Visualizing Travel Before Bookings

The Stockholm to San Francisco American Airlines round trip ticket I purchased yesterday was not the same ticket I had planned to book the day before. The airports were the same, but after spending days visualizing my 2016 travels and expenses, the dates were the main change I made before booking.

I have spent most of the past week visualizing trips to Europe in 2016. As travel bloggers, most of us do not share much of the thought process behind booking our trips. Trip reports generally describe the finalized itinerary. Good itineraries are the result of good planning.

During the dozens of hours I spent travel planning over the past few days for Thanksgiving week and 2016 trips, there were many times I thought to myself that my travel planning thought process is what I need to share with readers. Visualizing travel before booking resulted in several changes to my plans for flights, hotels, ground transportation and airport transportation.

Two Primary and Immediate Travel Planning Objectives:

1. Thanksgiving week in Europe

2. American Airlines Stockholm-San Francisco round trip tickets.

After my three trips to Europe last month, Kelley wanted some London time for Thanksgiving week travel. The primary problem with London for me was my stash of hotel points is kind of low and London is a high priced hotel destination, whether using points or cash for hotel stays.

I could string together hotel points award stays for a week in London in upper upscale hotels, but it would require staying at several different hotels over seven nights. Or I could book the Days Inn London Hyde Park for the entire stay on a Wyndham Rewards GoFast award at 3,000 points + $95 per night. That would be $665 for seven nights in London in a 3-star hotel.

Spending $200+ per night for a London hotel was simply not an option I considered. I knew there would be a new list of IHG PointBreaks hotels posting this week. They will be bookable starting today sometime.

IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks Hotels

Last month I stayed eight nights in Holiday Inn hotels for 40,000 points in Brno, Czech Republic and Clermont-Ferrand, France. I went to these cities for no other reason than I could get cheap hotel stays with IHG Pointbreaks reward nights.

Some people don’t understand the mentality of planning a vacation around affordable hotel stays. I can spend $1,500 for a nice hotel in London for Thanksgiving week, but that would likely be more than the money I need to buy two airline tickets and a week’s worth of travel expenses for our next scheduled trip to Europe in February 2016. If I book an IHG PointsBreak hotel for four nights somewhere in Europe, then I can save over $1,000 in cash and the equivalent of $1,000 in hotel points to use for other travel.

The new list of IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks hotels at 5,000 points per night is something I have been eagerly anticipating and watching for closely. Over the weekend the IHG PointBreaks hotels list was released for stays from October 26 through December 31. These hotels are 5,000 points per night. There have been many opportunities to buy IHG Rewards Club points at the rate of $6 per 1,000 points or less. This makes the cost for a PointsBreak reward night only $30 per night. The per night cost is even lower for me after earning over 100,000 points from hotel stays and promotions in the past year.

I spent most of Saturday visualizing potential travel destinations. In my mind I have walked across east Berlin from the Holiday Inn Berlin East Landsberger to Alexanderplatz. I have never walked in that part of eastern Berlin, but after spending a week in Berlin in March 2013, I visualized Alexanderplatz and the bahn metro transportation system and remembered the chill and cloudy days and early sunsets. I visualized markets with cheap yogurt drinks for breakfast and 65 cents for 0.5L bottles of beer and the sound of bottle recycling machines inside the markets. I smelled Berlin’s many Asian café noodle shops with 5 EUR hot lunch meals. I saw the lights of Hotel Adlon and tourists snapping selfies with the Brandenburg gate in the background.

The main problem with Berlin was not the PointBreaks Holiday Inn hotel location, but the $95 AAdvantage award ticket price. I would need to pay $190 for award tickets and then we would be staying in a hotel with regular rates of 60 EUR. Berlin is an affordable city without IHG PointBreaks nights.

I studied Lille, France and Mechelin, Belgium as potential destinations with great beer and history and architecture. I considered Vilnius, Lithuania and that was my number one destination choice after looking at the IHG PointBreaks hotels. Award tickets were not available and the price of tickets from London was relatively high.

After much research on transportation options from London to Oxford, my mind is set on booking Crowne Plaza Heythrop Park. The hotel is in a rural setting 16 miles north of Oxford and will likely be a pain to travel around the area on public transportation without a car, but Oxford is a city we have discussed visiting several times this past year and IHG Pointbreaks can place us in close proximity to University of Oxford (900 years of history), Winston Churchill’s birthplace Blenheim Palace (1705-22), and Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace)

Macro level travel visualization

London and Berlin were the macro level of visualization in choosing a destination and what it would be like to spend a week someplace.

Just as important, perhaps more importantly, is visualizing the micro-levels of travel planning. Here are some examples of the travel planning decisions I needed to make.

  • Leave on a Friday after work or on a Saturday or Sunday. Heading to the airport on a Friday after Kelley finishes work would allow an extra day in Europe. This was not an issue for Thanksgiving since Friday travel at the MileSAAver award level was blacked out, but it did come up as a decision for flights from San Francisco to Stockholm on the paid ticket. I decided the loss of a day was the more acceptable alternative to forcing us to be packed and ready to go to SFO airport directly from work on a Friday afternoon. I visualized the stress of packing on a work night versus packing on the first day of a vacation week from work. The advantage of the weekend flight is we have several hours to hang out in the First Class lounge at LAX before our flight to London. We lose a day in London, but gain an extended visit to the LAX Flagship lounge before our flight to London.
  • Ground transportation for early morning flight out of London. I learned last month that it is a lot more expensive to get to London airports from city center for early morning flights, since the Underground does not start service until 5:30 to 6:00am. Either stay at the airport the night before, if you have an early morning flight out of London or book flights for departure after 9am. We are flying from London to Stockholm and the lowest priced flights from LHR were for departures before 8am in the morning or evening flights with late night arrival at 11pm to 12:30am in Stockholm. London Heathrow is more convenient for Underground transportation directly between airport and city compared to London Gatwick, but I decided we will fly to Stockholm from London Gatwick for lowest priced $76 tickets to ARN, better daytime flight schedule and arrival in Stockholm with lower cost transportation to London Gatwick in the day compared to London Heathrow in the early morning. RyanAir had $16 one-way tickets to Stockholm, but these depart from London Stansted STN and arrive at Stockholm NYO. London Stansted airport transportation is not a big deal compared to London Gatwick. The main problem is Stockholm NYO is far south of Stockholm and Arlanda Airport is north of Stockholm. The two airports are 140 km apart and a 3 hour train ride. I was able to book Radisson Blu Uppsala, Sweden for two nights at $70 per night using Club Carlson’s 2-for-1 weekend rate. Uppsala is 20 minutes by train from Stockholm ARN Arlanda Airport.

Google maps Stockholm NYO-ARN airports

  • Aircraft – I like the British Airways A380 and I like the idea of using AAdvantage systemwide upgrades to fly Business Class. I considered these options for our flight back to California, but my priority was getting us to London and back home from Stockholm at low expense with the best schedule for Kelley’s return to work after the trip. The better schedule meant choosing the British Airways 747 aircraft to arrive back in SFO four hours earlier than flying the British Airways A380 back or taking an upgradeable AA-operated flight with a 10pm arrival in SFO, eight hours later than the 747.
  • Hotels – I spent a lot of time reading hotel reviews. My choice of Crowne Plaza Heythrop Park Oxford on the IHG PointBreaks list is based on numerous reviews stating the hotel setting is in beautiful park land by a river. Even if the weather sucks, the location should be a decent place to hang out in the countryside. I checked local transportation and getting into Oxford is not expensive on the local bus and getting from London Heathrow to Oxford is less than two hours and under $50 round trip by bus. Local transportation from the hotel is my primary concern, but we discussed it and we will see where we can go once we reach the rural hotel.

Visualizing travel and researching the various aspects of airport arrival and departure times, airport and ground transportation options, and cost for hotel stay options are key to planning a successful trip on a budget without getting hit by too many unanticipated extra costs.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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