Cleared for Takeoff: European getaway to Portugal, Spain and France on points and miles
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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.
With many EU countries welcoming Americans once again, we've been getting lots of requests from readers eager to plan European getaways using their points and miles.
TPG reader and U.S. Army Air Force captain Daniel Sherman wants help booking a multi-city trip to Portugal, Spain and France for next summer — here’s what he said:
"My wife and I are looking to take a post pandemic trip in the summer of 2022. We are looking to spend about 14-18 days in Europe, ideally Portugal, Spain, and France. Our home airport will be Philadelphia, but we are willing and able to get to DC or NY for a good flight. I am hoping for business class flights if possible. We have no airline loyalty or status. If we can't do everything on points, we are willing to spend some money to start earning back our points balance for the next adventure.
A little background: I was deployed when the US lockdown started, so I made a promise that I would take her on an amazing trip once I got home and COVID was over. It’s been over a year and we are still waiting for things to calm down before we travel. I am a military member and love taking advantage of MLA benefits. Unfortunately I am now over my 5/24, and I already have 4 credit lines with Amex. So I am only eligible for Citi cards right now."
Daniel has a mix of American Express Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Rewards points, Marriott Bonvoy points, Hilton Honors points, World of Hyatt points, Delta SkyMiles, American AAdvantage miles and United MileagePlus miles.
Here’s a look at how he can leverage these rewards to book this trip as cheaply as possible.
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Daniel is off to an excellent start with the points and miles he already has in his accounts. In particular, he's done a great job diversifying his rewards portfolio so he isn't tied to a particular airline or hotel chain. That said, I'd like to see his wife get in on the points and miles game so the couple can earn rewards faster in two-player mode.
Here’s his current point stash:
- 476,000 American Express Membership Rewards points
- 184,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points
- 84,000 Citi ThankYou Rewards points
- 72,000 Marriott Bonvoy points
- 1 Marriott Bonvoy 50,000-point free night certificate
- 5 Marriott Suite Night Awards
- 107,000 Hilton Honors points
- 2 Hilton free night certificates
- 5,000 World of Hyatt points
- 38,000 Delta SkyMiles
- $100 Delta gift card
- 84,000 United MileagePlus miles
- 4,000 American AAdvantage miles
Airfare to Europe
Since Daniel wants to visit three destinations in Europe, I recommend he books an open-jaw ticket to Europe (a round-trip itinerary that arrives in one city but departs from another) via ANA Mileage Club and cheap intra-Europe tickets via the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
Airfare to/from Europe
Route: EWR-LIS and LIS-MAD on TAP Air Portugal in business class; CDG-EWR on United Airlines in business class.
Miles needed: 88,000 miles plus $155 per person.
One of the best ways to book award flights to Europe is through ANA Mileage Club. The program charges just 88,000 miles per round-trip business-class ticket and it's a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards. Plus, the Star Alliance has a strong network in Europe so Daniel and his wife will have lots of flight options to choose from.
As mentioned, ANA allows open jaws so they'll be able to fly into Lisbon (LIS) on TAP Air Portugal and return from Paris (CDG) on United. Even better, the taxes and fees on TAP Air Portugal and United awards are extremely reasonable, unlike on some other Star Alliance carriers like Lufthansa.
Further, ANA Mileage Club also allows one free stopover on all itineraries. This means that Daniel can fly from Lisbon (LIS) to Madrid (MAD) flight for no extra points in intra-Europe business class. It's not the most exciting business class flight, but it still beats sitting in the back.
Madrid to Paris
Route: MAD-ORY on Iberia in economy class.
Miles needed: 3,667 points per person.
Daniel could use his United miles or transfer Amex or Chase points to a program like Iberia Plus and book his intra-Europe flights that way. However, I recommend he book these flights directly through the Chase travel portal instead, and redeem his Ultimate Rewards points at a flat rate.
Not only is this option simpler because he won't be needing to search for saver award availability, but it will likely come out cheaper, given how low cash rates are on these routes.
Because Daniel has the Chase Sapphire Reserve, his points are worth 1.5 cents apiece when redeeming through the portal. If a ticket from Madrid (MAD) to Paris (ORY) costs about $55 in economy per person, the points price will be about 3,667 points.
How to book these awards with points
Daniel can book his tickets to Europe online.
Just head to the ANA Mileage Club website and sign in. Then, head to the award booking page and select the "Multiple Cities" option at the top of the screen. Here, input your flight itinerary for your round-trip flights to and from the U.S. as well as the stopover you'd like to add to your award ticket.
You will be prompted to select flights for each leg of your journey. Once you've done this, ANA will give you the total cost of your ticket, including taxes and frees. You can then transfer the points required to book your ticket from Membership Rewards to ANA Mileage Club and follow the on-screen prompts to finalize your ticket.
You'll probably want to pay for the taxes and fees using a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express or Chase Sapphire Reserve so that you earn bonus points and are covered by the card's trip delay reimbursement and trip cancellation and interruption protections.
Booking the flight from Madrid to Paris is easy, too. Just log into your Chase account and head to the Ultimate Rewards dashboard. From there, click “Travel” in the navigation bar to access the travel homepage. Then, search for your itinerary using the box at the center of the screen.
On the next page, you'll be shown all of the available flights. Since these are paid bookings, you can book whatever carrier you'd like. Just note that some budget carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair may not appear on Chase's portal. Select the flight you'd like to book and follow the on-screen prompts to finalize your ticket.
How to earn enough miles for these awards
If you want to replicate something like this, the easiest way to earn ANA miles is by transferring them in at a 1:1 ratio from American Express. Based on our experiences, these transfers usually take around 48 hours to process. Daniel has enough Amex Membership Rewards to book the two round-trip tickets, but if you’re looking to replicate this itinerary and need more points, you can do so with a welcome offer from one of these Amex cards:
- The Platinum Card from American Express: Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases within the first six 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.
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card within the first three months of card membership.
You can also check with CardMatch to see if you are eligible for an even sweeter welcome offer.
Next, come the Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Again, Daniel should be all set with the balance he already has. That said, if you wanted to replicate the itinerary, you could earn Ultimate Rewards points quickly with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers its highest sign-up bonus to date: 100,000 points after $4,000 spent within the first three months from account opening. Meanwhile, the more premium Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Hotels in Europe
Daniel has a mix of Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt points so we'll consider options from all three chains. That said, given the length of his trip, he'll likely want to prioritize Marriott and Hilton redemptions as they'll give him a fifth night free for every five or more consecutive nights he books on points. Keep in mind, Hilton's fifth-night free perk is exclusively for elite members, but that's not an issue for Daniel as he has automatic Diamond status from his cobranded Hilton card.
Hotels in Lisbon
Of the three chains, Marriott offers the most options in Lisbon, with 11 hotels to choose from. Given his relatively low points balance, I suggest he books one of the lower-priced options in the city: the Moxy Lisbon City. While standard rooms are on the smaller side, they are functional and there's a hip rooftop pool deck. It's fairly centrally located and a TPG staffer who recently stayed at the property said the service was "incredibly hospitable."
As a Category 4 Marriott Bonvoy property, award nights here will set you back between 20,000 to 30,000 points per night (before factoring in the fifth night free), depending on whether it’s an off-peak, standard or peak award.
Hotels in Madrid
Hilton has a handful of properties in Madrid, so it's a good opportunity for Daniel to put his Hilton points (and status) to use. Here are Hilton's top options:
- DoubleTree by Hilton Madrid-Prado: 43,000-60,000 points per night
- Atocha Hotel Madrid, Tapestry Collection by Hilton: 41,000-60,000 points per night
- Canopy by Hilton Madrid Castellana: 37,000-60,000 points per night
The Atocha Hotel Madrid is a relatively new addition to Hilton's portfolio. Rooms at the hotel feel more like hip apartments than hotel rooms, making it an excellent option for those wanting to live like a local. Plus, Daniel and his travel partner will appreciate being just 10 minutes away from Madrid’s iconic Golden Triangle of Art and other major attractions.
Hotels in Paris
Finally, Daniel can redeem his World of Hyatt points in Paris.
Hyatt offers some incredible hotels to choose from in the city, ranging from the Hôtel du Louvre and Hyatt Paris Madeleine, which both cost 25,000 points per night, to the luxurious Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, which costs 30,000 points per night. There's also the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile for 15,000 points per night, though it's a bit further away from the heart of the action.
That said, Marriott and Hilton offer some great options in Paris as well, including some good opportunities to put Daniel's free night certificates to use.
How to book hotels with points
Booking hotels with points is extremely straightforward. Just head to the respective hotels' websites, search as you normally would, but check off the "Use Points" box. The only exception is that Daniel needs to call Hilton to redeem his free night certificate as they can't be redeemed online.
How to earn hotel points
Given Daniel's low hotel points balances, he'll either need to transfer points or pick up a new hotel credit card in order to book these awards. Although he mentioned he currently isn't eligible for new Chase or Amex cards due to the issuers' application restrictions, his wife could apply for the cards instead.
American Express Membership Rewards points transfer Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1 ratio, while they transfer to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio. We normally don't recommend these transfers as they aren't the best use of these transferable points, but it could make sense right now as Amex is offering a limited-time 30% transfer bonus through Oct. 31, 2021.
Meanwhile, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Marriott and World of Hyatt, both at a 1:1 ratio.
Again, we don't normally recommend transferring points to Marriott, though it's easier to justify transfers to Hyatt as World of Hyatt points are much more valuable. To put all of this in perspective, TPG values Amex and Chase points at 2 cents apiece, Marriott at 0.8 cents apiece, Hilton at 0.6 cents apiece and Hyatt at 1.7 cents apiece.
If you decide you'd rather boost your points balance by picking up a new hotel card, there are several cobranded Marriott cards currently offering the following welcome offers:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card: Earn 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
With a bit of planning, Daniel can leverage his existing point balance to significantly reduce the cost of his trip around Europe with his wife. He already has enough points to cover most of their vacation, but his wife might want to consider signing up for another hotel credit card to cover a few more nights. After all, award travel is always easier when approached as a multi-player game and although Daniel already has a wallet full of credit cards, his wife has a pretty fresh slate to start from if she wants to.
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.
Feature photo by Sylvain Sonnet/Getty Images.
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