After a 23-day trip to Europe this past month, my attention has turned to figuring out December holidays travel plans. I am making preliminary assessments of where I will go in December and where I want to spend New Year’s Eve.
So far, Amsterdam, Krakow, Riga and Tallinn have been on my radar as leading destinations.
Amsterdam was last year’s New Year’s Eve. Kelley loves every trip to Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Light Festival art exhibits along the canals are an added wintertime treat.
Loyalty Traveler – Amsterdam Light Festival Nov 29, 2018-Jan 20, 2019
Sopot, Poland was on my mind, but then I read about how drunk teenagers on the beach make it a bit chaotic on New Year’s Eve.
Krakow, Poland intrigues me due to the place being a tremendous party city. There is a light display show instead of fireworks in the city on New Year’s Eve for the safety of people and free concerts on Old Town Market Square and Kazimierz.
One of the big advantages for Amsterdam and Krakow is these two cities stay open at Christmas, whereas plenty of places in Europe essentially shut down from early afternoon Dec 24 through Dec 26. I have been in Krakow on Christmas day and there were plenty of restaurants open, but I left before the experience of New Year’s.
Tallinn, Estonia was on my list for New Year’s Eve, but hotel rates look really high.
Riga, Latvia looks like a better value for NYE with hotel rates around $80 per night for the new Radisson Old Town Riga. Riga calls itself the Christmas Tree Capital of the World with multiple tree display installations. Riga has New Year’s Eve fireworks over the Daugava River. My research indicates there is more happening in Tallinn for New Year’s than Riga. I am not much of a fan of fireworks anyway. Riga Christmas Market goes into the first week of January and Kelley loves shopping at stalls.
I had thought about traveling through Germany, but every town I checked ends its Christmas Market on December 23.
Locking in Hotel Deals Now I Can Change Later
After checking out several different cities I decided this is a good time to make refundable points and free cancellation hotel reservations for New Year’s. I can speculatively book reservations in several cities now to secure current rates and availability. Once I refine my plans with set destination(s), then I can lock in better hotel deals I find and cancel other hotels I will not use.
Where I can fly from Stockholm inexpensively
One of my airfare strategies for cheaper tickets to Europe at Christmas is flying round trip tickets from Scandinavia to the San Francisco Bay Area. I flew the outbound portion of a Stockholm to San Francisco United Airlines $694 ticket last week. That was more than I like to spend, but the higher ticket price had several mitigating factors.
- July is the most expensive month of the year to fly from Europe to USA. Christmas/New Year’s is the most expensive period to fly California to Europe.
- My SAS Scandinavian Airlines ticket from Oslo to San Francisco in April and back in July cost $477 and combined with the United Airlines ticket ensures I meet minimum elite miles needed to requalify for Aegean Miles+Bonus Gold/Star Alliance Gold in 2020.
- Flying United Airlines Basic Economy as a Star Alliance Gold member provides free checked bag, USA domestic airport lounge access and priority boarding.
- There are currently tickets from Stockholm to San Francisco in the $385 to $430 range for round trip travel in the first week of January with a return flight in February when we can travel again.
Where I can fly from Stockholm (or Frankfurt) inexpensively is my initial travel filter consideration in planning December travel. If I can find a suitable city or combination of cities at $50 per flight compared to another city with a $150 flight, then I have up to $600 more money to spend at the destination considering I will need a minimum of 4 tickets to visit one area: Stockholm to Riga or Tallinn with bus travel between them and a flight back to Stockholm) or 6 tickets to travel to two different areas like Riga and Krakow (Stockholm-Riga; Riga-Krakow; Krakow-Stockholm).
We also talked about traveling to the coast of Croatia or Portugal, or Venice and Ljubljana, Slovenia. Plenty of cheap airline ticket availability to Venice and northern Italy. Of course, there might be availability to many other destinations around Europe using frequent flyer miles. I have not checked out those opportunities yet.
I don’t know yet where we will be for Christmas or New Year’s. Looking at availability of reward nights using hotel points and room rates around $100 per night or less, even in cities like Amsterdam (outside New Year’s), has me ready to book some free cancellation room rates and reward nights.
It is not too early to think about getting good value from hotel points or booking a low rate hotel stay for New Year’s Eve this summer while availability is good.
My main tip for using hotel points at New Year’s Eve
Many hotels limit hotel bookings using loyalty points to a minimum 3-night stay, if they have any reward nights available at all.
I have found from past experience that a 3-night reward stay from December 30-Jan 2 is available at many hotels that will show no availability if you try and book a one or two night stay with points over New Year’s Eve.