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A bucket list layover at Plitvice Lakes National Park for 38,000 points

Aug. 10, 2021
8 min read
Plitvice Lakes National Park
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Staffers at TPG love booking speculative trips and I am no exception to that. When Flying Blue came up with a Promo Rewards deal of 30,500 miles for a one-way business-class flight to Croatia, I jumped on the deal.

I am a huge AvGeek. These points were originally transferred way back in May of 2019 to fly the KLM 747 from Mexico City to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the pandemic saw the KLM 747s retire and I found myself without a use for 30,500 points. I had forgotten about them until last winter when I was looking to book some summer travel.

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Flying Blue monthly deals

Each month, Flying Blue publishes a list of discounted award tickets across various destinations and cabin classes. Each destination on the list will receive a fixed percentage discount on flights to or from any destination in Europe, not just Air France and KLM’s respective hubs in Paris (CDG) and Amsterdam (AMS). Discounts range from 10%-50%.

(Photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy)

Flying Blue used to offer a fixed mileage discount for its monthly Promo Rewards. When the program switched to dynamic award pricing, the discounts switched to a fixed percentage. If you’re flexible with your destination and travel dates, you can use the dynamic pricing engine to score the cheapest possible awards.

It’s important to note that each destination has specific cabins that are eligible for Promo Rewards.

Related: Complete guide to Flying Blue monthly Promo Rewards

How to earn Flying Blue miles

Flying Blue Miles are among the easiest to earn of all frequent flyer programs. Flying Blue, along with Singapore KrisFlyer and Emirates Skywards, is a partner with all five major transferable points and miles currencies. You can transfer your points into your Flying Blue account at the following rates:

Chase Ultimate Rewards – 1:1
American Express Membership Rewards – 1:1
Citi ThankYou Points – 1:1
Capital One miles – 2:1.5
Marriott Bonvoy – 3:1, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred

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This means that if you have one of the most popular travel rewards cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you can transfer your points and miles to Flying Blue.

Booking

As soon as I saw this deal, I knew I had to book it: 30,500 Flying Blue miles for New York (JFK)-Paris (CDG)-Zagreb (ZAG). I'm not sure if it was a glitch, but I also didn't have to pay any fuel surcharges or booking fees on this ticket. It was simply 30,500 Flying Blue miles.

I originally booked this trip purely speculatively. I had no idea whether I would be able to find a way home, whether I would be working, whether I would have an internship that would allow me to travel or if I would have to cancel the trip for college swimming.

(Photo by EQRoy/Getty Images)

Luckily, the stars aligned and I found an internship that not only allowed traveling but encouraged it. I couldn’t have been more excited. However, I was ready to cancel this trip if I needed to. Knowing that, I didn’t book anything in Croatia until I had confirmation I could actually take the trip.

I only had 18 hours in Zagreb so I wanted to make the best use of it. I decided to book a rental car for $260 and drive up to Plitvice Lakes National Park. I had seen photos and was enamored of the stunning natural beauty. With the itinerary nailed, I had myself a trip.

Related: Croatia now allowing travelers to skip testing, isolation if they’re vaccinated

Travel

We have plenty of reviews of Air France business class, so I did not review the flight. However, I was thoroughly underwhelmed and disappointed. We started the flight with a dinner service that took nearly two hours from start to finish. That is quite a chunk of time for a relatively short transatlantic red-eye.

(Photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy)

The food was mediocre, and the cabin crew seemed to be understaffed. While I don’t blame the crew, I was disappointed and would choose next time to fly with partner airline KLM instead.

After 12 hours of work at Paris Charles de Gaulle, I hopped onboard an Air Croatia flight to Zagreb. The short flight offered some beautiful views of Paris as we departed, and I was pleased with the small snack.

Related: Related: Crossing the Atlantic on Air France’s 777-300ER in business class, New York to Paris

Rental car

I was really nervous about renting a car in Croatia. I paid $260 with my Platinum Card from American Express. I had never driven internationally before, so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. I had done my homework and made sure that at 21 years old I was eligible, but one never knows.

(Photo by Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock)

I had an awesome experience, to say the least. The Hertz representative was great and upgraded me to the newest car on the lot. He took care to make sure he had a car that was automatic as opposed to stick shift. I then drove about two hours to my hotel.

Related: When to use American Express Premium Car Rental Protection

Accommodations

Originally I was going to stay in Zagreb but was told that a visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park was best if done in the morning. I took the advice and decided to stay only a few minutes' drive away. I chose a boutique hotel not a part of a chain. It was $119 and I decided to take advantage of the Amex Platinum's $200 hotel credit (requires a minimum two-night stay).

(Photo courtesy of hotelplitvice.com)

I stayed at the Lyra Hotel Plitvice. It was quite pleasant. Originally I was walked up to a room that hadn’t been cleaned and was then downgraded to a room with two double beds. Having traveled for 30 hours door to door I couldn't have cared less and slept like a baby.

Related: Here’s your guide to the Amex Platinum prepaid hotel credit

Plitvice Lakes National Park

The next morning I drove over to Plitvice Lakes National Park. I highly recommend visiting in the morning — the earlier, the better. I have heard it can get quite busy. I purchased a ticket in advance for $30 online and walked straight to the lakes from the parking lot.

(Photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy)

The park offers a few different hikes. I wasn’t interested in something very long, as I had a flight to Dubrovnik at 2 p.m. While the hike was a little warm even at 8 a.m., it was stunningly beautiful and everything I had hoped it would be.

(Photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy)

After a few hours of exploring, I made the two-hour drive back to Zagreb and started my way home with an hourlong flight to Dubrovnik that set me back 6,600 United MileagePlus miles and $28.50. It was nice to know the miles earned from buying my new computer were going to good use.

Related: What it was like to visit Croatia during the COVID-19 pandemic

Bottom line

I was pretty nervous about checking off a bucket list item so far away in such a short time span but it worked perfectly. I managed to get away with only spending 38,000 points plus $295 to get from New York-JFK to Dubrovnik via Zagreb with an awesome bucket list hike at Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Featured image by (Photo courtesy of Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more