Everyone thinks you’re a baller when you can go to Europe just for the hell of it. I mean, international travel is so darn expensive, am I right? To start with, long-haul flights can be extremely costly. And hotels? Forget about it. Fortunately, you don’t actually have to pay for your airfare -or even your hotel- if you don’t want to. Yes, I’m serious, and to prove it, I’m totally going to Europe for less than $200 bucks this fall. Here’s how:
How We Got There
(Editor’s Note: The following credit cards and offers are no longer available.)
First, both Greg and I signed up for a Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. The deal was this: Spend $5,000 in 6 months and earn a total of 25,000 Starpoints. You also earn 1 point per dollar spent, so hitting the minimum spending requirement will net you around 30,000 points. Greg and I both signed up for this card and earned a total of 60,000 points. Boom. (This card also comes with an annual fee of $95, waived for the first year.)
After that, we each signed up for a Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select MasterCard® for this deal: Spend $1,000 in three months and earn 30,000 American Airlines Miles. In addition, we also earned 1 point for each dollar we spent to get there. Of course, we totally nailed our minimum spend, and ended up with a ton of AA miles to burn. (This card comes with an annual fee of $95, waived for the first year.
A few months later, I signed up for a Chase Hyatt card for this deal: Spend $1,000 in three months and earn two free nights in any Hyatt property worldwide. Easy peasy. (This card come with an annual fee of $75, waived for the first year.)
If you’re looking for ways to earn more Hyatt nights, you can always transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to use at Hyatt properties as well. These points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, which is awesome. Our favorite way to earn Ultimate Rewards points is through the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Here’s the current deal: Earn 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. In addition to Hyatt, these points also transfer at a 1:1 ratio to 10+ other partners. Or, you can turn them in for gift cards or other travel experiences. Since they never expire, why wouldn’t you want to earn them?
At that point, we just needed to decide where to go. Our top picks were the Bahamas, Aruba, and London. Since I just got back from Jamaica, and we’re heading to Florida in a few weeks, I thought it would be wise to mix it up a little. So, we decided that we would use our points to do something other than drink Mojitos on the beach, and devised a plan to visit London and Paris.
Europe for Cheap
First, we booked our flights. American Airlines points are worth much more during their off-peak season, which happens to be October 15th-May 15th for U.S. travel to Europe. Scheduling our trip during this time meant that our round-trip tickets only cost 40,000 AA miles each, plus $197 in taxes and fees. We scheduled a round-trip flight but with multiple destinations, which means that we’re flying into London but home from Paris.
Next, we took care of our hotel stays. Starwood points are incredibly valuable for stays in high-dollar properties, and we chose to use 48,000 points for a four-night stay at the Park Lane Hotel in London. However, you could use these points to stay almost anywhere in Europe with hotel redemptions going for as low as 2,000 points for Category 1 hotels to 35,000 points for a category 7 hotel. Since the hotel we chose is a category 5 property, and since we will be traveling off-peak, it only cost 12,000 points per night. Starwood also offers a fifth night free for booking four consecutive nights at any hotel in categories 3-7, but we couldn’t take advantage of that perk due to time constraints. You can browse all Starwood properties and their corresponding point values here.
Our two Hyatt nights were reserved for our stay in Paris because I was hellbent on staying at the Hyatt Park Vendome. I mean, it looks awesome, and actually paying for a low-end room can cost you upwards of $900 on any given night. So, we booked our two nights at the hotel which will serve as our home base as we wander around Paris aimlessly. Does anyone know how to say vegetarian or bathroom in French? Anyone?
Redeeming Credit Card Rewards for Magic
Of course, we can’t magically teleport from London to Paris, so we’re going to ride the Chunnel instead. In case you didn’t know, the Chunnel is basically a high-speed train that goes under the sea, folks. That’s some scary shit. I’m probably going to need a doctor’s prescription to make that happen. Yes, I’m serious.
Anyway, this is where the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® comes in. I plan to put a lot of our spending on mine between now and then, with the goal of paying for our Chunnel tickets with travel credits. I have to spend $3,000 in three months to earn 40,000 bonus miles which can be redeemed for $460 in statement credits for travel. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® does have an annual fee of $89, but it’s waived the first year.
These credit card offers are changing all the time. Let me help you plan your next trip with credit card rewards. Visit my “Free Rewards Advice” page for details!
Saving on Sightseeing
Even though we’re getting to Europe for cheap, that doesn’t mean that everything there is free. We’ve got to pay for our sightseeing as well. We want to do that as cheaply as possible AND we definitely don’t want to stand in line. Here’s how we plan to save money and time.
- The London Pass – The London Pass offers FREE entry to over 60 of London’s best attractions, plus fast track entry to some of the biggies – like The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Westminster Abbey, and more. With entry fees hovering around £20 for most major attractions, we only have to hit about 2 a day to make the pass worth it. We’re also going to add the Oyster Travel Card to the pass, making travel via public transportation free…at least to everything we want to see. Learn more at our Complete London Pass Review!
- The Paris Pass – The Paris Pass is practically identical to the London Pass, with FREE entry to over 60 of the best attractions in Paris. It too offers fast track entry to some of the most popular sightseeing attractions, including the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, and the Grevin Wax Museum. The travel card and guidebook are also available. Learn more about the Paris Pass by reading our review here!
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