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Europe 2018: Award Travel Summary

Europe 2018: Award Travel Summary


For 2018 my husband and I have challenged ourselves to do 12 trips in 12 months.  Our goal is to use points and miles for at least 80% of our main travel expenses. Some trips are easier than others. For March we tent camped at Enchanted Rock, which after using our Texas State Parks & Wildlife Parks Pass for free entry, cost us a whopping $18 for a camping spot. February was also pretty manageable; we did a weekend trip to San Francisco (more on that soon!) and used our Southwest Companion Pass for the airfare, as well as Chase Ultimate Rewards points for the hotel.

January was a different story. Way back in the spring of 2017 we started planning a return trip to Italy, one of my top two favorite places in the entire world. That trip was rescheduled three times for work and schedule conflicts, and each time we rescheduled we somehow added a extra few days or an extra stop.  By the end of it we were leaving on Christmas Eve for three weeks in Europe. We flew into Zurich and out of the Netherlands, with stops in Lucerne, Cinque Terre, Siena, Montepulciano, Florence, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Since the majority of the trip was spent in January, this adventure became the inaugural trip for our 12 Trips in 12 Months challenge.  I am still editing hundreds of photos and putting all our experiences to paper. But first and foremost, I promised to share the details of our second goal - to use points/miles for at least 80% of the main travel expenses. Here is the summary for January 2018; numbers are rounded up or down slightly (for simplicity) and final totals are listed at the end of this page: 

12/24/17 - 12/25/17: New York
Flight - 37k miles - DFW to JFK on Delta for 2 people. We completely forgot to book our first flight out until the night before, so this was a better option than the available Christmas Eve last minute fares.  Current last minute fare for 2 people: $300 each or $600 total.
Hotel - 12.5k UR points - Crown Plaza Midtown Manhattan for 1 night, booked with our Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Total rate for 1 night: $188.

12/25/17 - 12/29/17: Lucerne, Switzerland
Flight - 90k points - Open jaw tickets for 2 people, JFK to Zurich and Amsterdam to JFK, purchase erased  with the Capital One Venture card. This great flight deal was found through Scott's Cheap Flights. Cash Deal Fare: $448 each or $896 total.  Current standard fare: $800+ per person, or $1600+ total.
Hotel - 41.5k UR points - The Wilden Mann in Lucerne for 3 nights, booked with the CSR card. Total rate for 3 nights: $622.

12/29/17 - 1/2/18: Cinque Terre, Italy
Train - 20k points - Lucerne to Milan for 2 people, purchase erased with the Barclay Arrival card.  Ticket total: $200 for 2 people.
AirBnB - 30k points - AirBnB in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre for 4 nights, purchase erased with the Venture card. Total rate for 4 nights: $300.

1/2/18 - 1/5/18: Siena, Italy
Hotel - 30k UR points - Hotel Athena in Siena for 3 nights, booked with the CSR card. From here we also took a day trip to San Gimignano.  Total rate for 3 nights: $452.
Car rental - $345 - 4 days in Tuscany. We paid out of pocket for this. We could have booked it ahead of time through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, or budgeted to use one of our purchase eraser cards.

1/5/18 - 1/8/18: Montepulciano, Italy
AirBnB - 31.5k points - AirBnB outside of Montepulciano in Tuscany for 3 nights, purchase erased with the Venture card. From here we drove to Montepulciano, Montalcino, and Pienza for day trips. Total rate for 3 nights: $315.

1/8/18 - 1/11/18: Florence, Italy
AirBnB - 40k points - AirBnB in Florence for 3 nights, purchase erased with the Barclay card. Total rate for 3 nights: $400.

1/11/18 - 1/13/18: Brussels, Belgium
Train - 12.5k points - Florence to Milan for 2 people, purchase erased with the Venture card. Ticket total: $126 for 2 people.
Flight - 10k points - Milan to Brussels on RyanAir for 2 people, purchase erased with the Venture card.  Cash fare: $100 for 2 people.
Hotel - 19.5k UR points - NH Collection Brussels Grand Sablon Hotel for 2 nights, booked with the CSR card. Total rate for 2 nights:  $292.

1/13/18 - 1/15/18: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Train - 10.5k points - Brussels to Amsterdam for 2 people, purchase erased with the Venture card. Ticket total: $105 for 2 people
Hotel - $474 - Hotel Estherea in Amsterdam for 2 nights. We paid out of pocket for this hotel.  We were originally going to book with UR points, but Southwest offered a 6k point Rapid Reward bonus to book on their site, which we needed to earn the Companion Pass.  Well worth it.
Flight - Second half of the original open jaw ticket, Amsterdam to JFK. See above.
Flight - 25k United miles - New York to Houston for 2 people on United. Current cash fare: $132 each or $264 total.

Out of Pocket Expenses:
Train tickets - $246 - This covered all other miscellaneous train fares including Zurich to Lucerne, Milan to Cinque Terre, and Cinque Terre to Siena.
Car rental - $345 - See details above.
Hotel - $474 - Hotel Estherea in Amsterdam. See details above. This stay was purposefully paid for with cash to obtain the points needed to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. Otherwise, we would have booked with points.
Cash Total - $1065 for 2 people, or $532.50 each.  Had we booked the hotel in Amsterdam with points, the Cash Total would be $595 for 2 people, or $295.50 each.

Costs Not Included in Calculations:
Food, Entrance Fees to Museums, a few miscellaneous Uber rides, and souvenirs. Why are these costs not included in the calculations? Because there are too many variables, especially with food. You can find hundreds of online resources dedicated to delicious "cheap eats" for almost any city in the world. You could have a $200 dinner at a fancy restaurant, or you could have a $10 dinner at a food truck. Almost every museum has cheap or free days, and some of the best museums are donation-only. Buses are usually cheaper than taxis and Uber. Walking is free. It is entirely possible to have an unbelievable adventure in a different country while sticking to a budget. 

Total Points Used: 410,000
Total Cash Spent: $1065.00
Potential Trip Cost without Points: $6,629.00
Cash Savings: $5,564.00
Percentage of Trip Expenses Covered with Points: 84%

Final Thoughts
- Even though we saved a TON, we still could have done this trip cheaper. We picked mid-range hotels with great reviews, and in several cities we chose to stay in an AirBnB for the location (and the laundry), instead of a cheaper hotel in a different neighborhood. There were plenty of cheaper hotel options to choose from in each destination.
- Our cash savings for this trip was $5,564.00. Had we booked the last hotel with points (see explanation above), our total cash savings for flights, transportation, and lodging for 3 weeks in Europe would have been $6,038.00.  And the booking process is basically the same. Where you would normally book a hotel on an online website, we booked it through our credit card portal instead. Or we booked it normally, then just erased the purchase with our purchase eraser cards (less point value, but more flexibility). Had someone put in some real effort with budget planning, they would have saved even more.
- We didn't pay baggage fees because we each only took a carry-on. That is correct: I packed for a 3 week trip to Europe, in January, with only a 40L backpack. Want to see some of the necessities we take with us? Click Here. I am also working on my packing list for this trip.  I am not a fashionista by any means, but it should help you see how packing light is completely doable.

Do you use points and miles to travel? Comment below! Do you have any questions about how we used our points for this trip? Leave your questions below, I'd be happy to help!

Hamilton Pool Preserve in Dripping Springs, Texas

Hamilton Pool Preserve in Dripping Springs, Texas