Friday, March 4, 2016

Europe 2014: Introduction

Getting to Rome - Austrian Airlines Business Class
One Night in Rome - Intercontinental de la Ville & RomeCabs Tour
Norwegian Jade - 11 Nights, 5 Countries, and 14 Cities... Whew!
Waffles, French Fries, Chocolate and Kriek  - A Stopover in Belgium
Getting Home - Brussels Airlines Business Class and United Global First

One of the only photos of Rome that we didn't lose :(

Only a few months after getting back from Asia we started planning our next trip. We knew we were targeting Europe and the goal was to do it in Business class. With cash prices for tickets being in the $3000-$5000pp that wasn't, and likely never will be, a possibility for us. Instead we set the ceiling for our tickets at the cost of an economy ticket ~$1,100 at the time. Having just cashed in nearly all our miles for our trip to Asia we had to start from the ground up to figure out how to make this happen.

First we took a look at a promotion that was going on pretty frequently at the time to buy US Airways miles with a 100% bonus. Prior to US Airways and American Airlines merging, they were in Star Alliance and a round trip to Europe was 100,000 miles per person. With that promotion you could instantly buy 100,000 miles for ~$1880. Quite a discount from full price, but still beyond our budget.

Not long after that promotion, an even better one came along to "Share" miles with your friends at a 100% bonus. This promotion was somewhat tricky, but by sharing your miles from one account to another, you could double your miles at a cost of 1.1 cents per mile. The catch here of course, you have to have miles to start with and we had only a few thousand us airways miles from random survey's and dining promotions.

This is where we had to get really creative. I found someone at work that had 50,000 US Airways miles and they wanted to fly to Europe, but at the time it was 60,000 miles in economy from the US to Europe with US Airways miles. I happened to still have 60,000 Delta miles which was enough for a round trip to Europe in economy. So I booked them a round trip to London and they transferred me their 50,000 US Airways miles after the 100% bonus, I now had 100,000 miles at a cost of $567.50 and 60,000 Delta miles.

Now one last tricky caveat to this is that you can only receive a bonus of up to 100,000 miles per account for the promotion and you can only transfer 50,000 miles at a time. So to make this work I actually had to use a 3rd account. That was simple enough though, we just made an account in our cats name! So the cat actually received the first 100,000 miles, then from their 50,000 went to myself and 50,000 went to my wife. For a total cost of $1701 and 60,000 Delta skymiles, we had enough for two business class tickets, so far well under the cost of two economy class tickets.

Throughout the process of figuring out flights, we had to choose where we were going to go in Europe and find the flights that would work. Using we started looking deals on cruises throughout 2014. Immediately we came across a highly discounted cruise on the Norwegian Jade for only $770pp in a balcony cabin on an 11 night cruise from Rome. I thought I would go check out and get competing offers from travel agents, but i quickly found out that NCL had banned travel agents from using the site, so I had to contact a few travel agencies directly. In the end we actually found the best deal through CostcoTravel, which we have used a few times. They had the same price, but offered $300 in onboard credit and a certificate for a free meal in the steak house on-board (~$50).

So now we knew we needed to get to Rome and we had enough US Airways miles for the redemption. This was much more challenging than anticipated. The first issue we found was that there were no direct flights on Star Alliance carriers from San Francisco to Rome, so we had to have at least 1 connection. If we had wanted to go economy, this would have been much simpler, but sticking to just premium cabins limited our options a bit. In the end I was able to book a combination of flights on United, Austrian, and Brussels Airlines from SFO > ORD > Vienna > Rome and on the way back Rome > Brussels > JFK > SFO. The cool part of this was that we booked these as two one ways and US Airways would let you have a stop-over even on a one way award. We ended up not having time to stop in Vienna, but on the way back we did spend 2 nights in Brussels which made the trip home much more relaxed.

The last piece of the puzzle was picking up a few hotel nights in Rome and Brussels. This was definitely the easiest portion. We used our Chase IHG card anniversary night to book a room at the Intercontinental De La Ville Roma (normally priced around $350/night or 55,000 points per night). I gladly pay the $49/year fee on that card in return for the free night every year at hotels just like this. For our stay in Brussels, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza - Le Palace for 30,000 points per night (normally priced around $150/night). It was not the best value redemption, but the location was excellent and our particular dates the prices were in the $200/night range.

What we did not prepare our selves for on this trip was just how tired we would be from back to back days of full day shore excursions and walking tours. Even though its near impossible to avoid overeating on a cruise ship, I ended up losing a few pounds on this one!

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