Cleared for Takeoff: A summer European adventure to Switzerland and Austria for 2

Jul 20, 2021

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Here at TPG, we’ve gotten lots of requests from readers eager to travel to Europe. With many countries welcoming Americans once again, it’s a great time to start planning your European getaway, using points you’ve been saving over the last year and a half. Reader Danielle is in exactly this position and reached out to us about helping her plan a trip to Switzerland and Austria next summer.

She wants to fly in a premium cabin and has a substantial point balance that she can put to use. Here’s a look at Danielle’s request and a breakdown of how she can leverage her points to book this trip as cheaply as possible.

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Hi Ariana/TPG team!

I saw this request in TPG Lounge and it sounds like such a fun series. Prior to the pandemic I used points (and strategies from TPG) to book the most incredible honeymoon to Japan for my husband and I, including ANA First. I would love any help with our next adventure — we are more in the dreaming stage than actively planning, but knowing we could do it with points would be a huge help! My husband is a teacher and he really, really deserves a vacation after this year.

Based on how things are looking now, we’re hoping to travel in Summer 2022. If that’s not specific enough, August 2022.

Home airport: JFK (or LGA/EWR)

Destination: Austria and Switzerland (possibly Germany, too, if there was a routing that made sense, and enough time)

Two passengers total

First preferred, or business

Points balances:

  • 300,000 Chase UR
  • 130,000 Amex MR
  • 130,000 Marriott (I’m Platinum, in case that is relevant)
  • 52,000 Hyatt

Thank you for considering our trip. Very excited to see what you all come up with for everyone!

Thank you,

Danielle Cecelia

Related: Sweet Spot Sunday: US to Ireland from 13,000 Avios each way

In This Post

Points stash

Danielle has a pretty substantial stash of points that can cover most of her airfare and hotels. This is a great example of how diversifying your rewards portfolio can give you lots of options when it’s time to book a trip. That being said, I will recommend that Danielle stock up on a few more Membership Rewards points in order to book the cheapest business-class award through ANA Mileage Club.

  • 300,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
  • 130,000 Amex Membership Rewards points.
  • 130,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.
  • 52,000 World of Hyatt points.

Related: The complete guide to maximizing stopovers and open jaws on award tickets

Airfare to Switzerland and Austria

Danielle wants to fly from New York City to Switzerland and then Austria next summer. The Star Alliance has a strong network in Europe and ANA Mileage Club allows her to redeem just 88,000 miles for a round-trip business-class ticket. She gets a free stopover, making this a terrific option. ANA is a Membership Rewards transfer partner, so she will need 47,000 more points if she wants to book both flights through ANA. We’ll show her how to stock up on additional points if this is the route she wants to choose.

If not, she can redeem ANA miles for one business-class ticket and then use United miles (transferred over from Chase Ultimate Rewards) for the second award. The MileagePlus ticket will cost almost twice the ANA award, so I would personally recommend going with the first option.

Related: Book This, Not That: Star Alliance award tickets

How to book this award with points

ANA makes it fairly easy to book award tickets online, though availability is a bit more limited than with other Star Alliance programs. Still, you’re saving almost 50% compared to programs like United MileagePlus and Air Canada Aeroplan.

Step 1: Log in to your Mileage Club account

Start by logging in to your Mileage Club account. If you don’t have one, you can sign up here. When you’re logged in, visit the Partner Flight Awards page and click on the “How to Apply” tab. The “Reservations and Applications for Partner Airline Flight Awards” button will take you to an award booking page.

ANA Mileage Club award booking
(Screenshot courtesy of ana.co.jp)

Step 2: Enter your trip information

On the award booking page, you’ll want to select the “Multiple cities/Mixed classes” tab. Enter all the dates and cities you want to include in your itinerary. For the purpose of this example, I’m just going to plug in random dates for June 2022. As of this writing, ANA is displaying award availability through the first week of July 2022.

ANA multi-city award search
(Screenshot courtesy of ana.co.jp)

For multisegment awards like this one, it’s often easier to search for individual segments and select the “Compare seat availability +/- 3 days” option. Since ANA doesn’t allow one-way award redemptions, you can do a round-trip search to find seats on each segment and then skip the step where you’re asked to choose a return flight.

Once you’ve pieced together availability, you can run another search like the one illustrated above, with exact dates that you can seamlessly string into one itinerary.

Step 3: Choose your flight segments

On the search results page, you should be able to choose flights, broken down by segment. Simply click on the flight you want for each segment, hit “Next” and continue until you’ve chosen every segment in your itinerary.

ANA award booking page JFK-GVA
(Screenshot courtesy of ana.co.jp)

Sometimes there will only be economy-class seats available on certain segments. In my case, I was able to find business-class seats on the New York (JFK)-Geneva (GVA)-Vienna (VIE) segments. The return segment from Vienna to New York only has economy-class availability for the time being.

ANA economy award VIE-JFK
(Screenshot courtesy of ana.co.jp)

Step 5: Confirm and pay

Once you have your flights picked out, hit “Next” and you’ll be taken to a page that shows the total cost of your award, including taxes. The above itinerary is a mixed cabin award with a return in economy, so it’s pricing out at 71,500 miles rather than 88,000 for a full business-class award.

ANA mixed cabin award JFK-GVA-VIE
(Screenshot courtesy of ana.co.jp)

How to earn enough miles for this award

If Danielle wants to book two ANA award tickets to Europe, she’ll need 47,000 more points. The quickest way to achieve this is with a welcome bonus from an American Express card:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 100,000 points after you spend $6,000 in the first six months of card membership. Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined eligible purchases, during your first six months of card membership.
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 120,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.
  • American Express® Business Gold Card: Earn 70,000 bonus points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership.
  • American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership.

Hotels in Geneva

Danielle has Chase, Hyatt and Marriott points to cover hotels during her trip. Before redeeming points for hotels, Danielle should consult TPG’s valuations to make sure she’s getting the best value for her points. Additionally, she should check hotel rates at the Ultimate Rewards travel portal before transferring any Ultimate Rewards to her Marriott account.

Sometimes rates at Marriott hotels work out cheaper when redeeming points through the Ultimate Rewards portal rather than through Marriott. You might also find bargains on non-Marriott hotels, allowing you to stretch your Ultimate Rewards further while preserving Marriott points for a higher-value redemption down the line.

In Geneva, her best bet would be to redeem her Marriott points. Room rates at the Category 7 Hotel President Wilson go as high as $500 or 70,000 points per night in the summer. Since TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, this redemption isn’t great at face value. However, Marriott does offer a fifth night free on award stays, bringing the nightly rate down to 56,000 points per night. At this rate, Danielle will get over 0.9 cents in value per Marriott point.

How to earn Marriott points

If you’re planning your own trip to Geneva, you can earn Marriott points fairly easily, thanks to a variety of partnerships. You can points through Marriott’s dining program, transfer partners or cobranded credit cards. Amex cobranded cards are a solid option if you’re trying to stay under Chase’s 5/24 rule or if you’re looking for a card with extra perks like elite status and hotel credits. Here’s a roundup of current offers:

  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points and a bonus free night award (redemption level worth up to 85,000 Marriott points) after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Resort fees may apply. Offer expires 11/3/2021.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Earn 125,000 Marriott bonus points & Two bonus free night awards after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Each bonus free night award has a redemption level up to $50,000 points. Certain hotels have resort fees. Offer ends 11/3/2021.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 125,000 bonus points + 1 free night (valued up to 50,000 points) after you spend $5,000 in the first three months from account opening (total of up to 175,000 bonus points).

Hotels in Vienna

Marriott has a Category 6 and Category 7 hotel in Vienna, pricing out at 60,000 and 70,000 points per night, respectively, over the summer. Meanwhile, Hyatt has the Category 5 Altstadt Vienna pricing out at 20,000 points and a Category 6 Park Hyatt for 25,000 points per night.

Starting in October, Hyatt will begin implementing dynamic pricing on awards booked in March 2022 and later. So I recommend that Danielle book a hotel now to lock in lower rates. If, for some reason, Hyatt reduces award rates at these hotels next summer, she can always cancel and rebook at the lower rate. But that’s highly unlikely, considering summer is peak travel season in Vienna.

With her existing point balance, Danielle can cover at least two award nights in Vienna. If she needs more than that, she can transfer Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio.

How to earn Hyatt points

If you’re saving up points for a Hyatt stay in Vienna or elsewhere, you have several ways to earn Hyatt points. You can get a World of Hyatt Credit Card or transfer Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. If you go the Ultimate Rewards route, there are several credit cards that currently offer better welcome bonuses than the Hyatt card. Here’s a roundup of current options:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • World of Hyatt Credit Card: Earn up to 60,000 bonus points: 30,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening, plus up to 30,000 more points by earning 2 bonus points total per $1 spent on purchases that normally earn 1 bonus point, on up to $15,000 in the first six months of account opening.

Bottom line

With a bit of planning, Danielle can leverage her existing point balance to significantly reduce the cost of a European vacation. Summer is high season in Europe, but Danielle is well positioned with a substantial rewards balance in the right programs.

If you have a destination in mind and need help figuring out your points strategy, send us an email to be featured in the next installment of Cleared for Takeoff.

Featured photo of Lake Geneva by cdbrphotography/Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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