San Sebastián, Spain (photo credit)

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Oops, I did it again.

For the 3rd year in a row we are headed to Europe and the United States for the summer.

For the 3rd year in a row, we will be circumnavigating the globe.

And for the 3rd year in a row, a substantial portion of our transportation costs will be zero.

Another Round-the-world Trip

What can I say, we like Europe in the summer. Conveniently that aligns with Jr’s summer holiday and when the temperatures in Taiwan start to exceed the melting point of human flesh.

This year we plan to start by visiting friends in London, sample the world famous pintxos in San Sebastián, Spain, swim along the Costa Brava, and then meander through Poland, the Baltic states, and Scandinavia. If fortune wills it, we may also take the ferry to St. Petersburg, Russia.

After spending 4 months in Europe that past 2 years, this year’s 7 weeks feels much too short. The struggle is real. That’s how life works now that we are following the school calendar.

Europe 2018

It was interesting (to me) to see how Europe 2018 overlaps with Europe 2017 and Europe 2016. We will be adding 7 (or 8) (or 9) new countries to our running total, while also returning to a couple favorites. (Maps made with Travellers point.)

Europe 2016, 2017, & 2018

On the other side of the pond, we will be visiting family around Minneapolis (camping Up North) and visiting friends in Seattle. Perhaps a meet up is also in order?

“Free” Flights

Our flights from Taipei to London, Oslo to Minneapolis, and Seattle to Taipei had a sticker price of over $7,000.

I paid $221.95. This includes “checked bag fees” for the whole trip, since we travel with a full assortment of stuff.

Europe

First up, we had to get to Europe. Due to planning a little later this year, there was no convenient Business class award availability unless we wanted to travel for 36+ hours with multiple connections. No thanks, direct will be just fine. That’s a bit of a bummer because I’ve always enjoyed British Airways’ Business class product.

Direct flights to London from Hong Kong in Economy cost $1,084. A flight from Taipei to Hong Kong cost an additional $136. (We already have HK lunch plans with friends.)

Or, using Avios Points those same flights are 19,500 and 4,500 points, respectively, with combined tax of $68. That is a valuation of ~5.4¢ and ~2.5¢, both quite respectable. We generated those Avios Points by transferring from our Chase Ultimate Rewards account. It’s a good thing I booked these flights this week, as there are no more BA direct fights for our dates, now requiring connection in Helsinki or Dublin.

Alternatively I could have purchased flights from Taipei with connections (16 hours in Guangzhou?) starting at $500 or direct flights from Taipei to London for ~$900. You have to pay me more than $400 to spend 16 hours in Guangzhou.

Europe to US

I was hoping to write about the super sweet Business class seats I booked from Oslo to Minneapolis, but they “sold out” the day before I could book them. And generally speaking, I’ve not found great valuations for booking economy class tickets from Europe to the US, often with fuel surcharges.

For example, I could spend 45k miles + $197 for these nice flights on Icelandair. And how about those checked bag fees? $95 + tax.

Those same flights are available for $577 on Icelandair.com, which values those points at 0.8¢. Plus bag fees. Pass.

Or… what’s this? On the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal I could buy that same flight for $552, with a free checked bag. Which is what I did.

Icelandair flights from OSL to MSP

This is the first time I’ve seen the Chase portal with lower prices than the airline, but I’ll take it. This yields a 1.5¢/point valuation since we hold the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. (See my review here.) However, this is 25,000 fewer points than if I transferred them and booked an award ticket.

I could argue that we fared better than 1.5¢/point since the airfare was ~10% lower and we saved the baggage fees, but I won’t since we could have purchased at these rates with no points.

US to Asia

Getting back across the Pacific, there are usually good award options for 35k miles in economy or 80k in business. Unfortunately I wasn’t getting any good options for flights without connections from Seattle to Taipei.

I could pay 35k points for flights with 4 – 6 hour connections in San Francisco, or pay cash for direct flights. Again the Chase travel portal cost about 10% less than what I was getting quoted from the airline, so once again I traded Ultimate Rewards points for flights at1.5¢/point.

This was effectively 7% more expensive than booking as an award ticket on United, but I’ll pay 7% more for a direct flight every time.

Round-the-world summary

When I add all of that up, total fares for the flights we booked comes to a bit more than $7k. Our out of pocket expenses total $221.95.

In total we spent 300,861 Ultimate Rewards Points, for an effective redemption of ~2.3¢/point.

I’ll take it.

How we got so many Ultimate Rewards Points

Where did the 300,000 Ultimate Rewards Points come from? A combination of Credit Card Signup Bonuses and heavy optimization of reward category bonuses.

The fastest way to earn a ton of points is almost always signing up for a new credit card. We earned signup bonuses from the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Freedom, and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards.

Based on current offerings, you can earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, or 15,000 points with the Chase Freedom, for example. To see these and other reward card options, click here.

Each card has unique earning categories. The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3 pts/$ on travel and dining. The Chase Freedom card earns 5 pts/$ on revolving categories (Q2 2018 earns 5% on grocery stores, or when paying with PayPal or Chase Pay.) The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5 pt/$ on everything. By putting all travel & dining on one card, all groceries on another, and everything else on the 3rd we can maximize total points.

To see these and other reward card options, click here.

Thoughts on Redemption Valuation

Our effective redemption value for this trip was ~2.3 ¢/point, but a good portion was redeemed at only 1.5¢/point. Previously I even got 20¢/point redemptions. Obviously we can do better.

Typically I strive to maximize redemption values. It’s fun and rewarding. But… we have been earning points faster than we have been spending them.

I could have paid cash for several legs of this trip, earning even more points, with the expectation that we would get better redemptions in the future.

Or… I can not spend thousands of dollars and just get more points.

Common Questions

Doesn’t this hurt your credit score? No, it makes it better (and credit scores are dumb anyway.)

What about the interest on credit cards? Pay in full every month. We’ve never paid a penny of credit card interest afair.

What about annual fees? Calculate the ROI – I’ll happily pay $100 in fees to get $1000 in flights. More of that, please.

Isn’t it hard to meet the minimum spend? Just use the cards for your normal everyday spending. Plan ahead. Ideas here.

Do you really earn points on everything you buy? Yes – We even earn points paying taxes.

Summary

We are looking forward to our 3rd year in a row of following the good weather through Europe and the US. The Baltics States and Scandinavia have long been on our list. Friends and family get togethers along the way are sure to make it extra special.

I’m certainly looking forward to the Spanish cuisine and beaches, visiting a bunch of new (to us) countries, and enjoying the Great Outdoors in my home State.

As a bonus, our flights are once again basically free. I love credit cards.

Have you used credit card rewards to fund your own travels?

A big reason the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is one of our favorites is you can combine points with other Chase cash back cards like Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited under the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program.

Chase Freedom allows you to earn 5% cash back in categories that change quarterly, and the Freedom Unlimited earns a flat 1.5% on all spend) Using the right card for different types of spend means you earn free travel even faster! And they also have their own signup bonuses!

Compare both of these Chase Cash Back cards against other cash back cards HERE.

Editorial Note – Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.