The Deal Mommy

Provence on Points: Lessons Learned

provence on points

Thanks to all of you that helped with Camp Mom Solo– your ideas helped me narrow down the swarm of destinations in my head.  I settled upon the south of France and wanted to share with you lessons learned booking a trip to Provence on points.  Hopefully they’ll help with your own inspiration.

The Itinerary

I’m taking this two week break to explore a region on my list forever: the Cote d’Azur and Provence. While visiting in the peak of tourist season isn’t ideal, I’m using points to max value.

To get to Europe I’m flying coach on Delta. On a flight under 10 hours I can live without a lie-flat seat. Most important to me is lounge access on layovers, which I’ll get from my American Express platinum card.

I land in Catania, Sicily and spend the first three days at the Sheraton Catania.  Yes, I know Sicily isn’t in France but using my own advice I found an award ticket to Europe and didn’t sweat the details.  The Sheraton Catania is a category 1 (!) so at 3,000 points a night I’ll adjust to the time change on the cheap while still enjoying ocean views.

I leave at the crack of dawn on day 4 to Nice.  Originally I wasn’t thrilled about a 7 hour layover in Rome but realized it’s a perfect opportunity to visit Ostia Antica: a ruin that’s said to rival Pompeii.  Arriving into Nice my first night is at the Radisson Blu Nice on a free night certificate from the Club Carlson credit card.

The next four nights are a splurge at the Hyatt Grand Martinez in Cannes. While I’m still not convinced it’s a $2500 hotel room I’m happy to spend the 12,500 points and $150 cash per night to apply a suite upgrade.

It seemed a shame to get to Provence and not spend time in the countryside.  Using Booking.com I settled upon 2 nights at the Auberge les Aromes in Grasse for 176 Euro total.  With an early train to Paris the last night in Provence is at the Holiday Inn Cannes for 20,000 IHG points.  I’ll have one night in between to get to Brussels for my flight home the next day.

Cost Breakdown

Flights: 68,570 points and $76

Hotels: 50,000 Hyatt points (1 cent), 50,000 IHG points (.5 cent), a free night certificate ($85 Annual fee), and $700

Train tickets and car rental: $300

Total: $1076 and $1,521 in points or $2,597

Definitely not the cheapest trip I’ve booked, but for two August weeks in Europe I’ll take it!

Lessons Learned

  • Delta low level flights to Europe can be found with patience and flexibility.  For this trip I used Delta Skymiles out and United Mileage Plus on the way back for 30,000 each. I found a flight in August from Minneapolis to Catania (Sicily) at low level after about my 10th try.
  • Just get over the pond.  I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: once you’re in Europe it’s really easy to get around.  I’m landing in Sicily and taking a Vueling flight (booked with Citi ThankYou Points) to Nice three days later.  Leaving Provence I’m taking a train to Paris, overnighting, and coming home from Brussels.
  • Book low cost flights and trains as early as possible.   My first class train ticket from Cannes to Paris costs 46 Euro bought in advance. Tickets are priced based on availability and once the low ones sell out prices double or even triple.  Rail Europe has a handy tool that will email you the day a ticket for any route goes for sale.
  • Use points where they matter most to you. For me, it’s hotels. You spend hours on a plane versus days in a hotel so on a flight under 10 hours I’m happy flying coach and using the points saved on luxury hotels.
  • Bookend your luxury hotel stays. I’m departing early so for that night I’m staying in a Holiday Inn as opposed to a Hyatt.  With a 6:00AM train I can’t use the diamond breakfast benefit anyway.  Ditto for jetlag days or days you won’t get value out of the room because you’re out exploring.
  • Book your lodging with free cancellation in case of opportunities. You never know when PointbreaksDaily Getaways, Secret Escapes, an EVR Week or other promotion might work to your benefit.
  • Don’t get so set on points that you miss out. I originally planned to only spend time on the coast but realized I really wanted to see the interior.  There’s only one points hotel (besides Accor) in Aix or any of the surrounding towns and at 35,000 Marriott points a night is a poor value compared to Booking.com.

How are your summer plans coming along?  Any Provence tips to share?

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10 thoughts on “Provence on Points: Lessons Learned

  1. Julianna

    Fun to hear your thought process on camp mom destination. Thanks for the reminder about rail Europe. Need to book lisbon to Porto soon I guess. Hubby and I are escaping to Portugal while all 3 kids are at summer camp in June. 10 days in Lisbon and Porto just us!!! Can’t wait! Only spent about $750 for biz/1st flights and all hotel nights. I guess I could call it camp romance!?! Keep up the great posts!

  2. Erik

    We did a trip to the Provence region in 2009 with a 17 mo. old. You’ll be in the Alpes-Maritimes department in rugged eastern Provence which is very nice. Do you plan to visit Monaco as a day trip from Nice? There are 3 different routes to get there (they’re called corniches) and we liked the one that went through the cute little town of Eze. From Cannes, you can easily drive or possibly take a day trip bus tour to Verdon National Park to see the beautiful Gorges du Verdon (a.k.a. “the Grand Canyon of Europe”). On a future trip, I’d recommend spending a lot of time exploring the various interesting places in the Vaucluse department of western Provence. The lavender fields, the Luberon, Pont du Gard, Avignon, the cute little hill towns/villages, wineries, and the romantic rural images that you’ve probably seen are all located in that area. I say “future trip” because I don’t think it would be practical or desirable to tour Vaucluse on a day trip from Cannes. Part of the essence of western Provence is being able to linger, explore, and take it all in. Kind of like Tuscany/Umbria. It’s really the perfect place to go as a family. We rented a 2 BDR apartment in an old country manor near Avignon for a week which proved to be a great central location for exploring the area.

  3. Erik

    Oh…and I forgot to mention another good web site for trains in France and Europe: https://www.captaintrain.com/en . They are an authorized seller for SNCF and other European train operators. The advantage over RailEurope is that they can easily (and legally) sell you the deeper discount tickets that might be available on local language-specific or geographic-specific web sites (i.e. you will see the low ticket price if you browse from France, but a higher price appears if you are browsing from the US). I always check both sites, just to be sure.

  4. Brandi

    Looks like a wonderful itinerary! Love to see your thoughts on luxury hotels vs. inexpensive ones and economy vs. first class. You make some great points. Last month I was reading your camp mom posts and you inspired me to book my first solo trip this year.

      1. Kenny

        No, no 4 person rooms there and we wanted to be in town. We stayed in a VRBO about 2 blocks away from the center of Catania. Of course it may be very different there as well as Taormina (awesome!) in summer – we were there Thanksgiving week.

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