This trip [and trip report] was done back in late August/early September 2013. I’m going to break it up into 2 parts – the 1st part today will talk about how I used my miles and points for the trip. Tomorrow, I will give you more details on what what I did and where I ate during my trip. Sorry for not breaking it up into 12 parts. I mean, I could still do it if you guys want me to…
First off, Europe is expensive (this was written in 2013 when the exchange rate was something like 1.35:1). If I didn’t have the miles and points, I don’t think we would have gone to be honest. Or probably not for 2.5 weeks. I would have condensed it down to maybe 10 days and taken out Greece, and we would have been staying at Best Westerns. Hey, don’t hate on BW’s; the European BW’s are nicer than over here and they offer free WiFi (a $20/day savings). But anyway, here’s how I used up half a million points for this trip.
2 business class tickets from Seattle to Europe using United miles
- Retail Cost – ~$10,000 per ticket so $20,000 total
- Cash Cost – $150 per ticket (phone ticketing charges and I changed the routing)
- Points Used – 200,000 United miles
A couple of things about this – 1) I would have never paid $10K per biz class ticket to Europe. The most I would have paid would be $1,500 each in economy, so let’s call this a $3K savings and consider the upgrade to business as being a ‘perk.’ Also, because I added Hawaii on my return (more on that in a bit), I value that one way flight to Hawaii at $250 per ticket, so this was a total savings of $1,750 per ticket. Btw, after flying angled flat seats, I really do want to only fly flat bed business seats from now on. Yes, I know. #firstworldproblems
The routing on this round-trip United ticket was officially Seattle-Venice (one-way), Athens-Seattle (stopover)-Hawaii (3 months later) all for 100K United miles per person. Remember, a United roundtrip consists of 2 one-way legs and allows 1 stopover. I originally had the ticket as Seattle-Venice, and then Santorini-Athens (stopover)-Seattle. I later realized I could just pay cash for Santorini-Athens for cheaper than Seattle-Hawaii one-way in first class, so that’s why I incurred the $150 phone change fee per ticket.
The FULL trip was Seattle-IAH on United first class (I visited family there for 12 hours; remember it’s a “connection” if it’s under 24 hours), then IAH-FRA on Lufthansa A380 business (angled seats), and lastly FRA-VCE in psuedo business (it’s a coach seat with a tray table in between the person next to you.) We then stayed a couple of days in Venice. We then booked 2 train tickets to Florence (I didn’t book these beforehand online). Then trained it down to Rome. Then took Easyjet from Rome to Mykonos. Then ferried it to Santorini (which we did book beforehand. However, we went to the wrong pier and paid cash for another ferry). Then we paid cash for Santorini-Athens on Aegean Air. Then Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Philadelphia [or maybe Charlotte] and then back to Seattle. Lastly, United first on Seattle-LAX-HNL. I then paid cash or booked a 1 way separately from HNL-SEA.
2 nights at Hilton Venice
- Retail Cost – $325×2 = $650
- Cash Cost – $10 (city tax)
- Points Used – 100,000 Hilton points (I forgot if this was pre-deval)
My Hilton Gold status (from Citi Reserve) got me free WiFi, free breakfast (which would have cost $30 pp), and free access to the lounge. They had prosciutto on the breakfast buffet! Their executive lounge was free to even Gold members (this was back in 2013,) and had Coke, beer, and some good light snacks. You should check the FT thread on the current status of the lounge when you go. We actually walked from the bus stop all the way to the Hilton boat. This was not a good idea because 1) it was a good 30 minute walk in the heat and 2) we were dragging our suitcase and carryon. I recommend you take the water taxi to the Hilton stop, and then take the Hilton boat over to the hotel.
Some may ask how much I had to MS for those 100K Hilton points. That’s another post, but let’s say this was free due to credit card signups.
5 nights at Westin Florence
- Retail Cost – $350×5 = $1,750
- Cash Cost – $0
- Points Used – 60,000 Starwoods points
This was supposed to be 20K points per night, but it was the first time I hit Gold so they gave me a welcome gift of getting a 5th night free (up to a Cat 4), else it would have been 80K points total. I had spent $30K on the SPG AMEX card and got Gold status literally a week before the trip, and so I luckily got it in time for the redemption. This redemption gave me 2.9c per SPG point, which is definitely on the high side. Now, would I really have stayed here on cash? NO. I would have stayed at the Best Western like I did 3 years earlier, which ironically is closer to the Duomo and the REAL statue of David. And YES, I didn’t factor in the cost of the 60K SPG points, which would have cost me $600 in VGCs, so this was like paying 1/3 of the actual cost, so $600 / 5 = $120 per night. I think the BW would have run $120 a night as well, but this is why we are in this hobby – so we can pay the price for a Best Western but stay in a Westin instead.
View from penthouse that would have cost us an extra 500E per night. We passed.
2 nights at Radisson Blu Rome
- Retail Cost – $165×2 = $373
- Cash Cost – $0
- Points Used – 50K Club Carlson points
I got the Club Carlson Visa card which gave me 80K free points.
With the card, you get the benefit of having 1 free night per award booking (so the sweet spot is book 2 nights and get 1 free) Update – remember, this was written in 2013.. Bye bye benefit. Hence I spent only 50K CC points instead of 100K for my 2 nights there. Also, this place was in the India-town/Chinatown of Rome. It was a little sketchy during the day, and we tried to avoid walking around the area at night. We did eat at a good Chinese restaurant nearby (there were other Asians eating there, so we knew it was legit.) The hotel is about a 10 min walk from the train station and metro stop, and that was really the only positive. While it was a great use of CC points, because that 2-for-1 benefit is gone, I’ll be happy to not stay here again and opt to stay somewhere closer to the city.
1 night at Hilton Rome airport
- Retail Cost – $260
- Cash cost – $5 (city tax)
- Points Used – 50K Hilton points
Not a great redemption, but I had over 500K Hilton points at the time, so burn, burn, burn. The main reason why we moved was because we had a 6am flight the next morning. The hotel provides a free shuttle into the city, which we used to find a nice Italian restaurant on our last day in Italy. It was also about 5 minutes from the airport, so it was a no-brainer.
2 nights in Mykonos using AirBNB
- Cash cost – $150 per night
This was my first and hopefully my last time using AirBNB. I like the concept of AirBNB, but when you’re staying at Westins and Hiltons for most of your trip and now all of a sudden, you’re in a 1 bedroom dorm-sized apartment with a small dinky bathroom and A/C that you have to turn on and wait for it to cool down, you sorta ask yourself what the hell you were thinking booking an AirBNB room. This did NOT pass the WAF much less mine.
2 nights at Mystique Santorini
- Retail Cost – $750×2 = $1500
- Cash cost – $0
- Points used – 78K Starwoods points
Usually this is 60K points per night, but SPG had an offer of 35% off of specific resorts in July, and so I totally lucked out. I wouldn’t have spent 60K per night (terrible value) and even at 39K, it’s a bad value, but this was once in a lifetime. However, from the pictures, it was totally worth it. Would I have gotten the same view from a $200 hotel? Probably. Would it have the nice little touches like the bartender who made me a custom cactus drink? Probably not. Only as I write this now, 2 years later, I realize that there are times when you should be frugal with your money/points and there are times when it’s YOLO. This was a YOLO redemption!
3 nights at Hotel Grande Bretagne Athens
- Retail cost – $345 x 3 = $1,035
- Cash cost – $0
- Points used – 48K Starwoods points
I wanted to stay at the Hilton since I wanted to burn Hilton points, but the location of this hotel in Athens couldn’t be beat. Honestly, I would recommend this hotel if you have the points for it. We took the subway from the airport to the hotel, but we took the bus from the hotel to the airport. Plus, the view of the Parthenon from the rooftop bar is a must-see.
- Total Retail cost – $25,568 ($9,068 if you count realistic airfare)
- Cash Cost – $315
- Total Points redeemed – 586,000 points
I took out the ferries that I booked since I can’t use points for that. I of course also took out all the meals and tours which added up as well. Yes, I realize I didn’t factor in the MS costs of the points, which should be factored in. This was written to my friends trying to convince them to get into the miles and points hobby and not to you more sophisticated readers. Let me know if you want more photos and I can update the post.