Many of my trips are fun family adventures with my kiddo joining in on the excitement, but not all trips fall into that category. I am a big believer that many trips are fantastic with kids, but some trips are better served as “adults only” adventures. If you are lucky enough to have friends or family members that are willing and able to take your little one(s) while you are gone, then you can have the luxury of still having some adult vacation time even after the next generation comes along. That is just a personal choice and I know some families can’t or don’t want to ever leave their kids behind, but we like to have a “kids free” trip every now and then. About a year ago my husband and I started planning our adult-only adventure to Dublin and Ireland. I absolutely plan to take Little C to Dublin and Ireland when she is a little older, but not this time.
I know that lots of people save up their miles and points to visit Europe, so I plan to share lots of details about our trip in case it is helpful for someone in the future. In this first post I will cover some of the details that went into planning our trip.
My husband has family that originated from Ireland, and it was very high on his (relatively short) list of places he wants to visit, so Ireland was a “must do” for this trip. We were also interested in visiting a second location while we were there, but we decided to let award availability somewhat guide us to the second destination.
Our plan during the 2011 US Airways Grand Slam was to earn enough miles to use them for two off-peak Envoy Suites award tickets. The Grand Slam hasn’t returned since 2011, but you can still rack up US Airways miles easily via getting their credit card or even by purchasing miles when they offer 100% mileage purchase promos. Those Envoy (a.k.a. business class) seats were priced at 60,000 miles round trip during the off-peak season of mid-January through February, but were only 55,000 miles each with the 5,000 mile discount given via the US Airways MasterCard. You had to fly on US Airways-operated flights, but I had heard good things about their Envoy Suites, and was very excited to try it for myself. 55,000 miles for a round trip business class award ticket was, in my mind, the best reward flight deal out there… I say “was” because about three or four weeks ago (before the AA merger was announced) that option was taken off of the award chart. However, you can still take advantage of the 35,000 mile off-peak option in economy, which is still a very good deal (40,000 if you don’t have the US Airways MasterCard).
Since we were somewhat flexible on our second European destination, we let award availability dictate our options. I saw much better off-peak availability to London Gatwick and Paris than other European destinations, so we picked London (not knowing at the time we would be going to the Olympics in London in 2012) to fly in and out of, and decided we would just book the short 50 minute flights to Dublin and back separately at a later date. If you get nothing else from this post, this is the most important part. The more flexible your travel plans, the easier it is to book award trips. Many folks want to visit more than one place when they go to Europe, so if you can be a little flexible with what city you fly in to or out of, then your award flight choices will be greatly improved. If your dates have some wiggle room, then you will have even more options.
I booked our tickets to and from Dublin about a month before departure and we decided to go to Dublin via Aer Lingus and return to London via British Airways. It was a toss-up between the options, so we decided to do one of each and to book them thematically so we were on the Irish airline heading into Ireland, and the British airline heading back to London. It is a little silly, but it was actually pretty cool to do it that way, and it helped get us in the mood for our destination.
We purchased our tickets on Aer Lingus for about $100 USD per person one-way and we went for the slightly more expensive “Plus” option that allowed us to pre-select our seats and have a checked bag included. On our return to London we could have booked a British Airways flight for roughly the same price, but the ideal time for our return flight was much more expensive. We didn’t want to get up super early to get the cheaper flight, and didn’t want to wait around all day for the cheaper evening flight, so we used Avios to book the exact time we wanted since the flight price was over $200 each for economy. It just so happened that the flight we wanted only had Club Europe (business class) award availability, so we spent 9,000 Avios (plus about $27 USD in fees/taxes) each for that flight. It would have been half as many Avios to sit in Economy, but 4,500 Avios is hardly a significant up-charge for a more enjoyable flight while on vacation.
We decided to stay a night in London close to the airport the day we arrived in order to adjust to the time-zone and build in a buffer in case we had delays from the US. We booked the Sheraton Heathrow during one of their common “beat the timer” sales for about 50 pounds ($75 USD). With SPG we had the choice between the Sheraton Skyline and the Sheraton Heathrow, and the general consensus online was the Skyline is nicer, but it was also more expensive either via points or cash, so the Sheraton Heathrow seemed totally adequate to us for an overnight. We didn’t book with points as it would have cost 7,000 points for a $75 room and that isn’t nearly a good enough return for valuable SPG points.
Next up was selecting a hotel in Dublin…only I couldn’t decide on one so I picked two. I don’t really recommend others hop around hotels on vacation, but that’s what we choose to do. We booked two nights at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dublin on a cash and points rate. We could have booked the two nights on points, but it seemed a better deal to spend 90 Euros plus 10,000 points each night than to spend 44,000 points per night. Of course, if we had the Club Carlson card where you get the second award night free then I would have just spend 44,000 points and gotten two nights.
We booked our third night in Dublin at the Westin Dublin as I really wanted to try it out and had read they were very generous with Platinum elite complimentary upgrades. The rate hovered at around 200 Euros and up for our dates, so we used 12,000 SPG points instead of cash. We ended up scoring a nice upgrade to a two story suite thanks to my husband’s Platinum status, and were quite pleased with our stay. Both hotels are in very good and walkable locations to many popular attractions and you can’t really go wrong with either.
Before flying home we spent two more nights in London, and this time we wanted to stay somewhere nicer than an airport location. We opted for the Hyatt Andaz Liverpool as it is a fun property located right next to the Liverpool Tube Station. We could have used 18,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night, but instead booked the cheapest twin bed room for about £115 and used a Diamond confirmed suite upgrade to move up to the Andaz Suite. In other words, it came down to 18,000 points a night for a basic room, or about $180 USD for a suite, so it was an easy call.
Knowing our elite status with both Starwood and Hyatt would score us free internet and free breakfast each morning at those properties also helped as we knew that would help with those costs. All in all our plans had us spending less money on lodging and flights than you could probably do a week-long budget European trip for, but thanks to miles, points, and some cash, we were going to be in lie-flat seats and suites. This trip was meant to not only see some of the sights in Europe, but also just relax and spend time together, so having nice accommodations to hang out in was pretty important for us.
In future posts in this series I will highlight in much more detail each of our flights, hotels, and most importantly the many attractions, locations, and restaurants that we visited…..because let’s be honest, the point of going to Europe is to get out and do things!