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Last Thursday I published an interview with Stacy who has a total of six in her family. In it she mentioned that this summer they were able to pull off a trip to Europe thanks to miles and points sign-up bonuses. She also took advantage of several lucrative hotel promos that popped up over the last few years. As you can imagine, without this crazy hobby, the costs would have been astronomical.
In fact, even after redeeming miles and points on award flights/hotel rooms, they still spent a good bit of cash. So, the trip wasn’t free, not even close. Still, saving the amount that covered their out-of-pocket costs would be within reach for most middle-class families. I’ll let Stacy break down her expenses, and will give some additional thoughts at the end of the post. Warning! If you are looking for a way to fly 6 people in first class to Europe for free, this post isn’t for you.
Our deeply discounted trip to Europe
This is how we put our points to work for our trip. I’ve broken it down by what we spent in points vs. cash spent vs. value of points. Was our trip free? Nope! But our total out-of-pocket cost would not have even covered our tickets to Europe, and that is the beauty of miles and points. Hope you find this helpful in planning your next family trip!
Credit cards we signed up for in order to make this trip a reality:
US Airways MasterCard (no longer available): 50k miles after 1st purchase = 100k AA miles once the programs merged
Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50k Ultimate Rewards/$3k spend= 100k UR
Chase Hyatt Signature Visa: 2 free nights after $1k spend = 4 free Hyatt nights
Barclaycard Arrival Plus: 40k Arrival points after $3k spend= 80k Arrival points
Chase Marriott Visa: 80k points +7,500 w/AU after $3k spend = 175k points
Citi AA card: 50k miles after $3k spend = 50k AA miles
Chase Southwest Premier Visa: 50k points after $3 spend = 50k SW Rapid Rewards
Those credit card bonuses subsidized a 13-day Europe trip for our family of 6. All flights (in economy class) were covered with miles, and 23 out of 28 rooms were booked with hotel points.
The spreadsheet with costs
|Miles/Points||Out of pocket||Cost if paid|
|AA DFW-LHR||180k AA miles||$25||$7885|
|Ryanair Paris-DUB||53.7K Arrival points||$0||$537|
|Aer Lingus DUB-BOS||75K UR points transferred to British Airways Avios||$560||$7200|
|Southwest BOS-DFW||58.5k Rapid Rewards||$288||$1308|
|2 rooms/1night: Plaza on the River – London||140K Club Carlson Points||$0||$606|
|2 rm/3n – Marriott County Hall London -45K/rm||270K Marriott points||$25 internet||$2700|
|3rm/2n – Hyatt Paris Etoile||75K UR points transferred to Hyatt + 1 free night||$32.82 tax||$1350|
|3 rm/1n – Hyatt Paris Vendome||3 free night certificates||$40 tax||$2250|
|2 rm/1n – Ibis Bayeux||$182 (inc. breakfast)|
|3 rm/1n – Ibis Beauvais Airport||$227|
|2rm/2n – Holiday Inn Express Dublin Airport||15K +$70 = 60K IHG||$280||$600|
|2 rm/1n – Holiday Inn Express Boston Logan Airport||70K IHG points||$0||$377|
|Xpress Ways airport transfer LHR to hotel||$97|
|6 Oyster cards:||$166|
|Eurostar – 6 one way London-Paris||46.8K Arrival miles||$0||$468|
|Train Paris to Caen x6||$132|
|2 day car rental + tolls||$174|
|Changing of the Guard Tour x6||$104|
|Stonehenge/Bath Tour x6||$459|
|Tower of London x6||$150|
|Churchill War Museum x 4||$97|
|Paris Museum Pass x3||$160|
|Normandy D-Day Tour x6||25K Arrival Miles||$127||$377|
|Guiness Tour x4||$88|
|Dublin Hop On/Hop off Bus Tourx6||10K Arrival Miles||$23||$123|
|Dublin Zoo x6||$91|
|Boston Freedom Trail Hop on Hop off x6||$126|
|Misc: Souvenirs, groceries, gas, etc||$276||$276|
|Total Trip Cost:||$5271||$29,685|
A couple of notes:
Club Carlson points were earned during 2015 promo where we got 15k points for 2+ night stay and 30k points for 3+ night stay. I was given 100k CC points after Radisson overbooked and left our family without a room at 01:00 in the morning forcing us to drive over an hour to the next town. IHG points were earned during IHG Priceless Surprises promo this winter. Remember filling out all those index cards??
Hyatt Paris Etoile: This hotel was tired and outdated, waste of my Hyatt free night, but free breakfast was nice for our large family.
Hyatt Vendome: Yes, it was worth it! Glad we shared this with our kids who had hours of fun with the automatic shades.
I found the above breakdown fascinating because this family was able to successfully leverage hotel points even though they had to get 2 or 3 rooms each and every night. Honestly, if someone asked me about booking lodging in Europe for a large group of people, my advice would be to get vacation rentals (see my post for more on this topic).
Obviously, the retail cost on the right side of the column would have been much less. But clearly, the hotel strategy worked for them, and you can’t argue with success! It rhymes. So, the lesson is: don’t worry about how others are doing things, or maximizing your ROI on every single trip. As long as you keep your out-of-pocket costs down and avoid debt, your vacation is a winner.
Also, look at the “flights” section on the spreadsheet. Notice how they flew back from Dublin to Boston and had to book positioning flights in order to connect the dots. Why go through all the trouble? Two reasons: low redemption rate and plentiful availability. Dublin-Boston route is one of the “sweet spots” on Avios chart. One-way economy ticket runs at 12,500 miles, compared to 30,000 miles in most traditional airline programs.
So, even though they had to spend 54K Arrival points (worth 1 cent each towards travel) on Ryanair flight, and 59K Rapid Rewards to fly from Boston to Dallas, it allowed them to stretch their Ultimate Rewards points which were transferred to Avios miles. It also let them to break up the trip and get some rest between the flights. This can come in handy if you are traveling with small kids. Most importantly, Dublin-Boston route usually has good economy availability in both directions. If you don’t want to split up your party, it’s a big deal!
If you are new to my site/this hobby, the information above may seem overwhelming. All these credit cards, points, what does it all mean? Well, few years ago Stacy was also new to this whole thing. It took some time to learn all the ins and outs of various programs and partnerships. And yes, some work and discipline were required. Was it worth it? I’ll let the bottom line of her spreadsheet speak for itself.
If you are confused, my hope is that my blog will make it easier to navigate the maze that is miles and points hobby. Please, check my Free Consulting Service page and reach out with any questions you might have. I’ll be more than happy to help. Last week I want contacted by a person who has 8 kids. Yes, it will be challenging for someone like that to maximize miles and points. But it’s not impossible!
Leana is the 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.