Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Europe Summer 2016...back for more

Let's use this hashtag for consistency: #FranciscosGoneEurope4

Hmmm...why #4? The last European vacation hashtag I used was #2. Well, technically, this is now our 4th time to visit Europe:
  1. Fall 2007 - Nancy and I went to Paris and Rome - no hashtags back then
  2. Spring 2015 - Italy (Milan, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Lake Como), France(Paris)#FranciscosGoneEurope
  3. Fall 2015 - London, Budapest, Prague #FranciscosGoneEurope2
  4. Summer 2016 - back for more #FranciscosGoneEurope4
So most of you may be wondering, "I thought they weren't going anymore?" Well, you guessed partly right. The original plan was to bring ALL six of us to Europe. But back in May, when Ethan and Madison said they couldn't go to Europe due to football and cheer, we quickly changed our plans and we landed on Maui instead. We were in Hawaii just over a month ago, and we pulled off a last-minute vacation to Maui. Here's the link to the very first entry which explained how in the world did we pull off a last-minute getaway to Maui and paid an insane amount for our airfare - $11/person! Click here... #FranciscosGoneMaui2.

Ok, so here goes. After I booked our Maui trip, it dawned on me that I still had enough points left to pull off a 2nd vacation this summer. Since Maddie and Ethan couldn't go, the points I had remaining were good enough to bring me, Nancy, Caitlin, and Evan to Europe. Once I got everything planned for our Maui trip, I flipped the switch, and had to think of how to get us to Europe in the summer of 2016.

By the 1st week of June, I started to look in to Europe again, and came up with different European countries or cities to visit, and by June 14th, I finalized it. I booked our trip to Europe. We will go on vacation just 5 weeks after returning from Maui. Crazy!


 
If you know me, you should know that we're able to go on these vacations and NOT spend an arm and a leg. How? Mostly from the points gained via credit card sign-up bonuses. Some credit card companies reel you in by offering low interest rates, attractive balance transfer options, while others offer enormous sign-up bonuses once you meet the minimum spend requirement.  

So what's the deal with this trip? 
#FranciscosGoneEurope4 Factoid
  •  4 Travelers (2 adults, 2 children)
  • 19 days exploring Europe
  • 3 countries (Portugal, Spain, France)
  • 4 major cities (plus other planned day trips)
  • 4-5 days stay per country/city
  • 5 major hotels (4-5 star hotels)
  • 4-5 major airlines
  • Overall cost: $528 TOTAL...yes TOTAL!!!

These are the two receipts from United Airlines when we booked the flights from US to Europe, and flights around Europe.
Nancy and Caitlin's Reservation
Jason and Evan's Reservation

How much if we paid for our flights and didn't use points?
If we paid for our flights in cash, it was valued over $14,000 yet we only paid $528.

I'm still in disbelief! We're about to explore new places, 4 of us altogether, and it only cost us $528 total. I'm sure there might be other ways to use our mileage, but I was definitely thrilled. Here's breakdown of how we paid for our 2016 Summer vacation (Maui and Europe) valued at $25,000 summer vacation, and only paid $600.  


           2016 Summer Vacation       Value     Amount 
       Paid 
     Points Program
     Maui Vacation (June/July 2016)
    Airfare to Maui for 6 passengers     $4,500         $67      Chase Ultimate           Rewards
               3 days, 2 nights
       Wailea Beach Marriott
     $1,500          $0   Marriott Rewards
     European Vacation (Aug 2016)
           Airfare for 4 Passengers
            (3 countries, 4 cities)
    $14,209       $528       Chase Ultimate           Rewards
       19 days hotel accomodations
       (Doubletree, Sheraton, IHG,

             Hyatt, Radisson Blu)
    $4,800         $0      Multiple programs   (American Express, IHG, Hyatt, SPG, Club Carlson)
$25,009  $595 <--total b="" of="" out="" pocket="">

What are the goals for this trip:
  1. Minimize paying out of pocket cash expenses(check) 
  2. Maximize our stay by picking the best of the best properties(check) 
  3. Utilize the airline routing and stopover rules(check)
  4. Go somewhere new (check)
  5. Visit/Revisit a dream destination by request(check)

The Foreign Language of Earning Points
I started getting in to the points game in the Spring of 2014. While I have traveled quite a bit using points, I still have a lot to learn. Back in the fall of 2014, I started to share my knowledge with my immediate family members. I told them which cards I signed up for, how I planned to use the points, etc. They weren't all that thrilled. None of them signed up with any of the credit cards that I shared. You have to remember that I have a big family - 2 adults and 4 kids. Since I started earning points in 2014, we've gone on these vacations:

Summer 2014 - Maui,Hawaii
Award: 3 free roundtrip tickets to Maui (valued at $2,100)
Award Used: Hawaiian Airlines points earned via Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard





Spring 2015- New York, Italy and France
Award: 
  • 3 free roundtrip tickets from LA to NYC (valued at $500/person)
  • 4 discounted roundtrip tickets from NYC to Milan ($399/person)
Award Used: 
United Airlines Miles via United Mileage Explorer

Florence
Ponte Vecchio, Florence
Leaving JFK to Milan (Spring 2015)

Statue of David - Florence

The Canals in Venice - Spring 2015

Eiffel Tower - Paris, France - Spring 2015

The Musee' du Louvre, Paris, France - Spring 2015

Summer 2015 - Kauai, Hawaii
Award: 4 Free Roundtrip tickets from LA to Kauai (valued at $750/person), only paid $44.
Award Used: Chase Ultimate Rewards
 

Fall 2015 - London, Budapest, Prague
Award:

  • 2 Free Roundtrip tickets from LA to England, to Hungary, to Prague, back to LA (valued at $7,000), only paid $349
  • 14 days of free hotel stays (valued at $3,300), paid ZERO
Award Used: Chase Ultimate Rewards and United Airlines Miles

Prague, Czech Republic - Fall 2015

London - Big Ben


Budapest

Summer 2016 - Maui, Hawaii (totally last minute)
Award: Six (6) FREE Roundtrip tickets from LA to Maui
       (Valued at $750/person or $4,500 total), we only paid $11/person
Award Used: Chase Ultimate Rewards

Towards the end of 2015, things changed for my extended family. They began to take notice, signed up for one of the credit cards I highly recommended, the Chase Sapphire (which by signing up and meeting the required spend, for instance, you can easily get 2 free roundtrip tickets to Hawaii). For more details or to apply, click here (Chase Sapphire), or feel free to ask me questions. It hasn't been a full year since they signed up for the Chase Sapphire, but they've already accumulated enough points to go to Kauai. They leave for Kauai in the middle of August.

My Eleven Dollar Club
They all signed up for the Chase Sapphire card in the Fall/Winter of 2015. A few other friends also began to take heed. Four couples who were about to get married also signed up for the card. After a few months of meeting the minimum spend, by the end of the summer in 2016, a total of 21 of us will have traveled to Hawaii for a whopping $11 per person. How? All by using points earned via credit card sign-up bonus.

  • Maui - 8 travelers
  • Kauai - 11 travelers
  • Oahu - 2 travelers
I'd like to call this elite group as my Eleven Dollar Club. Imagine that! A roundtrip ticket to Hawaii for $11 per person! Holy cow!


All Roads Lead Back To Europe
It's now Wednesday, Aug 10, our flight is at 5:45pm out of LAX. Instead of parking at LAX for nearly 3 weeks, we decided to take an airport shuttle instead. 

Caitlin and Evan are excited. They've never been to Europe. Ethan has to stay due to football, Madison, on the other hand will also stay, but she'll be going to Kauai next week with the rest of my family, my Eleven Dollar Club.

As expected, things at home were quite hectic. Lots of last minute errands and packing. This is our first time to go to Europe in the summer time frame. The last 3 times were in the heart of the fall/early winter, and tail end of Winter. So layers of clothing were a must. Not this time. I expect it to be in the 80s or even warmer, or shall I say, hotter. Aaaahhhhh, whatever!!! We simply cannot wait. What's our first stop? Lisbon, Portugal. None of us have ever been to Portugal, and we're thrilled that this is a new adventure for all of us to experience.

I've got a long plane ride ahead. I'll be blogging while on board. This is DaddyTravels signing off....see ya in Portugal!


How in the world?
It’s finally travel day, Wednesday, Aug 10th. Our flight was scheduled to leave LAX at 5:45pm. You shouldn’t be surprised anymore but I don’t think we’re ready. While we booked this return to Europe trip back in June, I tried to prepare for it as much as I could. We squeezed in a quick vacation on Maui at the end of June and early July. Since coming back from Maui, it was all about work, life, work, life!

For a change, we started packing a week earlier. We had our luggage in the Master bedroom. This would be Evan and Caitlin’s first visit to Europe. We were thinking of using four carry-on luggage, but we decided that since our flights included free check luggage, might as well take advantage of it. We ended up taking 3 carry ons and 1 regular sized luggage. We checked in 3 of them at no charge...why not?

Prior to travel day, Nancy had to work three 12-hour shifts in a row. By the time she got home, she barely had enough time to pack. It really wasn’t until Tuesday night and Wednesday morning when we crammed. Unlike our previous Euro trips, for a change, we’re going during the summer so lots of lighter clothing. Anything we might forget, we can easily just buy them wherever we may be.

So what’s in my backpack? These are my must-haves:
  • Macbook Air
  • iPhone 6 Plus
  • SIM Card (I’m using T-mobile’s unlimited international data and texting plan for this trip)
  • My new Nikon DSLR
  • Sony point and shoot cam
  • GoPro and mini tripod
  • Lightning cables
  • International Power adapter
  • Beats Headphones

Things got so hectic this morning. When the airport shuttle came to the house at 12:15pm, it was chaos. I thought I had forgotten one of those items, but thankfully, they were all in the backpack. 

I decided NOT to drive and park at LAX. A decent extended parking at LAX averages between $10-$12/day and when you multiply that by nearly 3 weeks, the amount could go nearly $300, if not more with taxes and tip. Ventura County’s Roadrunner Shuttle offered a 2nd passenger rides for free deal. So we made a couple of bookings and paid $170 roundtrip for the 4 of us. No driving, No need to get irritated with the 405 traffic. Best. Decision. Ever.
The 12:15pm shuttle pick-up meant we’d be at the airport by 2pm, more than enough time for our 5:45pm flight. But I’m a man with a plan. First, I still had to work. I was working, sending, replying to work-related emails en route to LAX. I also had to join a 3:00pm conference call. So when we arrived at LAX before 2pm, it all worked out. I was not frantic. We took our time to drop off our luggage with United Airlines located in Terminal 7. We also walked over to Terminal 6 and hung out at Alaska Airlines Boardroom Airport Lounge. Why not United? Nancy and I have free Priority Passes (thanks to American Express Platinum Card) that allowed us free access at multiple airport lounges worldwide. I’ve already used our United passes, and was glad to know there was another lounge that was about a 10-minute walk away. That’s where I took my conference call whilst sipping a hot cup of minestrone soup. Nothing uber fancy about the lounge, lots of chairs, a bar, just about what you would expect in an airport lounge. Because of our Priority Pass, we got in for free.


Finally, it was time to board. We, the passengers, we corralled in different boarding groups. We were one of the first ones to board. We found our seats and got settled.

United Airlines surprisingly great service
As I mentioned before, I don't expect much from "american" airlines like United. But I gotta tell you, we had excellent service from the time we boarded, to the time that they served food. It was non-stop! 











Our nearly 10-hour flight was at times turbulent. I believe it happened while we past through the Midwest, storm perhaps? Other than that, we arrived in London's Heathrow Airport around 11:30am (local time). 

Weren't we just here?
Where's our flight to Lisbon?


Yes, we were just in Heathrow a few months ago during our Fall getaway to Europe. Upon landing, I turned on my cell phone and received a welcome text from T-Mobile.I've said it before, and I'll say it again. What a huge airport! We walked a good 20 minutes to get through the UK Border, and then we had to get to Terminal 2, that's where we will catch the plane going towards Lisbon. Nancy looked at her Priority Pass app, and sure enough, there were 2 airport lounges for us to choose from. We chose the one closest to security. I went directly to the hot food. Chicken Tika Masala? Thai Coconut Chicken Soup? What???? Yes....that was among the many selections. Thank you, American Express Platinum!



 



Ok so really quick...
Over the next few entries, I'll share a little bit of my points earning adventures. For now....Meet the Ojeda Family
Juan's family at the foot of Arenal Volcano
The $11/per person to Hawaii example is just "one" way of using your miles. Of course, not every one will vacation in Hawaii. In early 2015, one of my buddies from high school, Juan, learned the travel tips and tricks from me. In July 2016, he took his family to Costa Rica. He used his points earned with Chase Ultimate Rewards, and for the airfare for his family of 4, they only paid $299 and used 78,500 points earned using Chase Ultimate Rewards. Typical airfare to Costa Rica from LA is around $500/person.


Zip Lining in Costa Rica


Manuel Antonio National Park where they saw monkeys and sloths
So glad to see pictures of Juan and Veronica and family as they enjoyed their trip to Costa Rica. Aaaaahhhh....Costa Rica! I'm hoping to visit there someday.
 

Ok more later....morrrrreeeee later!! We're getting ready to board for Lisbon  :-)







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