Editors Note: Two Card Trips is a series of articles that show how you could book a trip using points/miles earned from just two different credit cards. Today’s two card trip takes us to Central Europe with points earned from the Platinum Card from American Express and Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Cards.
Who says you need to have a bunch of credit cards to take a “free” vacation? I say two cards is all you need for a maybe not free but heavily subsidized trip to most destinations. You may not always be able to cover the entire trip with the points earned, but you’ll get pretty close by covering its key components, such as flights and some hotel nights.
Let’s see how you can take a trip to Central Europe by using points earned from just two credit cards: the Platinum Card from American Express and the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card.
Flight to Budapest
A classic Central European itinerary isn’t classic without stopping in Budapest, Prague and Vienna, so let’s begin our journey in Hungary’s capital, Budapest.
American Express Membership Rewards points provide several great options to book flights to Europe through its airline partners. After spending $5,000 on the card and earning 60,000 points as a welcome bonus, you’ll have 65,000 Membership Rewards points to help get you there.
For flights to Europe, I recommend the Air France-KLM Flying Blue program. The program no longer publishes an award chart, but we recommend using the Miles Price Estimator to determine the lowest number of miles a certain award would cost.
Once the low-level awards are sold out, Flying Blue sets its award rates dynamically, based on demand. Having said that, you still can find some great opportunities to redeem points for flights between North America and Europe.
Because I live in Salt Lake City, I’ll use itinerary examples from my hometown. Keep in mind that redemption rates aren’t the same from every city, but the calendar will show you the lowest option for your desired timeframe. If you’re flexible with your travel dates, you’ll be more likely to find saver level award space and get the most bang for your buck.
So, in this case, you can transfer 24,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to Flying Blue and book a one-way flight to Budapest. It’s actually a pretty good redemption rate. Several airline programs require 30,000 miles for a one-way economy ticket from the U.S. to Europe so this is a solid redemption.
Flight from Vienna
In most cases, flying on an open-jaw ticket saves time. By flying into one European city and leaving from another, you don’t have to spend a day — sometimes a night — to return to the first city.
So, if you fly to Budapest first and visit Prague next, you can fly home from Vienna, the final city on your itinerary. Of course, feel free to reverse the route if you prefer to start in Austria and travel in the opposite direction.
We’ll use Flying Blue to book our return as well. By being flexible with your dates, you can score low-level awards, such as this flight for just 21,500 Flying Blue miles!
Your round-trip flights will set you back 45,500 miles + about $240 in economy class, which leaves you with about 20,000 Amex points to spare. (More on how to use them later.)
You might have noticed that airline-imposed taxes are on the high end by booking award flights with Flying Blue. In some cases, it’s possible to book a multi-city award to save on the surcharges, but in this instance, you must book two separate one-way flights because Vienna doesn’t show up in the drop-down list of available return cities.
Lodging in Budapest, Prague and Vienna
Central Europe isn’t known for expensive lodging, but if you’re trying to make your trip as affordable as possible, you can redeem Marriott points for some of your hotel nights, perhaps the most expensive ones.
Keep in mind that as a Marriott member, you can book five consecutive award nights for the same number of points as four nights. Booking in five-night chunks stretches your points further and offers the most value. If one of these cities interests you more than the other two, why not stay a little longer to explore its intimate corners while paying nothing for your stay?
With the bonus earned on the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card after spending $3,000 on purchases within three months of opening the card, you can book the following hotels, provided there’s availability. Keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list. Other Marriott hotels are available in each city, but they either cost more points per night or aren’t in ideal locations.
- Courtyard by Marriott Budapest City Center – Category 3: four or five nights at 17,500 points per night (fifth night free)
- Lánchíd 19 Design Hotel Budapest – Category 4: three nights at 25,000 points per night
- Courtyard by Marriott Prague City – Category 3: four or five nights at 17,500 points per night (fifth night free)
- Renaissance Wien Hotel – Category 4: three nights at 25,000 points per night
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card also comes with complimentary Silver status for cardholders. It’s the lowest elite tier, but if the occupancy is low enough, you might enjoy a priority late checkout. Unfortunately, Silver members don’t qualify for enhanced room upgrades.
Remember those leftover American Express points from booking your flight? Feel free to transfer the remaining portion to your Marriott Bonvoy account to cover an additional night if you wish, but understand that doing so isn’t always the best practice. Depending on cash rates for rooms, you might want to save your Membership Rewards points for another redemption.
Because you won’t have enough points to cover your entire trip, I recommend searching Airbnb for an affordable apartment in the city center. With options to fit any budget, the popular vacation rental website is a great tool for those who enjoy more space and a kitchen.
From time to time, Amazon runs special promotions during which it’s possible to redeem Membership Reward points toward merchandise or gift cards sold by Amazon and receive discounts.
To be targeted for such lucrative promos, you must link your American Express Platinum Card to Amazon and pay with points at checkout. In the past, I’ve ordered discounted Airbnb gift cards by redeeming just 1 point and getting $20 to $30 off $100 gift cards. It’s a nice way to save hard-earned cash on lodging.
Keep in mind that these promos aren’t frequent, and redeeming Amex points on Amazon isn’t a preferred redemption method on everyday purchases.
Contrary to popular belief, traveling to Europe doesn’t have to be expensive. Credit cards help offset the costs effectively. With their help, you can easily find yourself soaking in the Széchenyi Medicinal Baths in Budapest, strolling across the 14th century Charles Bridge in Prague and enjoying a classical music concert in St. Anne’s Church in Vienna.
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