Booking Business Class Awards to Vienna as a Surprise Christmas Gift!

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We go a little overboard at times with Christmas presents in my family, but thankfully going overboard with a “big” present doesn’t have to mean spending a ton of money. This year I wanted to give a big gift to my mom and finally take her to a Christmas Market in Europe as that is a trip we have been talking about for years. We’ve penciled in this trip at least once before, but then delayed it a year or two so that my girls would be older and it would be easier for us to both leave the country at the same time without them since Grandma is often the backup plan when I’m not available, especially since Josh’s schedule is impossible to know with 100% certainty this far in advance.

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

I could be forgetting something along the way, but I can’t recall a leisure trip my mom and I have ever been on without anyone else along for the ride. I wanted to surprise her with the trip to the Christmas Markets in 2018 on Christmas Day 2017 and have at least some of the trip already booked as opposed to just giving her the “idea” of a trip that was yet to really exist. You can find some of my tips for gifting travel here

Planning a surprise trip to Vienna

While there are many great Christmas Markets in Europe, I quickly zeroed in on going to markets in Vienna. Neither of us had ever been to Vienna, the Christmas Markets there are iconic and usually included on any relevant “best of” lists, and we could stay on points at the Park Hyatt Vienna that I have been wanting to visit since it opened in 2014.

One challenge to booking this as a Christmas surprise was that most US airlines don’t open their booking windows until less than 11 months out which means that going in late November 2018 would be tough to gift on December 25, 2017. However, thanks to transferrable credit card points we aren’t locked into only relying on the US airlines and we can instead turn to partner award programs that have their schedules open a few weeks further in advance such as Air Canada Aeroplan, British Airways, ANA, Iberia, Singapore, Avianca LifeMiles, and more. What makes this even sweeter is that sometimes award availability is actually better in those days and weeks before the US programs open up their calendars for bookings. In order to book and gift the trip in time for Christmas, this is the route I took to stretch miles, save money, and help ensure a pretty awesome trip at the same time.

Booking business class award flights to Vienna

We are sort of combining two trips in one and are planning to leave from New York City to head to Europe, so I had hoped this would be a perfect chance to fly the over-the-top new Singapore first class seats from JFK to Frankfurt (if they are flying those seats that route by then) and then connect to Vienna from there, but on our dates there are only standard awards available for 130,000 miles one-way per person which was a little rich for my blood for an under 8 hour flight. Business class could have been had for 80,000 miles on a standard award, but again that didn’t seem like the best route – especially since if I’m flying Singapore on that route I really want to try the first class seats, so I’ll just save that experience for another time when Josh can hopefully join in the fun.

If you want to do something similar, know that Singapore is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thank You, and Amex Membership Rewards, so getting access to their miles is pretty simple.

British Airways business and first class awards are usually readily available to Europe, but they come with $500+ in taxes and fees per person, so that wasn’t a great plan. However, their partner Iberia also has decent business class availability, especially when you are booking well in advance before the US programs have a shot at the award seats. Plus, you can transfer British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios for no charge and save a bunch of cash by booking via Iberia on the fees for Iberia operated flights. To be able to transfer Avios between programs you must meet some criteria as outlined here such as having your accounts open for at least 90 days with some activity (such as a transfer from Amex Membership Rewards). If that doesn’t help you out, you can transfer straight from Amex Membership Rewards to Iberia.

Iberia did indeed have two business award seats on our preferred date from JFK to Madrid and then on to Vienna. I had transferred some American Express Membership Reward points to British Airways during a 40% transfer bonus and so just moved those points instantly to Iberia to book two awards at a cost of 65,000 Avios and $113 each. Factoring a 40% transfer bonus, that is essentially the same as spending about 47,000 Membership Reward points and $113 to fly business class to Europe.

As a point of reference, booking this exact same award via British Airways would have cost the same number of Avios, but instead of $113 in taxes/fees, it would have cost $520 in taxes/fees. This is why you want to be sure you have an Iberia Avios account active and available.

To make things even sweeter, my Chase Sapphire Reserve annual $300 travel credit just reset, so that combined total of $227 in taxes and fees just came out of that credit since I paid with that card, and so these award flights didn’t really cost me anything out of pocket. This is the definition of “big” gift with little cost!

Booking the Park Hyatt Vienna on points

In terms of hotel, the Park Hyatt Vienna was my clear target and it had award rooms with two twin beds available for 25,000 points per night or 12,500 points per night + €127 Euro per night via a cash and points award which is great considering the paid rate for the hotel €500. If you want to book this hotel and are short on Hyatt points you can transfer them 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Park Hyatt Vienna

Counting down to a surprise trip to Vienna

I haven’t yet booked our return flights, but may route us in business class on Singapore via their route through Manchester to Houston. Alternatively, we might just fly Premium Economy home on an airline like Singapore or British Airways and save some miles. I’m waiting until the US airline schedules are open for dates to select those flights as there aren’t any options I’m in love with just yet and there are plenty of ways to get home during the day from Europe when lie-flat seats aren’t nearly as important to me. To get from Vienna to Houston we will have to connect somewhere, so I’m not stressed about locking those in ASAP.

As an added bonus of booking our outbound flights via Iberia, if we do decide to change our plans for some reason, Iberia charges just $40 for award changes or cancellations, which is a deal compared to what most of the US airlines would want for an award change or cancellation.

To gift the trip, I ordered a Vienna guidebook online and then added pages with all of our trip details including a route map, photos of the Iberia business class seats, the hotel, the Christmas Markets, and more. It certainly made for a fun Christmas morning reveal, and now we just get to count down until the holiday season 2018 to make this travel dream a reality!

Did you gift any trips for the holidays this year? If you have ever been to the Christmas Markets in Vienna, we would, of course, love to hear your tips!

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Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

Comments

  1. Great trip, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy Vienna! You mentioned Aeroplan, but didn’t mention looking at availability on Austrian, Turkish, or Swiss. Cost too high compared to Iberia or just not interested in those airlines for a J redemption?

    Lastly, have you flown IB business class before, or will this be the first time? I’ve always felt that they are underrated – assuming you get a good crew. I quite liked their food.

    • I only really considered the programs I can move miles into easily from the major card programs. I could have booked on Turkish via Aeroplan, Lifemiles, etc. as availability was great, but I don’t personally want to transfer in Istanbul right now given the rules/climate for US travelers and potentially be stuck in the airport unable to leave in the case of a delay. Austrian would have been outstanding on the nonstop, but only economy award availability. This will be my first time flying IB!

  2. Hope you enjoy your trip.
    Regarding CSR travel credit, where can you check the status of that to see how much you have used /available?

    • If you log in your Chase account and click on your Ultimate Rewards balance for that card it should take you to a screen with that info. As to when it resets, it is the day after your December statement closes.

  3. Summer,

    Just an idea, given that IB business class within Europe for the MAD-VIE flight will be just an economy seat with the middle seat blocked, and you have a very short layover in MAD so not much to care about the difference between the Iberia or Priority Pass lounges. You could just have taken ‘Blue’ class economy seats and paid quite a few less Avios and some taxes as well.

  4. Did the Vienna Markets years ago, and every other Christmas Markets pale in comparison. You picked the best one. Handmade wooden toys, amazing food, etc. We wore long underwear so we could be out longer drinking warm wine. Each market in town has their own mug, so you can collect them. We were there just before Christmas and it was COLD, with snow on the ground. The lipenzanner horses are amazing, but the practices during the day are much cheaper and more than enough for me not to spend the big bucks on one of their “shows”. Dremel is the best place for hot chocolate and chocolate gifts. The crypt under St. Stephens is spooky and different, my boys loved it. The Flaker is the horse drawn carriage in Vienna if you like those things. You’ll have a great time no matter what!

  5. My wife and I are actually doing a Christmas Market cruise out of Nuremburg and ends in Vienna next year. We leave on 12/6 and return on 12/15.

  6. We were just in Vienna three weeks ago. Christmas markets are lots of fun but make sure you bring appropriate clothing. We are from a much colder climate than Vienna, but didn’t take our warmest clothes, however, it was pretty windy and cloudy all of the time and made for some uncomfortable days. It is colder than the temperatures would make it appear. Oh, and don’t use the hop on, hop off bus tours. They were supposed to run every 30 minutes, but we waited an hour and 20 minutes between busses.
    As far as Christmas travel gifts, I surprised my 4 children with a trip to Peru for spring break, flights have already been booked using the chase travel portal, only about 80,000 points each (6 of us) for 10,000 miles of flying in business class (and we will each get 20,000 united EQM). I found pictures of the different places we will visit (paracas, lake titicaca, Cusco and machu picchu) and put one in an envelope for each of them. They have to figure out where we are going and then learn about it and teach the rest of us. The youngest (11) got the picture of Machu Picchu and they were able to figure that one out so know the country, but they are still working on the other three destinations.

  7. I surprised my 11 year old with a trip to London..going in November of 2018..she has been obsessed w/ London for 2 years..flying out of New Orleans…looks like United using Chase miles is the way we will have to go..30K there and 30K back for economy seats. Do you think this is a reasonable “price” to pay? Your thoughts are greatly appreciated..and Merry late Christmas to your family!

  8. Park Hyatt Vienna is fantastic. Great choice! Beautiful building and good location. Even the elevators are fancy. Be sure to go for a swim or workout down in the old vault. I used 40,000 Hyatt points per night for a suite there this past summer for our anniversary. We then got an additional upgrade to the Ambassador Suite!

    • We also stayed at the Park Hyatt, walking distance to quite a number of Christmas markets, including one small one in the square right in front of the Park Hyatt.
      We didn’t love the Park Hyatt, but it is a very nice building. They didn’t have our room ready when we arrived, so the front desk person moved us into an upgraded room that would be ready sooner (about half an hour) but when we came back after half an hour, they had been overridden by their manager (the desk agent actually told us that their manager told her we couldn’t have that room) and we lost the upgrade and had to wait another 2 hours until a little after normal check in time to get into our room. This was with the hotel knowing that we were celebrating our 25th anniversary on this trip. The Holiday Inn(!) in Naples gave us an upgraded room, various confections and a bottle of Prosecco in honor of our anniversary, so the treatment at the Park Hyatt was quite a contrast!
      We really haven’t had much luck with Park Hyatts. We also had more serious service issues with the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. We must just not be Park Hyatt kind of people!

    • Kelly, great question. While he loves to travel and all things Christmas, he really doesn’t feel a draw towards international destinations outside of North America. Flying nonstop Houston to Boston or Seattle is about his max distance in one shot. He did make it Alaska (connecting along the way) and has Hawaii penciled in for summer 2019, but for him, there are plenty of great things to see and do closer to home.

  9. Ooh, heading to Vienna for the first time for spring break 2018. No Christmas market, but am enjoying reading what other people think of playing tourist in the town!

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