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After spending what felt like an eternity writing my Bora Bora trip report, I’ve decided to go more “running diary” for my trips. We’ll see how it works out. Anyway when this posts hopefully we’ll be over the Atlantic in Lufthansa first for our summer trip to Germany and Austria! Also, today marks a big milestone for the blog – I am upgrading Baby M to Little M – this girl ain’t a baby anymore. Why did she have to learn the word “no” three weeks before we left!?
Now, full disclosure, we would probably be taking a trip this summer without points and miles – it’s just something we as a family believe in and value. Before I got into this madness, we would take trips every summer but it would either a) cost more than we spend now or b) cost the same but be less comfortable. So I just wanted to lay out some of the strategies we used to book this trip and how it saved us some money.
Most of you know by now, but United completely hacked their award chart when it comes to partner airline premium cabins. When they announced this, I thought I would never get to fly Lufthansa First Class again (Jess and I flew it for two legs when she was pregnant BOS-MUC-PEK). I couldn’t justify shelling out 110,000 miles each way (the current price), and Lufthansa typically only releases first class space 7-10 days out and with a kid we’re just not that flexible anymore (for the record, there seems to be some space available in LH F for the next two weeks from Boston to Frankfurt). So I had given up the dream.
But sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Last fall, Lufthansa for some reason opened up a bunch of first class space on their new Toronto to Munich route – before the United devaluation. This was a brass ring opportunity, I didn’t hesitate. It pays to be decisive in this game. I not only booked Jess and myself in LH F for today’s flight, but my parents as well (with their own miles). Jess and I are returning in LH F on our own since my parents are leaving earlier, but to get LH F roundtrip was a real coup.
So in the end, Jess and I spent 270,000 United miles (mostly from Chase Ultimate Rewards) and about $250. Little M’s infant ticket cost $269.10 due to the best United agent in the world (IMO). So it cost us $500 out of pocket plus the value of the miles. I don’t have time to do any serious math, so I’ll keep it simple – if we take into consideration the fact that I can convert Ultimate Rewards points to cash back for 1 cent per point, one could say that these flights cost us about $3200. Though Airfare Watchdog has been posting some pretty sweet $700 RT Europe deals, all of those have been last minute deals for summer – deals we can’t wait for when making plans. If we weren’t using miles, I would have budgeted about $1300 each for airfare, plus M’s infant ticket which would have been around $130 (10% of adult fare).
The current roundtrip cost of a first class ticket to Germany is around $14,000, but it’s stupid to say I saved $12,000 per person. Here’s a more accurate breakdown of the cost.
So, our estimated cost for the flights we booked are $3200, we would have spent around $2700 to get to Germany anyway. I think of it at worst as a $500 upgrade from economy to first class. So we didn’t necessarily save money here, but it’s worth it to me. Hopefully it’s worth it to Jess too, she’s the one who likes caviar. Also, as of this writing, the other four seats in our cabin are empty which means it could just be Jess, my parents, M, and me in the cabin. That’d be pretty sweet.
OH! I didn’t even count the cost of the FREE PAJAMAS we get! So yeah – maximum savings!
So in the past, I’ve budgeted around 80 Euros a night for lodging. Now that we have M, I’ve kinda upped that to 100-120 Euros/night because a lot of rooms in Europe are double occupancy only and they are sticklers for that.
Here’s where we are staying:
Airbnb in Garmisch-Partenkirchen at 110 Euro/night (per family)
Hilton Munich City at 109 Euro/night
Hilton Vienna Plaza at 40,000 HHonors points/night
Intercontinental Berchtesgaden at 35,000 IHG points/night
Crowne Plaza Salzburg at 30,000 IHG points/night
I had enough points in my Hilton account to pay for both ours and my parents rooms in Vienna, and enough points to cover our stays in the IHG resorts. I ended up buying IHG points at 0.7 cents each to cover the second room in IHG, which is over my daily budget (180 and 130 Euro/night respectively), but I think of it more as a wash since we had all those IHG points lying around. Again, we haven’t necessarily saved money with our hotel stays, we just are getting more for our dollar (in my opinion).
Intra-Europe Travel and Activities
I rented a car and we also still need to book a train from Vienna to Munich. It’s tough to really save money on stuff like that, though I’ll probably use my Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard® to get reimbursed for the train tickets. I am planning on cancelling that card soon and I haven’t “zapped” any travel purchases yet so hopefully this will cover most of it.
In terms of activities, there’s no real way to save money using miles and points – we just need to make good decisions. The areas we will be in feature lots of hikes and scenery gazing which is generally cheaper anyway. Although Sound of Music tours probably aren’t cheap – I’m pretty sure we’re gonna have to hit at least one of those.
The day will come, possibly quite soon, when we’ll likely only be able to afford economy tickets on points and miles, and that’s okay. Points and miles are just tools by which we can offset the costs of travel we would be doing anyway. Still, while Little M can still go as a lap infant, it’s nice to use them to make life a little more comfortable – which is how we’re using them on this trip. Did we save a ton of money? No – there’s always an opportunity cost (we could have flown to Europe twice in economy with the number of miles we used). But this is how I’ve chosen to use our miles, and I’m looking forward to this adventure. Hope you enjoy my ramblings for the next few weeks!
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