Zurich, Berlin, Oslo, Helsinki, London in 12 days out of San Francisco Airport. I was surprised at how much of Europe I could visit on one trip using 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles for three one-way economy class award tickets and no other transportation except to and from airports on city trains, trams and busses.
No car travel.
Miles and miles of walking.
Lesson #1 Travel with two small bags and a small backpack if you plan to walk with your luggage.
In Oslo, London and Chicago overnight layovers I traveled without my one checked bag.
Common in all the European cities were small sporty packs, stylish and colorful or women carrying handbags.
My wife says she won’t wear a backpack. She is a purse kind of girl.
Just saying nobody is snatching my camera, computer and phone off my back as easily as taking a purse from her hand. I am cautious when traveling, rarely worried. Nobody has ever robbed me traveling.
Unless you arrange transportation suitable for larger luggage, then you are limited to two small roller bags and a small backpack to be free to easily travel on public transportation. One small roller bag is better, but difficult to do in winter or for extended trips of more than a week.
Two fully packed bags need to be easily manageable carrying up a flight of stairs.
European cities depend on the underground transportation network. Most places require using stairs some of the time to move down under and get back up again from the train system. There are frequently escalators and sometimes elevators, but not always. Getting around on public transportation means you need to be able to easily carry all your luggage up or down stairs.
Escalators are common. Tourist 101 to know in Europe and especially Germany is the sight of an escalator not moving does not mean it is not working. In the USA we see an escalator not moving and walk directly to the stairs. In Germany and much of Europe, electricity is used only when needed. Many escalators are set to only start once a person steps on. Hotel corridors commonly have lights that only turn on when motion detected.
I came across one escalator in Berlin not moving and the escalator actually did not work when I stepped on it.
Small roller bag, light, easily lifted up stairs. Black backpack for Europe travel. A third slightly larger roller bag was my checked bag.
Minutes before departure on March 3, 2013 Fiona sits under my trench coat and Theron looks on.
The rolling bag I have is a $40 Jansport from Ross. It also has straps for backpack conversion. This bag carried a pair of shoes, goretex raincoat and clothes for two days. Temperatures dropped to 10-15 F with wind chill factor on a few days in Berlin, Oslo and Helsinki.
Backpack on left, also from Ross for $20, held:
- extra camera lens,
- electrical cords,
- water bottle,
- paper/notebook for writing,
- sunglasses and spare glasses
- weight about 10-12 pounds (5 kilos)with full water bottle.
12 days itinerary (March 3-15, 2013)
Hotel Stay #1:
San Francisco, California (March 3)
Holiday Inn Express San Francisco Airport North
Free hotel night at San Francisco with IHG Best Price Guarantee approved claim. I drove 105 miles to SFO from Monterey the night before 7:05 am flight.
AAdvantage Award Ticket #1
San Francisco – New York – Zurich – Berlin for 20,000 AAdvantage milers + $31.30. American Airlines AAdvantage Economy MileSAAver Off-Peak Award.
Monday, March 4
Ticket #1, Flight # 1
San Francisco-New York American Airlines.
- Flight Time: 5 hours 30 minutes.
- Flight Distance: 2,586 miles.
Visited JFK American Airlines lounge as AA Platinum elite (50,000 miles level) with Oneworld Sapphire privileges. Given one complimentary drink coupon upon entry.
I was able to access airline lounges at each European airport I traveled from prior to departing the country.
Monday, March 4
Ticket #1, Flight #2:
New York JFK – ZRH, Zurich, Switzerland
- Flight Time: 7 hours 55 minutes.
- Flight Distance: 3,931 miles.
6 hour 55 minutes layover in Zurich, Switzerland. I spent 2 hours 45 minutes walking in downtown Zurich on Tuesday, March 5.
Ganymede statue at Lake Zurich waterfront.
Airport Train Transportation: ZRH – central Zurich = 13.20 CHF Swiss francs = $14.46 USD for roundtrip 2nd class train. Travel time 15 minutes into Zurich city center.
Visited Radisson Blu Zurich Airport hotel and enjoyed Swiss beer in oneworld lounge before the Air Berlin flight.
Tuesday, March 5
Ticket #1, Flight #3
Zurich XRH-TXL Berlin, Germany Tegel Airport, Air Berlin
- Flight Time: 1 hours 25 minutes.
- Flight Distance: 410 miles.
Six days in Berlin for ITB Berlin 2013 travel trade show.
28 euros = $37 USD to buy a 7-day Berlin travel pass for unlimited rides on city metro system including U-bahn subway, S-bahn trams and city busses including to and from Berlin Tegel Airport. The card is a savings on single fare tickets once you reach the 12th ride. Single fare ticket price = 2.40 euros.
Tuesday, March 5
Hotel Stay #2
Holiday Inn Alexanderplatz, Berlin
4 nights on Points & Cash award.
This new hotel located in the center of Berlin adjacent to Alexanderplatz shares the building with Hotel Indigo, another IHG hotel brand. Hotel is 250 meter walk from U-bahn subway station Alexanderplatz.
The hotel award category dropped from 15,000 points to 10,000 points per night in January 2013 Priority Club hotel award category changes.
Originally I booked four nights at this hotel using Priority Club Points & Cash award buying 10,000 points for $70 each night and redeeming 5,000 points per night.
Original reservation was 20,000 points + $280 for a 4-night award stay.
After the hotel dropped in price in January, I cancelled the first reservation and 60,000 points deposited back into my account.
Then I rebooked the hotel for 40,000 points for four nights.
My Cost = $70 per night.
Lowest published rate 129.25 euros = $170 per night.
Savings on four night hotel stay buying Priority Club points = $400.
Saturday, March 9
Hotel Stay #3
Radisson Blu Berlin
2 nights on Club Carlson 2-for-1 weekend rate 160 euros = $210.
My cost = $105 per night.
Aquadom in Radisson Blu Berlin is world’s largest cylindrical aquarium holdng one million liters of water.
Club Carlson Gold elite member access to 2-for-1 exclusive rates provided savings = $210.
This hotel was 500 meters walk from Holiday Inn Alexanderplatz.
Award Ticket #2
Berlin-Oslo-Helsinki = 10,000 AAdvantage miles + $57.10 within Europe economy award.
Monday, March 11
Ticket #2, Flight # 1:
Air Berlin. Berlin, Germany TXL-OSL, Oslo, Norway.
- Flight Time: 1 hours 35 minutes.
- Flight Distance: 535 miles.
Lounge access at Berlin Oneworld lounge before Air Berlin flight to Oslo.
International layover in Oslo = 22 hours 15 minutes.
Oslo Gardemoen Airport Train OSL to Oslo city center = 90 Norwegian kroner = $16 one-way for local train. Travel time 25 to 30 minutes. Flytoget Express train 170 NOK = $30 one way. Express train travel time = 20 minutes.
Central train station to Radisson Blu Plaza Oslo was 100 meter walk by train station side door.
Monday, March 11
Hotel Stay #4
Radisson Blu Plaza, Oslo
50,000 Club Carlson points for one night with category 6 hotel award.
Published room rate at time of booking = $351.37.
Value of points:
$351.37 / 50,000 points = $7.02 per 1,000 points.
My cost for points = about $100 during one of the Club Carlson promotions for 50,000 points for one night Radisson stay promotions in 2011 and 2012.
View from swimming pool room 35th floor Radisson Blu Plaza Oslo
Tuesday, March 12
Ticket # 2, Flight #2
Oslo, Norway OSL-HEL Helsinki, Finland
- Flight Time: 1 hours 25 minutes.
- Flight Distance: 476 miles.
Helsinki as my award ticket destination meant I could have stayed longer, but lack of AAdvantage saver award availability meant a stay longer than one night increased the cost of the award ticket to 20,000 miles.
Helsinki stopover for 22 hours and 0 minutes.
Finnair Oslo-Helsinki flight departed 40 minutes late. I stayed in Oneworld lounge in Oslo for about 1 hour 45 minutes writing Loyalty Traveler, drinking Norwegian beer and eating food. Based on dining prices in Oslo the Ringnes pilsner beer and salmon sandwiches made this airport lounge visit a $100 value.
Adore this 24 hour sun photo collage at Oslo Airport oneworld lounge.
My flight arrived one hour late and I lost an hour with the time zone difference. I was on the Finnair bus by 8:15pm and needed to be back at the airport for a 7:30 pm flight to London the next day.
Helsinki Vantaa Airport Transportation
Finnair Bus = 6.30 euros ($8.25 USD) one-way to central train station. Local bus 4.50 euros. Either bus option leaves every 20 minutes and ride takes 20 minutes. Helsinki Vantaa is scheduled to open train service in 2014.
Tuesday, March 12
Hotel stay #5
Hotel Kämp, Starwood Hotels Luxury Collection, Helsinki, Finland
Hotel was 500 meter walk from central train station Helsinki. This was a tougher walk with all the gravel and ice on the sidewalks jamming up luggage wheels.
SPG category 5 Cash & Points award using one SPG suite upgrade certificate for one night = 68.37 euros + 4,800 points.
68.37 euros = $89.43.
Hotel Kämp, Suite 411, Helsinki, Finland
SPG elite member late checkout privilege until 4pm at Hotel Kämp was a great benefit for my Helsinki stay.
AAdvantage Award Ticket #3
Helsinki-London-Chicago-San Francisco for 20,000 AAdvantage milers + $79.60. American Airlines AAdvantage Economy MileSAAver Off-Peak Award.
Wednesday, March 13
Ticket #3, Flight #1 Helsinki, Finland, HEL-LHR, London, UK.
- Flight Time: 3 hours 10 minutes.
- Flight Distance: 1,151 miles.
Finnair lounge in Helsinki at Gate 36 was another stylish location.
Finnair Lounge, Gate 36 Helsinki Vantaa Airport
London Underground single fare ticket 5.50 GBP ($8.32 USD) for London Heathrow Airport to Westminster Station central London. Paid with debit card.
Travel time: 1 hour with change of train. LHR to Hammersmith on Piccadilly tube line. Change to District line for Westminster.
View of Big Ben from Westminster Underground Station.
London layover: 20 hours 35 minutes.
Wednesday, March 13
Hotel Stay # 6
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, London
My cost: 50,000 Club Carlson points for one night using category 6 award. Published rates 200 GBP or $300 USD.
Hotel 200 meter walk from Westminster Underground station.
View from corner of my 10th floor room at Park Plaza Westminster Bridge.
Time on ground in central London 10:00pm to 2:00pm following day for 16 hours of sleeping and walking.
Back to London Heathrow Airport on Underground for 5.50 GBP. I was given three boarding passes at Helsinki check-in so I went directly through security and entered the Cathay Pacific airport lounge by 3:30 pm before my 5:15 flight.
The Cathay Pacific lounge had Chinese, Thai and Indian food dishes and I had a nice London Pride beer.
Thursday, March 14
Ticket #3, Flight #2.
London, UK LHR-ORD, Chicago, USA .
- Flight Time: 9 hours 0 minutes.
- Flight Distance: 3,953 miles.
Thursday, March 14
Hotel Stay #7
Holiday Inn Chicago Ohare area, Northbrook, IL
My cost = free on IHG Best Price Guarantee approved claim.
For an airport hotel this property seemed to have a totally inadequate transportation shuttle for the eight hours I was there. Far more guests needing transportation than the hotel shuttle was capable of carrying and only runs every 45 minutes.
Friday, March 15
Ticket #3, Flight #3.
Chicago, Illinois – San Francisco, California.
- Flight Time: 4 hours 50 minutes.
- Flight Distance: 1,846 miles.
My one checked bag did not arrive with me. The bag came to SFO six hours after me. Still not delivered to Monterey after 36 hours. Update: Bag delivered to my home 48 hours after I arrived in Monterey. This is my roaming bag. This is the same suitcase that traveled to Miami Beach at Christmas without my wife accompanying it on the same itinerary.
12 days car parking at SFO = $100.
Total Airline Tickets Cost = 50,000 American Airlines + $168 USD.
Total Hotel Cost = $580.
Total Ground Transportation Cost for travel to and from airports and around cities = $116.60 for Zurich, Berlin, Oslo, Helsinki and London.
Only three hotel nights of 11 included breakfast. I ate and had beverages in six different airport lounges.
Money spent on food and drink during 12 day trip = $200 USD. All grocery store purchased food in Europe, except for one Asian restaurant noodle meal per day in Berlin.
Kelley does not like to travel with me in this kind of style as a poverty jet setter. The trip would have cost much more with her accompanying me.
The cost of five new car tires is where I am putting the bulk of my discretionary spending this month.
The only item I purchased in Europe for Kelley were handmade silver earrings from Libya purchased at their tourism booth during the ITB Berlin travel convention.
My objective for this trip was to experience more than just a week in Berlin with my American Airlines AAdvantage miles award ticket flights.
Using my miles and hotel points, I was able to attend the ITB Berlin conference and visit four other countries in Europe on a 12 day trip for under $1,200.
Total Flight Time: 34 hours 30 minutes.
Total Flight Miles: 14,888 miles.
- San Francisco SFO
- New York JFK
- Zurich ZRH
- Berlin Tegel TXL
- Oslo Gardemoen OSL
- Helsinki Vantaa HEL
- London Heathrow LHR
- Chicago OHare ORD
- Untied Kingdom
Hotel points earned = 15,926 points in Club Carlson with paid stay at Berlin Radisson Blu during triple points promotion.
This trip is a description of the value I get with points and miles loyalty programs for my travels.
These kind of experiences using points and miles to save on cash expenditures are why I am a loyalty traveler.