip by opening a new hotel credit card and meeting the minimum spending requirement for even more hotel points.

Remember, it’s in your best interest to diversify your points portfolio and earn points with multiple airline, hotel and transferable points programs. This gives you more options, protects you from devaluations and generally makes the award travel booking experience easier.

Need help booking your own post-pandemic trip? Send us an email to be featured in the next installment of Cleared for Takeoff.

For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business, click here.

Featured photo of Edinburgh Castle by SAKhanPhotography/Shutterstock.com.

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