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A little while back I posted the story of helping my mom and her sister (my aunt) book flights for their “trip of a lifetime” to Europe. They are both now (mostly) retired school teachers, and are celebrating their freedom from a school schedule by heading across Europe next spring. It will be my mom’s first trip to Europe and my aunt’s second, so they are very excited…and so am I! As you may remember from the previous post, they originally thought this trip would cost about the same as buying a modest new car, but thankfully they allowed me to bully my way into the planning portion and help them leverage miles and points to travel in much more comfort and with much less expense than they probably otherwise would have had.
Helping family members plan a trip is very different than just knocking it all out yourself. You have to really use patience and humor…and trust me it can be quite humorous at times. You want to involve the ones actually traveling as much as possible so they are able to tailor the trip to their desires. On the other hand, if you are the one more versed in miles and points, then you also need to know when to let them know when you think one option is substantially better than another.
My family members have been great about listening, learning, and letting their opinion be known. After we used 90k Membership Reward points to book their Star Alliance business class flights via a transfer to Aeroplan, it was time to get serious about hotels. They will be in London, Paris, unknown cities in Germany, and Rome. This means that hotel rooms would add up quickly if they didn’t use some points. While they had a few points here and there to start, they needed more quickly. They are not crazy about adding tons of credit cards to their wallet, but did agree to each get the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature.
I recommended that card to each of them as the Club Carlson program has some pretty good hotels in some of the cities they will be visiting, it awards 50k of the 85k sign-up bonus points upon first use, and it has a very handy feature of allowing the last award night to be free. Since several of their stays will be two night stays, this means they are almost doubling the value of their points by having that feature. The card will also give them both Club Carlson Gold status, so they may score some better rooms, and they will be able to transfer points to each other for free which will come in handy in securing the last couple of hotel nights.
They are both still working on hitting the minimum spending requirement of $2,500 in the first 90 days to get the final 35,000 sign-up bonus points, but since they each already had the 50k from the first use, we were able to secure their hotels in London and Paris.
I had stayed at the May Fair using Club Carlson points in the summer of 2012, and found the location to be very good. It was just a couple of blocks from a tube station, was right across the street from a grocery store, and only about a 10 minute walk from Buckingham Palace, and not much further beyond that for other popular spots.
The hotel itself was also quite nice, and I would not hesitate to return there on points. I recommended this location for my family and they agreed that it looked good for their needs. The selling rate for their dates was about £600.00 for the two nights combined. That translates to roughly $965 USD for the two nights. However, for them it was just 50,000 points for the first award night, and since they had the co-branded Club Carlson credit card, the second award night was free. No extra taxes, fees, nothing. They booked a room with two twin beds and a great value for their Club Carlson points.
I hope to meet up with them with my kiddo in Paris, and I have locked in the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome for a couple of nights at the pre-devaluation rate of 22k Hyatt points per night. This hotel will be going up to 30,000 Hyatt points per night beginning January 7, so I thought now was a good chance to experience this much touted property at a points rate that is very good. My mom transferred 22,000 Ultimate Reward points that she earned via her Chase Sapphire Preferred card she got a couple of years ago to Hyatt and secured one night at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome to overlap with when my daughter and I are there.
The rooms were selling for about €700 per night, which is about $950 USD. Again they were able to secure a room with twin beds on points. They have toyed with the idea of staying there longer than one night, but since they aren’t rolling in UR or Hyatt points, and I will be moving to the Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees to try out that property, they probably will as well. There are a few different Club Carlson properties in Paris, but this one seems to be the nicest and has a decent location.
When I booked this property a few months ago, I had to email them to open up some points space since they had standard rooms for sale, but only more expensive business class rooms available on points. However, when I booked for my family this week, the standard rooms were (thankfully) displaying as they should so they were able to secure two nights in a room with two twin beds for 50,000 Club Carlson points for the first night, and 0 points for the second night thanks again to the Club Carlson card. The rooms were selling for about €300 per night, which amounts to about $810 USD for the two nights.
So far they have their first five nights of hotels booked in Europe, purely on points. They are staying at some very nice properties, including the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. For those five nights they have so far spent 100,000 Club Carlson points and 22,000 Hyatt points. Those five nights of hotels would have cost them about $2,725 USD based on the lowest available rate for their nights. I’m sure they could have found accommodations for less than that price, but they wouldn’t have been anywhere near as nice, and they still wouldn’t have probably been “cheap”. Points are protecting them from the high rates in these major European cities as well as from currency conversions.
The Ultimate Reward points my mom already had, and the Club Carlson points they each got for simply getting a Club Carlson credit card that comes with a $75 annual fee. Once they get their final Club Carlson sign-up bonus points and finalize their Germany itinerary, I will move forward with booking more hotels for them. I wish they also had the SPG credit card, as those points would also come greatly in handy in Europe, but we’ll make the most of what they have. They will likely use their remaining Club Carlson points at the Radisson Blu in Rome. Since they both just added one hotel card to their respective collections, it is likely they will have a few nights out of pocket, but only having to pay for 2-3 hotel nights on a 10-night journey after just adding one card each is pretty great.
In case you are working on a similar trip yourself, I’ll keep you posted on their plans as they develop. I will also add that since booking their Paris hotels within the last week or so, both are showing sold out of standard rooms for their dates. This just goes to show that once you have the points and know the dates you need to act. Hotel availability generally only gets worse!
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