Many of my trips are fun family adventures with my kiddo joining in on the excitement, but not all trips fall into that category. I am a big believer that many trips are fantastic with kids, but some trips are better served as “adults only” adventures. If you are lucky enough to have friends or family members that are willing and able to take your little one(s) while you are gone, then you can have the luxury of still having some adult vacation time even after the next generation comes along. That is just a personal choice and I know some families can’t or don’t want to ever leave their kids behind, but we like to have a “kids free” trip every now and then. About a year ago my husband and I started planning our adult-only adventure to Dublin and Ireland. I absolutely plan to take Little C to Dublin and Ireland when she is a little older, but not this time.

I know that lots of people save up their miles and points to visit Europe, so I plan to share lots of details about our trip in case it is helpful for someone in the future. In this first post I will cover some of the details that went into planning our trip.

Planning

Flights:

My husband has family that originated from Ireland, and it was very high on his (relatively short) list of places he wants to visit, so Ireland was a “must do” for this trip. We were also interested in visiting a second location while we were there, but we decided to let award availability somewhat guide us to the second destination.

Our plan during the 2011 US Airways Grand Slam was to earn enough miles to use them for two off-peak Envoy Suites award tickets. The Grand Slam hasn’t returned since 2011, but you can still rack up US Airways miles easily via getting their credit card or even by purchasing miles when they offer 100% mileage purchase promos. Those Envoy (a.k.a. business class) seats were priced at 60,000 miles round trip during the off-peak season of mid-January through February, but were only 55,000 miles each with the 5,000 mile discount given via the US Airways MasterCard. You had to fly on US Airways-operated flights, but I had heard good things about their Envoy Suites, and was very excited to try it for myself. 55,000 miles for a round trip business class award ticket was, in my mind, the best reward flight deal out there… I say “was” because about three or four weeks ago (before the AA merger was announced) that option was taken off of the award chart. However, you can still take advantage of the 35,000 mile off-peak option in economy, which is still a very good deal (40,000 if you don’t have the US Airways MasterCard).

Since we were somewhat flexible on our second European destination, we let award availability dictate our options. I saw much better off-peak availability to London Gatwick and Paris than other European destinations, so we picked London (not knowing at the time we would be going to the Olympics in London in 2012) to fly in and out of, and decided we would just book the short 50 minute flights to Dublin and back separately at a later date. If you get nothing else from this post, this is the most important part. The more flexible your travel plans, the easier it is to book award trips. Many folks want to visit more than one place when they go to Europe, so if you can be a little flexible with what city you fly in to or out of, then your award flight choices will be greatly improved. If your dates have some wiggle room, then you will have even more options.

I booked our tickets to and from Dublin about a month before departure and we decided to go to Dublin via Aer Lingus and return to London via British Airways. It was a toss-up between the options, so we decided to do one of each and to book them thematically so we were on the Irish airline heading into Ireland, and the British airline heading back to London. It is a little silly, but it was actually pretty cool to do it that way, and it helped get us in the mood for our destination.

We purchased our tickets on Aer Lingus for about $100 USD per person one-way and we went for the slightly more expensive “Plus” option that allowed us to pre-select our seats and have a checked bag included. On our return to London we could have booked a British Airways flight for roughly the same price, but the ideal time for our return flight was much more expensive. We didn’t want to get up super early to get the cheaper flight, and didn’t want to wait around all day for the cheaper evening flight, so we used Avios to book the exact time we wanted since the flight price was over $200 each for economy. It just so happened that the flight we wanted only had Club Europe (business class) award availability, so we spent 9,000 Avios (plus about $27 USD in fees/taxes) each for that flight. It would have been half as many Avios to sit in Economy, but 4,500 Avios is hardly a significant up-charge for a more enjoyable flight while on vacation.

Hotels

We decided to stay a night in London close to the airport the day we arrived in order to adjust to the time-zone and build in a buffer in case we had delays from the US. We booked the Sheraton Heathrow during one of their common “beat the timer” sales for about 50 pounds ($75 USD). With SPG we had the choice between the Sheraton Skyline and the Sheraton Heathrow, and the general consensus online was the Skyline is nicer, but it was also more expensive either via points or cash, so the Sheraton Heathrow seemed totally adequate to us for an overnight. We didn’t book with points as it would have cost 7,000 points for a $75 room and that isn’t nearly a good enough return for valuable SPG points.

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Next up was selecting a hotel in Dublin…only I couldn’t decide on one so I picked two. I don’t really recommend others hop around hotels on vacation, but that’s what we choose to do. We booked two nights at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dublin on a cash and points rate. We could have booked the two nights on points, but it seemed a better deal to spend 90 Euros plus 10,000 points each night than to spend 44,000 points per night. Of course, if we had the Club Carlson card where you get the second award night free then I would have just spend 44,000 points and gotten two nights.

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We booked our third night in Dublin at the Westin Dublin as I really wanted to try it out and had read they were very generous with Platinum elite complimentary upgrades. The rate hovered at around 200 Euros and up for our dates, so we used 12,000 SPG points instead of cash. We ended up scoring a nice upgrade to a two story suite thanks to my husband’s Platinum status, and were quite pleased with our stay. Both hotels are in very good and walkable locations to many popular attractions and you can’t really go wrong with either.

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Before flying home we spent two more nights in London, and this time we wanted to stay somewhere nicer than an airport location. We opted for the Hyatt Andaz Liverpool as it is a fun property located right next to the Liverpool Tube Station. We could have used 18,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night, but instead booked the cheapest twin bed room for about £115 and used a Diamond confirmed suite upgrade to move up to the Andaz Suite. In other words, it came down to 18,000 points a night for a basic room, or about $180 USD for a suite, so it was an easy call.

Knowing our elite status with both Starwood and Hyatt would score us free internet and free breakfast each morning at those properties also helped as we knew that would help with those costs.  All in all our plans had us spending less money on lodging and flights than you could probably do a week-long budget European trip for, but thanks to miles, points, and some cash, we were going to be in lie-flat seats and suites. This trip was meant to not only see some of the sights in Europe, but also just relax and spend time together, so having nice accommodations to hang out in was pretty important for us.

In future posts in this series I will highlight in much more detail each of our flights, hotels, and most importantly the many attractions, locations, and restaurants that we visited…..because let’s be honest, the point of going to Europe is to get out and do things!

Posted by mommypoints | 19 Comments

19 Responses to “Points Friendly Trip to London and Dublin: Planning”

  1. Margo says:

    Cant wait for more details! Considering the british airways card for the express purpose of flying first class from Boston to Dublin, so your insights are eagerly anticipated. Thanks

  2. Nice to see everyone making use of some awards that are going away on trips to London. I am very sad to see the 60,000 Business class option on Star Alliance in winter disappear as I haven’t even gotten a chance to use it.

    My parents are staying at London Hilton Park Lane for 4 nights on the AXON award this summer for 145,000 Hilton points total. This is also going away and that hotel is going up to 70,000 points a night. It cost $833 a night for the time they are going!!!

    Looking forward to more posts about London for ideas for my parents’ trip.

  3. Grant says:

    In January, i used 35,000 us airway miles to fly to Amsterdam from SFO, with a connection in PHL. Amsterdam had a lot of award seats in economy and can be a good starting point to the rest of Europe. Get a Eurail pass and quickly travel from country to country.

  4. mommypoints says:

    Margo, you going on Aer Lingus?! Fun! I promise lots of good details soon. ;)
    The Miles Professor, I hope some of my upcoming posts are helpful for them!
    Grant, Amsterdam can be great and is on our list to visit in the near future. Thanks for the availability tip!

  5. Grant says:

    Aer Lingus is a nice airline, flew it from BOS-DUB and DUB-ORD in September, each seat has an IFE and the crew is very friendly.
    .
    @MP, I stayed at the Andaz Amsterdam for 2 nights on points and got upgraded to a nice canal room. When you make the reservation, there is a box you can check for “honeymoon” and they will provide a bottle of campaign in your room. They let you rent bikes for free and its a 5 minute walk to the Anne Frank house.

  6. Michelle says:

    What airline did you fly from Dublin to London? And did you use points for that trip? Or is there a cheaper way to get from Dublin to London. I am looking forward to your upcoming posts about this trip, as I am trying to plan one right now.

  7. Kevincm says:

    On a LON-DUB segment, tickets can be picked up cheaply and off award (Aer Lingus is great in the respect… BA offer BMI’s old service).

    Personally, I would had departed for the USA via Dublin – least of all 1) Pre clearance and 2) Tax efficiency (especially if you’re flying J or F – Air Passenger Duty is a killer…)

  8. mommypoints says:

    Grant, sounds great!
    Michelle, I flew Aer Lingus from London to Dublin and British Airways from Dublin to London. Used cash to fly Aer Lingus. Used points to fly BA as the price for the flight we wanted was a bit high.
    Kevincm, award availability wasn’t there for DUB using the miles we wanted to use – it was our first choice otherwise for the reasons you state. We did book Aer Lingus to Dublin on cash, but the flight we wanted coming back was pricier and it made more sense to book BA on points.

  9. Shannon Barney says:

    Booked my first award trip for Ireland via Aer Lingus this summer. Using Club Carlson card to stay at Raddison locations from Dublin to Galway!

  10. Jeremy says:

    Cute couple you two are. Glad you didn’t use Club Carlson points in that case (I’m doing similar in not using any points when I got a good rate at a great Hotel Indigo in London this summer ($190 a night).

    Cool to look at your picture of the Sheraton Heathrow…I got it on priceline several years ago for a night back in London after returning from Spain before an early AM flight the next day. For $70 or so it was fine but otherwise nothing special and you’re right that the Skyline was supposed to be way nicer. My ex gf at the time was lucky to get that as the hotel when I pricelined it for her before her flight to visit me. Go figure the lady gets the nicer hotel!

    Anyway look forward to more of these types of posts from you.

  11. Drsifu77 says:

    Will be taking BA flight from LHR to FCO. Trying to decide if I should pay 54000 Avios for biz or 27000 for economy. From my research, business on BA intra-Europe just means a blocked middle seat and hot lunch. If you had a choice looking back, economy or business on BA flight?

  12. mommypoints says:

    Drsifu77, since the difference for mine was just 4,500 Avios it was certainly worth it. Yours is a bit more, so just depends how much you value a little extra room and a hot meal. It also depends on how highly you do or don’t value Avios. We had a good experience and would do it the same again on that route for that price .

  13. Brian says:

    Were the taxes flying into London a factor in your planning since it can get pretty pricey especially in business/first class?

  14. mommypoints says:

    Brian, the taxes were a bit higher than some other cities would have been, but we still let availability dictate. It wasn’t dramatically different than some cities and was our best option. Is something to keep in mind though!

  15. HR says:

    Nice post. Planning to go to Dublin/London around April 7 this year and will use some of your tips to book our travel. We do plan to take our 3 year old along though:-)

  16. Michelle says:

    Hi:
    I can’t wait to read more. This is the exact trip our children are begging to go on. Hopefully, with lots of research, points, and patience, we’ll make this trip a reality in 2014.

    Thanks for all the information!

  17. [...] European trip to London and Dublin: Planning [...]

  18. Nick Knight says:

    Sorry for replying to a post that is a little old, but I’ve been using this info to help me plan a similar trip for May 2014.

    While I can’t yet search for flights that far out, I believe I’ve found a sequence that will work, or at least to use as a base when flights do list for next May. (I’ve been looking at 9/2013 and 1/2014 for prototypes).

    However, reading the above, I TRIED to search for flights into Gatwick, but no matter which search engine I used (United, US Air, ANA) it keeps listing only flights to LHR. I was looking to see if there was still a benefit to targeting Gatwick, but I can’t even get a light to list there!

    How did you find flights that actually land in Gatwick??!!

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