Credit Card Combinations for a Paris Vacation

Dec 17, 2014

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When talking about award travel, it’s easy to focus on earning points and miles and lose sight of the actual traveling. Today, however, TPG Senior Points and Miles Correspondent Jason Steele offers a detailed analysis of how you can use your travel rewards to get to Paris.

Last week, I looked at credit card strategies for award travel to Hawaii. The premise was to find combinations of four cards that could send two people on a Hawaiian vacation, including flights and at least four nights of lodging. Today I’ll discuss a similar scenario, but with the goal of a trip to Paris.

Paris is arguably a more difficult award travel destination that even Hawaii. Although its distance from North America is comparable to Hawaii (actually quite a bit closer to the East Coast), awards to Europe generally require more miles. On the other hand, there are many more points hotels in Europe, with a wide range of price levels.

Europe is a tough award ticket to book for families, so it is vital to book next summer early. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Looking for ways to get to Paris?  Read on. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The basics of award travel to Paris

The good news is that Paris is a major destination served by every major airline (or its partners). That said, limiting this exercise to four credit cards that will include air and hotel, means that that there will be very limited opportunities to travel in business class or even premium economy, but we’ll try.

When it comes to lodging, I would love to find some moderately priced hotels, as most people go to Paris to see the city, not their hotel room. On the other hand, some of the best sign-up bonuses are for luxury chains that offer few mid-range options, or are in the form of free nights that can be used at any hotel, not just the affordable ones. Given the choice of using free night certificates for a mid-range hotel or a luxury property at the same cost, I’ll go with the luxury hotel, especially if I arrive after an overnight flight in economy class!

Finally, if Paris isn’t your cup of café au lait, many of these credit card combinations and strategies will apply equally well to other European destinations, depending on availability of airline service and the properties offered by each chain.

The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome is favorite of award travel enthusiasts.

The Vendoming Plan

“Vendoming” has become a euphemism for using points and miles to splurge on outlandish luxury. Some people use it in a derogatory sense, but you can ignore them when you check into the Hyatt Paris Vendome using the total of four free nights that you and your companion will receive after signing up for the The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase. As a new applicant, you’ll receive two free nights at any Hyatt property after spending $2,000 on your card within three months of opening the account. There’s a $75 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees. Plus, cardholders instantly receive Discoverist status in the World of Hyatt program, which offers room upgrades, late checkouts, and free Internet service. This card also offers a free night at a category 1-4 Hyatt hotel each year upon the cardholder anniversary.

To get to Paris, I recommend both travelers apply for the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, which offers 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within three months, along with two Admiral’s Club one day passes.  There is a $95 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year. After meeting the minimum spending requirement, each traveler will have at least 53,000 miles, which is just short of the 60,000 needed for an economy class, round-trip award to Europe. Nevertheless, cardholders will have more than enough miles for an economy class, off-peak award between October 15 and May 15, which is a real bargain at only 40,000 miles round-trip.

AA Off Peak
American Airlines off-peak awards to Europe between October 15 and May 15, are a real bargain at only 40,000 miles round-trip!

The costs: The great thing about this plan is that all four cards have no annual fee the first year, and even the second year’s annual fees aren’t terrible when you consider the Hyatt free night certificate. In addition, the minimum spending requirements for all four cards adds up to just $8,000, which is fairly low for these high end rewards cards with generous sign-up bonuses. Finally, the Hyatt card offers an EMV smart chip and no foreign transaction fees, which is perfect for a trip to Paris.

Flying Blue Promo Awards can get you to Europe at a low mileage cost, but watch out for surcharges.

The Promo Award Play

Start with the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express for each traveler. This card offers 25,000 Starpoints after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. There’s a $65 annual fee that is waived the first year. You could then get a single Starwood Preferred Guest business card offers 10,000 Starpoints upon your first use of the card, and 15,000 more Starpoints after you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months of card membership, yielding a combined total of 90,000 points after all of the minimum spending requirements are met.

These points can then be transferred to Flying Blue (the loyalty program of Air France, KLM, and others)—with a 5,000 point bonus awarded for each 20,000 points transferred—and used for two premium economy tickets via Flying Blue Promo Awards. The current offer is for 50,000 miles round-trip to Paris from either New York-JFK or Toronto. With 20% wider seats, 20% more leg-room, and upgraded dining, this premium economy product is a nice compromise between economy and business class service.

Club Carlson is the hot new thing in the hotel world offering lucrative promos and credit card
The free last award night feature on the Club Carlson card is one of the best credit card benefits out there.

For hotels, you could get away with a single Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card ($75 annual fee), which offers 50,000 points after your first purchase, and another 35,000 points after spending just $2,500 within 90 days of account opening. Since this card offers 5x points per dollar, you’ll have a total of  97,500 points by the time you complete the minimum spending requirement.

Spend another $500 and you’ll reach an even 100,000 points, which is enough for two nights at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Paris Boulogne, along with your last night free (a benefit of the credit card), for a total of three nights. For your fourth night, you could use your remaining 10,000 Starpoints, plus another 2,000 – 6,000 to spend the last night in the Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel & Conference Centre, conveniently in the Charles De Gaulle Airport terminal.

Alternately, you could stretch this to five nights by doing two nights in the Radisson Blu for 50,000 points, followed by a night in the nearby Le Méridien Etoile for 12,000 -16,000 Starpoints, before returning for two more nights at the Radisson, since you do have to split your stay up to use the last night free benefit twice.

The costs: This one is a little on the pricey side, as you’ll need to spend $17,500 on the cards to meet the minimum spend, plus a few thousand extra to round out the awards. There’s a combined total of $270 in annual fees after the first year. Finally, you’d still have to pay fuel surcharges on the Air France tickets, and any other costs of getting to New York, Toronto, or another Promo Award gateway.

The lack of surcharges on United award flights to Europe helps keep your out of pocket costs down.

The Mid-range Marriott plan

This plan leverages the mid-range hotels in the Marriott portfolio by starting with the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase. Cardholders receive 80,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within three months of opening an account.. There is an $85 annual fee.

Unfortunately, there are no category 4 Marriott hotels in Paris other than the poorly located AC Hotel Paris Le Bourget Airport. So with this plan, you’ll want to pick a mid-range property such as the Courtyard Paris Saint Denis which is 25,000 points per night.

I would then get two Chase Ink Plus cards at the branch, each of which offers 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 within three months. After meeting the spending requirement, you’d have 150,000 points, enough to transfer 120,000 to United Airlines for two round-trip award tickets in coach, and still leave 30,000 points left over for a fourth hotel night. Since Marriott gives you the fifth award night free, you’d really be getting two extra nights with those points.

But wait, we’re only at three cards! The fourth could be a Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000, for a total of 54,000 Ultimate Rewards points (with an annual fee of $95 that is waived the first year). This would give you enough points to upgrade to business class one-way (I would choose the longer, overnight flight to Europe rather than the return), and still have 29,000 Ultimate Rewards points left for that fourth hotel night. You’d need another 6,000 points to transfer to Marriott if you wanted to take advantage of the fifth award night free, but you could also use those 29,000 points to book the hotel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center, where you can redeem for 1.25 cents per point.

The costs: There is a total of $17,000 in minimum spending requirements and $190 in annual fees for the first year ($370 thereafter).

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Picking the best card combination

As much as the Promo Award Play brings to the table by avoiding economy class, it suffers from high minimum spending requirements and the restriction of having to get to an Air France/KLM gateway. Paying Flying Blue’s fuel surcharges is also quite unattractive.

If my travel dates fell within the October 15 to May 15 range of American’s off-peak awards, I would probably have to go with the Vendoming plan, as it’s tough to say no to a $1,000 per night hotel in Paris, even if it means crossing the pond in coach. Cardholders would also be fairly close to a standard award as well. This plan has decent award availability and the lowest minimum spending costs.

The mid-range Marriott plan comes in at a close second, especially since you could fly one-way on lie-flat sleeper seats, or get away with three cards instead of four.

Paris is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and as you can see, there are plenty of great opportunities to visit using your points and miles!

How would you plan your dream award trip to Paris?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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