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While Paris is beautiful and London is beyond cool, these major European cities are also considered by many to be expensive and overcrowded. Many major European destinations are overrun with tourists, but there are still lots of charming European cities that are easier on the wallet, welcoming to tourists, and loaded with charm.
Let’s look at how you can put together a great (and affordable) trip to a couple of destinations in Europe growing in popularity without spending a ton of money and points. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and their capital cities keep popping up on all the “up and coming destinations” lists and for good reasons. There’s lots of history and art to be discovered, the scenery is spectacular and the food scene is fresh and dynamic.
Another great thing about all three capital cities is how close they are to each other. To get between any of the cities in the Baltics, you can drive, take a bus or take a short flight on one of Europe’s low cost carriers. For example, a flight from Tallinn to Riga takes just 50 minutes! So it’s easy to explore two or more destinations on one trip.
In this article, we’ll look at how you can make this cool trip a reality with the welcome bonuses from just two cards: Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and Hilton Honors American Express Card.
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Getting to the Baltics with Points and Miles
The Ink Preferred is one of the best cards in Chase’s lineup of business cards. The sign-up bonus is 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. The card earns 3X points on all travel and shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and advertising on social media and search engines. The card is perfect for any international traveler because there are no foreign transaction fees. The annual fee is $95, which is not waived the first year.
Ultimate Rewards is my favorite transferable points program as they can be redeemed through Chase travel portal at 1.25 cents per point or transferred at 1:1 ratio to a lot of travel partners. I find that I get the best value by utilizing these partners. Some of the better transfer partners include Hyatt, Singapore Airlines and United Airlines.
Just remember that you have to be under 5/24 to be approved for this card.
If your small business spends money on travel and online advertising, this is a great card to keep long term. The points earned at 3X rate will help offset the annual fee. The card also comes with cell phone protection if you use the card to pay your cell phone bill for you and your employees.
How to Book Award Flights to the Baltics with Ultimate Rewards
There are many good ways to use Ultimate Rewards points. The easiest, and, in some cases, the cheapest option might be booking economy seats through the Chase travel portal. You will get the best bang for your points if you have Chase Sapphire Reserve and combine the points earned with Ink Preferred with the points earned with Sapphire Reserve. By doing so, you can redeem the Ultimate Reward points at 1.5 cents per point. This would make sense if the cash price is low, because the price in points directly correlates to the cash price.
Ultimate Rewards points also transfer to many airlines. The best transfer partners for flights to the Baltics are United, Air France and Singapore Airlines.
How to Book Award Flights with United Mileage Plus Miles
Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1 to 1 to United and the transfer is usually instant. Sometimes you need to logout and login back again to see United miles in your account.
You will need 30,000 United Mileage Plus miles one-way for economy and 70,000 one-way for business class. If the program allows it, I always prefer to search one-way, as it’s easier and allows for more flexibility. Booking two one-way tickets will also give you more flexibility if you need to change your travel plans.
United doesn’t operate direct flights to the region, but we can use United miles to book award space on Star Alliance partners. If you have United Explorer Card, or have an elite status on United, I’d recommend signing into your United account before starting the search. United releases more domestic award space to its own elites and credit card holders. This is important if you need to take a domestic flight as part of your itinerary
It’s very easy to search for award space on United. Just enter your dates and airport information and click search.
The search results on the next screen will have the weekly calendar and available flights for our specific search date. Click on the downward arrow under Business Saver Award heading to see all saver business class options.
Click Select to see the very modest taxes and fees and to finalize your award booking.
How to Book Award Flights with Kris Flyer Miles
Singapore Airlines is also part of Star Alliance. It doesn’t operate its own flights between the U.S. and the Baltic states but we can use Kris Flyer miles to book flights on Star Alliance carriers. You’ll need just 27,500 Kris Flyer miles for a one-way economy ticket.
Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1 to 1 to Kris Flyer and the transfer usually takes one or two days.
Searching on Singapore Airlines is fairly straightforward. Log into you Kris Flyer account, click on Redeem flights and enter the airport information and departure date. We can search and book one-way flights, just check the One-way box you’ll see after your click in the departure date window.
As you can see from the screenshot, there is an award available on the combination of Star Alliance partners. Keep in mind that Singapore passes on fuel surcharges. These could be quite high on European carriers such as Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines.
For business class, you will need 72,000 Kris Flyer miles. Not the best redemption, especially considering high fuel surcharges. United has better rates for business class and doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges.
How to Book Award Flights with Air France Flying Blue Miles
Air France is also a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards. The points transfer 1 to 1 and the transfer is usually instant. Air France doesn’t have an official award chart any more but does maintain public saver level award rates. You can enter your origin and destination airports into Flying Blue’s Miles Price Estimator to see what saver level is on many routes. While the rates can vary by route, you can expect to need 29,000 Flying Blue miles for a one-way award flight in economy and 53,000 miles one-way in business class.
To search on Air France, you will have to create an account first. After logging in, click on Use Your Miles tab and enter airport information and departure date.
On the next screen, if you have flexible dates, put a checkmark next to You are looking for a flight around these dates. I like the calendar search feature because there’s no award chart. The calendar display will allow us to see available dates with the lowest amount of miles required. You can also choose the class of service on the same screen.
The calendar display will show us the dates with the lowest fares marked in green. Keep in mind that Air France passes on fuel surcharges.
Click on the desired date to see the flight details and to finish award booking.
Where to Stay With Hilton Honors Points
Let’s look at how Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card can help us get great accommodations. The card’s welcome bonus fluctuates, but usually it hovers around 100,000-125,000 Hilton Honors points. It’s been as high as 130,000 points plus a free weekend night certificate after spending $4,000 in the first four months. The annual fee is $95 and is not waived the first year.
The card comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status. The most valuable benefit of Hilton’s Gold status is free breakfast at all hotels. When booking a four-night award stay, the fifth night is free – this is a great benefit of booking Hilton hotels with points.
American Express limits welcome bonuses to once a lifetime, so it makes sense to wait until a higher bonus comes around. The Hilton Amex Surpass Card has a great earning structure that makes it easy to accumulate a nice stash of Hilton points. The card earns 12X at Hilton properties, and 6X at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations. All other purchases earn 3X.
As you can see, this is a great card that offers lots of great benefits and is a good option if you are over 5/24 with Chase. It’s worth keeping this card long term because of how easy it is to earn points with all the bonus categories and because there are no foreign transaction fees.
How to Book Hilton Hotels in Tallinn, Vilnius and Riga
Hilton doesn’t have an award chart, so the price in points will depend on the demand and the cash price. However, other than the Waldorf Astoria in the Maldives, standard room award rates are capped at 95,000 Hilton points per night.
Baltic cities are all inexpensive destinations, so the rates for standard rooms are quite low. This is great news for us, because it’ll allow us to stretch the sign-up bonus. And don’t forget about the free weekend night too if you were lucky enough to snag the increased welcome offer.
To search for Hilton rooms just enter your destination and your dates on the home screen and click Go.
The list of available properties will be displayed on the next screen. You can easily switch between the price in dollars or euros and the price in points by clicking on the toggle button on the upper right.
When ready to book, select your desired property and room type and you will be taken to the sign-in screen. If you run into any issues during the booking process, Hilton.com has a great chat feature. You can chat with a Hilton rep anytime if you have questions.
If you don’t have enough points to cover your entire stay, Hilton lets you combine cash and points.
The rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn in Vilius look quite spacious and modern. Personally, I love staying at modern hotels in charming old city centers. You get all the comforts of a new building and you are just steps away from all the attractions.
Hilton’s Riga property also has very reasonable rates.
As you can see, just one sign up bonus might be enough to cover a couple of nights in all three cities!
The Baltic states offer so much to see and do for history buffs, especially anyone interested in the 20th century. The thriving restaurant and cafe scene will satisfy any and all culinary tastes and budgets. With lots of cultural events and activities, especially during the summer, you will never be bored.
If you like nature more than cities, the countryside and even the seashore are easily accessible on a day trip. Now, before the prices rise and become more in line with the rest of Europe, is a great time to visit the Baltic region!
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.