I just spent four days in Paris with my parents. It was amazing to spend a few days with them and it was made even better because I didn’t have to pay for 4 nights in a Paris hotel or Airbnb. Indeed, the problem with much of western Europe is that the major cities have become so popular that they are often incredibly expensive to visit, especially during the popular summer months.
I’m now in Amsterdam for 19 nights. I looked initially to spend that time in an Airbnb to get a more “authentic” Amsterdam experience and hoped that since I was traveling in May instead of the peak summer months that I might get a good deal. I even started this search way back in October also hoping that maybe my neurotic planning might help to save me a few dollars.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take more than 5 minutes of searching on Airbnb to realize that it just wasn’t going to be possible. Even renting rooms instead of entire apartments would cost over $100 per night anywhere near the city center. Hotels were even worse, with most of them starting at $150 per night even several miles away from the city center.
So, knowing that I have a pretty solid stable full of points, I began to look at some of the redemption options. Although it requires some planning and ultimately a bunch of points, it is entirely possible to stay in Amsterdam for relatively little money, even during the peak summer months. You can read about how I booked my 19 nights here but even if you don’t have any points to start with, here’s how you could book two weeks in Amsterdam (or most other popular tourist destinations) for around $500:
First things first, you need to find a flight. Finding award availability to many popular destinations can be difficult so it’s important that you try to book this as far in advance as you possibly can. Further, it really helps to be flexible with your travel dates if that’s at all possible. Ultimately, the longer you wait to book, the more flexible you’ll have to be with your travel dates (or the more miles you’ll need to book the flight you want).
Fortunately, round trip tickets to Europe from most parts of the United States start at around 50,000 miles in economy class, which happens to be the sign-up bonus for many airline credit cards. For example, Barclays offers the American Airlines Aviator Red credit card where you can earn 50,000 points after your first purchase with the card (though you will have to pay the $95 annual fee in the first year).
All of the other major carriers like United and Delta have their own co-branded credit cards as well which offer similar bonuses. Those cards typically require that you spend $3,000 on the card before you earn the sign-up bonus, but they also typically waive the annual fee in the first year.
If you’re feeling like you want to travel in luxury, you might find business class tickets for as little as 80,000 miles. Each of the major carriers has multiple co-branded credit cards, so you could apply for multiple cards and end up with over 100,000 points fairly quickly.
Two weeks (14 hotel nights for the purposes of this article) is a long time to book hotels. In Amsterdam, hotels near the city center often cost $300 per night or more during the summer! Again, here’s where program loyalty points can save you thousands! Plus, with credit card sign-up bonuses, you can quickly earn enough points for a fairly extensive trip. If you sign up for three new credit cards, you’ll have the points you need to stay for free for 14 nights. Here’s what you’ll need:
Chase Hyatt Credit Card
The Chase Hyatt credit card is on my list of favorite credit cards. A strong sign-up bonus of 40,000 points gives you a wide variety of redemption options. In Amsterdam, the Hyatt Regency Amsterdam is located right in the middle of the city and, at 15,000 points per night, represents a great value as cash rates typically run about $350 per night during the summer. Further, Hyatt offers points + cash rates for 7,500 points and $100. In my experience, the points + cash rates aren’t available on the weekend so you’ll have to play around with different dates. For my upcoming stay, I actually had to make 3 separate reservations with a combination of 15,000-point rates and 7,500-point + cash rates(for some reason, Hyatt doesn’t let you combine these on a single booking).
So let’s say you want to stay for nine nights at the Hyatt Regency. After you hit the minimum spend requirement on this credit card, you’ll have at least 42,000 points (and likely a few more given that you earn double points at all restaurants). You can book 5 nights with the points + cash rate which would cost you 37,500 points and $500. To book the remaining 4 nights, you need about 55,000 more points. Where will you find those…?
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is also on my list of favorite credit cards and one of the main reasons for this is the ability to transfer points to Hyatt. The sign-up bonus for this card is 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in 3 months. With this card, you also earn double points at restaurants and also on a wide variety of travel-related purchases including taxis and Uber. So after you hit the minimum spend, you should be right at the 55,000 points you’ll need to book the remaining 4 nights at the Hyatt Regency Amsterdam. If you paid for 9 nights at this hotel, you’d likely be spending around $3,500 or more after taxes and fees!
Marriott Rewards Premier Plus
This card currently has a 100,000-point bonus when you sign up and hit the minimum spend. Plus, you get a free hotel night every year you renew the card. Marriott just opened the Moxy hotel in Amsterdam which is 25,000 points per night. However, when you book with points, Marriott gives you the 5th night free so 100,000 points gets you 5 nights at this brand new hotel! A quick search showed that paying cash would cost between $150 and $220 (plus taxes and fees) for most nights so this sign up bonus is saving you about $1,000!
Other Travel Tricks
There are a number of other ways to make this kind of itinerary even easier. Here’s a few other things you might consider before planning a trip like this:
Find a Travel Buddy
Traveling with friends and/or significant others can help you save money on hotels or other vacation rentals. However, it also helps with credit card sign-up bonuses. If you share responsibilities for earning sign-up bonuses, you can earn the points in half the time… or stay twice as long!!
Look for Cheap Fares
Points are great and in this circumstance, it makes sense to use points instead of paying cash. However, in some cases, you can find great promotional rates and it may make even more sense to pay the cash rate and save your points for a later vacation!
Do Your Homework
Each major city with have a huge variety of options so you have to look closely at what’s available. For example, in Amsterdam, both IHG and Radisson have some decent options for points + cash rates as well. Further, if you track certain hotel promotions like IHG Accelerate, it may make more sense to stay in one of these properties than Marriott or Hyatt. And, of course, each city is quite different in terms of hotel offerings and hotel locations within that particular city so take some time to do your homework!
Amsterdam and other popular tourist destinations are more accessible than you might think if you take the right approach. Following this game plan gives you two weeks in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world while staying at 2 luxury properties at a cost of only $500! You could easily mix and match with some other cities as train travel within Europe is amazing! Of course, beware of the risks associated with signing up for new credit cards but if you manage this strategy effectively, you can save yourself thousands and have a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the process!
(Disclaimer: I have included referral links for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Hyatt cards above. If you apply for either of those cards, I’d appreciate it if you use those links as I’ll earn a few bonus points if you do.)