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When it became evident that the trip my long time friend and I had planned to see the Olympics in Sochi was no longer the right fit for us, we chatted on the phone for quite a while to decide where to go instead. We had the time, money, and miles set aside, so there is no way we were going to miss the chance to take an amazing trip together just because our original destination didn’t work out. We both have pre-school aged girls at home, and this was our first big trip together since we became moms. We literally had the world to pick from, and just a couple of weeks to plan. I normally love planning ahead, but being able to do it at the relatively last minute was very exciting in this case.
Deciding Where to Go:
We went through lots of options and decided that Europe was the best fit in order to not “waste” too much time in the air. We wanted to have about four days on the ground, and we wanted to stay somewhere we could use points. Since we are both ski junkies, but had both never skied outside of North America, we narrowed it down to a ski destination.
Club Carlson points are very bad for ski properties in the United States, but they are actually very good for some ski destinations overseas. We narrowed our destination down further by deciding to go somewhere we could use Club Carlson points. After debating a few locations that met those requirements, we settled on Norway. We both had never been, we could use Club Carlson points, we could ski, there was award availability, and we could have what sounded like a fantastic adventure. Ultimately, we picked the family friendly Norwegian ski destination of Trysil, and the Radisson Blu Resort, Trysil.
Booking the Flights:
We had checked award availability as part of the process of deciding where to go, so making the bookings was pretty easy. I was flying on pre-devaluation United miles and wanted to get the biggest bang for my mile. I originally booked some United operated flights in BusinessFirst just to lock something in, but that quickly changed as Lufthansa availability started to pop open within 14 days of my departure.
First, I saw availability from DFW – Frankfurt in Lufthansa in First Class (this site told me it was the new first class), and I decided it was worth the additional 17.5K United miles (at the time) to fly in amazing comfort on the outbound. I was able to book Houston to Dallas on United and Frankfurt – Oslo on Star Alliance partner SAS in Business Class. As usual, my best advice when booking flights like this is to start by searching for the longest overwater segment first and then piecing together the rest of the shorter flights.
For the return flight, I changed my mind about a million times. I had the opportunity to fly the new Lufthansa 747-8 in either business or first class, but would have to connect in either Dulles or Chicago to get home to Houston. I actually was booked on the Frankfurt – Dulles Lufthansa 747-8 flight in First Class for a while, but ultimately decided that adding an extra connection (and several travel hours) in the winter that has brought us many “Snowmageddons” just wasn’t the best move (see today’s weather reports for an example of why I hedged this decision)
When First Class space opened on the Lufthansa A380 from Frankfurt to Houston, I grabbed it and smiled the whole (direct) way home. One of the reasons that United elite status is so valuable to me is it enables me to make changes like this for free in order to plan around my family’s needs, weather issues, etc. I hope to fly the beautiful 747-8 “Queen of the Skies” at some point, but this just wasn’t the right time when I had a husband and a little one anxiously awaiting my return.
In the end I flew in first class both ways, and I spent 137,500 United miles to fly:
Houston-Vancouver several weeks later (destination AKA a “free one-way”).
The overseas flights to and from Frankfurt were in Lufthansa First, the flights to and from Oslo were in European Business Class on Lufthansa and SAS, and the Houston to Vancouver flight was in United domestic First. It was a bunch of miles, but it got me a bunch of awesome flying that will cost a bunch more miles post United devaluation.
Booking the Hotels:
We decided to go with Club Carlson for this trip, and as you may or may not know, Club Carlson hotels are in abundance in Scandinavia. We had our choice of multiple hotels in each location, but went with the ones that looked like the nicest choices based on online reviews and pictures.
For our first night in Oslo we stayed at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, Oslo which was located right next to the train station and bus terminal. It was an ideal location both for our transportation needs, and to walk around Oslo for our one night in the city. I hate spending Club Carlson points for one night stays (as they are much more valuable for multi-night stays with the last award night free thanks to the Club Carlson credit card), so we opted to use cold hard cash and spent about $170 all-in for this one night stay instead of 50,000 points.
Our nights in Trysil at the Radisson Blu Resort, Trysil were on points, using the last award night free benefit thanks to the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card. This hotel goes for 44,000 points per night, or was selling for about $350 USD per night for our nights. It is very close to the mountain, and a great location for skiing. We got a very good value for our points here.
Our last night was spent at the Oslo airport at the Radisson Blu Oslo Airport on a cash and points stay that cost about $180 USD = 15,000 Club Carlson points. By doing things in this manner we didn’t spend very many points, or very much money, especially considering the two of us were able to share twin rooms at each hotel.
Planning the Ground Transportation:
This was actually the hardest part of the journey since the website for the bus to get us the roughly three hours each way from Oslo to Trysil was pretty much only in Norwegian. Google Translate wasn’t all that helpful with the website, so thankfully I was able to enlist the help of a friend who speaks Norwegian to make sure that the site was saying what I thought it was saying.
Ultimately I somehow still messed up the dates by one day on both the outbound and return, but the company honored our tickets anyway.
We made sure to use credit cards that have no foreign transaction fees (other than this one slip up) so we didn’t waste roughly 3% on each charge. We found that credit cards were very widely accepted everywhere we went in Norway.
Thanks to our planning (and some good luck), we had not only an amazing time in the ground on Norway, but a great time in the air, in the airport, and in our hotels. These are just the basics of what we planned and how we did it. Stay tuned for a detailed multi-part trip report from a fantastic trip with a friend, brought to us by miles and points.
Planning Our Trip to Norway (this post)
Lufthansa First Class A330 Dallas – Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Lounge in Frankfurt
Intra-European Flights to Oslo on SAS and Lufthansa
Radisson Blu Plaza, Oslo
One Night in Oslo
Radisson Blu Resort, Trysil
Skiing in Norway
Radisson Blu Oslo Airport
Lufthansa First Class A380 Frankfurt – Houston
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