Do you dream of taking your family to Europe? Do you worry about the expense? What if I showed you how to travel hack a family trip to Prague and London for under $1200?
For a miles and points primer, please refer to Miles and Points 101.
I will explain exactly how I did it, so you can do it, too!
Our first trip abroad with Little TFT was when she was 3 years old. I know most people would question why we would take a 3-year-old to Europe. Our answer was simply, ‘Why not?’
We took a family trip to Prague and London. Neither my husband nor I had ever been to Prague. While I had been to London, it was 15 years since I had been there. Plus, we thought visiting London would be an ideal place to take a toddler with its vast amount of parks and outdoor recreation.
Since we weren’t at the mercy of a school calendar yet, we went in the offseason when it cost fewer miles. At that time, the American Airlines offseason mileage requirement was 40,000 miles per person round trip (it is 60,000 in peak season).
Note: The offseason mileage requirement is now 45,000 miles RT. Offseason dates are January 10 – March 14 and November 1 – December 14.
There are a couple of credit cards that earn American miles. Two banks, Citibank and Barclaycard, offer several options.
Barclaycard has the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard. At the time of this writing, the signup bonus is 60,000 American miles as long as you make one purchase in the first 90 days of having this card and paying the annual fee of $95.
Look at it this way – for a price of $95, you can have 1.5 round trips to Europe in the offseason! Even if you go during peak season such as the summer, the mileage requirement is 60,000 miles.
The signup bonus from this one card is enough to give one person a free round trip to Europe whether in peak or non-peak season. In addition, your first checked bag is free on all American Airlines flights for you and up to 4 companions on the same itinerary.
Citibank has multiple cards that earn American miles. However, with Citi, the rules have changed where you can only receive an American Airlines bonus once every 24 months if you have not opened or closed a card in that timeframe.
Here is Citi’s disclaimer:
American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles are not available if you have had any Citi® / AAdvantage® card (other than a CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® card) opened or closed in the past 24 months.
Therefore, you cannot get two of the below cards and get each bonus right away. My suggestion now is to see which card is offering the higher bonus. Pair that with the Barclay’s Aviator red card and you should have enough miles, especially if your partner does the same thing.
Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard – For most people, this will be the card of choice. The signup bonus is 50,000 miles after meeting the minimum spend of $2,500 in 90 days. The annual fee is waived the first year and the first checked bag is free for you and up to 4 companions on the same itinerary.
Citi/AAdvantage Mile Up Card – the bonus on this card is 10,000 miles plus a $50 statement credit. The minimum spend is $500 within the first 90 days and there is no annual fee. This card does not provide for free checked baggage.
Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard – this is the granddaddy of them all. It comes with a 75,000-mile bonus after completing $7,500 in purchases within 90 days of account opening. The card does have a $450 annual fee. The fee is offset in a number of ways:
- American Airlines Admirals Club membership – visit any Admirals Club no matter what airline you are flying. The Admirals club provides a quiet place away from the gate area where you can relax and enjoy some food prior to your flight. You and your traveling companions can use this benefit.
- $100 Global Entry credit (includes TSA pre-check) – your application fee will be credited back to your account if this card is used to pay.
- First checked bag free for you and up to eight others on your itinerary.
Prague – Where to Stay
The Radisson brand in Europe is a wonderful place to stay. The Radisson Blu is Club Carlson’s flagship brand. There are a couple of them in the States, but they are widely available throughout Europe.
Radisson Blu Alcron
We stayed at the Radisson Blu Alcron on our family trip to Prague. It is centrally located near Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square and Prague Castle.
When booking a room with Club Carlson, they allow you to choose a standard or premium award. The standard award at this hotel is 50,000 points and is for the room only. The premium award at this hotel is 75,000 points, but that also gets you a larger room, a full breakfast buffet and an additional $50 per day credit to use at their bar.
We booked the premium room. The breakfast buffet is one of the best buffets I have had anywhere. After having such a substantial breakfast, we used our daily $50 credit for a light meal in the afternoon at their bar.
This is how we saved money on food. So, not only did we have a free room, 90% of our food expenses were covered as well! We enjoyed walking around Old Town in the evenings and would get snacks from the vendors because everything smelled delicious!
The Park Inn
This is another Club Carlson property in Prague. Points are roughly half of the Radisson Blu. The Park Inn gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor. You can get a standard room for 28,000 points per night or a premium room for 42,000 points per night. The premium room includes the buffet breakfast, but this hotel does not have the daily food credit allowance.
USBank is the authorizing bank for the Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature card. Receive up to 85,000 Bonus Gold Points – 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase plus 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days. The annual fee is $75. This card also gives you Gold Elite status.
Once you complete your minimum spend, you will have 92,500 Gold points because you receive 5 points for each $1 spent. If you and your partner signed up for this card, you would have 185,000 points giving you 6 free nights at the Park Inn with a standard award or 4 free nights on a premium award. You would have 3 free nights at the Radisson Blu on a standard award and 2 nights if you went all out with their premium award.
London – Where to Stay
I used to be awash in Hilton Honors points at the time, so I decided to look for a Hilton in London. It wasn’t hard since the search resulted in 46 Hilton properties in London! Per night point costs range from 20,000 to 80,000. Obviously, this depends on location and the quality of the hotel.
Hilton Canary Wharf
We stayed at the Hilton Canary Wharf. This is not in the heart of the city, but rather a 15-20 minute Tube ride away. It’s a moderate hotel but receives high marks on TripAdvisor.
Because this hotel is not in the heart of London it is less expensive. However, I am not sure I would stay here again due to the distance from London attractions. If that doesn’t bother you, this hotel was beautiful with great service all around.
Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, Hilton did away with their award chart. Now, it’s a dynamic chart. When I searched the Canary Wharf hotel for one night in May on the weekend, it was 39,000 points. When I did a two-night weekend search, it was 46,000 points per night. However, when I searched for 5 nights, it increased to 70,000 points! Remember that Hilton does give you the 5th night free. You will have to play around with dates to see what works for you.
Sometimes credit cards give you additional benefits besides just the bonus points. This is especially true with Hilton. Having their American Express Hilton Ascend card gives you Gold status with Hilton. This is perhaps the best mid-level status of any hotel brand. Gold members are entitled to upgraded rooms, late checkout and continental breakfast for yourself and one additional person.
The Hilton Canary Wharf upgraded us to a junior suite. More space! Yeah! We also were given access to the executive lounge. Now, I don’t know if we were given this because we were staying in a suite or if they provided it due to my Gold status. Either way, having Gold status has its perks!
Because we had access to the Executive lounge, we had breakfast, snacks, and evening canapés every day. This allowed us to only have one restaurant meal plus a light snack each day. Money saver!!
You can do it, too!
American Express offers 3 different Hilton personal cards (they also offer Hilton business credit cards).
The Hilton Honors Card from American Express gives you a 75,000 point bonus after meeting the minimum spend of $1,000 in 90 days. There is no annual fee.
The Hilton Honors Ascend Card awards you 125,000 points after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months of opening the card. In addition, you are automatically given Hilton Gold status which MAY get you free breakfast in some hotels.
A new Hilton card, the American Express Hilton Aspire card is for those who are serious about Hilton stays. You get 150,000 Hilton bonus after meeting $4,000 in minimum spend in the first 3 months. However, the annual fee is $450. With that, you do get a range of benefits such as Diamond status which gives you access to all executive lounges in addition to Priority Pass Select membership allowing you and 2 guests to access these airport lounges for free.
What’s unique with Hilton is that it lets you combine points from 10 accounts! Crazy! You can have other family members or friends sign up for any of these cards and pool your points together.
Total cost – family of 3 – travel to Prague and London:
Airfare overseas – 120,000 American Airlines miles, plus $235 per person in fuel surcharges. I have learned a lot of the last couple of years. One being that London is extremely expensive to fly into or out of. Had I realized this then, we would have gone elsewhere in Europe. When using American miles, it’s best to fly their partners of Finnair or Iberia (lower fuel surcharges) so you don’t have to connect in London. Flying British Airways has the highest fuel surcharges.
Hotel in Prague – We did have to pay a per person tax in Prague per night. It was approximately $5 per person. We were there for 4 nights, so that was $60
Airfare Prague to London – I found an inexpensive one-way flight between Prague and London for approximately $75 per person. Total $225.
Hotel in London – We did not pay anything for our London hotel.
Food – We hardly paid anything for food, seriously. This was due to the premium reward we booked in Prague which included a free breakfast buffet and an additional $50 in credit each day to spend at the bar (yes, they served food!). We did eat out a couple of times and gravitated to snacks. Let’s say $100 spent in Prague. It was about the same in London. We had most of our food provided in the Executive Lounge, but we did eat out some. Total for both cities: $200.
I’m not going to go into Entertainment and Attractions. Everyone is different with what they want to see and do. Many of the museums in London are free anyway. We also played in the parks quite a bit. Doing the London Eye was probably the most expensive attraction we did.
We are not taxi or Uber riders either. We like local transportation and good old-fashioned walking!
So, for our airfare, hotel for 9 nights and food, we paid $1200. This cost could have been significantly cut down had we decided to go anywhere but London! I also could have used miles for our airfare from Prague to London but decided against it.
With airfares becoming cheaper and cheaper these days, the largest expense remains hotels. This is where so much of your vacation savings can be if you have the right credit cards. The USBank Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature, the American Express Hilton Honors Ascend card and the American Express Hilton card provide great value when redeeming points for costly hotels.
You can do it, too! First, determine how many points you need. Then, see what it would take to acquire those points through credit card signups.
Remember, most hotel loyalty programs allow you to combine your points. If they don’t, you can reserve a few nights from your account and then a few nights from your partner’s account. Send an email to the hotel with the confirmation numbers asking them to link the reservations so you don’t have to change rooms.
Once in London, follow these tips for the 10 Best Things to do in London with kids.
Have you used hotel points for free stays? What has been your favorite redemption?