Some people, like me, call 11 nights in 8 different hotels across 5 different major hotel chains in 3 European countries “winter vacation”. Normally, I would only make 9 hotel stays in 11 days a solo trip itinerary and not a winter vacation with my wife.
After all these years traveling with me, she knows the score:
“Buy rooms when prices are low to earn points for free nights when room rates are high.”
London Christmas Day Arrival
London was a deal Christmas week with our hotel rooms priced from $74 to $96 per night with IHG, Marriott and Wyndham.
We both swore we had been to London before on Christmas Day, but learning a few weeks before our trip that London offers no public transportation in the city on December 25 informed us we were both mistaken about our travel history.
I would have definitely remembered the necessity of a taxi, if we had previously arrived in London on Christmas Day. Simply getting from London Heathrow Airport to Victoria Coach Station by bus was a 36 GBP expense for two on possibly the only available public transportation option from LHR, followed by 20 GBP for a taxi to Days Hotel Waterloo two miles from Victoria Coach Station. $75 for two persons to travel from LHR to central London is 5x the price to travel by Underground on any other day of the year.
Prague on New Year’s Eve
Prague hotels were generally more expensive than London hotels for our dates of travel with cheap London hotels on Christmas and Boxing Day (Dec 26) and many hotels fully booked in Prague over New Year’s weekend Friday to Monday nights.
Prague was the points redemption portion of our trip with five free nights. We stayed 3 nights at Club Carlson’s Park Inn Prague over New Year’s Eve and Day for 84,000 points.
Park Inn Prague is a hotel that consistently upgrades me to a top floor patio deck room based on my Club Carlson Gold elite status.
Our large deck was a safe place to watch fireworks at midnight for the New Year madness when the sky over the city of Prague lit up in explosions of light from every direction.
By midnight, at the turning of the clock to 2018, the repetitive barrage of fireworks had been going on nonstop since 5:30pm. After more than six hours of the relentless sonic assault to our ears and chemical mixture in fumes wafting through the night air irritating our eyes, the final hour’s explosive fusillade of a few more thousand bursts of light culminated the evening of gunpowder in sky. Welcome sleep was finally possible as the night quieted down to the occasional pop by around 1am.
Prague, like Amsterdam, is mostly a DIY experience with every street firing off a set of explosive rockets available at stores around town in packs of 6 to 10 for less than $25. Supposedly 2017 saw the introduction of more restrictive fireworks regulations in the city to keep so many frightened swans and other birds from dying. Any subsidence in fireworks activity was unnoticeable to us as we still felt shell-shocked by the time 6pm fireworks started again on New Year’s Day to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Czech Republic after its Jan 1, 1993 peaceful separation from Slovakia.
Copenhagen hygge for my birthday
Copenhagen was expensive to visit as always, but my $160 hotel deal with breakfast two mornings at AC by Marriott Bella Sky turned out to be Danish ‘hygge’ comfort closing out our trip. Denmark is so efficient, laid back and friendly, as long as you take the time to greet and speak with people you encounter. Once again, I felt I was in the Copenhagen loyalty program as people I spent time talking to gave me extras, discounts and freebies.
And one grocery store cashier woman I did not greet properly and speak with as I mutely tried to buy dinner grocery items and bag them at the market ridiculed me as a rude tourist in Danish and English in front of the other customers. My experience is it pays dividends to be overtly friendly with Danish workers.
Free nights and points
My main objectives for this winter trip were mostly fulfilled earning hotel loyalty promotion bonuses like Choice Privileges 5,000 bonus points, one Marriott Rewards MegaBonus free night and Wyndham Rewards Visa Checkout 8,000 bonus points after two stays, while finding good value from Club Carlson and Choice Privileges free nights.
Hotel Stays and Promotion Bonuses Earned
11,000 Wyndham Rewards Points
1. Days Hotel London Waterloo earned 4,000 Wyndham Rewards points for 71.10 GBP/$96. One room night earned 1,000 stay points and Visa Checkout 3,000 bonus points. The room was small, but larger than I expected based on past central London hotel stays. Best hotel feature was the hotel lobby bar with 2.75 GBP pints of Stella Artois at 6-8pm Happy Hour, the only pub around us open for drinks on Christmas Day.
2. Ramada Prague Airport earned 7,000 Wyndham Rewards points for 83.70 EUR/$100. One room night earned 1,000 stay points + 1,000 bonus points weeknight rate + 5,000 Visa Checkout promotion bonus points. We had a 7am PRG flight to Copenhagen and the free shuttle service from the hotel was convenient.
My third Wyndham stay using Visa Checkout will maximize the 15,000 bonus points promotion offer limit with 7,000 bonus points. I can earn 9,000 Wyndham Rewards points sometime this month with an offseason $40 weeknight hotel check-in at Days Inn Monterey a couple miles from my home and go back home to sleep in my own bed.
GoFree reward nights at 15,000 points are one option for booking higher quality Wyndham brand hotels or Dolce Resorts. My preference is to use Wyndham Rewards points for GoFast cash and points nights at 3,000 points per reward night. I know several Wyndham brand hotels where 3,000 points + 23 EUR-62 EUR per night saves more than $100 on the prevailing room rate. I am confident I will get more than $500 in future hotel rate discounts with the 20,000 points earned from $240 in hotel spend with these three paid Wyndham brand stays during the Visa Checkout promotion. I earned 18,000 Wyndham Rewards points in October for $160 during the Wyndham Rewards Masterpass payment promotion.
Marriott MegaBonus one category 5 free night certificate valid through July 6, 2018.
3. Moxy London Stratford 55GBP/$74. This hotel was my first ever stay at a millennial-focused Moxy Hotel and impressed me with its cool factor. Also, my cheapest paid hotel night of the trip – in London no less, albeit Stratford, site of the 2012 Olympic games venues.
4. AC Hotel Bella Sky Copenhagen 995 DKK/$160 was also another first stay for me at this Marriott brand. I was familiar with the hotel by sight due to its unique architecture, but generally the price is an astounding $300 to $400+ per night or 30,000 Marriott Rewards points. The room rate was $140, but for only $20 more I booked the buffet breakfast package.
We flew from Prague to Copenhagen at 7am and arrived at the hotel at 9:30am by train and metro for 24 DKK each per ticket. A train ticket to Copenhagen Central Station is 36 DKK.
AC Bella Sky is outside Copenhagen city center, but convenient Metro takes you into Copenhagen in 10 minutes.
We arrived at the hotel at 9:30am and the receptionist gave us two sets of breakfast coupons for the buffet that morning and the following day.
Choice Privileges 5,000 bonus points
5. Clarion Prague City 91.20 EUR/$109
My go to hotel in Prague is Clarion Prague City, a hotel I stayed at 7 nights in 2017 for 8,000 or 10,000 Choice Privileges points per night and this one paid night. Choice Privileges sent an email offering 5,000 bonus points for a November 14 booking at any Choice hotel on a stay completed by December 31. I changed my reward night at Clarion Prague City to a paid night to earn 6,000+ Choice Privileges points rather than redeem 10,000 points. That extra 16,000 points in my account can buy $200+ worth of hotel stays in Europe on a 2018 trip.
We also received a room upgrade on this paid night and another we stayed at the hotel on a 10,000 points free reward night.
Club Carlson 84,000 points and Free Friday night covered $900 in hotel room rates in Prague over New Year’s weekend.
6. Radisson Blu Alcron Prague Free Friday
Our July 2017 trip to Amsterdam, Prague, Bratislava and London earned two Free Fridays with four Club Carlson hotel stays. While London would have been an incredible redemption value for Free Fridays at a hotel like The Mayfair London, I was in Europe for 17 nights during the October 6-Jan 26 redemption period, however, only in Prague and Sofia, Bulgaria on Friday nights.
I redeemed both of my Free Fridays for Radisson Blu Alcron Prague, a 1930s art deco gem of a hotel. Radisson Blu Alcron was priced over 200 EUR per night on both trips in October and December and ended up being fully booked by the time we stayed on New Year’s Eve weekend.
Here is my October 2017 review of a junior suite stay at Radisson Blu Alcron Prague.
7. Park Inn Prague 84,000 points for 3 nights
New Year’s Eve rates at Park Inn Prague were $203 per night and required a minimum 2-night stay. The only other hotel with availability on New Year’s Eve for points was InterContinental Prague at 40,000 points per night. I enjoy the neighborhood pubs and restaurants more around Park Inn Prague with prices about 50% of food and beer prices at most restaurants in Prague Old Town.
Park Inn Prague was also my only booking of an extended hotel stay to provide a respite from daily hotel moves.
8. Holiday Inn Express London Stratford 67.20 GBP/$91
This was my favorite hotel in London in terms of the combination of a comfortable room, free breakfast, low rate and hotel facilities. The Moxy London Stratford is more convenient to Stratford Underground and trains at only 200 meters or so from the station. HIX Stratford was a 10 minute walk to and from the station.
This hotel stay was my one paid IHG stay needed to complete my IHG Fall 2017 Accelerate promotion offer by fulfilling two of my three different tasks required to earn 24,100 Accelerate promotion bonus points. I stayed at InterContinental Warsaw in October on a Points & Cash rate for $35 and 30,000 points to complete one of three tasks. This London stay was planned to recoup the 30,000 points I redeemed for Warsaw.
- Stay once and earn 2,000 bonus points
- Pay with IHG Mastercard and earn 1,500 bonus points.
- Complete 3 Accelerate tasks and earn 24,100 bonus points.
There was a hitch in my IHG Rewards Club plan when it turned out my IHG Rewards Club card with me had been canceled and replaced in September. My IHG Fall 2017 Accelerate offer required payment with my IHG MasterCard and London was the first time I had tried to pay for anything with my IHG card since August.
I need to follow up on the IHG credit card issue to see if there is some way I can get retroactively credited 25,600 bonus points I had expected to earn from my one night at Holiday Inn Express Stratford London.
While the credit card change is something I should have known by now and primarily my fault, the fact that IHG Rewards Club website let me book hotel stays for the past three months and even book my London hotel nonrefundable room rate using my old IHG Mastercard as my credit card guarantee helped keep me unaware that my old card had been canceled and replaced with a new card in September 2017. I only became aware of the issue when my card was rejected for payment at hotel check-in in London.
In the loyalty promotion game I win most ot the time and I lose some of the time. This may be a case where I end up not getting the 25,600 additional points I expected to earn from this London hotel stay.
London, Prague, Copenhagen – 5 chains, 8 hotels, 11 nights
Hotel hopping was a bit of work in terms of being too busy changing hotels each day or too tired to sit down after a day of walking, drinking and dining to concentrate on writing for a few hours each night. The luxury of being self-employed is setting my own work limits. I published far fewer Loyalty Traveler articles than I anticipated during this trip.
Normally I like to tweet in real time pictures of places I am seeing, but my iPhone 6 has one of the crap batteries in recent news reports that has made my phone essentially useless over the past 8 weeks, unless it is plugged into an outlet. I can’t even use the map app or send more than a couple of tweets before my phone goes from 100% power charge to dead. I look forward to my $29 battery replacement offer this week. Kelley’s iPhone 6 still works, but she enjoyed refusing me access to her phone to allow us to walk uninterrupted around cities without my usual travel habit of stopping to tweet a photo every cool view I see and every meal.
This trip was mostly relaxing and enjoyable days with generally three restaurant meals and 4 or 5 pints of beer a day. This was Kelley’s first time in East London. She enjoyed the authentic and sometimes edgy local vibe in East London pubs. The low cost hotels during the Christmas holidays alleviated some of the expense of $40 to $50 meals and $5 to $7 pints.
We flew out of London’s Southend Airport SEN on the east coast of England. The airport was convenient to reach from Stratford Station in less than an hour by train and provides a good low cost carrier airline alternative to London Luton LTN and London Stansted STN. This was my first time in Southend. I hope to return some day and spend a day or two at Park Inn Palace Southend-on-Sea. The seaside town looked pleasant enough for a brief visit before or after a flight through Southend Airport.
In Prague, we found plenty of new restaurants for us to eat well with main courses, side dishes and 4 pints of beer at an average price of 500 CZK ($24) for two per dinner meal.
Copenhagen 24-hour transportation card for 80 DKK ($13) per person turned out be a good value expense with CPH airport train travel and city trams and Metro included. I have had several overnight transit stays in Copenhagen the past few years and it costs 72 DKK just for CPH Airport to Copenhagen Central Station round trip.
As usual, each time I return to a city I learn more about the place, customs and hotels. And more ways to save money on travel in that particular destination.
Next time I fly to London during Christmas holidays, I’ll plan to arrive in or depart from London on any day besides Christmas Day.
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