I’m traveling with my daughter, Hilary, in November - our first international mother-daughter journey. Before deciding to go, I took a little time to freak out over the cost of a pretty last minute European trip. But then I booked it because a) spontaneity (c’est moi!) and b) I realized I could use a travel hack to save money.
The Cost of A Flight
If you look up the cost of a late fall, round-trip flight from San Francisco to Berlin - right now - who knows what airfare you’ll find. Last-minute-ish flights are more expensive, but the final price depends on a whole lotta co-mingled variables, like:
Red-eye? Overnight flights can be less expensive, and they’re a great way to maximize your time in your destination city. You can hit the ground running when you land and sleep later.
Non-stop, one-stop - or more stops? The increasingly rare non-stop might be more expensive and traveling on certain days of the week might be cheaper (not talking about you Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.)
The season you travel can also affect airfare. You can save a lot of $$ going in the dead of winter - just make sure it’s winter at your destination. Yeah, a lot of people miss that detail. I was worried about the weather for this ‘late fall’ trip, so I did a little research into Berlins' typical, mid-November weather. It turns out it’s not freezing cold - just brisk fall weather!
And don’t forget the different fare classes. I’ll net it out for you - comfort = $$$$$. The different fares should be called “stand up the whole way with only the clothes on your back” up to “fly in our cushy palace in the sky while we gently fan you and peel your grape.”
Searching for this exact flight on Google, the cheapest fare I find is $730 roundtrip. One-stop in Istanbul, on an economy fare, and flying overnight. This is the price range you typically see for travel to Europe from the west coast of the United States, right?
Guess what I paid? Less than $23 round-trip San Francisco to Berlin, one-stop in Copenhagen, on an economy fare (but - YES - I can check my bag!), and flying overnight. How THE heck did I do that? By using a travel hack.
The Travel Hack Revealed
I’m not going to drag it out with a big build up - I used airline points earned with a credit card. Nope, I don’t travel for work so no racking up miles and points that way. But I did accumulate enough points to score this round-trip ticket - plus two additional round-trips for a trip to Phoenix last spring.
Wait - why don’t you already know how to do this? Just kidding - I only learned about it THIS year! And like the red car phenomena (buy one - see them ev.er.y.where) I now read about this hack on many travel blogs, like this one.
Here are the details of how I did it: I applied for a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card in December 2017. By ‘spending’ $4000 within three months of getting the card, I was awarded 50,000 points - worth $750 in travel. Who knew?! The hacking part comes in when I explain how I did this with very little ‘spending’ going on.
Opening a credit card gives me serious anxiety because - UGH - who wants credit card debt? Well here’s the hack - use the card to pay your bills instead of spending money. Pay your utilities, water, or mortgage payment with the card. Then take the funds you already had to pay those regular bills and use the money to pay the balance on the card.
Red Alert: This isn’t an invitation to unleash some wild retail therapy. If you go down that path, it’s gonna cut into your travel budget canceling out any travel points you earn. And they might have those skinny mirrors in the dressing rooms that make you look way better in those outfits then you will in the light of day. (Relaying a friends’ story here.)
Fine Print Costs + Benefits
Once you’ve charged $4000 in the first three months, the points will be awarded, and you’ll find them on your statement. The other advantages that come with this credit card include:
- $300 annual travel credit
- $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or $85 for TSA Pre✓®
- 3x points on dining worldwide (one point per $1 spent on all other purchases)
- 3X points on Travel Worldwide, after earning your $300 annual travel credit
There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, waived the first year, but the $300 annual travel credit is a nice way to offset that cost. If you continue to pay your regular bills with the card and use it when dining out, you’ll accumulate a boat-load of points. (Hello golfing trip in Phoenix!)
You’re also covered for hotel costs, up to $500, if your delayed flight means you have to spend the night. If brilliant pre-planner you got trip insurance, this is extra coverage if you need it. As long as you redeemed Chase points or used the card itself to book the delayed flight - you’re good.
There’s one other perk with the card I plan on using on my Berlin trip - the priority pass for access to airport lounges. I’ll do a little sightseeing during my stop in Copenhagen, for sure, but I’ll spend the rest of my airport time with cocktails and snacks in a comfy lounge. You’ll need to access the Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits online and activate the priority pass to enjoy this perk.
How to Search for Flights
Searching for flights is a pleasant surprise with your Chase card. I’ve booked two trips using the rewards from my card and its. so. easy. Log into your account online to see your total points on the right side of the screen. Clicking on that section takes you to the Ultimate Rewards screen - which allows you to search for airfare like on Google, Kayak, or any other flight search engine.
I had many options for my Berlin flight on the Ultimate Rewards portal. It wasn’t a limited list of terrible flight times followed by hideous flight times. That was a big concern for me because I have a schedule when I meet up with Hilary in Berlin. She’s booked us up starting mere hours after my plane lands.
I’m gonna need to take a nap.
I paired my $23 ticket with a personal travel hack on this trip - free accommodations via Hilary, who’s working in Berlin for a few weeks. She travels there for work often, calling me while she's walking through the city. I knew I'd meet her for one of those trips when she said, “Mom, I'm walking next to the Berlin Wall!" So when I got this chance - my fingers were a blur hitting the flight confirmation button for this last minute trip. If I had to pay for lodging too - Chase Reward points to the rescue because they work for hotel and car rentals too.
We’re squeezing in a long weekend to Krakow, Poland in the middle of the Berlin trip. And, while we aren't using travel hacks for Krakow, our costs are ridiculously low. Air travel within Europe is inexpensive (our roundtrip is $87USD/person), and our two-bedroom Krakow Airbnb is $45USD/night.
In an upcoming post, I'll tell you how we’re working to blend our different styles of planning and traveling so we can concentrate on making amazing memories together. Like the time I visited her in Manhattan, and we snapped this selfie in a snowy Central Park. Immediately after this picture was taken I begged for a cab to take us back to her apartment. Epic shoe fail.
I promise to take a ton of pictures and notes during the trip so I can tell you about anything I think you shouldn’t miss when you travel to these cities. And there's gonna be more stories. I promise they’ll be better than looking at “slides from my trip.” (ok, well, there will be pictures, but I’ll make them non-slide-showy.)
Have you traveled with your adult son or daughter, or a parent? I would love to hear where you went and your best memory from the trip. Drop them in the comments below. And share your travel hacks please - I’m all EARS!