Points/Miles Hobby in Action: Trip to Europe
I just returned from a two week vacation in Europe with my family for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. The main event of the trip was a cruise on one of Royal Caribbean’s newest ships, the Ovation of the Seas. But, we spent 3 nights in London prior to the cruise and 3 nights in Barcelona post-cruise.
Planning the Trip
Back in November I wrote an article detailing how you could fly to Europe this Spring for free since there was tons of great availability to many European cities and you could easily get the miles required from a single credit card sign up bonus. A few of my friends took advantage of this opportunity–and I even convinced my parents to sign up for the credit card, earn the miles, and redeem for a flight to join us.
I also took advantage of my own advice and booked direct economy flights on American Airlines from PHL to London and Barcelona back to PHL. Each leg was only 20,000 AAdvantage miles since I booked these prior to American devaluing their award chart and changing their definition of off-peak awards. Now, the same flights cost 22,500 AAdvantage miles each way from January 10 – March 14 and November 1 – December 14 and 30,000 miles each way any other time.
After we arrived in London Heathrow, we stayed at the Intercontinental Park Lane, which is near Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace for three nights. Although rooms were selling for $350-$450 during the timeframe we were in London, I had taken advantage of an IHG buy-points offer which I wrote about here: 100,000 IHG points for $575. Although I did have to pay out of pocket for these IHG points which I redeemed for the hotel room, it saved me a considerable amount of money compared to paying the actual cost of the room.
Since we didn’t pay for airfare and saved a significant amount of money on our hotel, we were able to enjoy a wonderful cruise. Unfortunately, there is no real good way to redeem points or miles for cruise vacations, so we paid cash for that part of the vacation, charging the total cost to my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, to earn 2 miles per $1 spent on the cruise.
The 7-Night Ovation of the Seas Cruise
The Ovation of the Seas was an amazing ship. The Quantum class ship had only started sailing in April 2016, so we were on one of its first voyages. There are up to 4,180 passengers on board and the ship is 167,800 tons, the second largest class of cruise ships behind Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class.
The 7 night cruise left from Southampton, England and stopped in Gijon, Spain, Vigo, Spain, Gibraltar, and ended in Barcelona. The cruise ship had many unique features, including: a skydiving simulator, bumper cars, an observation crane that rises well above the cruise ship, and much much more! Perhaps most interesting the ship did not have a “main dining room” instead opting for several smaller themed restaurants that passengers could decide to go to for varied cuisines and locales. It was very much a choose your own adventure type of cruise–which took a little getting used to.
The Ovation of the Seas also had a Promenade area with several restaurants, cafes, and even a NY Style pub.
The cruise was great overall. The new ship was amazing and really re-defines what cruising actually is. Most of the restaurants offered great food and good selection. That being said, a few kinks still need to be worked out. For example, the Windjammer cafe, which is the main option for breakfast and lunch was usually overly crowded and unmanageable and the food mediocre. The ship bills itself as a “smart ship” when used in conjunction with the Royal IQ app for your smart phone, but the app was still in its infancy and really not all that useful. Finally, although all the staff were friendly, some were unsure on how to manage passengers with this new style of cruising–this will likely improve after they experience a few sailings.
Arrival in Barcelona
All good things must come to an end, and the time onboard the ship went by quickly. After 7 nights, we arrived in Barcelona, Spain early in the morning, and disembarked. Luckily we had reservations at the amazing Cotton House Hotel, which is a Marriott Autograph Collection property.
The Cotton House is a Marriott Category 8 hotel, which means that redemptions cost 40,000 points per night. However, since I was able to get a great rate on the room, it made more sense to use cash, and earn points on the stay. We stayed in the hotel for 3 nights, and I paid for the stay with my Chase Marriott Reward Visa Card, which earns 5x points per $1 on Marriott purchases. Although I will likely cancel this card within the next few months since I am not staying at Marriotts as often as I used to, this was a great opportunity to use this foreign transaction fee-free card to pay for this stay.
Great vacation, made even better by maximizing mileage redemptions and earning
It’s really easy to take advantage of points and miles to make family vacations more affordable. Like always, I recommend setting a travel goal (or goals) and then doing a little research to find the best way to earn points miles to make your goal a reality. Even if you only end up using miles for free airfare, and paying for a hotel or cruise, you end up saving a significant amount of cash! Credit cards are the easiest way to earn lots of miles quickly–if you sign up for a card with a good sign-up bonus and use that card for all of your normal day-to-day spending, you will often be able to earn enough miles for a great vacation in less than a year! Hopefully, this story of the points/miles hobby in action motivates you to set your own goals and get involved in the hobby.
As always, if you have any questions, or would like some advice on how to realize your travel goals, just contact me via e-mail, twitter, or Facebook.