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Award travel success so far, European hotels

on February 6, 2018

Yeaaaaaaaaaaah buddy! We currently have 4 of 7 hotel nights needed covered with points, with 2 of the remaining 3 hopefully covered by certificates later this year.  I shall now regale you with my recent adventures in hotel booking.

Um, have you ever noticed that European hotels (even American chains) rarely sleep more than 2 people?  I’ve had quite a time setting up 4-person rooms in London, Paris, and Barcelona.  We are lucky to be able to stay with family or friends in our other 3 stops (North Carolina, Seville, and New Jersey).  My chart:

Location # of nights needed # of nights booked on points # of nights paying OOP % nights covered
North Carolina  3-4  3-4 sister points  0  100%
London 1
Paris 3
Seville 3  3 friend points  0  100%
Barcelona 3
New Jersey 2  2 daughter points  0  100%

First, a review of what we were working with…IHG points (about 110k between me and DH) and SPG points (about 45K combined).  We needed 7 hotel nights covered. I figured I would need to pay some out-of-pocket (OOP), but wanted to minimize the amount, of course.

Side note: I personally don’t like the business model of AirBnB, VRBO, HomeAway, and the like for short-term (<2 wk) rentals.  I feel like they negatively impact residential neighborhoods, so I don’t use them.  YMMV, of course.  

PLUS, there is no way I can use points for those unless the transaction qualifies as a Travel Expense on the Barclay Arrival Plus Mastercard and could be reimbursed.  Since we closed that card after milking it for Universal IOA tickets and the Budget rental car certificate, it is a moot point.

Anyway, I started my search with our 3 nights in Paris.  I checked Starwood Preferred Guest properties (Sheraton, Westin, and others, and after a recent merge, Marriott)  for availability of 1 room with 2 adults and 2 children, and immediately got a “call us to book Rewards nights” message.  Curious, I changed the search to 1 room for 1 adult and 1 child, and got several hotels available on  my dates, using points. I clicked on the room types, and they all had a maximum of 2 people, with 1 hotel giving the option to add a crib for a guest under 2yo.  Not going to work.  I changed it back to 4 people, and got the “call us” message again.  I decided to check for Barcelona…and the same thing happened.  I did some research on FlyerTalk and other sites, and it seemed that the SPG properties in Europe rarely ever had Family Rooms as they call them, and if they did they were usually only at the higher-end properties requiring lots of points per night, and my only recourse with my lowly point total would have been to try to have enough for 2 rooms per night, and hope they would be near each other.


That might be fine for some people, but it is not fine for me.  I am Beverly-Goldberg-style (s)mothering my kids while I am able to, and that means all of us in 1 room.  I turned my attention to IHG properties (Holiday Inn/Express, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental, and more).  I started with Paris, since I had already scoped out what I thought would be a lower-end option, the Holiday Inn- Gare de Lyon Bastille.  Well, I had a similar problem as far as room capacity (max 2?!), and the cash rates, even for just after Christmas, were frankly outrageous…>$350+/nt for a Holiday Inn.  I tell you, I went round and round with their website and Live Chat features about this hotel.  I got nowhere satisfactory to me, so I decided to set it aside and search for Barcelona properties with IHG.  There were only 3 properties available in the city center.  I called my husband over to vet the locations, as he’d lived in Barcelona for a while during a study abroad.  He picked the best location for us, and I was able to book 1 night with my points, and the other 2 nights with his points, in a Family Room- woo!  Progress:

Location # of nights needed # of nights booked on points # of nights paying OOP % nights covered
North Carolina 4 3-4 sister pts 0 100%
London 1
Paris 3
Seville 3 3 friend pts 0 100%
Barcelona 3 3 (25k IHG pt/nt) 0 100%
New Jersey 2 2 daughter pts 0  100%

A few days passed, and I was deep into various travel guides for Paris, like Rick Steves and Lonely Planet.  These helped with activity ideas, but not lodging ideas, since they recommend hotels based on silly things like stars and price.  My goal was to pay ZERO for the room, and only owe the European Occupancy Rates/Taxes upon checkout.  I briefly flirted with the idea of staying close to Disneyland Paris, which is about 45 minutes outside the city proper, and cheaper in both Euros and points, but that would really only have been convenient for the evening we were returning from the Parks.  Frustrated once again, I turned my attention to London.

Searched SPG, and found the same max room occupancy issue I’d had for Paris.  We needed only 1 night’s stay, and frankly the hotels available were almost too luxurious.  The Great Northern Hotel was right in the desired location at 16k SPG points per night, but rooms were max occupancy 2, ugh.  They even advertise a family rate, which is 50% off the second room .  Once again, we would need 2 rooms, so 32K points, and the whole place just looked so fussy.  I really wanted to be close to King’s Cross-St. Pancras Station since we were heading out on the Eurostar the next morning for Paris.  I was seriously striking out with SPG so far.


Patience, Iago Veronica.  The trip is 11 months away.

Next at bat: IHG properties in London.  And wow, what a selection!  So many properties to choose from, but it was easy to narrow it down.  One property with family rooms, available on points, and right at King’s Cross- sold!

Location # of nights needed # of nights booked on points # of nights paying OOP % nights covered
North Carolina 3-4 3-4 sister pts 0 100%
London 1 1 (35k  IHG pts) 0  100%
Paris 3
Seville 3 3 friend points 0 100%
Barcelona 3 3 (25k IHG pt/nt) 0  100%
New Jersey 2 2 daughter points 0 100%

Ok, back to Paris.  I was determined to get something working here, having struck out with both SPG and IHG points.  I decided to do a search on Kayak.com, Hotels.com, Booking.com, and the like.  I wound up booking an independent hotel in the Bastille area, for about $490 for the 3 nights we needed.  It’s fine- and free cancellation.  But that OOP is high for me.  I took several  nights away from this search to think about where I could find more points, was it worth it to buy them, did I need to wait for a few months for some hotels to even open their schedules this far in advance?

AND!!!!  The break from planning helped me remember something.  The IHG Rewards credit card from Chase has a lovely perk, which I’ve mentioned on the blog before: annual free night at any IHG property 🙂  These are not Reward Nights, where there needs to be reward availability to use points- no, these are Free Nights, where, ideally, you can use your Free Night Certificate at ANY IHG Hotel worldwide that is not sold out.  The fine print says:

Anniversary Free Night is valid for one standard room night rate and applicable taxes only.

And, since being a cardmember entitles me to Platinum Elite status, I usually get upgraded even on the Free Night award.  BUT, it goes on to say:

Rooms are limited, subject to prior sale and availability of allocated resources and may be unavailable during high demand periods.

Oh, boy.  Since both my husband and I have the card, we get 2 of these Free Nights per year….I think you see where I’m going with this.  I chose my ideal Paris IHG property, which sleeps 4 in a Double Room, and made a cash reservation for the 3 nights we needed.  Current OOP: €821, ~$1015.  Sheesh.  I noted that the rates change throughout the stay.  My master plan, then, is to apply our Free Night certificates to this reservation as they come in, starting with the most expensive night.  If I am able to use both of them, I will be left paying OOP for the cheapest night only, which comes out to ~$320.  Better than the all-cash reservation I made for the Bastille, and totally acceptable to me for 3 nights in Paris!  Now, this may not work for 2 reasons: the hotel may not accept the certificates in the post-Christmas season at all, and the Double Room may not be considered a Standard Room for the purposes of the certificate.  If I can’t make it work, I’ll do a fresh search for a cash reservation and see if I can beat the Bastille hotel.  I can do this in June when our certificates are “live.”


Extreme…travel hacking?


Location # of nights needed # of nights booked on awards # of nights paying OOP % nights covered
North Carolina 3-4 3-4 sister pts 0 100%
London 1 1 (35k IHG pts) 0 100%
Paris 3  0 (2 pending)  3 (1 pending) 100%
Seville 3 3 friend points 0 100%
Barcelona 3 3 (25k IHG pt/nt) 0 100%
New Jersey 2 2 daughter points 0 100%

This looks great to me.  I probably need to make one more reservation.  I still have most of our SPG points left since I couldn’t make use of them on European hotels.  I did transfer some of DH’s SPG points to his American Airlines AAdvantage account so we could book our return flights from Barcelona to Newark, but there are plenty left for a hotel in either Seattle or San Francisco.  That’s likely where our Alaska Companion Fare flights would require an overnight layover.  Flight award post coming up soon!


One response to “Award travel success so far, European hotels

  1. Gina says:



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