If you have not read the Real Redemption series from Upgraded Points, you should! Yours truly is featured! I have received a few messages asking for specific details on how we earned these points. I will break it down in this post.
Introduction and Planning
While we already had miles and points to use for some of these bookings, most of the points came from sign-up bonuses.
Once we decided we wanted to book this Europe trip, I started researching flights. I wanted to book an American Airlines flight to Europe with Alaska Airlines miles because we were able to add the DFW to Europe flight as a continuation of our Kauai-DFW ticket from months earlier. This was possible due to the lenient stopover rules that Alaska Airlines has in place. That is a whole other post that I will save for later because it is a lot of information to process! The point is, we needed to find an American Airlines flight from DFW to Europe to make that Alaska Airlines stopover work.
After earning all of the Alaska Airlines points necessary to book our tickets, we found dates that worked and booked the flights. We found business class availability on a direct flight from DFW to Madrid. These flights were booked so far in advance that we had no plans whatsoever for once we got to Europe, so now we had to figure out what cities to visit! Madrid is a great city to start a European vacation because it is easy and cheap to fly to other major European cities from there.
Croatia was at the top of our list, and a few months after booking the DFW-Madrid flight a couple of friends expressed serious interest in joining us. We decided the main focus of this trip would be Croatia and now we had to figure out how to make that happen.
First I looked for cities in Europe that have easy flights to and from Croatia. Amsterdam and Paris were great options, so we decided to begin the trip in Amsterdam and end the trip in Paris.
We booked a direct flight from Madrid to Amsterdam (we booked with miles but intra-Europe flights tend to be cheap so sometimes it may make more sense to just pay cash). We found availability on a direct flight from Paris to DFW on American Airlines for our flight home. The flights from Amsterdam to Croatia then from Croatia to Paris were less than $150 per person total. So we ended up paying 300$ total, which is not bad considering how much we did not pay on other parts of this trip!
So now we have all of the flights sorted out, and I need to find hotels. We had 2 nights in Amsterdam, 2 nights in Paris, and 1 night in Split, Croatia.
After researching hotels in Amsterdam, Paris, and Split, I made up my mind based on a few factors:
- It had to be a nice hotel (of course!)
- Are the points required easy to earn?
- Does it make sense to book on points based on the cash value of the room? (You may want to read how to calculate the value of a point or mile when redeeming)
The rest of our time in Croatia was spent island hopping on a catamaran that we chartered with our friends. As stated in the Upgraded Points post, it is not as expensive as you may think, but there is not really a way to charter a catamaran on points and miles at this time. So let’s focus on what we can book on points and miles: flights and hotels!
Tip: Learn how to pack in a carry-on. It makes traveling around Europe easier!
Flights from Hawaii-DFW-Europe in first/business class
50,000 Alaska Airlines Each
How we earned:
- We each signed up for a BOA Alaska Airlines card. At the time, there was no minimum spending requirement. We each earned 25,000 points upon approval.
- A few months later, Ryan applied for the exact same card again. That offer was for 25,000 points after a minimum spend of $1,000 in the first 3 months, but there was also a $100 statement credit after meeting the minimum spend.
- The grand total for these 3 cards was 75,000 Alaska Airlines miles and $100 after $1000 in minimum spend.
- So Ryan now had the 50,000 miles needed for his ticket and I had 25,000 miles for my ticket. I needed an additional 25,000 miles.
- I had lots of SPG points from a previous sign up bonus and from everyday spending.
- I decided to transfer 20,000 SPG starpoints* to my Alaska Airlines account to get a total of 25,000 miles (remember there is a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 starpoints transferred to airlines. After those 25,000 miles were posted, I had the 50,000 miles needed for my ticket.
*I did not want to apply for another Bank of America Alaska Airlines card because there were other cards I wanted to get specifically for this trip. I wanted to save my applications for those. In other words, I do not like applying for too many cards at a time, so I saved my application “slots” for other cards.
Current offer: 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles after $1,000 spend within the first 3 months of opening the card. While Bank of America has made it a little more difficult to get more than 1 of these cards, you can still apply for the exact same card and earn the bonus again after 90 days.
Flights from Paris to DFW
30,000 AAdvantage miles each
How we earned: When we were planning this trip, we each had lots of American Airlines miles from flying, shopping portals and from previous AAdvantage credit cards sign-up bonuses.*
*A few years ago, there was an offer for 100,000 AAdvantage miles for their executive platinum card. It was a large minimum spending requirement, but it was before AA devalued their charts, so 100,000 could go a long way!
Current offer: There is an offer for 60,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. 60,000 AAdvantage miles is enough for 2 one-way tickets in economy between Europe and the US.
Amsterdam Hotel-Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam
The Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam-free weekend night certificates from the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve. You can read more in this post, but these rooms go for over $500 per night.
How we earned: I signed up for the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve credit card and earned 2 free nights at almost any Hilton property after spending $2,500 in the first 4 months.
Current offer: Unfortunately, Hilton and Citi ended their partnership last month. Amex is now the sole issuer of Hilton credit cards. While there is a version of the Amex Hilton credit card that often offers 100,000 Hilton points, it’s not as lucrative as the 2 free nights offer was (assuming you’re using the free night certificates at high-end properties). In other words, this deal is no longer available.
BUT, that doesn’t mean you cannot still find a great hotel with points in Amsterdam! For example, the Hyatt has an Andaz property in Amsterdam that is 25,000 points per night. Also, SPG has a W in Amsterdam that costs as low as 20,000 points per night.
This is a great example of how things are constantly changing in the miles and points world. Bonuses change, banks can discontinue their products, airlines and hotels can change their prices in miles and points. Sometimes the changes are good and sometimes they’re awful. We always find a way to adapt though!
Paris Hotel-Hotel du Louvre
How we earned: Chase Sapphire Preferred Ultimate Rewards transferred to Hyatt
Ryan already had the Chase Sapphire Preferred because we needed those points for our Hawaii trip! He had some Ultimate Rewards from everyday spending and category bonuses, but not enough for the 40,000 needed for 2 nights at this hotel. Since Ultimate Rewards is a transfer partner of Hyatt, I decided it was a good time to sign up for my own CSP so I could earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. I then transferred 40,000 of those points to my Hyatt account and then used the Hyatt account to book the hotel.
Current offer: still 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after $3,000 in minimum spend.
Until very recently, the Hyatt credit card (which is issued by Chase) had a similar sign-up bonus to the Hilton one mentioned above. It was 2 free nights after meeting the minimum spend rather than a fixed amount of points. Currently, the offer is 40,000 Hyatt points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. If you already have a Chase Sapphire Card and you need Hyatt points, this may not be a bad idea. I will always recommend getting a Sapphire card first for many reasons. First of all, the points are flexible so you can still transfer them to Hyatt. Second, better bonus categories. Third, better sign-up bonus. Please educate yourself about Chase’s 5/24 policy if you have not done so already before signing up for any credit cards!
Split Hotel-Palace Judita Heritage Hotel
We redeemed 40,000 points from a cash-back-type card for a statement credit to cover the $400 cost.
How we earned: Barclaycard Arrival Plus sign-up bonus. At the time, the offer was 40,000 points after $3,000 in minimum spend
Current offer: 50,000 “miles” after $3,000 minimum spend. 50,000 miles is equal to $500 worth of travel. Since Split does not have many options for miles and points, I decided I would use points from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus to cover that stay. This is essentially a cash-back card. You can redeem their “miles” for statement credits on travel purchases made with the card. The sign-up bonus at the time was 40,000 miles, which translates to $400 worth of travel.
I am not really a fan of these types of cards, but this trip happened when I was still kind of a beginner. It is still a good card to get for the sign-up bonus, but I personally prefer to put my everyday spending on other cards that earn points that I value more. You can read about some of our favorite cards for everyday spending here.
- Business Class to Europe: 100,000 miles
- Total minimum spending to get these miles: $1,000
- Total value of these flights: at least $7,000 if you count the Hawaii leg
- Economy from Paris to DFW: 60,000 miles
- Total minimum spending: none because we had a stockpile of AA miles
- Total Value of these flights: ~$1300
Total minimum spend: $1000 (but remember we already had points so if you’re starting from scratch you would probably have to open more cards which means more spending requirements to meet)
Total value: ~$8,300
- Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam: 2 free night certificates
- Total minimum spending: $2,500
- Total value of the hotel stay:~$1100
- Hotel du Louvre Paris: 40,000 Hyatt points (transferred from Ultimate Rewards)
- Total minimum spending: $3,000
- Total value of the hotel stay: $500 per night at the time so $1000 total
- Palace Judita Heritage Hotel: 40,000 Arrival miles
- Total minimum spending: $3,000
- Total value for hotel: $400
Total minimum spend: $8,500
Total value: ~$2500
Yes, it sounds like a lot of minimum spend to earn the points needed for these hotel stays, but considering these cards were opened at separate times, we had no trouble meeting the requirements. With that said, if you’re trying to book hotel stays such as these and you’re in a hurry to earn several sign-up bonuses, you may be in trouble. Signing up for 3 credit cards at the same time is not that unreasonable in terms of credit score impact. Your credit score may dip initially but will bounce back very fast as long as you pay your balance in full. The problem with signing up for 3 cards such as these at the same time is that $8,500 in minimum spend may be tough unless you look into some sort of manufactured spending techniques. I prefer to plan ahead and plan strategically so that I am not trying to meet multiple requirements at once.
For less than $10,000 in minimum spending requirements, we were able to book over $10,000 worth of flights and hotels! We planned this trip so far in advance that the new cards we opened were opened over the span of almost a year. Now, if we did not already have points in an SPG account to transfer to Alaska Airlines, and if we did not already have the AAdvantage miles needed for the flight home, we would have had to sign up for additional cards to earn those points. More cards means more minimum spend, so if you are new to this, keep in mind that you may have more minimum spending requirements to meet. Everyone’s situation is different, I am just explaining ours! The best advice I can give to beginners is to come up with a plan, be patient, and realize that earning large amounts of points may not happen overnight.