While travel to Europe in the near term is highly unlikely for most Americans, many of us are likely thinking ahead to 2021 and beyond in terms of travel preparation. In future years, Europe will very likely continue to be a perennial favorite destination for many. One thing that constantly keeps Europe in mind for me is how easy it is to get there with points and miles. With tons of flight options from the United states and many great credit card transfer programs, you could earn enough points from one credit card welcome bonus to possibly cover flights for two people round trip. Add a second credit card to pick up enough points to spend as many as four or five nights for free in a mid-tier hotel. If you’re playing this game with a partner and care to add a third card, you could easily bump up to business class or even nicer hotels thanks to credit card rewards.
Get a European vacation with 2 credit card bonuses
By taking advantage of the right credit card opportunities, it is possible to make a European dream vacation a reality. This post offers a high-level overview of how it can be done with links throughout to resources for more. For those new to award travel and rewards credit cards, I highly recommend subscribing to our newsletter and weekly podcasts to begin building your knowledge in this realm. You can do that here:
Read on for an overview of how you could open 1 credit card to cover round trip flights (in some cases for multiple passengers) to Europe and a second credit card to cover multiple nights of hotel and have a nearly-free European vacation with just two new credit cards.
Previous posts in this series
For similar reading on other destinations, see:
- Build your own Hawaii vacation package with 2 credit cards
- Maldives flights and hotels with 2 credit cards
Economy class: 1 card for round trip airfare for 2
Quite a few cards offer welcome bonuses that could easily get two passengers round trip to Europe in economy class from at least part of the United States. The key consideration in economy class will be the cost of any taxes/surcharges and how that makes an award ticket compare with a paid ticket.
Referencing our Best Ways to Get to Europe using miles in Economy Class resource (which is recommended reading for anyone looking for their best options in economy class), here are the absolute cheapest deals in terms of miles required:
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: From 10K each way in economy class to/from the UK on Virgin Atlantic or from 12K each way in economy class between the Eastern US and Western Europe flying on Air France. Note moderate to high surcharges on both of those sweet spots.
- Avios (British Airways / Iberia / Aer Lingus): From 13K each way on direct British Airways / Aer Lingus / Iberia flights
- Avianca LifeMiles: 16,500 from JFK to Zurich, but the opposite direction costs 30K. Other airports offer pricing anomalies in the low 20Ks. See: The secret LifeMiles award chart.
- Etihad Guest: 20K each way on American Airlines from October 15-May 15
There are a number of other options in the 25-30K range each way, but the above gives a few options for getting two passengers round trip to Europe.
Here are the above transfer programs for each of those airlines:
- Virgin Atlantic: Amex, Chase, Citi
- Avios: Amex, Chase
- LifeMiles: Amex, Citi, Capital One
- Etihad: Amex, Citi, Capital One
Given the fact that three out of four of the above programs are Citi transfer partners, a key card to consider could be the Citi Premier. Here is current welcome offer information:
How the Citi Premier card could cover your flights to Europe: 40K covers 2 passengers round trip from the East Coast to the UK on Virgin Atlantic or 48K covers 2 passengers round trip from the Eastern US to Western Europe on Air France via Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. Alternatively, after including points earned from the spend required to trigger the welcome bonus, you could combine one way with Virgin Atlantic miles with one way sweet spots from LifeMiles or Etihad for 64K total for 2 passengers round trip. If you meet the entire minimum spending requirement in 3x bonus categories like grocery stores, you would have nearly enough points for 2 passengers round trip on American Airlines via Etihad Guest (80K required).
On the other hand, since all of the included sweet spots above are on airlines that partner with American Express Membership Rewards, you may want to consider one of the plethora of cards that earn Membership Rewards points. The highest offer at the time of writing is on the Business Platinum card, but given the high spending requirement to trigger that bonus, I suspect that the personal Amex Platinum card may be a more accessible bonus for many readers. Keep in mind that there are several versions of the Amex Platinum card and you can get the welcome bonus on each card once, so if you have had one of them before you could consider one of the others.
How an Amex Platinum card could cover your flights to Europe: In addition to sharing all of the options from the outline above for Citi ThankYou points, you pick up the option to use Avios. For flights covering up to 4,000 miles in distance (like from Boston to Dublin), you can pay as few as 13K Avios each way off-peak. For flights covering 4,001 to 5,500 miles in distance, pay as few as 16.25K Avios each way off-peak — meaning that after meeting the minimum spending requirement, you would have enough points for two passengers round trip via Avios programs as well.
Chase only gives access to two of the above programs, but they happen to be the programs charging the fewest number of miles: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and the various Avios programs. This means that you could also consider one of the many cards that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards. While the Chase Ink Business Preferred offers the highest bonus, it also requires the highest amount of spend. Furthermore, Chase business cards may be tougher to get given the current economic situation. Your best bet on the personal side is the Chase Sapphire Preferred:
How a Chase Sapphire Preferred card could cover your flights to Europe: As above with Amex, you could fly two passengers round trip in economy class using Virgin Atlantic miles from 40K miles to/from the UK, 48K miles between the Eastern US and Western Europe, or 52K miles round trip on the shortest flights using Avios. That said, you might do even better: Given that Sapphire Preferred Cardholders can use points toward travel booked through Chase at a value of 1.25c per point, you would have enough points after meeting the minimum spending requirement to cover at least $800 in flights. Depending on your origin/destination, that may be more than enough points to entirely cover two round trip flights to Europe with no additional taxes/fees required.
Business class: 1 card for round trip business class
Referencing our Best Ways to Get to Europe using miles for premium cabins resource, your cheapest options in terms of number of miles required are:
- Iberia Avios: From 34K each way in business class on off-peak dates from New York, Boston, or Chicago to/from Madrid.
- ANA Mileage Club: 88K miles round trip on Star Alliance
- Etihad Guest: 44K each way to/from Casablanca (while Morocco is in Africa, many award charts include it in Europe) on Royal Air Maroc
- Air France / KLM Flying Blue: Pricing varies, but monthly promo awards often have some city pairs in the 40K’s each way (and sometimes as low as in the 20K’s)
- Turkish Miles & Smiles: 45K each way on Star Alliance
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: 50K each way in Delta One business class on nonstop flights
Amex or Chase (Personal Cards)
Getting round trip on one credit card is trickier if you want to fly up front. As above, the Amex Platinum card or Chase Sapphire Preferred would be your best bets if the Avios sweet spot works for you.
How one of these cards could cover a round trip business class flight to Europe: In this case, if you’re looking to strictly use the bonus from one new credit card welcome offer, you would likely need to make sure you have done the minimum spending requirement in a bonus category. For example, if you met the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s welcome offer with spend in the 2x bonus categories of Travel & Dining, you would have a total of 68K points after the welcome bonus and points earned on that spend — exactly enough for round trip Iberia business class. On the Amex Platinum side, you would need to spend at least $750 of the minimum spending requirement on the 5x bonus categories in order to have the 68K points needed.
Amex (Business Card)
If you are open to the higher spending requirement of the best business credit card offers, you could alternatively consider the Business Platinum card. Here’s the current offer:
How the Business Platinum card could cover a round trip business class flight to Europe: After meeting the minimum spending requirement, in addition to the option to use 68K Avios round trip as shown above on the personal side, you would have the broader option to use 88K miles round trip on Star Alliance airlines via ANA. This would give you access to connecting flights and any starting airport served by a Star Alliance airline. You would additionally be able to take advantage of opportunities with Etihad, Air France, or Virgin Atlantic noted above as you’ll have enough options for round trip business class with any one of those programs — or mix and match one-ways with Air France / KLM, Iberia Avios, Etihad Guest, and Virgin Atlantic.
Chase (Business Card)
If you can get approved and meet the spending requirement, the Chase Ink Business Preferred’s welcome offer could get you to Europe round trip in business class in one of several ways:
How the Chase Ink Business Preferred could cover a round trip business class flight to Europe: Out of the above sweet spots, Chase partners with Iberia Avios, Air France / KLM, and Virgin Atlantic. If you’re able to take advantage of the best options from any of those three programs (again, keep in mind that you can mix and match one-ways), the welcome offer here would give you enough points for round trip business class.
Hotels for your European vacation: covering multiple nights with a single welcome bonus
The best hotel credit card for your European vacation will highly depend on your intended destination as hotel point prices vary tremendously. The truth is that many credit cards could cover multiple nights of hotels in Europe, making it hard to pick one or two “best” options. The following gives you some
Hilton charges from 5K to 95K points per night for a standard room depending on the property. Figure that most major European cities have full service hotel options in the 50-60K points per night range (though it’s worth checking your desired city as some do have cheaper options). Your best options for Hilton points would be:
Key notes: Keep in mind that Hilton free weekend night certificates earned from May 1 to December 31, 2020 are valid for 2 years and are also valid any night of the week. You do get that free night issued in the first year on the Aspire card and could earn a free night with $15K spend before the end of the year on the Surpass card. The welcome bonuses on any of the cards above could be enough for a couple of free nights in many European cities. In my opinion, the Aspire offers the best bang for your buck if you’re able to make use of its ancillary credits. Given that you could earn one free night at account opening that is valid for 2 years if issued before December 31st and combine that with a free weekend night issued next year, you could potentially get a free 4 or 5 night stay with just the welcome bonus and those two free weekend night certificates.
Hyatt charges from 5K to 40K points per night for a standard room depending on the property. Keep in mind also that even when a standard room isn’t available, you may be able to book a suite for a reasonable number of points (See: Finding extreme Luxury in Hyatt premium suites). Given that Hyatt is a Chase transfer partner, your best welcome offers to earn either Hyatt points or points that are transferable to Hyatt are:
Key notes: Keep in mind that you can combine Chase Ultimate Rewards points across your own accounts or with one person within your household, making it easy to amass a large quantity of points transferable to Hyatt. On the other hand, if it’s elite status that you are after, the World of Hyatt credit card is currently offering bonus elite night credit for new applicants and it additionally gives you the chance to spend toward elite night credits, spend toward an annual free night certificate, and a free night certificate on anniversary. If you’re able to spend $15K on the World of Hyatt credit card, you would have enough points for at least 4 free nights at a Category 4 property plus you would have earned a Cat 1-4 free night certificate, giving you a free 5 night stay. On the other end of the spectrum, the Chase Ink Business Preferred could easily give you enough points for a multi-night stay at even the finest Hyatt properties in Europe.
Marriott charges from 7.5K to 85K points per night for a standard room at standard pricing (off-peak pricing drops to as low as 5K to 70K points per night, though peak pricing bumps the numbers up to 10K to 100K). In most major European cities, you will likely find a number of options in the 35K-50K range, with some cities offering options that cost even fewer points. While Marriott is both an Amex transfer partner and Chase transfer partner, it rarely makes sense to transfer from those programs given that Marriott frequently sells points directly to members for less than a penny per point. Given that, your best options for earning Marriott points from a welcome bonus include:
Key notes: You can probably only reasonably expect to have enough points for 2 free nights after meeting the spend for any of the offers above unless you happen upon a location with a more value-priced Marriott property.
Given IHG’s recently-introduced variable pricing, new opportunities are likely waiting to be found. IHG charges as few as 5K points per night for some Point Break promotion properties, though in reality the range for IHG is more likely from 10K to 70K points per night. As with Marriott, IHG is a Chase transfer partner, but given that IHG points are significantly less valuable that Chase points, it is inadvisable to transfer points. Therefore, the best options for earning IHG points include:
Key notes: Either of the above credit cards offer the fourth night free on award stays and Stephen Pepper recently covered how that can be leveraged when a fourth night is the most expensive night of your stay. Additionally, the IHG Premier card noted above offers a free night annually at properties costing up to 40K points per night. Given the fourth night free pricing, a 4-night stay at a property ordinarily costing 40K points per night would cost 120K points. The welcome bonus on the IHG Premier could therefore cover 4 free nights at such a property and the annual free night certificate would add a 5th night, making it possible to stay for free for five nights in that scenario.
The above examples highlight how one could easily cover a round trip flight and hotel for multiple nights (and in some cases for multiple people) with just 1 card to cover flights and a second credit card to cover hotel nights. Those willing to open more than 2 credit cards (which may be particularly easy for a couple playing in 2-player mode), the options become vast. Keep in mind that “free” travel isn’t always free — for example, Marriott may add resort/destination fees on award stays, Virgin Atlantic passes on moderate surcharges on Air France/KLM flights, etc. Research is important here as there may be better alternatives for your situation (for example, Hyatt does not charge a resort fee on award stays and Virgin Altantic only charges $5.60 in taxes on Delta flights from the US to Europe). Reading the linked resources within this post and subscribing to future updates can be invaluable in helping you create a road map that fits your needs. However, as you can see, there are many possible road maps that can put flights and hotels for a European trip well within reach.