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Rentals or “Free” Hotel Rooms for Your Family Vacation in Europe?


Travel isn’t free. Sorry, Drew! It can certainly be almost free or deeply discounted. But it’s never totally 100% free. Not only do you incur very real costs like tours, dining and so forth, you forego using your miles and points in a possibly more  favorable way. In other words, you have an opportunity cost, even if you got them via sign-up bonuses.

Of course, miles and points are meant to be enjoyed. In fact, I’m trying to be less rational in the way I approach this whole topic. I’m a math freak and a logical person (too logical), so it’s very hard for me to relax.

And really, there is a reason why that Comfort Inn by the highway costs 8,000 points, while a resort at the beach costs 25,000 points. I may or may not be speaking from experience here…

Still, I encourage you to consider alternatives when booking your lodging for a family of 4 or more. Nowhere is this more true than when you plan a trip to Europe. Why? Because many places simply won’t allow 4  people to stay in one room. And don’t think you can sneak in a kid because they register your passports.

Of course, if you are staying for 1 or 2 nights,  hotel rooms will probably be your only option, since most rentals require at least a 3-nights booking. And some chains, like Club Carlson, could be  a great fit in Europe, especially if you have their co-branded credit card. It lets you redeem every second night free.

Additionally, Club Carlson has premium rooms that can usually fit 4 and don’t cost that much more in points. Some even include breakfast, which would save a considerable amount of money. Otherwise, if you have to redeem points for 2 rooms every single night, your opportunity cost will be significant, unless it’s the lowest category property.

Let’s take Hyatt Vendome in Paris. No controversy this time, I promise! As you may know, you can get 2 nights after signing up for Chase Hyatt Visa. Those certificates can be used at any high-end property. If you are heading to Paris, why not redeem them at the  fanciest and priciest hotel in Hyatt brand portfolio? Plus, it’s not like you are burning valuable Ultimate Rewards points that transfer to Hyatt program.

Well, it’s not quite so simple if you have a family of four or more. That’s because you can only fit 3 in the room, so you would have to use 2 certificates per night. If both spouses get the card, you would get 2 nights in Paris. Most people are going to stay longer, so you would need to switch hotels and find another place, a hassle if you have kids.

Also, reportedly, you can use those certificates at one of all-inclusive resorts, like Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos and Hyatt Rose Hall in Jamaica, and fit 4 (including 2 kids) in one room. You would get 4 nights, meals and some activities included. Suddenly, that Hyatt Vendome doesn’t sound quite so “hot,” does it? Of course, if you really want it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. But perhaps…

Consider non-chain hotels and vacation rentals

For travel to Europe with your family or as a couple, I highly recommend Rick Steves Europe website and his guidebooks. They are invaluable. This man knows his stuff, and the advice is almost always spot on. The hotels he recommends are in central, safe locations, locally-owned and usually include breakfast. Some can fit 4 in one room.

Location is very important when you are in Europe. Your time is valuable, and you want to be close to all the sights, especially if staying in a big city. Time is money, so be willing to spend money to save time.

But what if you like to have privacy and prefer an apartment with a separate bedroom and a kitchen? You should look into VRBO, Greatrentals.com  or Booking.com Dia from The Deal Mommy suggested adding SkyAuction and Endlessvacationrentals  I concur! Most owners speak English, and you can usually pay with  a credit card.

Here is an example of a nice vacation rental near Rue Cler market and the Eiffel tower.

parisNot too shabby of a location, wouldn’t you agree? I haven’t been to Paris, but the neighborhood is Rick Steves approved. The cost is 164 euros per night, or around $200, depending on the exchange rate. The cleaning fee is 70 euros, but if you stay a week, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Sure, it’s  a lot of money, but you are getting an amazing location and a fully-equipped apartment with a kitchen, so you can save on meals. Eating out in Europe can be a budget buster for a family, trust me.

You won’t get a turndown service or valet, but you will get more interaction with locals and Parisian culture. There are cheaper rental options, of course. However, if the place looks nice but costs much less than comparable apartments, you are  settling for a poor location. In other words,  you get what you pay for. C’est la Vie.

Rental options for a large family

Sometimes it’s hard to find what you are looking for even on VRBO or similar sites. That’s the challenge my sister-in-law faced recently when trying to accommodate 9 of us in Italy and Germany. She handles paid options, while I manage miles and points. As you can imagine, rentals made much more sense than hotel rooms in our case. It wasn’t easy, but she found just what we needed.

I had to check with her on the whole booking process, and she told me that she first looked on VRBO and other places. When nothing turned up, she checked Tripadvisor, which led her to other obscure sites.

For Germany, she found a 7-bedroom rental with the view of the mountains. We don’t really need that much space, but it’s the one that made the most sense. It was listed on

www.tourist-paradise.com  The cost was 280 euros per night. She had to wire a 1-night deposit from her bank account, a bit of a hassle.

The biggest challenge was finding a place in Sorrento. Everything is very expensive in the summer. There is actually a decent option through Choice program, called Comfort Inn Gardenia.  It costs 10,000 Choice points.  So if you purchased them through Daily Getaways (hopefully coming back next summer), the cost per room would only be $37 per night. Even with 4 rooms, it’s a steal.

This is a place where it can actually make sense to purchase points at a full cost of 1.1 cents, which would make it a $110 per night, not a bad deal for Italy. The room that fits four costs 209 euros per night, including breakfast, and can be booked with points. However, you can only reserve 60 days ahead for international locations, and for my sister-in-law, it was a deal breaker. So instead, she  found a place on this website:

www.feelingitaly.com The cost was 321 euros per night, and the place accepted credit cards. Obviously, not cheap, but remember, we have 9 people who require 4 bedrooms. That’s an equivalent of 80 euros per room, a great deal for Sorrento. And it even has a pool!

italy

Well, there you have it! I hope we survive this adventure. Nine people, all full of chutzpah is  a tough one, isn’t it?

Readers, has anyone had experience with vacation rentals in Europe?

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

19 thoughts on “Rentals or “Free” Hotel Rooms for Your Family Vacation in Europe?

  1. When we go to Europe (which is still probably a few years away), we plan on staying in an apartment rental. It just makes sense for a family of 5. Airbnb seems to be a popular one in Europe for rentals.

    • Shoesinks, yes, apartment rentals will probably be the way to go. It does depend on the countries you plan to visit, of course. Some places have Club Carlson properties for only 9,000 and 15,000 points per night. If you and your husband get US bank Club Carlson Visa, it could make sense to get 2 rooms, especially if you plan to stay 2 nights. That way, the second night will be free. It could be a decent deal, even on points. As far as Airbnb goes, I’ve heard good things about the site as well. I don’t have any personal experience with it, though.

  2. Super helpful. I’m hoping I can focus on VRBO and others that take cards and then work with cap one on reimbursing them if I use cap 1 points. I’ve found cap one to be flexible in redeeming against purchases that don’t post as travel but actually are.

    • @Cheapblackdad I’m so glad you found it beneficial! I’ll have another post at some point on couple of hotel stays in Europe. I’m still working on details, so stay tuned.
      Good to know on Capital One. I didn’t realize that they are flexible on letting you redeem your rewards. Booking.com should post as travel purchase, others are iffy. Thanks for your insights, as always.

      • I know you haven’t had the best luck with them, and I do feel a bit embarrassed when I whip the card out relative to my sleek CSP. And the 3 bureau credit hit absolutely stinks. But, wow, their customer service is solid. I call them ahead of time to run my plans by them, and follow up if it doesn’t post as travel. It’s how we did our Disney Annual Pass. I am hoping we can have the same luck with some of our Europe accommodations that I’ll leverage this post’s perspective for.

      • All of this as opposed to Barclay, who doesn’t suffer no fool when it comes to flexibility. But, then, Barclays does let you do the partial reimbursements, whereas with Cap 1 I have to make sure I can split up purchases as I have to have enough points to cover the entire cost.

  3. I have found that Marriott points can be pretty valuable in Europe for a family of 4. Their hotels are more likely to have double rooms with occupancy of 4 (brand standard?) and even when you find occupancy of 3 for a double, Marriott Rewards reservations or a quick e-mail to the hotel’s concierge can usually get you confirmed at 4 (assuming kids under 12). I like Rick Steves’ for general info/advice/walking tours – much better than other guidebooks – but I tend to cross-check his hotel and restaurant picks with Tripadvisor. Rick’s popularity is partly a problem, because his hotel and fine dining recommendations can be difficult to book unless you do it well in advance. And if you’re one of his fans, you have probably experienced dining in a restaurant surrounded by other tourists browsing thru his book. On the one hand, that kinda degrades the “local” experience but on the other hand, you might strike up some interesting conversations. The Rue Cler neighborhood is nice and I have been there many times on overnight layovers. But during the summer, you will see the “Rick Steves Effect” in full force, lots of Americans doing the walking tour reading from the book (instead of being more discreet and listening to the free downloadable audio tour on their phone, LOL).

    Regarding vacation rentals, one biggie that I’ve used many times is http://www.homeaway.com and don’t forget http://www.tripadvisor.com. Both have a huge inventory of locations around the world, especially in Europe. Always check a site for fees, because they can be quite significant and you can possibly rent the property for the same price using another site (that’s one reason I don’t use AirBNB) I would also recommend paying by credit card, it gives you an additional layer of security should something go wrong (and int’l bank transfers can be costly/risky). Two country-specific sites that I’ve used and recommend: For France, http://en.gites-de-france.com/ has a seemingly comprehensive list of rentals throughout the country. For Australia, http://www.stayz.com.au is quite good.

      • Erik, thanks so much for additional recommendations! One of the reasons I focused on Paris was due to request from my reader Cheapblackdad who plans to go there. And he will get your follow-up comments, perfect!
        You know, it made me laugh when you mentioned “Rick Steve’s effect” So true! He wrote about undiscovered, authentic locations, which in turn got discovered. Ironically, it made them become somewhat “cliche” due to invasion of tourists. I’ve heard that Vernazza in Italy is now full of Americans walking around with his guidebooks.
        I personally didn’t experience it because we followed his advice before he became a huge celebrity in travel world. I remember eating in small Venice restaurant, and there were only locals there. It’s funny, there was a policeman there drinking wine, while on a job. That’s Italy for you!
        Thanks for your tip on Marriott. I tried to find something in Dublin, but their properties would only fit 2. Not to mention, the cost in points was astronomical. I will look into it and do a post at some point. Thanks!

      • Hi cheapblackdad – I wouldn’t sweat the neighborhoods in Paris too much. As long as you stay in central Paris near a Metro line at a decent place, you should be OK. Even La Defense, which is the business district in the NW of Paris, is maybe a 15-20 min Metro ride from the major sights. Be aware that the Metro is not generally luggage-friendly and many stations have lots of steps. I would book an airport transfer thru someone like Air City Service Paris (which is owned by Gray Line). But after you’ve checked in, use the Metro to get around the city. I like the Paris Visite card because it includes Metro travel and discounts to various attractions (do the math, though, to see if it works for you). Be sure to download the free Rick Steves audio tours, they are really well done and you don’t look like a dork walking around with a blue/yellow book (and saves you $$$ in certain museums vs. renting an audio guide). One restaurant recommendation that I got from tripadvisor or Rick Steves (I don’t remember): last time I was in Paris, I had a fun meal at Brasserie Balzar which is near the University de Paris La Sorbonne. Totally old school experience, mustachioed maître d, stuffy but nice waiters (hint: at least drop a “bonjour/bonsoir” and “parlez vous anglais” to show you’re trying your bad French) and had good food.

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