How to book a perfect bargain weekend in Europe

Oct 21, 2019

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I often get caught up hunting for my next premium long-haul redemption when in fact, right under my nose, there are incredible experiences to be had for a low cash outlay and little or no time off work by planning these getaways over the weekend.

In the past month, I have enjoyed two such weekends — and with a little bit of planning, you can do the same. First, I visited Cassis in the South of France, followed by the Apennine Hills outside Bologna in Northern Italy. But the options really are endless.

Each trip cost around the £100 mark per person for the weekend.

Flights

The first step is to find a great deal on flights. By signing up to The Points Guy UK newsletter, you will always be on top of the hottest deals. However, sometimes you need to venture out into the internet alone.

There are two key routes for finding the perfect flights: cash and points.

Cash

Use Google Flights and set all the relevant parameters. I looked for flights that departed on a Saturday morning before 10:00 a.m. and returned on Sunday evening after 8:00 p.m. For nearby Europe, this gives almost a solid two-day getaway, but Friday night to Sunday night would maximise time by including a full clear day in the middle of the trip at the destination.

Click through to the explore map, which will show prices of all destinations and look for that sweet spot of low price and fun destination.

(Image courtesy of Google Flights)

Always bear in mind that there may be extra charges on top of some of these prices, but for such a short trip it is unlikely you would need to check a bag (usually the most significant additional cost).

Further reading: The top 6 websites and tools to find cheap airfare

Points

The angle of attack may depend on where you live. If you are near London or the other airports that BA operates international flights from, using British Airways Avios is the obvious choice.

To nab the best bargain, consider searching for flights to destinations in the lowest mileage band, meaning that on off-peak dates, flights will be as little as 8,000 Avios and £35 tax per person.

If you have status with BA (Silver or above), the deal becomes all the more sweet when you combine access to lounges at either end and the food and booze you get alongside that. For the super switched on status holder, Heathrow’s Terminal 3 offers such an array of lounges for a BA status-holding passenger that the airport experience can almost be a holiday in itself.

Here are some key fun routes in that cheapest band:

  • Milan (MXP)
  • Gothenburg (GOT)
  • Berlin (TXL)
  • Amsterdam (AMS)
  • Copenhagen (CPH)
  • Bilbao (BIO)
  • Marseille (MRS)
  • Nice (NCE)
  • Salzburg (SZG)

If you are elsewhere in the U.K. and/or keep a stash of another airline’s points, consider booking through those programmes, for example using Flying Blue to fly KLM to the Netherlands or SAS EuroBonus to fly to Scandinavia.

Further reading: 7 European cities that are best experienced in autumn 

Accommodation

Next up is finding the perfect accommodation. Again, you can take the two routes of cash or points.

Cash

For this sort of trip, Airbnb is an excellent option, especially in order to keep costs low. Much in the same way that you can open up the explore map on Google Flights, doing this on Airbnb is easy. Set the dates and your target price and open up the map around the area you want to visit to find the perfect spot. I love to stay out in the countryside, so this tends to produce some brilliant options for me.

Points

Once you are set on the destination, especially if you are planning on staying in or close to a major city, it’s worth running a quick check of room availability of any programme you have points with.

Car rental

Recent experience has shown that having status with car rental companies can be extremely beneficial. I have Avis Preferred and Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Five Star status as benefits of my Platinum Card from American Express UK. On a wider search of all companies (I used Expedia), I couldn’t see cheaper prices than Avis or Hertz, so using one of them was a no-brainer.

At both companies, I avoided long queues and my car key was ready and waiting at a separate priority desk. Hertz has been especially good recently for Gold Plus Rewards Five Star members, as it provides a four-hour grace period (meaning you might be able to wangle a one-day rental for your two-day trip if you get the hours right), a significant car upgrade (in Bologna it gave me a beautiful Alfa Romeo 4×4) and a stash of points to boot. For example you could earn up to 2,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles per rental.

Breakdown of my trips

Here is the breakdown of the cost of my two recent trips, per person based on two sharing.

Bologna

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)
  • Return flights LHR-BLQ: 15,000 Avios + £35
  • Airbnb: £33
  • Hertz car rental: £40
  • Total cash: £108

Cassis

Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy
  • Return flights LHR – MRS: 8,000 Avios + £35
  • Airbnb: £60
  • Avis car rental: £47
  • Total cash: £142

Bottom Line

If you are in the market for a quick getaway, see some more of what wonderful Europe has to offer and keep costs super low. Then, employ the methods above and get yourself away. You won’t regret it!

Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy.

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