How I Booked a Dream Trip to Vienna for Under $400

I used a mix of sign-up bonuses, regular rewards, card perks, and an incredible flight sale. Here's exactly what I did.
Last updated Feb 25, 2020 | By Ben Luthi
How I Booked a Dream Trip to Vienna for Under $400

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For various reasons, most of my past travels have been within the U.S., and one of my goals for 2020 is to expand my horizons and visit a few different countries.

The first opportunity to do that presented itself when I saw Delta Air Lines running a fare sale on business-class tickets to Europe. The result is a trip to Vienna, Austria, which I’ll enjoy in March 2020.

The flight alone would have cost more than $5,000 if I had paid cash. But all told, booking the eight-day trip has cost me just $397 so far. Here’s how I get to travel to Europe for nearly free — and how you can too.

Flights

My flight to Vienna starts in Salt Lake City, Utah, and makes a 13-hour stop in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Delta One before I finish the journey in KLM Royal Dutch Airlines business class, one of Delta’s SkyTeam partner airlines.

On the way back, I’ll make another 13-hour overnight stop in Paris via Air France business class, then finish the trip back to Salt Lake City on Delta One again.

I booked my flight shortly after I heard about an award fare sale Delta was running. My cost? 98,000 Delta SkyMiles and $123.05 in taxes and fees, which is a steal compared with the 350,000 miles it’s going for now. The cash price was roughly $5,200 (including taxes and fees), which meant I got a redemption rate of about 5.2 cents per mile.

You can calculate the value of your miles by dividing the cash price by the number of miles needed for the redemption. So, in this case: $5,200 - $123.04 of taxes and fees = $5,076.95 / 98,000 SkyMiles = .0518 or 5.2 cents per mile.

I had only about 56,000 Delta SkyMiles at the time I booked this trip, so I transferred 42,000 Membership Rewards points to my Delta account (Delta is an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner.) and booked the trip the same day I learned about the sale.

Expense category Regular price What I paid
Flights $5,200 $123

Hotels

With eight different hotel credit cards to my name, booking my hotels was the most complicated part of the process. I have several other trips planned for the year, and I wanted to make sure I was taking advantage of my rewards without draining my rewards accounts too early in the year.

I decided to start my trip with three nights in Vienna, then take a train to Salzburg for two nights, before I head back to Vienna for my final night in the country.

  • Nights 1-3: As I researched my options, I couldn’t find a good fit based on the points I have and where I wanted to stay. So I decided to book a private room at a hostel for the first few nights and pay cash. The total cost for the three nights was $170.68.
  • Nights 4-5: After a roughly three-hour train ride from Vienna to Salzburg, I’ll spend the next two nights at the H+ Hotel Salzburg, which is a Wyndham hotel. I used 30,000 points to book the stay, mostly because my Wyndham rewards account has been collecting dust lately and the points were set to expire in July. The cash price for these nights was $192.89, which gives me a measly 0.64 cents per point (192.89 / 30,000 = .0064) That’s below the average 0.9 cents per point Wyndham commands, but I don’t mind because it’s better than losing the points in a few months.
  • Night 6: For my last night, I decided to use the free anniversary night on my Hyatt Credit Card to stay at the Andaz Vienna Am Belvedere. The cash price of one night at the property is $211, which is much higher than the $75 annual fee I pay on the card (Note: I have an old version of the World of Hyatt Credit Card, which currently has a $95 annual fee).

I didn’t score any mind-blowing redemptions with my hotel stays, but I managed to use up one of my many anniversary credit card nights and get rid of points I hadn’t previously found a good use for over the years.

Expense category Regular price What I paid
Hotels $575 $171

Transportation

I’m not planning to rent a car while I’m in Austria, opting instead to use public transportation. My roundtrip train ticket between Vienna and Salzburg will cost roughly $53, and I expect to pay less than $50 on public transportation. If I were to book a rental car for the entire trip, it would cost me $448.

Expense category Regular price What I paid
Transportation $448 $103

The travel rewards credit cards I used

Card name Welcome bonus Earnings rate Annual fee Special perks
The Platinum Card from American Express Earn 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases $550 Complimentary airport lounge access, airline fee credit, Uber credits, elite hotel status, and more
American Express Gold Card Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you make $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year) and at restaurants worldwide, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases $250 Airline fee credit and dining credit
The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express 0% introductory APR on purchases for 12 months 2X Membership Rewards points on business purchases up to $50,000 each year, and 1X points on purchases after that $0 None
The World of Hyatt Credit Card Earn up to 50,000 Bonus Points: 25,000 after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, plus an additional 25,000 after spending a total of $6,000 in the first 6 months 9X points per $1 spent at Hyatt hotels; 2X points per $1 spent on eligible travel, dining, and health purchases; and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else $95 Free anniversary night, automatic Discoverist status
Wyndham Rewards® Visa Signature® Card (Annual Fee) 15,000 bonus points after your first purchase or balance transfer, plus an additional 15,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days 5X points at participating By Wyndham properties; 2X on eligible gas, utility, and grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart); 1X on everything else $75 Automatic Platinum status

Platinum Card from American Express

The Amex Platinum Card is one of the three cards I use to rack up Membership Rewards. The other two, including the Amex Gold Card and the Blue Business Plus Card, make up what’s known as the Amex trifecta.

I don’t spend a lot of money on this card because it offers bonus rewards only on select flights and hotel stays. But I used it in 2019 to pay for my Global Entry application because this card offers a statement credit for your Global Entry fee. This security perk will save me time when I return to the U.S. and have to go through customs. I may also use this card’s airport lounge access benefit during my layovers in Amsterdam and Paris.

I got the Amex Platinum a few years ago and have held onto it despite its $550 annual fee because of the luxury perks it offers, including:

  • A $200 annual airline fee credit
  • $200 in Uber credits annually
  • $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits annually
  • Complimentary airport lounge access with several lounge networks
  • Elite status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy
  • Car rental privileges

This card also offers 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months after opening the card, plus earn you 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

Best Luxury Travel Benefits

Benefits

  • 60,000 Membership Rewards point welcome offer
  • 5X points on eligible flights and hotels
  • $15 in free U.S. Uber rides each month ($20 in December)
  • $200 airline fee credit each year
  • Access to Centurion and Priority Pass airport lounges
  • Terms apply


American Express Gold Card

The Amex Gold Card is my go-to card because it earns you 4X rewards on U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year), restaurants worldwide. With two kids, I spend a healthy amount each month on groceries without any extra effort. And to earn all the points I can with this card, I try to pay the restaurant bill whenever I’m out with friends and have them pay me back.

The card also offers 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com and 1X points on all other eligible purchases, as well as a welcome bonus of 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months.

My favorite benefits include a $100 annual airline fee credit and up to $120 in annual dining credits with select restaurants and merchants — combined, they’re almost enough to make up for the card’s $250 annual fee.

Big Rewards for Dining Out

Benefits

  • 35,000 Membership Rewards point welcome offer
  • High rewards rate in certain categories
  • Up to $100 airline fee credit
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Terms apply


Blue Business Plus Card from American Express

The Blue Business Plus Card is a straightforward business credit card that offers 2X Membership Rewards points on business purchases up to $50,000 each year, and 1X points on purchases after that. I use this card for most of my purchases because I know I can get a much better redemption rate with my Membership Rewards points than I can with cash back.

Beyond the rewards program, the card doesn’t offer any earth-shaking benefits. There’s a 0% introductory APR on purchases for 12 months, but you don’t need that unless you’re planning to make a large purchase or pay down some high-interest credit card debt. And if you’re in the latter group, it may be better to focus on that before getting into travel rewards.

Hyatt Credit Card

I have the previous version of the World of Hyatt Credit Card, and I primarily use it for its free anniversary night, which is good for any Category 1-4 Hyatt property.

You can’t apply for the card I have anymore, but the current World of Hyatt Credit Card actually offers two free anniversary nights — the catch is that the second requires you to spend $15,000 each cardmember anniversary year to get it. You’ll also get Hyatt Discoverist status.

On the rewards front, the card gives you an opportunity to earn up to 50,000 bonus points: 25,000 after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, plus an additional 25,000 after spending a total of $6,000 in the first 6 months.

You’ll also earn 9X points per $1 spent at Hyatt hotels; 2X points per $1 spent on eligible travel, dining, and health purchases; and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else.

Big bonus points on Hyatt stays

Benefits

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus
  • Up to 9X points per $1 spent on Hyatt stays
  • 3X points on grocery purchases — up to $1,500 per month (ends June 30, 2020)
  • 1 free night every year
  • Automatic elite status


Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature Card

I applied for the Wyndham Rewards® Visa Signature® Card a few years ago when it had a 45,000-point sign-up bonus. I initially planned on using the points for three nights at one of the brand’s all-inclusive resorts. But the timing never worked out, and now the rewards program not only prohibits you from using points to book its all-inclusives, but it also changed its redemption structure. Instead of charging a flat rate of 15,000 points per night, you may see 7,500, 15,000 or 30,000 points to book a room.

Currently, the card offers up to 30,000 bonus points — 15,000 bonus points after your first purchase or balance transfer, plus an additional 15,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. It also offers 5X points at participating By Wyndham properties; 2X on eligible gas, utility, and grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart); 1X on everything else. Cardholders get automatic Platinum status with the rewards program.

Bottom line

So far, points and miles have saved me roughly $5,800 on my trip to Vienna — and I haven’t even left the country yet.

Expense category Regular price What I paid
Flights $5,200 $123
Hotels $575 $171
Transportation $448 $103
Total $6,223 $397

For the most part, my strategy has been focused on using points I’ve built up over time instead of getting multiple credit card welcome bonuses in a short period. I didn’t even get a welcome bonus when I opened my Amex Gold Card because I had previously held its predecessor, the Premier Rewards Gold Card. Although bonuses can be a great way to rack up points fast, they can be unsustainable as a strategy if you travel on the regular.

I spent two years in Germany several years ago, and I’m looking forward to dusting off my German language skills and taking in the sights and culture of two of the most beautiful cities in Europe. As you consider your next trip and how to make it happen, the best place to start is at the beginning. Our beginner’s guide to travel rewards will walk you through exactly what you need to do to achieve your travel goals.

Best Luxury Travel Benefits

Benefits

  • 60,000 Membership Rewards point welcome offer
  • 5X points on eligible flights and hotels
  • $15 in free U.S. Uber rides each month ($20 in December)
  • $200 airline fee credit each year
  • Access to Centurion and Priority Pass airport lounges
  • Terms apply