hotel loyalty programs personal reflections

Under 24 hours in Zurich, Oslo, Helsinki, London

I committed to my ITB Berlin itinerary booking AAdvantage award tickets  with three weeks to go before flight time. Five cities and airports in Europe with American Airlines, FinnAir, and Air Berlin. 50,000 miles in award tickets to travel economy class from San Francisco to Berlin for a week. The return flights start on Monday and I reach California on Friday with overnight stopovers in Oslo, Helsinki, London and Chicago.

Crazy AAdvantage award routing for $168 in taxes on three economy class award tickets:

  • San Francisco SFO-TXL Berlin with a 7-hour daytime layover in Zurich ($31 + 20,000 miles),
  • Berlin-Oslo (22 hours) – Helsinki (24 hours) ($57 + 10,000 miles),
  • Helsinki – London (20.5 hours) – Chicago (9 hours overnight) – San Francisco ($80 and 20,000 miles).

The return trip routes through Oslo for a 22 hour layover on the way to a 24 hour stop in Helsinki. London is a 20.5 layover before flying to Chicago. A short hotel night in Chicago is unavoidable with the full day London layover. My hope is about six hours sleep before flying back to San Francisco. The award ticket allowed an option for nearly 23 hours in Chicago, but no need for me to linger in Chicago since I will be hanging out there a few days just before Europe. The option to add AAdvantage award North America gateway city stopovers in New York (outbound) and Chicago (inbound) could have added even more destinations to the trip.

The shortest time flights from San Francisco to Berlin priced at 40,000 miles + $120. My 4-day return trip itinerary with daylong sidetrips to Oslo, Helsinki and London cost an additional $48 + 10,000 AAdvantage miles. The opportunities changed slightly over the past two weeks and the outbound flight routing through Zurich was the most difficult flight segments to catch with its spotty availability.

Priority Club, Club Carlson, SPG and Hyatt points will pay for most of the hotel nights for the trip. Looks like Club Carlson will finally see some points deductions from my account balance building the past two years.

Now I need to figure out how to pack a small carryon, camera and computer for Berlin business and potential Scandinavian arctic freeze.

Great Circle Mapper

Ric Garrido, writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. You can follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.



  • Mateo February 11, 2013

    Brutal itin.

  • stephan February 11, 2013

    Brutal in Y. I hope you can upgrade on your TATL legs otherwise this is rough.

  • Andras February 11, 2013

    How were you able to only pay $120 in YQ and going through London?

  • The Miles Professor February 11, 2013

    Looking forward to the trip report!

  • Ric Garrido February 11, 2013

    @Andras – Finnair and not flying British Airways dropped the taxes by half. All the BA itineraries with stopovers in London were $120 to $350.

    I may regret planning this itinerary half-way through the trip home, but the flight departures are all around 5pm to 6pm so I will have most of the daylight hours to sightsee, walk 10 miles or so and get the legs exercised. Hopefully good weather will allow me to snap good images in each place.

    If the weather is not good, then I will be in museums, checking out the inside of nice hotels and trying local beers.

  • pointsandtravel February 11, 2013

    Awesome! Glad you are going, I am still trying to decide, and will look at your itinerary. I will send you a facebook podcast regarding ITB that has tons of good information from my friend.

  • Carol February 11, 2013

    Looking forward to the Oslo hotel report. I’m looking for the best Carlson property there.

  • Pan February 11, 2013

    Why extra 10,000 miles for this segment? Is this just <24 hr connections??
    Berlin-Oslo (22 hours) – Helsinki (24 hours) ($57 + 10,000 miles),

  • Ric Garrido February 12, 2013

    Helsinki is a one way award destination, not a layover. I could have stayed in Helsinki, but I need to get back to California. I had planned to spend three days in Helsinki instead of Oslo, but I like the opportunity to spend a day in Oslo.

    I could not have routed my flight through Oslo and Helsinki and London with overnights in each city without the extra 10,000 mile award ticket.

  • Sarah February 16, 2013

    You call this fun? Sitting in coach for hours ….unless you’re a good sleeper it is not for me…..I need rest to enjoy my stays and have energies to sight see……

  • Ric Garrido February 17, 2013

    The intraEurope flights are under two hours. The transatalantic legs are the same length regardless of the stops in Europe. Whether it is fun or not will depend on how I make use of my time for the days I spend in Zurich, Oslo, Helsinki and London. I see the flight itinerary more as an opportunity. I get to spend a day walking around Oslo, Helsinki and London on my trip to Berlin.
    All my flights are late afternoon and I will have the opportunity to sleep in hotels each night in Oslo, Helsinki and London before spending most of the day walking around a city.

    The cost of hotels in these cities would make the itinerary too expensive for many travelers to justify the cost for eight hours or less of sightseeing in each place. I am not concerned about the hotel cost. I will use hotel loyalty points and get the opportunity to visit some fine hotels in these places.

    I have learned with photography that when I see a photo opportunity while driving, I have to stop my car and go for the photo. Two days ago I saw about 50 white egrets together in a pond while driving around Monterey Bay. An hour later when I drove back by the same place the egrets were gone.

    Since 1997 I have had the opportunity to visit Europe about 30 times. I have never been to Oslo and Helsinki. This may be the only opportunity that works for me to visit those cities. I may never pass that way again.

    In 2000 I spent one day in Berlin and walked across the city. That day constitutes my knowledge base of Berlin. I have touched the Berlin Wall and seen its deteriorating murals with paint peeling and flaked and new images painted over old. I have heard the reggae music blasting out of a street cafe and seen partiers dancing to the reggae beat. I have walked through the Brandenburg Gate and the woods beside the terrifcally wide avenue through the city.

    Now 13 years later I have the opportunity to spend a week in Berlin. The city will become more familiar to me.

    In Good Will Hunting the college teacher character played by Robin Williams tells Matt Damon that he has information from books, but books do not convey the information one feels when actually experienceing a place with all senses.

    I am a traveler. I’ll take a day in Oslo, Helsinki and London to fill my senses and groove new memories into my brain. My legs are short and economy class is not that big a burden for me.

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