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 by utilizing the rewards offered by my credit cards. Here’s how I get to travel to Europe for nearly free — and how you can too.
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.
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With eight of the best 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.
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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.
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The travel rewards credit cards I used
|Card name||Welcome bonus||Earnings rate||Annual fee||Special perks|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $8,000 on purchases on your new card in the first 6 months||5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, after that 1X) and eligible hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases||$695 (terms apply)||Complimentary airport lounge access, Uber credits, elite hotel status, and more (select benefits require enrollment)|
|American Express® Gold Card||Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases within the first 6 months of card membership||4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, after that 1X) and at restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases||$250 (terms apply)||Dining credit|
|The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express||Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $3,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership||2X Membership Rewards points on everyday eligible business purchases up to $50,000 each year, and 1X points on eligible purchases after that||$0 (terms apply)||None|
|The World of Hyatt Credit Card||Earn up to 60,000 bonus points: 30,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening, plus up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2 points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 bonus point, on up to $15,000 spent||up to 9X points on stays at Hyatt hotels (4 bonus points plus 5 base points as a World of Hyatt member); 2X points on restaurants, airline tickets purchased directly from the airlines, local transit and commuting and on fitness club and gym memberships; and 1X points on all other purchases||$95||Free anniversary night, automatic Discoverist status|
|Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card||45,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days||6X points at participating By Wyndham properties and gas purchases; 4X on eligible dining and grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart); 1X on everything else||$75||Automatic Platinum status|
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Amex Platinum Card is one of the three rewards cards I use to rack up Membership Rewards. The other two, including the American Express® Gold Card as well as The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, 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 up to $100 statement credit every four years 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 $695 annual fee because of the luxury perks it offers, including:
- Up to $200 in Uber Cash annually
- Up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits annually
- Complimentary airport lounge access with several lounge networks
- Gold status with Hilton Honors and Gold Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy
- Car rental privileges
- Enrollment required for select benefits
This card also offers 80,000 bonus points after you spend $8,000 in the first 6 months after opening the card, plus you can earn 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, after that 1X) and eligible hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.
Get more details in our full Amex Platinum Card review.
American Express® Gold Card
The Amex Gold Card is my go-to card because you can earn 4X rewards on U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, after that 1X) and restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S. 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 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months.
My favorite benefits include the fact that you can get up to $120 in annual dining credits with select restaurants and merchants — that alone can take a chunk out of this card’s $250 annual fee. Enrollment required for select benefits.
Get more details in our full Amex Gold Card review.
The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
The Blue Business Plus Card is a straightforward business credit card that offers 2X Membership Rewards points on everyday eligible business purchases up to $50,000 each year, and 1X points on eligible 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.
You can also earn 15,000 membership rewards points after you spend $3,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.
Get more details in our full Amex Blue Business Plus Card review.
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 60,000 bonus points: 30,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening, plus up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2 points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 bonus point, on up to $15,000 spent.
You’ll also earn up to 9X points on stays at Hyatt hotels (4 bonus points plus 5 base points as a World of Hyatt member); 2X points on restaurants, airline tickets purchased directly from the airlines, local transit and commuting and on fitness club and gym memberships; and 1X points on all other purchases.
Get more details in our full The World of Hyatt Credit Card review.
Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card
I applied for the Wyndham Rewards® Earner Plus 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 45,000 bonus points — 45,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. It also offers 6X points at participating By Wyndham properties and gas purchases; 4X on eligible dining and grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart); 1X on everything else. Cardholders get automatic Platinum status with the rewards program.
Get more details in our full Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card review.
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.
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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 by using some of the best travel credit cards.
Easy-to-Earn Unlimited Rewards
- Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
- Earn 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases
- Longer intro APR on qualifying purchases and balance transfers
- No foreign transaction fees
- Apply Now
- Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire.
- 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
- Use your card to book your trip how and where you want - you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions.
- Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for travel or dining purchases, such as flights, hotel stays, car and vacation rentals, baggage fees, and also at restaurants including takeout.
- 0% Introductory APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the intro APR offer ends, 18.24% - 28.24% Variable APR will apply. A 3% fee applies to all balance transfers.
- If you're a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase. That means instead of earning an unlimited 1.5 points for every $1, you could earn 1.87-2.62 points for every $1 you spend on purchases.
- Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap.
- This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or if you visit a Bank of America financial center. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.
Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
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