Want to see Europe for FREE? Do This.

milanThere are so many places I want to see in the world, and – as a travel writer - I’m always scheming different ways to get there.  I could pay with real money, of course, but who wants to do that?

Psshhhhtttt…..

It’s far easier to pursue credit card rewards and redeem them for free airfare, hotel stays, or more.  Raise your hand if you love getting free stuff!

Now put it back down, weirdo. <insert awkward silence here>  It’s time to get serious.

There are several ways to get to Europe for free, but one of the best ways is to take advantage of American Airline off-peak fares.  From October 15th-May 15th of each year, one-way tickets to certain cities in Europe cost only 20,000 American Airline miles.  So you and your hunky husband (or trophy wife) only need 80,000 American Airlines miles to fly across the pond to a multitude of European cities.  Huzzah!

See Europe for Free

Picture this:

You in your most stylish attire, walking through Milan’s high fashion district shopping for stuff you can’t really afford.  Or you and your man in London, exploring the historic sights and taking in a world-class show.

Oh! Oh! Oh!  How about this?

You and your beautiful wife riding an elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  All her friends think you’re such a bad-ass for taking her, and you’ll never tell them that your trip was free.  That would be tacky.

But how do you do it?  Well, since you asked……

Getting to Europe for Free

I would start by signing up for the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard (not an affiliate link).  The deal is this: Spend $3,000 within the first 90 days of card ownership and earn 50,000 American Airline miles.  You also earn 2 points/$1 spent at American Airlines and 1 point/$1 spent on everything else.  The $95 annual fee is also waived for the first year, making this card commitment-free, capiche?

Once you’re done meeting the minimum spend and earning your bonus miles, make sure your spouse does the exact same thing.  Then you’ll have 100,000 American Airlines to burn.  Where will you use them?

Free Hotel Stays and Train Fare

We used some of our Barclay Arrival miles to visit friends and give piggy back rides in Jamaica.

We used some of our Barclay Arrival miles to visit friends and give piggy back rides in Jamaica.

But wait.  It gets better.  If you’re heading to Europe, you’re probably going to need money for train tickets, taxi cabs, and attractions.  That’s where the Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard (affiliate link) comes in.  The deal is this: Spend $3,000 within three months of opening your account and earn 40,000 bonus miles redeemable for $400 in travel.  You also earn 2 points/$1 spent, making your initial spending requirement worth $460 in travel credit.  The $89 annual fee is also waived the first year on this card, making it commitment-free as well.  This is the best travel card out there since the “miles” can be redeemed for nearly any kind of travel.

But where will you stay?  There are a ton of hotel loyalty programs that offer properties all over Europe, but the Starwood Preferred Guest Program is the most lucrative.  The easiest way to earn SPG points is to sign up for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (not an affiliate link).  Here is their offer: Earn 10,000 starpoints after your first purchase then another 15,000 points after spending $5,000 on the card within 6 months.  The $65 annual fee is also waived the first year, making this card a no-brainer.  You can use these points to stay in hotels all over the globe with redemptions starting at 3,000 points per night. (You can browse Starwood properties and their various redemption levels here)

One Last Thing

If you’re looking for a way to rack up even more American Airline miles, you might want to consider signing up for the US Airways Premier World MasterCard  (affiliate link).  The deal is this: Earn 40,000 Dividend Miles after your first purchase on the card.  That’s it.  Easy, huh?

However, the $89 annual fee is not waived.  Since American Airlines and US Airways are in the midst of a merge, word on the street is that US Airways Dividend Miles will soon become American Airline miles.  So, basically, you’d be paying $89 for 40,000 Dividend Miles which will become American Airline miles one day soon.  Remember how I said a round-trip flight to Europe costs 40,000 AA miles during the off-peak season?  Winner winner chicken dinner!

Just remember, paying interest on your credit card is not what all the cool kids are doing.  If you choose to pursue any of these offers, make sure you can pay your card in full and on-time.  Also, keep in mind that airlines sometimes charge certain taxes and fees that must be paid for reward fare.  It varies depending on your flight, but- as an example- we’re flying to London and home from Paris for less than $200 in taxes and fees.  Sounds good, right?

So, what are you waiting for?

 
About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.

Comments

  1. Good thing I already live in Europe, because I don’t think we have these kind of credit card rewards over here. :)

    Thanks for sharing! I’m going to do some research tonight to find out there are similar deals available in Belgium.

    Cheers,
    NMW

  2. Nice Holly! We’ve got the Barclaycard and love their rewards program. However, we’ve been thinking it might be time to start churning a second card. I’ve been looking at the Starwood card but I think I will check out the AA card too.

  3. I am totally going to churn cards – once we have our new mortgage (and new house we’ll need to buy things for :) ) But I have to wait until the mortgage is all approved/issued or we’ll possibly screw up our chances for a loan :(

  4. Are you flying in economy or are your going to fly up front on the plane? I think I want to fly upfront, but I don’t want to get spoiled by being up there…

    • We’re flying economy. Low class all the way!

      I am also afraid of getting spoiled! I would rather use points for more trips than splurge for better seats.

  5. Woot for free travel! We use Starwood Preferred Guest like a boss. We’ve stayed for free at nice hotels in I think 9 different countries (not to mention all of our domestic travel). Plus, if you have status, you can often get a free breakfast or access to the Club Level Lounge. Obviously we then gorge ourselves on free food and don’t need to buy much else to eat. The hotel we stayed at in Amsterdam had free champagne and smoked salmon for breakfast… need I say more? Thanks for all these tips, Holly!

  6. That’s pretty awesome! We’re going to Europe next summer, so I’m definitely going to have to take a look and see if any of these will work for us. I might have to wait until I know for sure I’m going to hit that spending requirement. Either way, thanks for sharing Holly, and I’m definitely going to keep this in mind!

  7. As always Holly, you amaze. 6 more months until I can open another credit card and reap more rewards, but believe me, I’m counting down the day!

  8. I think Starwood is the next one Im going for. After dumping money I couldn’t get back for air bnb, I need a better back up plan.

  9. I always use my frequent flier miles to travel overseas. I am just staring to use hotel points.

  10. Wow, only 20,000 AA miles to get to Europe, that’s pretty awesome! How much is it during peak times if you know…tough to travel during those dates if you have kids in school.

    • It depends. I think the MileSAAver rate is 30K in coach during normal season. However, you will need a lot more points for first or business class.

  11. Holly,

    This is hilarious. I was just going to email you and ask if you could write a post about a “credit card recipe” for travelling to Europe.

    This is perfect.

    Thank you.

  12. Hey Holly!

    Quick question: When you sign up for these rewards credit card offers and then cancel them after a year, does your credit score get affected? I’ve heard it gets affected when you keep canceling cards because it doesn’t show longevity of using credit.

    • Hi Rick! Yes, it does. You should always be careful of that, especially if you’re planning on taking out a big loan for a house or a car. My credit score was in the 800s when I started this hobby, and it’s in the mid 700′s now. It was 758 the other day. You just have to monitor it to make sure you don’t take too many hits. I use Credit Karma to monitor my credit score for free.

      Just do it in moderation.

  13. I love your travel posts Holly! I am so excited to finally be getting in the churning game. I hope that we will be able to go on a fun (but local) trip this fall and then maybe to the west coast next spring using rewards. We’ll see how close we can get with credit card rewards: )

  14. Hmmm this is really tempting, Holly! The most difficult thing for us has been scheduling travel, not getting it for free. I think we will be looking to go to Vegas for free at least 2 times next year, and I may go a third time with some buddies. If we can work out scheduling between my wife’s work/school schedule and my work schedule, we just might be able to wing a Europe vacation. I’ve been wanting to start following some of your directions and churning more cards, but I want to make sure we will actually use the points (I don’t want to keep paying annual fees just to keep my rewards). I think I’ll look into the Europe trip for Spring/Summer next year and hopefully I can make it work!

    • We have the same problem because of Greg’s job. He gets 12 days of paid vacay plus a few weeks of unpaid. However, he’s supposed to use half in the first 6 months of the year and the other half in the second 6 months. He’s also not allowed to schedule vacation between Thanksgiving and Christmas which adds another layer of trickiness!

  15. I am so excited about this trip for you guys! We have been talking about taking our son to Italy and I really want to use the excuse as our first big churning experience. Go big or go home, right? Have a great weekend Holly!

    • Yep!

      I would like to take my kids overseas as well, but we will probably wait until they are older. I don’t think an 8-hour plane ride would be good for them at the moment!

  16. It’s sad how few Americans realize that it’s so easy to see Europe for next to nothing. Nowhere in the world can you get this opportunity via credit cards. And most have no idea that it’s within their grasp.

    • I agree. I get it, though. It really does seem confusing when you start out and it’s easy to think it’s just too complicated.

  17. Our conversation on the FINCON Facebook thread convinced me to dip my toe in the credit card travel rewards waters. I just received my Southwest card with the 50,000 points offer and have applied for a second. We plan to use the miles to travel twice to Florida and once to Chicago next year. London and Paris are on my bucket list so I’m paying attention to these posts for future reference.

    • Nice! Southwest is the best. Question: Did you sign up for both versions of the card under your name? If so, try to get the companion pass! BEST THING EVER!

  18. Great example Holly. The AA deal is really great. I’m working my way to earning my trip to Spain for next fall with reward miles via United. Any new tips on how to meet the minimum spend? Some months I spend $1000 but others I’m below.

    • A few things I do:
      Pay my utility bills with credit
      Pay insurance bills (car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, etc.) with credit
      Prepay some bills- like for instance, you can pay $500 on your electric bill or cable bill with a credit card and it simply posts as a credit to cover future months

  19. I’d love to see Europe. I guess the added first step for me would be to eliminate my current debt (I’m renewing my commitment to pay down my student loans). Thanks for the tips on racking up benefits using cards.

  20. Don’t have any big trips to Europe on the horizon anytime soon considering I just did two weeks in April and Mexico last month, but better to be prepared and have the miles waiting for me to use!

    • That’s my strategy, Stefanie. I earn the points then figure out where to spend them. If you do it the other way around, you end up not having the points wen you need them! =)

  21. I love your travel Holly! We are planning to bring our daughter to Disneyland hopefully next year!

  22. We’re thinking of churning the US Airways card while they’re still around…thanks for the tips!

  23. I’m currently working on my Companion Pass with Southwest, and can’t wait! I’m new to this whole thing, and am still trying to decide if I’ll cancel those cards before next year’s fees kick in once I qualify (about $200 to keep both cards valid).

    With these cards that you mentioned, is it an issue if you cancel before the annual fees kick in if you haven’t taken the trips yet? Will the miles still be valid the following year or so?

    • Your Rapid Rewards points only expire if you don’t use them for 24 months. If I were you I would cancel one card and keep the other open. That way you can keep earning points and keep your account active. There’s really no reason to have both cards once you’ve earned the signup bonus.

      I love the Companion Pass! We’ve used it 5 times this year if you include flights we have scheduled now. It is awesome!

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