Award travel for six people to four European countries in eight days 11

We just landed back in Denver after an incredible 8 days in Europe. Many, many hours of planning and lots of miles went in to this trip to help my husband, his parents, and brother and sister-in-law visit Europe for the first time, but it was absolutely worth it! We had such a great trip that I was really sad to see the them all leave a day before us and even more bummed to have to go home at all. We ate better than I probably ever have before for eight consecutive days, we saw beautiful old cities and historic sites and famous landmarks and did it all for a fraction of the cost of what we should have paid out of pocket if it weren’t for points and miles. With the exception of some jewelry disappearing from a hotel room, leaving my coat in the closet of our B&B, and one lost piece of luggage (that showed up a few hours later), we had a really smooth trip.

Planning an overseas adventure on award tickets for six adults to visit four different countries in eight days wasn’t a walk in the park, but totally doable. Over the next week I plan to post several different posts with specific reviews and advice for visiting Europe on points and miles, including info on our flight awards. But for now, here’s a brief overview and some pictures to share.

For hotels we primarily focused on Club Carlson properties, since five out of the six of us signed up for the Club Carlson Visa from US Bank because of their strong European presence. Caleb and I each earned 85,000 points from signing up and spending at least $2,500, and the rest of the family earned 50,000 points each simply for signing up for the card and using it at least once. In hindsight I should have had them all work to hit the spend on the card, since we forfeited 112,500 points, but I was nervous asking them to worry about it since it was their first ever churns and award bookings and I wanted it to be as smooth and simple as possible.

The Villain perfecting his 'king pose' at a palace outside of Munich

The Villain perfecting his ‘king pose’ at a palace outside of Munich

Caleb’s family is German so we intentionally built the trip around a visit to Germany and decided to go during the last weekend of Oktoberfest. We flew into Munich, where we spent two nights at the Park Inn Radisson Munich. Club Carlson allows you to book hotels over a year in advance, and originally this property was booked so we secured rooms for the same rate of 38,000 points a night at the Park Inn Radisson Munich East. This hotel was a littler farther from the action, so I continually checked the website and eventually rooms at our first choice hotel opened up. I jumped on it by booking all the rooms under our accounts, and then calling Club Carlson and asking them to cancel the other reservations and switch to the appropriate accounts. Hands down the best benefit of the Club Carlson Visa cards is the bonus award night, which effectively makes your second award night free.

The Park Inn Radisson ended up being only 38,000 points total for each room for two nights. It was on the north side of the city, but was conveniently located right near a subway stop and we could get to the city center or to the Oktoberfest site in 15 to 20 minutes. The rooms were pretty basic and fairly small, but the free breakfast buffet was a huge plus for our crew. We loved experiencing Munich’s Oktoberfest, even though with six people we had trouble securing seats together in the tents. It was still plenty exciting to sit on the patio and drink our steins of beer and observe the chaos from afar.

Our first Oktoberfest beers

Our first Oktoberfest beers

Originally we planned to spend the bulk of the trip in Germany, but thanks to the Club Carlson card, I started looking at other potential cities nearby where we could make the best use of our points and bonus award nights. The closest property to Munich was Salzburg, Austria, which I thought would be cool since it was only a two hour drive and would add another country to our itinerary. Little did I know that Salzburg would be almost everyone’s favorite country of the entire trip! For 44,000 Club Carlson points each we stayed at a historic hotel in the heart of the old town, and adored the scenery, the majestic castle, and the quaint little alleys.

We booked a rental car to drive from Munich to Salzburg to Venice, Italy, which ended up being quite an adventure. It was the aspect of the trip I was most nervous about and though we got the vehicle just fine and returned it in one piece, it was way smaller than expected and we had to squish four in the backseat for almost seven hours.

Some happy campers despite the small ride

Some happy campers despite the small ride

In college I studied abroad just north of Venice, Italy, which other than Canada or Mexico was my first international designation and the first city I truly fell in love with. I was pumped to go back, even if only for a night, and Venice was as charming as I remembered it. This was the only night we paid out-of-pocket for, and rented an apartment I found on for $284. Seems steep but was the best bargain I could find that would sleep all of us. The owners were very helpful, quick to respond to my emails, let us check in early and provided lots of local recommendations. There were plenty of beds–one downstairs in the living area, and two bedrooms upstairs, but only one bathroom.

Finally, we flew from Venice to Paris to hit our fourth country in six days. For the four of us booked on United tickets, we were able to include a stopover, so our tickets from Paris to Venice were free. For our parents on the US Airways tickets, we just bought additional tickets for them on a different flight that departed and arrived around the same time.

River cruise along the Seine

River cruise along the Seine

Paris was the other city I had been to before, and while Venice was neat to see again, I really fell in love with Paris on this trip. We stayed at the Club Carlson property, Le Dokhan’s Paris Hotel Trocadero, just a five to ten minute walk to the Eiffel Tower. By far our nicest hotel, it was Club Carlson’s highest tier, at 50,000 points a night (or two nights in our case with the credit card!) It was an old residence and contained the oldest champagne bar in the city, a tiny, tiny elevator made from an authentic Louis Vuitton trunk and the most helpful concierge I’ve ever encountered. Our rooms were barely big enough for two people to navigate around (let alone when we crammed all six of us in the last night to polish off the wine bottles and laugh about our favorite moments of the trip), but they were beautifully decorated.

I’m pretty blessed to have married in to such a wonderful family and I think we all  genuinely enjoyed being around each other for a week straight. No meltdowns and no arguing, just lots of laughs and lots of wine and four new people hooked on traveling on miles and points. More details and specifics to come throughout the week!

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11 thoughts on “Award travel for six people to four European countries in eight days

  • Jason

    I recently saw your interview via MillionMilesSecrets and decided to visit your blog. Thanks for sharing your journey. This blog that you wrote about your trip to Europe for 6 caught my attention. I, too, just like you, just started to get in to the credit card applications for bonus points. Started early this year with Hawaiian Airlines for 35,000 points (good enough for 1 RT airfare from Cali to Hawaii), then 70,000 Marriott Rewards, then 50,000 United Chase Explorer rewards. All those 3 cards are under my name. I got my wife finally into it, and she was recently approved 70,000 Chase Ink Plus card. We also just started to use Amex Bluebird (pay our bills) by buying debit cards (to reap travel miles). I’m a definite newbie, and just like you, I plan on applying for new credit cards every 3-4 months. Oh….for the other reason why your trip for 6 caught my attention – we have 4 kids, and are looking to generate as much rewards to help offset our costs. For our summer trip to Hawaii, we ended up only paying 3 full airfares (the other half came from the new bonus points we earned, prev Hawaiian freq flyer miles, etc). My goal is to one day travel close to FREE, but 3 airfares at no cost to me, I thought I did okay 🙂 We have 2 upcoming trips to San Diego, I’m using 1 night for free as a bonus for signing up with their credit card, and another night using 25,000 of my new points. By this time next year, I really want to be better at this 🙂

  • Jason

    Hi there….I’m re-reading your post again, and would like to ask about the free stopover with United. Did you go directly to the United site, or what tips do you have for the free stopover? I’m thinking of doing an open jaw from Los Angeles to London…and then on the flight back home, fly out of Paris back to Los Angeles. I’m hoping to squeeze in 1 or 2 countries between London and Paris (Belgium perhaps). Any tip will be greatly appreciated.

    • btegtmeier

      Jason, I highly recommend taking advantage of the stopover! I was able to use to book our flights out of Denver, but had to call about the flights from KC as the routing was a bit trickier. My advice is to piece everything together separately on, then if it gives you an error message when trying to book call and feed the agent all the flight numbers. If you want to travel to Belgium after London, then London would be your stopover, and that routing should work fine. You can always travel via train or rental car, or additional flights on budget airlines, to hit more countries in between, too! We loved flying Lufthansa, but any European partner airline (and you can mix and match on one ticket) is probably better than flying United metal if possible. Good luck!!

      • gap4jason

        HI Bethany….so I put this to a test….open jaw and a discounted one-way. I called United directly and gave them a potential itinerary:

        – LAX to London Heathrow (April 23)
        – Paris (CDG) to LAX (May 8th)

        That is worth 60,000 miles, using the Saver Award

        Then for the one-way test, I gave them a trip to Hawaii that is 3 months out

        LAX to Lihue (Aug 17)

        My new total according to the United rep is 65,000 miles altogether. She was shocked. My only out of pocket is $100.80 in tax/fees plus $25 booking charge….YES!!! Although I didn’t book anything yet, this opens up new opportunities!!!!

  • gap4jason

    Hello Bethany!!!! It’s me, Jason…AGAIN!!! My family is itching to go to Europe and I keep going back to your Europe blog. There are 4 of us. We have lots of United airline points, plus my wife has Club Carlson just over 100K points and climbing. I also have lots of Marriott points….I’m going dizzy and that’s a good thing. Can you tell me how you got the free stopover? I’m not clear on how to take advantage of that. Also do you have any other suggestions or itinerary ideas? We definitely want to go to London (never been) and Paris (again)…and like you, I’d like to include a few other countries somewhere in between…..thanks again!!!