As mentioned in a previous post, my wife just started a new job, which has limited vacation time. However, she does have the whole week of Christmas off.
Award flight availability just opened up for Christmas 2016 on United Airlines. Europe has been on my bucket list of places to go. My wife and I decided a couple of weeks ago that we wanted to do something fun for Christmas. We figured since we aren’t currently tied down to spending Christmas in a certain location why not use the time to travel. Booking award flights can be difficult. It involves constantly searching several different combinations of flights and locations to figure out what would work best. I had a bunch of Chase Ultimate Rewards from meeting minimum spending and from some manufactured spending. Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to several travel partners including United Airlines. Economy travel from North America to Europe costs roughly 60k United points + taxes/fees.
Deciding Where To Explore
At first we were set on going to London and Rome, but we soon realized that this was not an easy itinerary to find. All the flights into and out of Rome required long layovers and high taxes/fees. Our next set of cities we looked into was London and Madrid/Barcelona. There were slightly more direct flights and we were just about to book it. Until I googled where to spend Christmas in Europe. After reading several articles, I decided I wanted to spend the Christmas season in a place with a good Christmas market. As far as I could tell, Spain wasn’t really known for their Christmas markets. My wife mentioned Amsterdam as a place she wanted to visit. It was settled. We were going to London and Amsterdam.
Then, came the booking process, which took me way longer than it should have. The beauty of award tickets on United is that you can book with other airlines that are part of the Star Alliance. You can also book routes with stopovers and open-jaws. For more information on stopovers and open-jaws, check out Travel is Free’s Blog Post. We decided that we definitely wanted to take the train through Europe. After looking into a variety of different routes to get to London and Amsterdam, we decided to fly into London then take the train to Amsterdam. Then fly from Amsterdam to Frankfurt to catch our flight back to Seattle the next day.
Type of Aircraft Matters
We originally were planning on taking a flight serviced by United Airlines from SEA to IAD. This flight left Seattle around 11:30pm and then had a 1.5 hour layover in IAD before taking off to LHR. This route had been our plan for a while since London was our primary stop. However, when I went to go book the flights I looked up the planes that we’d be flying. The flights on United Airlines would be on: Airbus A320 and Boeing 757-200, respectively. Whereas the long haul flight from Frankfurt back home to Seattle on Lufthansa, would be on the Airbus A340-300. After looking at the seating configurations (2 x 4 x 2) as well as the reviews about the aircraft, we decided it would be worth it to book our long haul from Seattle to Frankfurt on Lufthansa and fly in an Airbus A340-300. We ended up paying $40 more to fly Lufthansa over United, but for the comfort of being not having to sit next to someone else during a 10+ hour flight it seemed worth it. We did have to slightly alter our itinerary a little by pushing our flight out one day and returning one day later.
This gives us 5 nights in London, 3 nights in Amsterdam, and 1 night in Frankfurt. I can’t wait for our adventure!
These two round trip tickets to Europe costs us the following:
- 3,000 United miles (from shopping portals and MPX)
- 117,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards (transferred to United)
- $260 in taxes/fees
When looking up award tickets, United shows how much it would cost if you paid in cash (without points). These flights would have costed a total of ~$3,300.
If you subtract the $260 in taxes/fees and then divide $3,040 by 120,000 miles, it comes out to roughly 2.5 cents per point, which is pretty good value especially considering that most of my Ultimate Rewards were earned via credit card signup bonuses for the Chase Ink+ and Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Other costs we still have to consider:
- Train Ride from London to Amsterdam (roughly $75/each)
- Hotels or AirBNBs
- Money for Food
- Money for Souvenirs/Tours/Museums