By 10xTravel Reader Ryan Ferreira
I joined the 10xTravel Facebook community in the summer of 2018 but was already into credit card points. However, I hadn’t realized the value of transfer partners yet.
For instance, I’m still kicking myself over using about 167,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards I earned with my Chase Sapphire Reserve for travel credits to cover about $2,500 in flights booked through the Chase portal.
However, I’ve learned a lot since then. My (now) fiancée and I took a two-week trip to Europe covering five countries and saved a whopping 91% on what otherwise would have been a $17,000 trip.
Here’s how we did it.
In This Article
Right around the time I was getting into 10xTravel, I signed up for the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card (now known as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card). I earned 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points from the welcome bonus. Additionally, the complimentary Silver status that comes with the card helped me earn an additional 40,000 Marriott points thanks to some work trips.
Shortly thereafter, Chase ran a special for Sapphire customers to get mortgages through Chase. By doing so, we earned 75,000 Ultimate Rewards points. The points were in my account within a month.
NOTE: Unless the terms with Chase are equal or better than what you can get elsewhere, this may not be worth it. In my case, Chase was actually one of the best deals I found.
Finally, I earned 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points by opening a Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and hitting the minimum spend.
By earning a couple of welcome bonuses and using these cards for our everyday spend, we were able to earn the points for our trip.
While I was really hoping to book business class award tickets with United miles, there just wasn’t any award space. However, I was able to find economy seats and use United’s Excursionist Perk so that we could add an extra country to our trip for no extra points.
I transferred 120,000 Ultimate Rewards points to my United MileagePlus account to book two round-trip tickets to Europe. The total cash cost for the taxes/fees was only $250. Considering the two tickets for our itinerary would have cost us thousands, we were psyched to take advantage of Chase’s transfer partner United.
Our initial itinerary had us flying from Louisville (SDF) to Washington Dulles (IAD) to Paris (CDG) to Ljubljana (LJU). We would then stay in Slovenia for 6.5 days before flying to Lisbon (LIS) via Brussels (BRU). Before heading home, we’d stay in Portugal for 6 days. On our way home, we’d connect in Newark (EWR).
However, United pulled the Boeing 737 MAX 8 from service after some safety issues.
In June, our flight time was changed. Unfortunately, this change would have caused us to cut our trip short. Since the new flights wouldn’t work for us, I checked their website for alternative options before I called them.
When I did, I was happy to discover there was some business class availability, and it was only an additional 30K United miles per person. As a bonus, the United flight from Washington, DC to Munich had their newer Polaris business class cabin.
At this point, our trip had moved from “visiting friends” to “planning a proposal,” so I was excited to have a great flight experience with lie-flat seats!
I called United, explained why I needed to change our flights, transferred some more Ultimate Rewards points to United while on the phone, and booked the new itinerary with the connection in Munich instead of Paris.
But again, United had other plans…
Literally the night before our flight, United texted me that they had changed the aircraft on the route. We would now be on an older plane from Washington, DC to Paris with the old 2-4-2 layout in business class, yet still marketed as “United Polaris”.
Editor’s Note: United classifies all international business class cabins as Polaris so you need to check the cabin layout prior to booking if you want to experience the newer product.
So I called United and learned that, apparently, you’re allowed one free itinerary change per trip, regardless of how many times they change your flights. News to me, but with some sweet-talking (and an hour phone call), a supervisor was able to change our itinerary.
When all was said and done, we flew from Louisville to Chicago (ORD) to Munich to Ljubljana. Not only did this allow us to fly United’s nicer business class option but, we were also able to visit United’s Polaris Lounge in Chicago.
A 10-hour layover never seemed so simple – daybeds, showers, full bar, sit-down meals, buffet – that is certainly the life.
For the first leg of the trip, we made Slovenia our home base and took day trips to the surrounding countries. We booked seven nights at a Marriott property for 12,500 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. However, a perk of using Marriott points is that you get the fifth night free. Thanks to this perk, we only needed 75,000 Marriott points (plus $32 in taxes) for the stay instead of 87,500 points.
In Portugal, we did a road trip along the coast, up to Porto, and ended in Lisbon. Our first night was at Pousada Sagres, a boutique hotel on the southern coast. We paid cash for this as they’re not part of a major hotel chain.
Our second night, we stayed in Porto at an AC Marriott for 17,500 Marriott points. Thanks to my Gold status, I was able to secure an upgrade to a Junior Suite.
After a morning of tasting port wines on several tours, we ventured to the Penha Longa Resort in Sintra. This property was formerly a Ritz-Carlton (prior to Marriott’s merger with Starwood) and was our chance to pamper ourselves. We used 35,000 Marriott points per night rather than paying over $300 per night.
Unfortunately, no upgrades were available due to a massive wedding being held that weekend, but nevertheless, we enjoyed the fabulous views from our room as the hotel in a national park.
Lastly, we finished our trip with three nights in Lisbon. I waited until the last minute to book these, and as a result, the only points options were on the outskirts of the city. Since all of our plans were in the heart of the city and our time in Lisbon was limited, we opted to pay cash and stay at the Pestana CR7 hotel which is a block from the main city square.
We’re not soccer fans, but if you are, this hotel was developed and co-owned by Cristiano Ronaldo, so I highly recommend you check it out.
Let me start by saying that if you haven’t been to Slovenia, it’s a great place to put on your list. It’s a very nature-centric country, and the people are as friendly as they come. It’s a small country which means you’re within driving distance of Italy, Croatia, Austria, and Hungary. We took daily road trips to hit all of those countries (except Hungary), and visited Italy 3 times. On top of the great location, many people speak English well in Slovenia (and love to practice it too).
In Portugal, we visited a few port wineries. Graham’s was okay but you could tell they were focused on commercialized production. At the Ferreira winery, you can taste the dedication and family atmosphere that goes into their products. They aren’t focused on being the biggest in the business, but instead focus on the quality of their product.
We also found in Portugal the people were not nearly as friendly to foreigners – if you speak fluent Portuguese, you’ll blend right in, but for whatever reason, even with Google translate or us trying to say things in their native tongue, they were not impressed. Just food for thought if you’re considering your own trip to Portugal.
Of course, the BIGGEST highlight of our journey by far was our trip to Venice. We went with family friends (who spoke Italian), and so they helped me find the perfect spot to ask my partner if she’d marry me… and she said yes!
For this trip, we used 180,000 Ultimate Rewards points which we transferred to United for the flights. For the hotels, as mentioned, we did have a few boutique stays on cash, but points-wise, we used 127,500 Marriott points for 9 nights of various quality.
This was our first big points redemption since joining the 10xTravel community. Until now, we’d only used points on hotels here and there. Even without the engagement, this still would have been a fantastic trip.
United Polaris definitely lives up to the hype and their Polaris lounges should not be missed. But for me, the ability to take advantage of the Excursionist Perk to hit two different countries (one of which allowed us to visit 3 other countries with ease) was well worth us flying economy on several legs.
It doesn’t hurt that we saved a ton of cash by using points.
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