If you want to experience Europe on a budget, you’ve got to find ways to save everywhere you can. To get the most bang for your traveling buck, you’ll definitely want to consider using credit card rewards.
As frugal travel and credit card rewards experts, we’ve used these rewards to travel to Europe a number of times – all for pennies on the dollar. Our very first trip to Europe was just two years ago, and it was amazing! We made it to both London and Paris, and our travel costs totaled under $200! Yep, I said 200 bucks! How’s that for frugal travel?,
Now that we’re back, I thought I would spill the deats on how the trip went down and, more importantly, how much we got there. Plus, for you travel voyeurs, I’ve thrown a few of our pics in there. Let’s start at the beginning.
How We Traveled to Europe on $200
The vast majority of our trip was paid for with hotel loyalty points, airline miles, and cash back. Holla!
For our two nights in Paris, we stayed at the Park Hyatt Paris – Vendôme. This is a 5-star hotel, and really a once in a lifetime stay. Rooms usually start at around $900 per night, but with points you can stay for free. For Category 7 Hyatt hotels, you can stay for just 30,000 points per night. Luckily, Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio, making the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card an excellent option to earn your free stay. Here are the current details:
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
- Earn 2x points on travel and dining expenses; 1x points on everything else
- No foreign transaction fees
- Points transfer at 1:1 ratio to 11 of world’s top hotel and airline loyalty programs
- $95 annual fee
Since there were no taxes and fees required for our rooms in Paris or London, our hotel stays were absolutely free. Boom.
When it comes to flights, I paid for them with 80,000 American Airline miles I earned with each of our Citi® /AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®. Here are the current details:
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
- Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles when you make $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months after opening your account
- Your first eligible checked bag is free
- Group 1 boarding and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases
- Earn a 10% of miles back upon redemption (up to 10,000 miles per calendar year)
- Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases
Basically, we both signed up for the card and combined miles after we earned the signup bonus. Then we used those points to pay for our flights, although we were on the hook for an additional $197 in airline taxes and fees. The good news is, this version of the card comes with the annual fee waived the first year, so the card itself came with no out-of-pocket cost. #Winning
For our stay in London, we also used credit card rewards to foot the bill. For our four nights in London, we used 48,000 SPG points we earned with our two Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Cards from American Express. Here are the details:
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
(Editor’s Note: This offer is no longer available.)
- Earn 25,000 Starpoints® for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
- Complimentary in-room premium internet access
- No foreign transaction fees
- Unlimited Boingo WiFi on up to 4 devices at Boingo hotspots
- Over 1,200 hotels and resorts in almost 100 countries to choose from (no blackout dates)
- $95 annual fee waived the first year
Arriving in London
Unfortunately, nothing else was free, although we managed to keep our budget in check for the most part. Regardless, we arrived in London two Wednesdays ago and got settled into our room at around noon. Here’s how our room at the Park Lane Hotel in London looked when we arrived:
The Park Lane Hotel has gotten some seriously awful reviews on Trip Advisor lately, but I honestly thought it was fine. It was clean, first of all, and the bed was comfy. Even better, it was right down the street from the Green Park Underground station. From there, you could get practically anywhere in the city for an affordable price, and we did so frequently. In addition, the Park Lane Hotel is also just a few blocks away from a grocery store. And since we were trying to keep our food spending at a minimum, we loved the fact that a store was nearby and went there several times.
Over the next few days, we did all of the touristy things to do in and around London. The highlights included the Tower of London, Hampton Court (Henry the 8th’s castle), Buckingham Palace, British Museum, Westminster Abbey, Leicester Square, and Soho. To hit all of these places and stay within our budget, we purchased two 3-Day London Passes. If you’re heading to London soon, you can read our complete review of the London Pass here.
Here’s a small sampling of our pictures from London:
Day Trip to Stonehenge and Bath, U.K.
In addition to London, we also visited the historic city of Bath (and the Roman baths) and stopped by Stonehenge. Those days were a few of my hands-down favorites. Here are some of my favorite pictures:
After spending four days in England, we were actually sad to leave. I love English history, and I truly enjoyed being near the many famous places I have always read about. Still, it was time to move on. Since we had two nights to spend in Paris, we decided to use our two free Hyatt nights to stay at the Park Hyatt Vendôme. It was extremely fancy and Greg said he felt out of place. However, it was really close to the metro Opera station and gave us a free breakfast. Score!
But something did happen there that was quite embarrassing. One night, after having some drinks elsewhere, we sauntered into the bar at around midnight to have one more drink. That was, of course, until we saw the menu and realized that drinks were 28 euros…or $35 USD each. Holy lawd…We ordered tap water and sat there awkwardly for a while before slowly slinking away to our room. Nice bar and everything, but damn. #Fail
And the free breakfast we got at the hotel? The menu had it priced at 48 euros or $61 USD per person. It was absolutely delicious but, ohmygod, I would never pay that much money for scrambled eggs and some yummy baked goods.
Regardless, here are some of my favorite pictures from Paris. Enjoy!
How Much Did We Spend?
The fact that we paid for airfare and hotel stays with credit card rewards meant that the majority of the costs for this trip would be for food and entertainment. Fortunately, I had around $500 in cash-back on a specific rewards card saved up to take care of the majority of that expense. With that being said, I budgeted $750 for our trip to pay for food, entertainment, and transportation – with $500 of that being paid for with credit card rewards.
But, did we stick to it?
No, but I still think we did okay. We spent a total of $900 (beyond the $200 in travel taxes) for our eight-day trip, mostly because I bought a few Christmas presents that weren’t necessarily budgeted for as a trip expense. We also found that food and train rides ended up costing slightly more than we planned, although we might have been able to save by skipping meals or renting a car. We did good on sightseeing in Paris, but we also had a few massive spending fails in Paris – including purchasing $16 in Diet Coke in one sitting. I’ll write more about in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.
Either way, credit card rewards made this trip possible. Without them, our airfare and hotel stays would have cost over $6,000 alone. And now that it’s over, I’m ready to plan out next trip abroad that I don’t actually pay for. Where will we go? I dunno, but I can’t wait to find out.
If you are interested in free travel rewards advice, be sure to follow the link to our “Free Rewards Advice” page! For more stories about our travels, check out these awesome posts: