It had been awhile since I traveled out of California with a stay at home from mid-July to the Christmas holidays. Greta Thunberg had me really rethink my air travel footprint in the latter half of 2019.
My travel plans for Amsterdam and Krakow were pretty much finalized back in September. After spending the past two Christmas holidays in London, I wanted to be sure to be in cities that do not, to a large degree, shut down for Dec 25-26 and Jan 1.
With few new hotel loyalty promotions since early November, besides buy hotel points deals, and most of the points and miles blogosphere focused on credit card deals and seasonal shopping purchases, I used the past two months to concentrate on other projects of deep interest to me and tuned out travel topics.
My travel objectives for 2019 were fairly simple. Plan trips so that my hotel daily rate averaged out to less than $65 per night for 60 to 80 hotel nights over the year and maintain Star Alliance Gold elite status through Aegean Miles+Bonus. This two week holiday trip to Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Krakow and Stockholm secured my Star Alliance Gold elite into 2021. I think I met my objective of $65 hotel nights for 2019 for 65 hotel nights. I’ll build a spreadsheet this month and post it to Loyalty Traveler to determine precise numbers for 2019.
Trip Report Overview – Amsterdam Christmas, Krakow New Year
This article is simply an overview of flights and hotels for these past two weeks and includes cost for airline tickets and hotels. I think this trip is a good example of how I integrate earning and burning for each trip to balance out my use of travel loyalty programs. My objective is rarely luxurious experiences. The destination, Amsterdam and Krakow for this trip, and not the hotel is generally my primary objective. Using points and miles to make that comfortable and efficient is my goal. That takes planning throughout the year to take advantage of the numerous opportunities available through frequent flyer programs and hotel loyalty programs to best meet my needs for affordable frequent travel.
Credit cards generally play a small part in my overall strategy of affordable travel. Not that I think there is anything wrong with a focus on credit cards. I simply don’t spend much money on credit cards or care to play around with new credit card acquisitions to take advantage of those opportunities. I keep my spending simple. My style of simplicity in travel spending can be replicated by anyone with a few thousand dollars to designate for a travel budget. Your credit score or ability to qualify for new credit cards is irrelevant. I am more of a pay as you go travel planner. Spending so much time in Amsterdam over the past two decades taught me that strategy and avoids spending more than you can easily pay back.
Below is a general outline of my trip with a few comments. Many of these numbered pieces will become Loyalty Traveler articles this month.
1. United Airlines – San Francisco to Frankfurt economy class – this flight was the return portion of the $694 round trip United Airlines ticket we flew in mid-July 2019. I had not paid this much for an airline ticket in several years. Getting a cheap ticket deal, or even an airline miles award ticket, from Europe to California in July turns out to be far more difficult and expensive the past couple years than buying a round trip ticket starting in the USA for summer travel. Still, the overall cost generally works out more favorably starting my flights in Europe for combination summer and Christmas flights, as long as the return ticket date back to Europe falls over the Christmas holidays. Without a doubt, flying USA to Europe at Christmas is still the most expensive seasonal ticket of the year.
My two primary airline tickets of 2019-2020 were this $694 United Airlines Stockholm to SFO July 15-Dec 22 combined with a $420 SAS round trip open-jaw ticket I purchased in late September 2019 flying Stockholm to LAX the first week of January 2020 with a return LAX-Copenhagen in July 2020. Paying $1,114 on airfare to fly for two European vacations in summer and Christmas is a price hard to match for two tickets originating from California.
Shoulder seasons favor airline tickets starting in California. Next month I will be back in London flying on a $383 United SFO-LHR round trip ticket.
United SFO-FRA flight met my qualification goal for Aegean Gold/Star Alliance Gold elite renewal to March 2021.
United Airlines SFO International Lounge – not worth devoting an article to this lounge. I have been underwhelmed every visit. I prefer the SFO Air France-Skyteam lounge I can access with my Diners Club card. All in all, Aegean Gold elite has been well worth the minimal extra cost and effort of sticking with Star Alliance flights for most of my air travel. A week on Crete in Greece earlier this year was the kind of added benefit I envisioned several years ago when I focused my frequent flyer loyalty on Aegean Miles+Bonus.
Loyalty Traveler – Feb 27-March 8, 2019 Barcelona, Warsaw, Crete, Stockholm.
2. Frankfurt Lufthansa lounge – review to come. Lounge access on economy ticket courtesy of my Aegean Miles+Bonus Gold elite status.
3. KLM Frankfurt-Amsterdam. This was the first leg of a two segment open-jaw $151 KLM ticket flying Frankfurt to Amsterdam to Krakow, Poland. Booking an open-jaw ticket was $75 less than booking separate FRA-AMS and AMS-KRK one way tickets with KLM. This was also about the same overall price and far more convenient than traveling Amsterdam to Eindhoven EIN Airport 125km by bus for a low cost Ryanair ticket EIN-KRK.
4. Ibis Amsterdam Stopera. Loyalty Traveler hotel review. This two-night advance purchase, nonrefundable hotel stay was booked in September for 171.88 EUR/$190.44 USD. Although I had never stayed there before, I knew precisely where the hotel was located after staying a couple of buildings down the same street in January 2019 at the Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam City Hall. The location is about a 20-minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal train station or a quick Metro ride to Waterlooplein Station.
Ibis Amsterdam Stopera was the first of three stays at Accor Hotels this trip. In September, I booked three nonrefundable 2-night stays to qualify for Le Club Accorhotels 6,000 bonus points. This first stay earned 500 of the 6,000 bonus points.
Loyalty Traveler – Forget IHG Accelerate, Le Club Accorhotels 6,000 points for 3 stays is current deal for me (Sep 23, 2019).
Le Club Accorhotels recently rebranded as ALL – Accor Live Limitless.
5. Mercure Amsterdam Canal District. My second two-night stay for 220.40 EUR/$242.23 USD was a superb hotel location on a residential street with little traffic and relatively close proximity to the Museumplein with Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. Reversing my stays with Mercure first and Ibis second would have reduced my overall cost by about 25 EUR, however, I find it better to upscale successive hotels rather than start in a better hotel (Mercure) and move to a lower market segment hotel (Ibis). This second Accor Hotels stay earned 2,500 bonus points from the Sep 2019 promotion.
6. Park Plaza Vondelpark Amsterdam – Initially I booked Best Western Delphi Hotel Amsterdam for 28,000 points for a Friday night stay when most hotels in central Amsterdam doubled their prices from room rates earlier in the Christmas week. Then, in mid-November, Radisson Rewards ran a 20% off reward nights special. I redeemed 50,000 points for the category 6 Park Plaza Vondelpark Amsterdam with the expectation of getting a 10,000 points rebate. Park Plaza Vondelpark hotel remodeled and upgraded since my last stay in 2017.
The 10,000 points rebate posted to my Radisson Rewards account 2 days after checkout. The posted room rate at the time I booked was 165.45 EUR/ $185 USD. Given that 40,000 Radisson Rewards were available to purchase in November for $140, I felt I got great value from my 40,000 points annual bonus for being a Radisson Rewards credit card member.
Loyalty Traveler – Radisson Rewards 20% off points stays Nov 22-Mar 31; book by Nov 20.
7. KLM Amsterdam-Krakow – The second flight segment of my $151 KLM open-jaw ticket FRA-AMS-KRK. After an all-out last day party in Amsterdam before our 8:40pm flight to Krakow, I can’t say I remember anything at all about this flight. We arrived at our third Accor hotel at midnight and promptly passed out.
8. Mercure Krakow Stare Miasto – I paid 758.10 PLN/$189.86 USD for this 2-night stay. Turned out a later Accor Hotels promotional sale in November dropped the price to around $150, so I ate the difference with my nonrefundable advance purchase rate from September. Still, the third 2-night stay with Accor Hotels earned 3,000 bonus points and the hotel room was lovely.
All in all, I spent about $620 on room rates and another $39 for breakfast at Ibis Amsterdam to end up with 7,975 Accor points with a fixed value of 2,000 points = 40 EUR credit on a future stay. Essentially I have 160 EUR credit (after I pick up another 25 points) at Accor Hotels for stays in Summer 2020. That amounts to a $179 future credit rebate on $659 hotel spend or 27% cash back on my $659 in spend at Accor Hotels this trip. Effectively, my paid room rate worked out to about $80 per night after a $30 per night rebate. That is quite the deal for hotel nights in Amsterdam.
9. Holiday Inn Krakow – A 3-night stay for 75,000 IHG Rewards Club points over New Year’s Eve offered great redemption value given the $202 nightly rate. To be fair though in this analysis, I could have booked a paid nonrefundable rate at Hotel Indigo Krakow during a September promotional sale for $385. Still, given that there have been many opportunities to buy IHG Rewards Club points for $5 per 1,000 points, spending 75,000 points was a good value redemption. I earned more than 110,000 points spending $775 in 2019 on only 8 paid nights at IHG hotels through two Accelerate promotions.
10. Ryanair Krakow – Stockholm Skavsta NYO Paid $88 per ticket with Priority Boarding so we could take our two carry-on bags aboard. Stayed in the Krakow airport lounge too long and by the time we boarded, all overhead bin space was completely loaded. A flight attendant wearing a Buzz-labeled uniform made quick space by making people take their small bags and place under the seat. We still departed 5 minutes early for Sweden.
Bad mouth Ryanair all you want. I have been flying Ryanair since 1997 and outside of that first London to Dublin flight in 1997, I have not had any serious issues with the carrier and its service. Love those low prices.
11. Flygbussarna Stockholm NYO – Stockholm City – Stockholm Arlanda ARN. Stockholm Skavsta Airport NYO is 105km south of Stockholm and Stockholm Arlanda Airport is 40km north of the city. Flygbussarna is the Stockholm airports bus service. The 80-minute bus ride from Stockholm Skavsta NYO to Stockholm Centralstation cost 159 SEK/$16.92 and the 40 minute bus ride from Stockholm City to Stockholm Arlanda Airport ARN cost 99 SEK/$10.53.
I downloaded the Flygbussarna app a couple years ago and it takes takes me less than 60 seconds to buy bus tickets, often as I am sitting on the plane at a Stockholm airport waiting to deplane. Electronic tickets are good for either direction on any particular route, e.g. ARN-Stockholm City or Stockholm City-ARN and valid for several months after purchase, until redeemed once you board the bus and scan the ticket bar code.
Flying from Krakow to Arlanda on Norwegian Air departing 30 minutes later than our Ryanair flight would have been more convenient, but those ticket prices were around $200 one way. I used the stop at Stockholm Centralstation to take advantage of the Coop market in the train terminal and buy hot roasted chicken, a baguette, broccoli and hummus and a large bottle of carbonated water for $19. We were on the bus on our way to Arlanda thirty minutes after arriving from Skavsta airport with enough food for lunch and dinner in our hotel suite.
12. Clarion Hotel Arlanda Airport suite – 20,000 Choice Privileges points. Normally I stay at Clarion Hotel Sign for 10,000 points per night when transiting through Stockholm. Since we were going to be in Stockholm around 1pm, I considered staying in the city at Clarion Collection Stockholm Hotel Tapto for 16,000 points. Kelley has never stayed at a Clarion Collection hotel in Scandinavia where a complimentary dinner buffet is offered. The main problem was our SAS flight to San Francisco departed at 9:50am, meaning we would need to be at Stockholm Centralstation by 7:00am for the Flygbussarna ride to Arlanda Airport.
Kelley wanted to stay at Clarion Hotel Arlanda Airport. Given the 20,000 points per night reward rate at Clarion Arlanda Airport, double the price of a night at Clarion Hotel Sign, meant we would be spending $100 in points to stay. When I checked to see a one-bedroom suite available for Clarion Arlanda, that redemption value was a no brainer given the 3,190 SEK/$339 USD room rate.
Best of all is we ate a leisurely buffet breakfast at the Clarion Arlanda hotel before walking from the hotel to airport check-in without ever stepping outside into the blustery cold morning air.
13. SAS Stockholm ARN – Los Angeles LAX. In September 2019 I scored two round trip open-jaw tickets flying Stockholm to LAX this week with a return to Copenhagen in July 2020 for $420 each. The deal with Scandinavian SAS is nearly every discount economy booking code, as long as you avoid booking Go Light tickets, earns 100% Aegean Miles+Bonus elite tier miles. I requalify for Aegean Gold elite with 24,000 Tier Miles by March 2021 or 12,000 Tier Miles + 4 Aegean Air/Olympic Air flights. This one $420 SAS ticket places me half-way to requalification for my Aegean Miles+Bonus Gold elite/Star Alliance Gold status through March 2022. Aegean Miles+Bonus allows me to maintain high elite and its benefits, like United Airlines domestic lounge access, while also allowing me to minimize my airline flight miles footprint.
12. United LAX-MRY Aegean Miles + Bonus award tickets for 12,500 miles + 5.07 EUR each.
LAX is a 300 mile, 6-hour drive from Monterey, California. While I will likely make the drive next July with a one-way rental car, my Aegean frequent flyer miles came in handy for this trip to book a timely flight for the final leg of our European journey. United Club LAX lounge access and Boarding Group 1 are additional benefits of Aegean Miles+Bonus Gold elite. Plus, I have a free checked bag benefit on most Star Alliance tickets that I have yet to take advantage of when flying. I prefer to travel light with only a carry-on rollaboard and my backpack.
Trip Expenses Summary = $3,306 for two for 12-days Europe vacation.
Flights: $801.60 + 12,500 Aegean Miles+Bonus miles for each of us.
United SFO-FRA Frankfurt $347 (50% of $694 ticket)
KLM FRA-AMS-KRK $151
Ryanair Krakow KRK-Stockholm NYO $88
SAS Stockholm ARN-LAX $210 (50% of $420 ticket)
United LAX-MRY Monterey 12,500 Aegean miles + $5.60
Hotels: $763 total spend for 11 hotel nights. IHG points earned from previous 2019 hotel stays and Radisson Rewards points from annual credit card renewal bonus.
Ibis Amsterdam Stopera – 2 nights = $229.
Mercure Amsterdam Canal District – 2 nights = $242.
Park Plaza Vondelpark 40,000 Radisson Rewards points.
Mercure Krakow Old Town – 2 nights = $190.
Holiday Inn Krakow 75,000 IHG Rewards Club points.
Clarion Stockholm Arlanda Airport 20,000 Choice Privileges points = $102 points purchase during U.S. Travel Association’s Daily Getaways May 15, 2019.
Ground transportation in Europe: $114.42 USD for two of us.
Amsterdam Schiphol to Amsterdam Centraal Station train tickets 5.50 EUR x 4 = 22 EUR = $24.55 USD.
Amsterdam two 24-hour GVB transportation tickets = 8.00 EUR x 2 = 16 EUR = $17.86 USD.
Krakow Airport to Kraków Główny train station = 2 x 9pln = 18 pln = $4.73 USD
Uber X = Krakow Holiday Inn to airport 47.06 pln (including 9 PLN tip) = $12.38
Flybussarna Stockholm NYO – = 258 SEK x 2 = 516 SEK = $54.90 USD.
Spending Cash = $825.56 for 12 days.
Amsterdam 440 EUR ($491.02 USD) for 6 days.
Krakow 1,200 PLN ATM withdrawal ($315.60 USD) for 5 days. Still have 250 pln.
Stockholm 178 SEK ($18.94 USD) Coop market for food 1 day.
Overall cost for two persons for 12-day European vacation over Christmas and New Year’s to Amsterdam, Krakow and Stockholm = $3,306.18 with these travel purchase expenses spread across about 8 months from April 2019 to January 2020.