Summer Redemption to Europe
As many long time readers of the site know, I write much more about earning miles/points as opposed to redeeming them. There are some bloggers who have award booking services and thus have more knowledge about redemptions, simply by virtue of the amount of time they work on them.
With that said, I do carry out all of the redemptions for my family and know a thing or two. If there is one piece of advice I could give regarding award redemptions, it would be to plan ahead. This is of course something that I am terrible at.
Tough to Plan Ahead But Club Carlson Helped
This year has been particularly tough in the planning ahead department because of the arrival of the baby. Since I wanted to leave everything flexible, I put off booking a summer trip for me and my son. That changed the other day.
The first thing that allowed this trip to happen was logistics. My wife and I agreed that a father/son trip would be good and now that we have developed more of a routine with the baby, we both felt confident that us leaving for a week would work. The second deciding factor was the Club Carlson deadline.
Where to Go
I had pretty much decided on a trip to Europe a few months ago, although I didn’t know exactly where. My criteria was pretty simple. I wanted to visit countries/areas we had not been to before that had decent Club Carlson properties. A few good amusement parks along the way wouldn’t hurt either.
Thankfully the Scandinavian countries are among the last I have to visit in Europe, they have some world class amusement parks and some decent Radisson Blu properties. Of course, I was up against the wall time wise, so I had to figure out how to make the flights work.
Booking the Flights
I have points/miles in a number of different airline programs and with healthy Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards and SPG balances, I could transfer miles to a number of others. Unfortunately I wanted/needed to get everything nailed down so I didn’t end up having to cancel my Radisson Blu bookings. Thus I needed something I could book right away.
Since I have a boatload of AAdvantage miles, I looked for availability on Finnair and struck out. The only options with AAdvantage miles over the pond were on British Airways and I don’t want to pay their fuel surcharges. Then I hit up United. My original plan was to fly into Copenhagen, but alas no availability existed outside of coach when searching the entire itinerary.
Now don’t get me wrong, I will fly coach if I need to, but I have enough miles to fly in Business class. After a few more searches looking only for the Transatlantic segment, I discovered availability in Business Class on a flight from Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR) on a United 777-200.
At this point I could have tried to find all of the connecting flights and called in, but I wanted to get this booked and wanted to avoid the phone fees if at all possible. After finding the ORD-LHR flight, I once again searched from LAS-CPH and nothing came up. Then I searched from LAS-ARN (Stockholm) and there it was.
The system had found two seats from LAS-ORD in domestic first class and two business class seats from ORD-LHR. Finally we will fly from LHR-ARN in SAS Scandinavian Business class, which I believe is not really much different than economy. I immediately transferred over 115,000 Ultimate Rewards points and paid the $80 in fees. We were booked.
Is This a Good Redemption?
This is far from the perfect redemption, but I am happy for two reasons. The flights are on United metal, meaning they only cost 57,500 miles each instead of the normal 70,000. While I would prefer to fly another airline, 70k in business class to Europe isn’t competitive plus there wasn’t any availability I could find on other Star Alliance carriers anyway.
Also, this trip is in August, which is the height of the summer season. Being able to find 2 business class seats along with the positioning flights was exciting. Of course we are transiting London, meaning we did get hit with an extra $35 in taxes for the pleasure of spending about 90 minutes there.
United’s business class product on their 777-200 planes is lie flat and generally alright. The seats are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration with absolutely no privacy. Thankfully I was able to snag two seats together on the right side of the plane, so my son and I will be close, but don’t have to worry about sitting near others.
I have flown in Business Class on the United 787-800 and the seat on the 777-200 is very similar, although slightly narrower. I’m sure it will be plenty comfortable for our trip over, although I am going to be searching for a way to make the flight back special.
Hotels & More
In the end, I burned about 140,000 Club Carlson points and we will be staying two nights in Stockholm, two nights in Gothenburg and 2 nights in Copenhagen at Radisson Blu properties. I have to decide how we will end the trip, but I am thinking perhaps I may burn my two free Hyatt nights at the Vendome in Paris or perhaps the Park Hyatt in Zurich.
In the end, the lesson to be learned here is to not wait until the last minute like me. There were a number of times over the past several months when availability opened up on several routes (including when United was only charging 57,500 miles on partners in Business Class), but I wasn’t yet ready to book.
Thankfully now that everything is settled with the baby, I can start to plan ahead. Of course I still need to figure out our flights home from Europe, but I may just leave those to the last minute with the hope that an amazing redemption opportunity opens up at the last minute. Playing with fire? Perhaps.