About a year ago we flew from Asia to Europe to begin a 4 month tour. We spent a month each in Spain, Italy, and UK/Ireland, and a handful of weeks in Portugal, Czech, Germany, Denmark, and Iceland. This was a big chunk of Jr’s 16 countries visited in his first 16 months.
Notably absent from this list of countries is France. And it has been an awfully long time since I’ve had a good croissant.
To rectify this terrible situation, in a few weeks we are flying to Paris. We’ll be there at least 2 weeks, after which we will eventually make it to the other slighted countries.
I was pretty excited about how we saved $10k+ on our previous trip. But this time… we did even better.
Epic Award Flights to Europe
Our flights to Europe are probably the biggest award travel score that I’ve pulled off.
There is only 1 direct flight from Taipei to Paris, on EVA Air. One-way tickets for 2 adults and a child were $2,150 in coach (3 seats) and $7,450 in Biz (lap carry child.) We fly 1-day before Jr’s 2nd birthday, so we can still lap carry, but no way are we doing that in coach for 14 hours (would save ~$520.)
Unfortunately, there was no award travel availability for business class, and coach seats were 45k miles each (total 135k.) That is ~1.6¢ per mile, which is OK for United miles, but I would have to transfer UR points 1:1. These are worth at least 2.1¢, so I’d be losing 25%+ of the value.
Alternatives weren’t looking great. Google Flights was giving me terrible choices for other airlines, with long layovers or indirect routes. 30 hours with 14.5 hour layover in Seoul is a “best flight”?!?!
Mileage options were even worse, with no availability in economy and 75k+ points per adult for biz.
So I ignored the flight search tools and built my own.
Cathay Pacific had a nice flight to Paris from Hong Kong, but the price was a little steep at $8,493 per adult in Business and $3,270 in coach. Frequent flyer miles to the rescue!
Alaska Airlines has a partnership with Cathay Pacific, with Business class flights from Hong Kong to Europe for 42,500 miles! That is a valuation of $0.20/mile! This can’t be booked online, so I had to call Alaska Airlines. The first time they told me I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, so I hung up and called back for a different sales person.
Unfortunately, this mileage fare is only valid for flights from Hong Kong. The leg from Taipei to HK needed to be booked separately, at a cost of 22,500 miles per adult.
Instead I opened a brand new British Airways Avios account and transferred 10,000 UR points. This was processed instantaneously. For 4500 Avois points per adult we now had our Hong Kong flights (economy, lap carry.)
The problem with this arrangement is most airlines charge 10% of the full adult fare for a lap carry infant on International flights… that big $8k price tag on the Cathay flight means a $875 lap carry fee. Bummer. I guess all of those people who told us kids were expensive were right after all :p (I even thought about leaving him in Taipei, but Winnie said no.)
I could have booked Jr his own business class seat for another 42,500 miles, which would have saved us $875 with a mileage valuation of ~2.0¢. I probably should have done that, but I couldn’t shake the image of some poor 6’7″ person stuck in the back with their knees touching their chin, while our 25 lb kid lounged in a super-sized seat sipping alcohol free champagne. So he will sit with us.
Fortunately, when it comes to lap carry children, British Airways shines. They only charge 10% of the mileage fare for lap carry, so Jr gets to ride on the 2 hour flight to HK for only 450 miles. At 2.1¢, that is only $9.45.
We are flying the day before Jr’s 2nd birthday, so it would suck a bit if flights are delayed/cancelled and our travel gets pushed out a day (can’t lap carry from Age 2 onward), but that is what travel insurance is for.
Total trip time: 16.5 hours (2.5 hours longer than direct flight)
Miles used: 85k Alaska miles ($1,615 value), 9450 Avios points ($198.45 value)
Taxes/fees: $1,072.65 (which also earns 3,218 points worth $67+) ($875 of this is for Jr.)
Cost if paid cash: $19,204
Alaska valuation: $0.20/point!
UR valuation: $0.108/point!
However, I would never pay cash for flights at these prices. These mileage valuations, while amazing, are overstated. Instead, assuming the original EVA biz class flight ($7,450), subtracting the taxes/fees, blending the points: 94,450 miles/points -> $0.07/mile. Still amazing!
Or, for $1,000 less than the purchase value of the coach flight, we fly business class. I’m good with that.
Since we are moving out of our apartment the day prior, and our flight leaves at 6 am, I booked us an airport hotel.
I didn’t use points though… instead, I had the Holiday Inn Express pay me.
Every year, IHG has what they call the Accelerate bonus offer, which is unique per member. This is mine, which expires in mid-April, so this is the last opportunity.
With a 2-night weekend stay, paid with my IHG credit card, I will get 3k + 1.5k + 4k + 21.5k = 30k IHG points. These are valued at ~0.7¢/point+, for a total of $210. Although as with our flights, I routinely get better value, e.g. 15% better with a 0.8¢/point for a stay in Bath, England. I also have a 1k point Anniversary bonus if we stay before May, which is worth another $7. We will be using these points and the annual Free Night that comes with the IHG credit card elsewhere in Europe, TBD.
The total bill for 2 nights is ~$159, which includes breakfast. I paid an extra $3/day to get another 1k points/day, which brings the total for the stay itself to 4,187 points (value = $29.30.) I’ll get another 5 points per dollar spent on the IHG card, for another 800 points ($5.6.)
Total cost: $165. Total value: $265. Eat, sleep, profit.
As a bonus, we can take the subway to the hotel for a couple bucks rather than an early morning airport taxi for $35. (Savings, ~$30.)
Do you always get paid to stay in hotels? “No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!”
Last night I booked 2 weeks at an Airbnb in Paris. ($40 off your 1st stay!) It is next to a big park and has a great central location. I can’t imagine we’ll be eating too many meals at home (cuz, Paris!) but the kitchen also looks very nice. Hopefully the convertible couch is comfy, since a London friend is coming over for Easter weekend. (Check out all the great European Airbnb apartments we stayed in last year.)
This apartment had a 12% weekly discount, and the owner gave us an extra 13% off since I asked nicely. Compared to what else we were finding, $127/night seemed like a rockin’ good deal. ($1,781 total.)
But… $800 of this I paid with Gift Cards which I had purchased at 20% off ($800 for $640.) In hindsight, I should have purchased more (MUCH MORE!)
$100 of this I purchased from Amazon.com for $80 with my Amazon credit card, which earns 3% back. These were physical cards mailed to my mom in California, with no shipping and no sales tax. Actual cost: $77.60 / 22.4% off.
The remainder I purchased from giftcardmall.com, also with no sales tax, and I bought these through the Ebates shopping portal for an additional 1% cash back. Actual cost: $475.20 / 20.8% off. (See how to Never Pay Retail Again.)
The remaining $981 was paid on Winnie’s Sapphire Reserve card, which earns 3 points / $. Each point is worth at least 2.1¢, for 6.3% back (although with the Hong Kong flight above, UR points were redeemed at 10.8¢… 32.4% back?) Actual cost: $919.20 / 6.3% off.
All together, the total cost for 2 weeks is $1,472, or $105/night.
Incidentally, I recently took a survey on Facebook and Twitter to see which 3 European cities are a reader’s favorite. Check out the results! Also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or both(!), for more day-to-day fun stuff.
We’ve both been to Paris before, but this will be our first time there together. We’ve been to 9 of the top 10 cities from the survey, and the rest of the list is giving us some ideas for where to head next. Christmas in Vienna / Salzburg and a sailing trip on the Dalmatian Coast are 2 ideas we are exploring.
We are planning at least 4 months in Europe, starting with 2 weeks in Paris. We really have no idea where we’ll head after that. I’m reading through a copy of Lonely Planet France for ideas. If you have some French favorites, please let us know!
Business class tickets from Taipei to Paris, via Hong Kong, cost about $300 in taxes/fees plus 85k Alaska Airlines miles and 9450 British Airways Avios points, and another $875 for Jr to sit on our laps. With an early departure we’ll stay in a hotel near the airport, which will give us another $265 worth of points to use in Europe for a low fee of $165.
Booking by the week, we snagged 12% off our Airbnb in Paris, and I got another 13% off just for asking. About half of the total price was covered with Airbnb Gift Cards that I purchased for 20% off. I should have purchased more, as I can’t currently find any available discounted GCs.
Croissants though… those I’ll pay full price.