This is the first post of many from our trip to New York City, Paris, and Madrid. We were able to travel for two weeks, all on miles and points, with minimal cash spent.
- Miles and Points, how to travel for almost free
- Planning what to see
- What to bring vs. buying when you arrive
- VIP Lounges
- New York City
I have a few posts planned, and the list will probably expand beyond these seven posts, since many aspects of the trip deserve their own post.
Miles and Points make it happen
Miles and points are only good to have if you actually use them. My wife has been to Paris once before, but I had never been. Trips are more complicated whenever a child is involved, let alone when he’s 2 years old. To round out our crew, we invited her Mom to come along with us. So, now that I’m working hard to accumulate miles, I wanted to make Anna’s wish come true.
First thing’s first was finding flight availability. Making this more difficult was the fact that Anna is going to grad school for her MBA, so we had to work around her class schedule. Luckily, her spring break coincided with the “off-peak season” availability with American Airlines!
So, now that the dates worked in our favor and the miles pricing for off-peak season tickets wasn’t too bad. It would cost us 20,000 miles in economy to leave from LAX to Europe, and I wanted to splurge on Business Class on the way back, so that was another 50,000 miles per person. Total would be 70,000 miles per person, for a total of 280,000 miles.
I had earned miles through a variety of means, but here’s the breakdown:
- 50,000 miles for Citibank AAdvantage Visa
- 50,000 miles for Citibank AAdvantage Mastercard
- 50,000 miles for Fidelity promotion (deposit total of $100,000 within 90 days — deposited a withdrew $8,000 every few days to reach $100,000 cumulative)
- Transferred 80,000 SPG points for 100,000 AAdvantage miles
- Purchased 10,000 AAdvantage miles for $281.28
- The remaining 10,000 miles were earned from credit card spend and a couple of flights
Right now, the Citibank offers for the credit cards are only 30,000 miles, so I would recommend waiting for a 50,000 mile offer. The Fidelity promotion closed the loophole for depositing and withdrawing, then re-depositing the same funds over and over. Bummer on both account. Like a lot of opportunities with miles and points… you have to pounce on the opportunities while they last!
So, we were able to book our flights with no problem. The normal thought process is to book online, which would have directed us through London. Sounds good, right? Yes, but only if you like paying more than you need to!!!
Picking the right airport
If we had flown through London, the taxes and fees per person would have been over $900, which would have meant $3,600 for our party of 4. That’s a LOT of coin!!! So, I investigated alternatives.
By flying through Madrid on our way to Paris, our taxes and fees were only $300 per person, a total of $1,200… and a savings of over $2,400!
Allowing a Stopover in New York
We started our trip from LAX, and I had heard about the ability to do a “stopover” when traveling internationally. A stopover is when you stop in a gateway city (last city you depart domestically when traveling internationally) on your way to/from an international destination for a period of time… whether that be one day or 300!
So, we took the opportunity to stop in NYC for 2 nights and 3 days to visit friends, see the 9/11 Memorial, watch the NJ Devils vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, and see Times Square, before we continued on our journey to Paris.
This was a rather complicated itinerary, so I called American Airlines Customer Service to walk through the options and make sure everything was booked correctly. It cost $25 per person, but OH SO WORTH IT to save $2,400!!! You can ask them to waive the telephone fees if you can’t make a reservation online, but I didn’t want to be greedy since I was saving so much.
Our flight itinerary looked like this…
- April 24th LAX (Los Angeles) – EWR (Newark, NJ) (intentional stopover for 3 days)
- April 26th JFK (New York) – MAD (Madrid) – ORY (Paris Orly) (red-eye)
- May 6th ORY – MAD (unintentional stopover due to scheduling)
- May 7th MAD – JFK – LAX
14 days of fun and adventure!!!
We didn’t book the tickets right away… I put them on reserve, while I confirmed availability with hotels and our timeshare. Once you find the flights you want, you can put a HOLD on the reservation for up to 5 days if your flight is more than 14 days away while you finalize your other plans and confirm the trip details with the rest of your party.
We stayed at the Wingate Midtown Manhattan courtesy of a promotion that Wyndham had in September/October where, if you stayed at one of their new hotels, you would earn 16,000 points. I stayed 3 nights at a cost of $84 each for a total of 48,000 points. We used 32,000 points for 2 nights at the Wingate Midtown Manhattan that would normally cost $996.58. So, we parlayed $168 into $997… not too bad of a return!
We have a bunch of points with our Diamond Resorts and Worldmark by Wyndham timeshares, so we wanted to use them first and foremost for the bulk of our trip. We found great availability for a 1 bedroom unit the the Royal Regency in Vincennes through Diamond Resorts, so we stayed there from Saturday, April 27th through Friday, May 3rd.
We used 40% of our 15,000 annual points, so, by my math, this 6 night stay is equal to 40% of our annual dues, which are approximately $2,500. So, 6 nights for $1,000, or $167 a night for a 1 bedroom unit with a full kitchen. $167 a night might be cheap for a cardboard box in an alley in Paris!
For the remaining 3 nights in Paris, we stayed at the Radisson Blu Ambassador Paris Opera, which was in a very nice area and only a couple blocks away from the Paris Opera house. This hotel, at the time of booking would have been 951 Euros (or about $1,236). When we arrived, the nightly rate for walk-ins was 700 Euros (or $910 per night!). Instead, I took advantage of a Club Carlson (rewards program for Radisson) promotion in June 2012 that earned almost 150,000 for 3 nights stay that cost us $101, $75, and $85 (total of $261) during the Club Carlson Big Night Giveaway. So, at 50,000 a night, these 3 nights would have cost $1,236, but instead cost $261. As Charlie Sheen would say “Winning!”
Due to scheduling of flights, we had an overnight at Madrid. The intention was to explore the city and get a little taste of Madrid so we knew what to expect on a future adventure to Spain… instead, we were so tired at the end of a 2 week vacation, all we wanted to do was have some dinner, relax, and prepare for our 24 hour travel day back home.
We stayed at the Crown Plaza Madrid Airport. It was 25,000 points for the one night, which was 1/3 of the 75,000 points I had purchased during an April promotion in 2012 for $575. Had I known then, what I know now… I would have never bought those points. I was a rookie and didn’t realize how easy some points were to come by… an expensive lesson.
Even then, 25,000 points equals $192 (1/3 of $575) vs. the $100-$200 rate I found at the time. (I’ll update when I find my notes. This is an important lesson when booking… you have to understand what your cost was to earn those points to determine whether or not you are receiving appropriate value!)
Conclusion for New York, Paris, and Madrid Booking
So, for the 4 of us, we traveled for 2 weeks using miles and points. The total out of pocket to earn the miles, pay for taxes, etc. was $3,134… or $783.50 per person… or under $60 per day per person!!!
- $1,513 for Economy flight from LAX to New York to Paris via Madrid and Business Class from Paris to Madrid to JFK to LAX ($283 per person in taxes + $25 booking fee per person + $281 for 10,000 miles)
- $168 for 2 nights in New York at the Wingate Midtown Manhattan
- $1,000 for 6 nights at Royal Regency in Vincennes
- $261 for 3 nights at Radisson Blu Ambassador Paris Opera
- $192 for 1 night at Crown Plaza Madrid Airport
This $3,134 was a little more than my original estimate of $2,500, but I had forgotten about paying for the extra 10,000 AAdvantage miles and the the Crown Plaza points. The flights easily could have cost $2,000-$3,000 per person, while the hotels would have been about $4,000 for 2 weeks. So, on the low side, we spent $3,000 for a $12,000 vacation.
Over the next posts, I’ll share more about our trip… what we liked, what we didn’t, where we went, things we did right, and times I wish we had a mulligan. I can’t wait to share!
This trip was top notch, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely, so it’s 5 Razor worthy.
What are your thoughts? Where would you have stayed? Have you been to any of these hotels? I’d love to hear your comments.