We recently traveled to Europe on a budget with the help of credit card rewards. Read this post for the juicy details...complete with pics!!!
Rewards Travel

Trip Report: Europe On a Budget

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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

(Editor’s Note: The following prices and deals may no longer be available.)

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:

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

  • Earn 100,000 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:

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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:

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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:

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Next Up….Paris

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!

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Paris pass

 

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:

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78 Comments

  1. Hubs travels frequently for work (just got back from Paris and is now in South Korea). The great thing is that work allows him to book his business trips on his personal card, then get reimbursed. We are saving up for a heck of a personal trip 😉

  2. Not too bad for visiting 2 of the top 10 most expensive cities in the world!

    Photos look great. Did you enjoy the poppy exhibition? People have been going crazy for it over here.

    The price of breakfast hotels in London and Paris are just the most ridiculous thing. They are basically designed for people travelling on business who will effectively pay anything for breakfast and then a few rich travellers who foot the bill.

    1. Yes, I thought the poppies were beautiful!
      And yes, breakfasts were ridiculous at both hotels. Glad it was free =)

  3. Sounds like a fabulous trip! Wow, $35 for drinks is off the hook! Did you take the Chunnel to Paris? That thing is so cool but it did creep me out to know I was riding underneath the English Channel!

    1. Yes, we took the Chunnel to Paris. And yes, I really liked it. I didn’t even know when we were under the English Channel!

  4. I am so jealous. I have travelled to so many places in the world, but for some reason have not had the opportunity to travel to Europe. The pictures are awesome! It’s great that you both good take such a trip for below cheap. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Hi! Just started reading your recently and I love your humour and tips. Sadly I can’t use all your advice because I live in the UK.
    Glad you enjoyed your trip, London is currently cold, rainy and gloomy but I agree has enough historic sights and (free!) museums to keep most visitors entertained.
    Now Paris on the other hand remains a mystery to me; that is, why so many love it. It was dirty, overcrowded, hideously expensive and in my view highly overrated!:)
    Lots of beautiful, historic architecture and the Louvre is quite spectacular I know but in general it is the most overhyped tourist trap in my view, ever.

    1. I actually felt like Paris was a let-down after visiting England. The architecture is insane but it was pretty dirty. Everyone there looked miserable too- the subway smelled like pee. I still enjoyed our entire trip but I definitely liked England better.

  6. Glad you guys had a great trip. Did you end up seeing Les Mis in London? I saw it there almost 10 years ago and it was a GREAT production.

    Hope you got your fill of the fancy breakfasts. It’s always my favorite part of traveling for work since those breakfasts are amazing but I could never spend that kind of money on breakfast myself. =)

    1. Yes, we did which is pretty sad because I’ve seen it live many times! Great show, though!

      And yes, I would never spend $61 per person on breakfast. It was really good but nothing could be worth that.

  7. I’m very interested in applying for a credit card that will get us at least one free flight to Europe next fall. I tried your link and that offer is no longer available so I was wondering which credit cards are the best for this?

  8. For the first time ever, I’m going to say who cares if you didn’t stay on budget! Looks like you had an amazing time and 900 bucks is a steal for Europe!

      1. Do you usually cancel the card before the annual fee? And, how many points does it take for the average round trip to Europe? I’ve also heard that AA makes it really difficult to use your points. I love Southwest in the states and have companion status with my husband.

        1. During off-peak times with American (October 15-May15), a round-trip flight costs 40,000 miles. The rest of the time it costs 30,000 miles each way for coach- so 60,000 miles round-trip. That’s why we went off-peak- so we could get each flight for 40,000 miles. And yes, you can cancel the card before the annual fee comes due. In my opinion, AA reward flights are only hard to book if you have specific dates. Our dates are always flexible so I basically plan my trip around the best flights. For example, we did this trip Tuesday-Tuesday because those were the best flights. Make sense?

  9. Sounds like a great trip, Holly. Hard to imagine doing much better on the trip financially: rewards take care of the big stuff, but a gal’s got to eat.

    Did you have any favorite bars or restaurants to visit?

    1. Hmmm….not really. To be honest, all of our meals were on the cheap side. The only halfway expensive meal we ate was in Paris and it was disgusting! HAHAHA We mostly ate vegetable sandwiches and French fries, pizza, etc.

      Sorry I don’t have any good restaurant tips!!! =)

  10. We got nothing confirmed yet, but we are working on the cards for our 2016 anniversary trip to Italy. Since my wife is only half on board with credit card usage, it takes me more time than I would like to get the points I need. Oh well..

    We do have a big family trip to Norway this summer (my dad is taking the entire family). After that we might try to squeeze in a trip to either Ireland or go back to Oktoberfest in September. If not, we can always go back to Vegas to see my in-laws… who knows I might end up on the same flight as you to Vegas again… and then be too chicken to ask if you are who I thought you are… again…

    1. HAHA!

      I totally need to go to Vegas. I have built up my Facebook Las Vegas rewards balance so much I could get a free room for three nights at the Luxor! LOL
      We need to coordinate our flights for sure- then ignore each other again because we aren’t sure if we got the right person =)

  11. I think it’s probably impossible to stay 100% on budget on a trip like this. It’s not like you will probably be back anytime soon, so if there is something unplanned that I wanted to do or buy, I’d probably spend more money too. We have a trip to San Francisco/Santa Cruz coming up that was a combination of points and cash, and we have our big trip to Europe next summer. We just found out that Jim got his British Open ticket a couple of weeks ago. I could care less about watching a golf tournament, but he’s super excited. It’s nice to be able to do things like that because our air fare and hotels are free or very low cost.

    We’ll see how we do on longer flights. If it isn’t too bad, I’d love to go to Australia or maybe Hong Kong or Japan. To combine them all in one trip would be sweet, but I have to study some more to see how to make it happen.

    1. I didn’t mind the longer flights. We watched movies and snacked. I actually thought it was relaxing. I think it was the first eight-hour period ever when I didn’t have to move and no one asked me for anything!

  12. Looks like an amazing trip! We are planning a trip next year to Orlando and Universal Studios we are trying to figure the best way to reward our way there.

  13. I love travelling but it’s so expensive and, like you, I couldn’t imagine spending a huge amount of money, even on this sort of trip-of-a-lifetime. I’ve been looking around for card deals to collect points with, but most don’t seem to be available outside the US… 🙁

    1. Yeah, I have heard that many times. The most lucrative offers are definitely in the United States.

  14. Looks like a great trip! I hope to make it to London one of these days. We’re saving our rewards for our next trip to Bulgaria in the spring or summer.

  15. Sounds like an awesome trip Holly. You are the credit card rewards master! 🙂

  16. I love Paris, been twice so far. I haven’t yet visited England but if all works well, I will be able to join DH on his work trip to Ireland and England in February 2015! Thanks for sharing the pics, and I’m glad you had a great time. 🙂

    1. Ohhhh….that would be fun. I really want to go to Ireland!

  17. Looks like a wonderful trip, Holly! I told my wife recently that I wanted to travel-hack a vacation to Europe like you and she was very excited. Unfortunately with scheduling the best time will be…January 2016. It gives me a ton of time to plan the specific credit card strategy (and maybe some new rewards will come out too!) but it also means I need to not jump the gun since I don’t want to get hit with an annual fee because I got the card more than a year before I could use the rewards. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    1. You need to plan ahead anyway. I would start earning the points now and book flights as soon as the airline calendar opens up. I’ve booked flights 11 months ahead before- it helps you get the flights and location you want.

  18. I think you did great for a trip like that! Did you wish it was longer or was that good? I’m super interested what was in those cocktails to make them $35 each!

    1. No, I thought it was the perfect amount of time. If we didn’t have kids, we might stay longer.

  19. do your rewards points for any of these cards ever expire? Or if you cancel the card after you get the points, do the points go away? I want to start credit card rewards next year but am wondering if I would have to keep all the cards until I’m ready to book the trip, which could be two years from now.

    1. Yes, some of them expire. You could always earn the points you need and then book your flights and hotel way ahead of time!

  20. Looks like a great trip. We missed the poppy exhibit at the Tower by one month so I am glad you posted a beautiful picture of your time there.

    I am disappointed that you bought into the love locks hype. A panel on the Pont des Arts collapsed in June due to the damage caused by the weight of the locks placed there by tourists. While it sounds romantic and makes for some beautiful photos, I hate to see this happen to such great architecture.

    1. It was a really fun trip.

      I did read that about the bridge. The good news is, they already removed the metal railing on about half of the bridge and replaced it with see-through plastic sheeting so that the bridge would never collapse again. With that being done, it sounds like they’ve created a plan that will allow people to continue the tradition without damaging the infrastructure of the bridge like you said. It is honestly not that surprising that the bridge collapsed that way. I don’t think any bridge is built to handle that kind of weight!

    2. And the poppies were absolutely beautiful! It was breathtaking. I liked the Tower of London anyway, but the poppies pushed the experience over the top!

  21. Aloha Holly!

    I’m so glad that you guys had FUN, not to mention, MINIMAL SPENDING! Score!! You guys should have climbed up on top of Arc d’ Triomphe. The view of Paris is absolutely breathtaking. My bf and I went to Europe too using mileage. 🙂 And now, we have another set of mileage to burn for next year! Not sure if we should do Asia or The Best of U.S. (NYC, ORD, SFO).

    1. You know, we thought about it, but it was extremely windy that day. Sounds awesome though. Maybe next time =)

      I think Asia or best of U.S. both sound good. Where do you live?

      1. I live in Hawaii. If you guys ever want to visit the Big Island, let me know and I can be your tour guide for a day or two. 🙂 Keep posting those travel blogs. They’re very entertaining and informative. Aloha!

        1. Of course I want to come to Hawaii!!!!! =) Where in Hawaii do you live?

          1. I live in the Big Island. We have almost everything here. We have beautiful rain forests (good for hiking) and falls, gorgeous white beaches, the snow in Mauna Kea, lava from the Kilauea volcano, simple country living in Waimea, beautiful mountains, gardens, and tropical flower farms, historic spots, and most of all, the spirit of ALOHA in people LESS the traffic and crowd in Honolulu. 🙂

  22. Looks like an awesome trip. How cool was Bath? I went years ago on a family vacation and thought it was pretty cool to think that the Romans were there thousands of years earlier swimming around 🙂

    1. I loved Bath. The Roman Baths were super cool and so was the town.

  23. I had to buy a flight a few months ago with REAL money (ouch) for a wedding. But it gave me $50 off the price when I signed up for the United MileagePlus card. I also eventually got the bonus points, and now when the in-laws come for Thanksgiving, the wife and I are going to get away for 2 days in Chicago using those points. So awesome that you got away for cheap! I can’t wait for my turn, even though its only 2 hours away…

    1. REAL MONEY>!>!>!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      What *Is* That?

  24. I am impressed that you were able to visit these places with the help of rewards. How did you manage to obtain more rewards? I just got a MasterCard®, and I hoping I can get rewards that can bring me to London. 😀

    1. Just using different rewards credit cards- that’s all =)

  25. Even though you went over budget, you still did great considering how expensive those cities are. In Paris, it’s best to eat at the little vendors you see on the street, pizza, etc..and then splurge for dinner or something, but away from the touristy areas, walk around a little more, and dessert from the vendors (ice cream or crepes). I agree Paris is gritty, and dog poopy 🙂 . It is also kind of cool. All of a sudden, you’re like..oh l see!!! Glad you loved London though. It’s got it’s own problems, but it’s eclectic !

    1. Oh, we didn’t eat anything expensive at all. Mostly veggie sandwiches and snacky foods. Regular restaurants were too expensive!

      But yeah, you explained Paris perfectly. Kinda gritty but amazing in its own way.

  26. You did pretty good with $900! I’m actually really inspired and excited right now to plan my dream Euro trip using my credit cards!:)

  27. Great pics! I can’t believe how much they mark up food and drinks in hotels. It’s almost criminal! When I stay in Europe is was always at 2 and 3 star pensiones. I think I spelled that right but spellcheck disagrees. Of course points don’t cover that but I like being immersed more in the culture. Paris is awesome! I love the architecture there and the food is amazing.

  28. Sounds like you had a lovely trip! I haven’t announced it on the blog yet, but I just purchased a RT flight to Spain for $63 using credit card points! My friend is teaching there until June, so I am going to see her in May. I have six months to hustle and save for actually being there. I’m really excited! Thanks to people like you, I figured out how to manage all this.

  29. I love the pics Holly!!! I have a client who wants to go to Europe next summer and I told her that she has to credit card hack (because she has awesome credit) her way there and I have sent her the stuff you wrote on MSP and I am sending her this blog as well.

  30. Love the pics, Holly! Makes me want to hop on plane and go to Europe. It looks like you and Greg had a fantastic trip and I think $900 for a week in London/France is pretty darn good. 🙂 And I had to chuckle over the $35 drinks … I guess I can’t complain about the cost of drinks anymore!

  31. I love Europe! as we all know that Europe is very expensive to go but when I read this article its possible not to spend so much. All you need to do is budget. This is very useful and helpful for us who wants to travel there. Thanks for sharing this article. Great post!

  32. Great pics, thanks for sharing. Did you make it to Switzerland? We did when we went backpacking a couple years ago through western Europe. Of all the countries we visited, Switzerland actually had the highest costs. I remember paying the equivalent of $14 USD for a drink at Starbucks. I couldn’t believe it. Beautiful country, but wow!!

  33. WOW! That is an impressively low amount to pay for your European vacation. I love the photos. I have not been to Europe but my wife has. We are budgeting for our first European vacation and I appreciate you listing how you pulled it off.

  34. I love that you were able to do the trip so cheaply with points. I love travelling with credit card rewards, but we haven’t done enough of it recently. I’m a reward point hoarder. It’s a problem. I have like the equivalent of four flights right now.

  35. Less than 1K for a trip to Europe — awesome! We went to Paris in September. It’s definitely dirty. We managed to avoid $16 cokes but we did spend a lot on food overall.

  36. My old stomping grounds! And, you got to see the poppies!! Great pictures and I’m glad you had fun 🙂

  37. So happy for yall. Loved this update. I studied abroad in England and college and will always remember how cool it was to see Stonehenge. I hope you can take the girls back someday! I def hope to take the beans. 🙂

  38. Holly, your trip report looks great! Brought back some memories. Photos of London are amazing! The hotel we stayed in many years ago was tiny, I mean really tiny. I paid 36 dollars for it, though. That Park Lane hotel looks perfectly fine to me. I take Trip Advisor with a grain of salt. I think people these days are either too picky, or expect too much.

  39. Sounds like you had an amazing trip! I need to learn your amazing travel hacking skills. Did you fly coach or business class? I am interested to hear more about your Diet Coke experience, I am wondering if it’s similar to what happened to me one time.

  40. Results like this are the reason I read your blog– the phrases “Europe vacation” and “Budget” rarely go together unless someone is joking, but your trip was dead serious. Very nice financial maneuvering!

  41. We too are using our 2 free Hyatt nights at the Vendome. I was glad to read that breakfast is included. are there any places to eat close by that are relatively inexpensive. We LOVE street food.

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