The French Riviera is my main destination for a trip in October. How I would get there was the puzzle. Last week, I thought I would fly San Francisco to Stockholm, Oslo or Bergen. Two days ago I thought I would fly Norwegian to London.
Last night, I purchased a $367 round trip ticket on British Airways from San Jose, California to Prague, CZ.
Over the weekend I shared low fare deals to multiple cities across Germany, Poland and Austria in the $300s and $400s from Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland. Brussels, Budapest and Prague and the usual Scandinavia airports were also on sale. Several other airports around the USA had similar low fares with all the major alliances.
The different aspect of this fare sale is all three alliances have fares under $500 and nearly all the cities on sale in these countries are in the similar $400 to $480 price range with one, two or all three alliances.
Yesterday, I noticed Finnair fares had also dropped to $400s for Baltic countries.
The value of these similar fares means an open-jaw is possible for outbound destination and a different city in another country for inbound departure airport.
For example, San Jose to Budapest with return from Prague was a $370 ticket using British Airways AARP discount. BA to Warsaw and return from Prague was $410.
British Airways AARP Discount ticket $410.75 round trip
Oct 5 San Jose SJC – London LHR – Warsaw, Poland
Oct 18 Prague PRG – London LHR – San Jose SJC
This was a ticket I almost booked, but the short 55 minute connection time in Dallas DFW left me with the thought of how any minor flight delay would leave me stuck overnight in Dallas.
Filling in the Travel Plan Gaps
All month I have been working on my plan for fall travel to Europe. The only set destination was Nice and Monaco on the French Riviera to redeem a hotel stay auction I won last year for Riviera Marriott La Porte de Monaco.
My secondary objective while in Europe is flying four Aegean flight segments.
My weekend travel planning challenge was setting up a ticket to Europe with cities and dates that allows me to fly to Nice and fly four Aegean Airlines flight segments inexpensively.
Portugal was my preferred destination. Once again I did not find the itinerary that clicked for me.
Warsaw and Budapest were the two cities I had the most interest in visiting with the current airfare deals, however, Budapest had lousy British Airways flight times with after-midnight arrival and departures before 8am.
Prague was the destination with the simplest itinerary and best schedule.
The Hotel Puzzle
My secondary consideration were hotels in each city. My desire was to take advantage of current hotel loyalty promotions and points I have to minimize my out of pocket hotel spend and maximize earning points for my hotel spend.
Four current hotel promotions were in my travel planning thought process.
1. Wyndham Rewards 7,500 bonus points for using Masterpass.
My first reservation for a Wyndham brand hotel was made today using Masterpass. I have two paid stays planned for $80 hotel nights to earn 15,000 Wyndham Rewards bonus points.
2. IHG Accelerate Sep 1-Dec 31
IHG Accelerate fall 2017 guarantees each member can earn 30,000 bonus points by fulfilling the member’s individually targeted tasks. My offer can be completed with two hotel nights.
3. Club Carlson Free Fridays
Last month I completed four Carlson hotel stays in Europe to earn two Free Fridays. I received my certificate numbers last week. These are good for a free Friday night from October 6, 2017 to January 26, 2018 at any Carlson hotel worldwide.
I tried to book a Radisson Blu hotel online this morning using the free certificate and the message came back stating invalid.
Has anyone been able to book a Free Friday yet?
Looks like time for a Club Carlson phone call.
4. Choice Privileges 8,000 points every two stays
Choice Hotels representative to FlyerTalk posted the new offer will once again be 8,000 points for two stays.
There are several Choice Hotels with rates from 55 to 90 EUR on the French Riviera. These same hotels are 8,000 to 12,000 points per reward night. There are several Choice Hotels in Prague at 8,000 to 12,000 points per reward night. Room rates in Prague are 90 to 150 EUR.
My main objective is to requalify for Choice Privileges Platinum elite in 2017 with 20 nights. I am more than half way there. Paid nights count for the Stay 2-Earn 8,000 points promotion. Paid and reward nights earn elite qualifying nights credit for Choice Privileges Platinum.
Spending points is generally the better value based on the price I paid for points, however, it looks like Choice Privileges PointsPlusCash reward rates are permanently gone. I looked over Choice Privileges Terms & Conditions this weekend and there is no longer any mention of Points Plus Cash rewards. This was the back door to buying Choice Privileges points for $7.50 per 1,000 points, rather than $11 per 1,000 regular rate.
Conserving Choice Privileges points is also in my plan. I have other hotel options in Prague and the French Riviera. I need my Choice Privileges points for when I transit through Scandinavian cities like Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. That is something I will be doing again in December and January. 10,000 Choice Privileges points buys a $200 per night room around those cities and there are few other options for a better deal up in the Nordic countries.
San Jose – Prague – Nice – Sofia – Prague – San Jose
One of the greatest challenges in putting together a complex travel itinerary is making sure all the pieces fit together before gluing the travel plan to my wallet. I have purchased too many airline tickets and then realized the dates were less than ideal or hotels were far higher priced than I expected.
Airline tickets are nonrefundable. Airline tickets are the anchor pieces to the puzzle. All other travel plans revolve around the international airline ticket dates.
My weekend was spent going through my two week itinerary day by day, checking airfares to different places and hotel options in each city I would pass through with those flights.
As I said at the beginning, French Riviera Nice-Monaco was the only definite destination and the centerpiece of my travel puzzle.
I could have purchased Norwegian Airlines one way tickets weeks ago for Oakland to London Gatwick at $140 one way and Oslo to Oakland for $139 to fly in October. But I can’t afford to stay in those high priced cities too long.
Portugal was my preferred destination, but I could not develop a fine-tuned itinerary for London-Portugal-Nice-Oslo at a good price. Plus, Aegean Airlines flight segments did not fit into that itinerary inexpensively.
Last week SAS flights went on sale from San Francisco to Stockholm for $540 round trip. I was developing a travel plan around those flights when the major fare sale to Central Europe launched over the weekend.
Poland, Prague and Budapest offer plenty of chain hotel deals. Radisson Blu Budapest is only 15,000 points per night. There is a nice little Holiday Inn outside Warsaw with $60 hotel rates I have wanted to check out. There is Starwood’s Hotel Galery69, Stawiguda, a Member of Design Hotels in the lake country of Poland between Gdansk and Warsaw with $60 nights.
Prague Old Town
Four Aegean flight segments for $132 all-in.
My 2017 frequent flyer plan has been going for Star Alliance Gold through Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus. I obtained Silver elite this summer and I need 24,000 Tier Miles + 4 Aegean flight segments to reach Gold elite.
While it has been much more challenging to search Aegean flights since Google Flights has dropped deep links, I have redeveloped my skills using ITA Matrix Airfare Search in combination with Skyscanner.com to find cheap Aegean Airlines tickets.
Why Sofia, Bulgaria again?
I visited Sofia, Bulgaria in February 2017 due to its low Aegean Airlines ticket prices when I flew Sofia-Athens-Warsaw for about $106.20 one way. Those flights allowed me to earn Aegean Silver elite with 12,000 Tier Miles + 2 Aegean flight segments rather than qualifying with 24,000 Tier Miles without 2 Aegean flight segments.
People kept telling me when I was in Sofia that I should visit Plovdiv, a city of Roman ruins about 2 hours by bus from Sofia. Plovdiv has a Wyndham Ramada hotel and a new Holiday Inn. Hotels, ancient sites and cheap beer in pubs sounds delightful. Sofia was probably the lowest priced city I have visited in Europe.
My one year elite qualification clock reset in July 2017 when I earned Aegean Silver elite. I have until mid-July 2018 to earn 24,000 Tier Miles + 4 Aegean flight segments or fly 48,000 Tier Miles without Aegean flight segments.
Most Star Alliance deep discount economy tickets with Air Canada and United only earn 50% flight miles as Tier Miles. Scandinavian SAS Airlines earns 100% flight miles as Tier Miles.
Turns out ticket prices were very low from Nice to Sofia ($77) and Sofia to Prague ($55) with each ticket consisting of two flight segments via Athens.
Nice-Athens-Sofia and Sofia-Athens-Prague for $132 completes the four Aegean elite qualifying flight segments.
My next two transatlantic California to Europe tickets are Oneworld flights. I will be looking for a low SAS fare for early 2018 travel. One round trip between California and Stockholm on SAS will earn the remaining Tier Miles needed for Aegean Gold elite.
Scenes Inside my Gold Mind
Uncertainty has been gnawing at me all month since I returned from Europe. Every day checking airfare and waiting for that moment of serenity when I know the travel deals I see are probably the best deals I will find. The past 24 hours were those deals.
I have all my air travel planned.
I have nearly all my hotel nights booked.
Under $600 all in for air travel San Jose – Prague – Nice – Sofia – Prague – San Jose.
About $300 for paid hotel rooms out of 13 hotel nights. Points and complimentary nights cover most of the lodging.
About $20 per day estimated for my two weeks in Europe in Prague and Bulgaria and about $30 per day for France.
Two weeks in Europe, the most difficult flight planning aspect for Aegean Gold elite already ticketed and several hotel promotions will be completed on low room rates to earn more hotel points for 2018 travel.