Ok, Ok nothing comes completely free, but we came pretty darn close to it. Last Spring, we flew to Europe with two other friends and for 10 days we traveled to 3 cities and didn’t pay a single airfare or hotel night. The best part? We stayed in some of the nicest hotels in the world. You read that correct. For FREE.
How you may ask? Well, keep reading.
With the creation of this blog, the intention was to write this post. But, of course we procrastinated, due to the technicalities and details of this post, that is until now…
This trip was an epic, once in a life time opportunity consisting of months of planning to travel around three European cities without paying some of the most costly expenditures while traveling, airfare and hotel expenses.
So, what are we going to do? We are breaking this trip down so hopefully it can inspire your next trip abroad!
Europe Trip 2016: April 30th to May 10th
The first thing we always book when planning a trip with points is flights. Award availability on flights is usually much lower than hotels so it’s easier to plan what dates we are going then figure out where we are staying.
Since we took this trip with another couple, award availability was even slimmer as we were looking for flights with four available award seats. We also had a mix of points we were trying to use.
Departure: CMH to LHR
The ordering of the trip was important as award flights leaving the U.K charge very high taxes around ~$200 a person or more. You can save half of that or more leaving out of a different country. The taxes coming into the U.K are only $11.
We took advantage of American Airlines off peak award chart to Europe. It used to be 20,000 miles each way, per person which was a steal. They have since increased the miles to 22,500 which is still a good deal but they also reduced the off peak dates.
They off peak award dates are now January 10 – March 14 and November 1 – December 14. If you can travel during these days this is a fantastic deal. Their off peak award information can be found here.
When booking award flights into the U.K., using American Airlines miles, it is important to make sure the transatlantic flight is not on British Airways.
British Airways will charge several hundred dollars in fuel surcharges. Yeah, crazy right?
It is more difficult, but you can find availability on solely American Airlines but it might take some looking. We settled on flying out of Columbus, OH instead of Dayton, OH which at the time was our home airport.
Tip: Check out several other close airports when booking award flights.
We got AA miles by signing up for the Citi Platinum Select American Airlines Card. The current offer is 30,000 miles but there is almost always a link for 50,000 miles floating around.
Total Cost in miles and USD for the flight to London, England: 40,000 AA miles and $11
We arrived in London around 10am. Damn Those overnight transatlantic flight… With the time change we only got a couple of hours of sleep in very uncomfortable economy airlines seats. But hey, it cost only $11.
Very tired, we just wanted to get to the hotel and shower. The cheapest way to get from London Heathrow Airport to the city center is taking the tube. It is by no means the fastest but by far the cheapest.
On our last trip to London we picked up the visitor Oyster card for the tube system so we just needed to top it off with a few pounds before heading into the city. They can be purchased before hand HERE.
I highly recommend it because you get the card beforehand and don’t have to worry about if your credit card will work in the automated kiosk or finding a ATM for cash. The lines can get pretty long for the kiosks… so having the card beforehand is a nice relief. They also never expire so you can keep it for the next time you visit London. We added about $20 more when we arrived, giving us $40 total.
The trip on the tube takes about an hour but as long as the car isn’t too crowded and can be pleasant as you take in the sites. Once getting off the tube it was only a short walk to the first hotel.
For the first night we stayed at the London Hilton on Park Lane.
We signed up for the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Card which has the signup bonus of two free weekend nights at most Hiltons.
Unfortunately, we arrived on a Sunday so we could only use one of the free nights before switching to a different hotel.
The Citi Hilton Reserve card also comes with automatic Gold status at Hilton. The Gold status comes with the ability for late checkout.
We were able to get 2pm late checkout which allowed us to not have any time without a hotel room. Gold status also has the added benefit of free breakfast at most Hiltons that wouldn’t normally offer free breakfast.
This breakfast was amazing and it was free. There were meats, cheeses, fresh pastries and hand squeezed fruit juices. They even had a miso soup bar. We filled our stomachs and started our first full day in London.
Check out a post on our top 10 free things to do in London!
Total Cost: 1 weekend night certificate and $0
The next nights we stayed at the Sheraton on Park Lane which at the time was 12,000 points a night.
They were in the midst of a renovation so they still had the lower point amounts for the room. We signed up for the Amex Starwood preferred card which at the time offered 30,000 points sign up bonus. Right now it is 35,000 and with minimum spend gives 40,000 which is enough for two nights at this hotel. With the new renovation, the hotel is very modern. The location is also ideal right off park lane and near our first hotel so it was a short walk. Unfortunately, there was no free breakfast here.
Total Cost: 24,000 SPG points and $0
Getting to Paris from London is best done taking the Eurostar. It’s 2-hour train ride through the chunnel. It isn’t too expense at about $70 a person.
Total Cost $140
In Paris we had to switch hotels as well. The first two nights we spent at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. This hotel was probably the fanciest of all the hotels we stayed at where it normally would run ~$1,000 a night. Everything is Gold including the carpet. I think a lot of the cost is due to location near the Louvre. I would never pay this much for this hotel. Although, the Nespresso in the room is the reason we own one now…
Staying here we signed up for the Chase Hyatt card which gives you two free nights at any Hyatt.
Total Cost: Two Hyatt Certs and $0
To find out more on the second half of our trip, check out our future post of Paris to Barcelona.
Also, check out our tips to save money while traveling. We discuss everything from packing cubes in your backpacks to saving money on food.