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Europe is opening up to American travelers again. Here is how I booked my flights and hotels, which points I used and which other options I’ve considered to achieve the same goals.
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When I learned that Europe is opening up to American travelers again, I jumped on the opportunity to book a trip. And because I am not a fan of hot weather (unless I can be on the beach, of course), Berlin and Vienna seemed like a somewhat safe bet for an end of August trip. I’ll be going to Berlin alone and my husband will join me in Vienna. And after a few days in Vienna, I am going to hop over to Israel to see my family, since it’s a short 3.5 hours flight from there.
These cities are almost polar opposites as far as European cities go; Berlin is modern and edgy and Vienna is regal and classic, but both have a lot to offer to any traveler. I’ve been to both cities before, but if I like a place, I can keep going back again and again.
Here I’ll describe how I booked my flights and hotels, which points I used and which other options I’ve considered to achieve the same goals.
COVID-19 Related Restrictions
Before planning your trip, always check the current travel restrictions at your destination. If you aren’t flying nonstop from the U.S. to your destination, you also need to be aware of the entry restrictions at all the transit airports. I use the official European Union’s site for all the current updates.
Another great resource is United’s own compilation of all the travel requirements. You can access it by clicking on Alerts.
Then click on the International document and entry requirements and you’ll be able to search by your destination, including the transit requirements.
I also reached out to my hotel in Berlin and asked them about their COVID-19 related restrictions and they responded with a list of temporary measures.
Between my husband and I, we have a good stash of United miles, Ultimate Rewards points and Membership Rewards points, perfect for booking the Star Alliance flights. Why Star Alliance? Because they offer the most options and I can usually find a good award ticket right from my home airport that is predominantly served by United.
Personally, I am not a fan of positioning flights, so I always try to find the whole itinerary available on points. A lot of travelers like positioning flights, but I’d prefer to avoid them and only do that when absolutely necessary. I always travel with a checked bag, so flying on two separate itineraries involves reclaiming my bag and checking it again, as well as paying for it if I don’t have that airline’s credit card.
I prefer to fly to Europe in business class because the flights are so long, so I went to work. With all of the different miles and points in my disposal, and considering that not many people are traveling to Europe right now, it wasn’t hard to find award space.
To get from Berlin to Vienna, I booked a cheap flight on EasyJet, one of Europe’s numerous low cost carriers for 75 euros, including the checked bag.
Cleveland to Berlin
The easiest way to find award space to Germany is with Star Alliance. My favorite way to search for Star Alliance flights is on United. The website is easy to use, you don’t need an account and there’s even an award calendar.
I couldn’t find any one stop itineraries but found a couple of good options with two stops. I am used to flying to Europe with two layovers, so that wasn’t a big deal. I ended up booking an itinerary with a layover in Newark and Brussels for 66,000 United miles and $30.60 in taxes.
The miles were already in my account thanks to a couple of COVID-19 related cancellations, but I originally earned them a couple of years ago when I opened the Chase United Explorer Business Card.
I also have a good stash of American Express Membership Rewards points so I considered transferring some to Air Canada Aeroplan. And while I found some award space on Aeroplan, the lowest award I could find was 70,000 miles and $75 in taxes for business class.
My other option was using Avianca LifeMiles, and they do have very reasonable award rates to Europe, but I couldn’t find anything around my dates. LifeMiles are supposed to have the same award space like other partners but, from my experience, that’s often not the case.
Another good way to book Star Alliance flights to Europe in business class is to use ANA All Nippon Airways miles. You’ll need just 88,000 ANA miles for a round-trip business class to Europe, but I planned to return home from another country, so that wouldn’t have worked for me. Another problem with ANA is their high surcharges (you can minimize the out of pocket cost by booking a Star Alliance partner with low surcharges, such as United, TAP or Turkish Airlines).
So in this case United wins on all accounts, as it had the lowest rates and the lowest surcharges. Plus I already had the points in my United account and didn’t need to convert a flexible currency like Membership Rewards into far less flexible airline miles. I always try to use the airline and hotel miles and points I already have first, and will only consider moving flexible points if I have to.
Tel Aviv to Cleveland
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to hop over to Israel to see my family, so I just booked an inexpensive flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv on Wizz Air, one of Europe’s many low cost carriers.
I went through all the steps I outlined above to find a return flight home from Tel Aviv and looked for award space on United, LifeMiles and Aeroplan. LifeMiles didn’t show any availability and United wanted 93,000 miles for a one-way business class ticket.
Air Canada has recently made some major updates to Aeroplan, its award program, and introduced dynamic pricing on awards that include Air Canada flights and a static award chart for partner airlines. When you hear dynamic pricing, you don’t usually associate it with good things. But, turns out, it could work advantageously for us and luckily I found a case where dynamic pricing just worked in my favor.
The award chart shows that I’ll need 85,000 miles for one-way business class from Israel to the U.S., but I was pleasantly surprised and found a business class award for just 67,400 miles one-way. It priced lower than the award chart because the longest segment is on an Air Canada operated flight.
This was a great find so I quickly moved 68,000 Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan (they transferred instantly) and booked my ticket before the award space disappeared.
A few months ago I applied for the Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees) and had the points from the welcome bonus sitting in my account waiting for the right opportunity. Air Canada is a transfer partner of Amex, so I moved my Membership Rewards to Aeroplan and the points transferred instantly.
I did an inventory of all the points and free night certificates at my disposal and booked both Vienna and Berlin hotels based on what I already had. I also wanted to take advantage of my Globalist status with Hyatt.
I’ve earned Globalist only thanks to some very lucrative proportions Hyatt ran in 2020, and I doubt that I’ll be able to keep it up after my top tier status expires in February of 2023. I am not loyal to any chain and often stay at non-chain hotels, so this is all quite new to me.
Grand Hyatt Berlin
Why did I choose this hotel? I’ve been eyeing this property since my last visit to Berlin two years ago. The last time my husband and I visited Berlin, I didn’t have any elite status with Hyatt so we decided to stay at the Hilton Berlin. Thanks to the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, my husband has Diamond status. Hotel breakfast is an important perk for both of us, so we settled on Hilton.
The hotel has a great location and has earned excellent reviews. I booked a basic room and hopefully I’ll get a decent Globalist upgrade. I love the generous European breakfast buffet and I am looking forward to having some delicious food at the Grand Hyatt.
How I Booked the Grand Hyatt Berlin
This property is a Category 4, so it’s bookable with 15,000 World of Hyatt Points or with a free Category 1-4 certificate. I had two free night certificates: one that I earned as a World of Hyatt cardmember this year and one from last year, so I used the two certificates and 30,000 points for the other two nights.
Now that Hyatt introduced Pay Your Way functionality, it’s easy to combine free night awards, points and cash in a single booking. After you sign into your account, go to cash rates and click on the Standard Rate tab. Make sure you click on the Standard Rate and not Member Rate – that’s the only way to bring up the Pay Your Way option.
You’ll see the Use Pay My Way option.
On the next screen, you’ll see all the options available to you, including cash, points and free night awards. I don’t have any free night awards in my account right now (I already used them up), so I only see the cash and points options.
This is a great way to maximize your points and free night certificates.
Das Triest, Vienna
I chose this hotel because between the two of us we have seven 35,000 Marriott free night certificates. We earned those over the last couple of years for being Marriott credit card holders. Thankfully, Marriott extended the expiration dates and now we can use these all at once.
Das Triest is a Category 5 hotel and there’s plenty of award space at standard rates.
The reviews are good and this is the only centrally located Category 5 property in Vienna, so I am hoping for a good stay. My husband and I have Gold Elite status with Marriott because both of us have The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees). However, Marriott Gold isn’t worth much. I am still hoping to score a slightly nicer room, but that remains to be seen.
My good stash of flexible points and miles across different flexible currencies and airline points had allowed me to quickly put a three country trip together. Diversification and having a good amount of flexible points in your disposal are keys to successful trip planning. It also helps to learn about airline alliances and how to book partner awards.
To sum it all up, here are the points, miles and free hotel nights certificates I used for this trip:
- 66,000 United miles
- 67,400 Aeroplan miles
- 30,000 World of Hyatt points
- Two Hyatt Category 1-4 free night certificates
- Seven 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points free night certificates
Personally, I am not a fan of assigning dollar value to points, miles and free night certificates because I’ll never spend an equivalent cash value. If I had to use cash, I’d book cheaper flights and less expensive hotels. However, having all these points and miles in my arsenal, allows me to travel more and to travel better.
I’ll be back with a trip report so stay tuned for the detailed flight and hotel reviews.
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after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
Membership Rewards® Points
after you spend $6,000 on purchases in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. All information about The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by 10xTravel. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire is no longer available through 10xTravel.
Membership Rewards® Points
after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership
Editors 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.