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How I Booked A Last Minute Trip To Europe For Christmas Markets

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Booking A Trip To Europe For Christmas Markets

Booking A Trip To Europe For Christmas Markets

I hinted in my article yesterday about American Airlines miles not posting after an award cancellation that my wife had changed her mind on her birthday trip. We had originally planned on going to Maui to celebrate, and I even scored some lie flat seats at a steep discount, but she had her eye on warm wine and winter fun instead. That change had me scrambling after her online US Passport renewal came in the mail in the middle of last month. I figured I would share the details after booking a trip to Europe for Christmas Markets.

Finding Flights

Since our itinerary was somewhat wide open my focus was solely on finding flights over the pond that worked. Her only goal was to hit some Christmas Markets and the destinations weren’t as important to her. We pretty much had to do it that way anyway since our dates were locked with no wiggle room.

Focusing On LifeMiles

I started first with looking at Lufthansa award space. I had close to 70,000 LifeMiles that had been sitting in my account for years that I wanted to burn. It just so happens that Detroit has a non stop route to Frankfurt on Lufthansa each day, so that was my starting point. They normally release business class seats a few weeks out but I gave it a try anyway.  Luckily for me I found some flights back from Frankfurt in business class almost a month out. There was nothing for the flight to Europe showing yet. But, I was comfortable with the flight home so I checked the return flight off my list right off the bat.

I didn’t book it immediately because I didn’t want to transfer miles over until I knew I had a workable itinerary.

Booking A Trip To Europe For Christmas Markets

Focusing On United Miles

We also had a stash of 125,000 United miles from a United Quest welcome offer and a 10X offer last month on her now downgraded no fee United card. Those two together gave us a nice chunk of miles to work with. I was open to other airlines too if they worked, but would prefer to burn these United miles and preserve my transferrable currencies.

I fired up Point.Me and started searching from Detroit. Then I branched out to every major airport from Chicago to the East Coast. I also searched every major European city we were interested in checking. My wife had given me like 6 or 7 targets to shoot for. Every search was coming up snake eyes for saver award space though.

The only real decent option I could find was via United. They had a flight from Detroit to Washington (IAD) to Dublin to Rome. It was also a mixed cabin booking with only the IAD to DUB part in business class. I was okay with that since that was the “overnight” portion of the flight. The flight to Washington is like an hour and intra Europe business class is a joke, so I didn’t really care being stuck in economy on those. The cost was 85,500 miles and $8.40. Not quite saver level, especially for a mixed cabin flight, but way better than everything else.

Why I Picked The Second Best Option

After seeing the space on United pop up I checked the same flights with Avios as well. The Washington DC – Dublin – Rome were showing available in business class of both flights, no mixed cabin. The cost was around 20,000 miles less per person and a few hundred dollars more in taxes.

Although this was technically cheaper, and a better experience overall, I decided to go ahead and book United instead. Even though it may have been the second best option to some, it was the best option for me. I don’t have any Avios right now so I would have had to transfer them all in. I would have still had to book a positioning flight from Detroit to DC too. The positioning flight, the increased taxes and fees plus the fact that I had a large stash of United miles already made the decision easy for me. I booked it and then planned to check Lufthansa for any last minute awards up until departure date, just in case.  I would greatly prefer one connection to Rome if possible.

Booking A Trip To Europe For Christmas Markets

Booking A Trip To Europe For Christmas Markets: Choosing Locations

So we had Rome as our starting point and Frankfurt as our ending point. What should we do in between? The location highest on my list was Vienna, Austria. I have heard great things about their Christmas markets so that was something I wanted to focus on if possible. It was part of the reason that I just didn’t go to Dublin and avoid a connection to Rome. With it being so far from Vienna, plus the fact we have been to Dublin before, made it so I didn’t want to work further away from home before our return if possible.

There was some award space via United on Austrian Airlines for like 6,000 points and $40 in fees to get from Rome to Vienna. By the time I got miles transferred over and went to book the space was gone. I settled on a $100 flight on Ryan Air, including seats and luggage, for the hour and a half flight.

My Friend Throws A Kink In Our Plans

While I was planning all of this my friend was in Europe doing a similar trip. She kept saying how much she loved Salzburg so I started digging into that too. I figured we could take a train from Vienna to Salzburg and then from Salzburg to Munich. I was never super excited to go to Frankfurt and the flight pretty much dictated that destination. What if there was award space out of Munich though? I was in luck, there was business class space with a connection in Frankfurt. The cost was the same too, 63,000 LifeMiles and $187.78 per person. This would work perfectly!

LifeMiles Almost Costs Me

Since I only had around 70,000 LifeMiles in my account I needed to transfer some over for our booking. Every other time my transfers to LifeMiles were instant, so of course, this time they were not. To be fair, I had always transferred from Citi ThankYou points in the past and did Membership Rewards this time. But, they are usually instant from Amex MR too. They didn’t post at all that day or the entire next day. They finally posted after midnight, the following day, so 30 or so hours in total. I was sweating bullets that entire time thinking the award space would vanish, but luckily it was still there and I grabbed it up!

Booking A Trip To Europe For Christmas Markets

What About Hotels?

I wanted to focus on Hyatt hotels if possible since I had a ton of points coming back from the Maui cancellation and needed a few nights to hit the 30 night mark. There wasn’t a ton of coverage in the areas we were going to though. What they did have, mostly Small Luxury Hotels, were often showing no award space. I decided to focus on Hilton instead which had good coverage in most places. We have the following hotels booked:

  • DoubleTree By Hilton Rome Monti (60,000 a night)
  • Hilton Vienna Plaza (59,000 a night)
  • Independently owned hotel in Salzburg (didn’t have Marriott or Radisson points)
  • Andaz Munich (20,000 a night)

The nice thing is the Andaz will be my 10th Hyatt brand so I’ll be getting a free night cert back on that stay. Got to love the Brand Explorer Perk!

Total Cost Of The Trip

Here is a breakdown of the total cost for people that love the nuts and bolts!

  • 171,000 United miles & $16.80
  • 126,000 LifeMiles and $375.56
  • $198.29 for Ryanair flight
  • 178,000 Hilton Honors points
  • 20,000 World of Hyatt points
  • $180 for the independent hotel which I’ll erase with Capital One points

I haven’t booked any trains yet but I expect another few hundred dollars there. I’ll book it with my Bank of America Travel Rewards card I just got a $300 bonus on and hope it codes as travel for a points redemption.

Booking A Trip To Europe For Christmas Markets: Final Thoughts

All in all, I think things came together relatively well. I don’t love the flight booked to Europe, but when you are planning things a few weeks out with locked dates you take what you can get. I’ll keep an eye on things to see if any last minute space opens up for that flight.

I am pretty happy with the booking home even if Lufthansa’s business class product isn’t the best. I am also happy with the hotel bookings knowing the Hilton status is much more comparable to Hyatt Globalist status overseas. The Hilton hotels had better locations, and slightly better prices, when there was a Hyatt in town anyway.

I’ll be sure to update everyone on podcast how it all played out when we get back from our trip.

Disclosure: Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. If in Salzburg on the weekend, I highly recommend taking a bus to Lake Wolfgangsee and ride the ferry running between the Christmas Markets at Strobl, St. Wolfgang, and St. Gilgen. I have been to many Christmas markets in Europe and these little towns are near the top of the list for fairytale cuteness.

    • Sounds amazing. We will be there during the week and just for the day so it won’t really work out for us but I’ll keep it in mind for next time!

  2. That FRA-DTW flight is just fine as a couple (as long as you like each other ok). They have good wine and decent food. There is no first on the plane, so service tends to be decent as well. Plus it’s really nice if DTW is your final destination and you are not connecting in the US. Good find!

    • Yeah the 2-2-2 set up seems like it will be a little tight haha. But I agree when you can fly into your home US airport without a connection that is a big time win.

  3. Hi I am leaving to Vienna this weekend, will stay at the PH, not sure which markets I will visit, any ideas or suggestions?

    • I went to Vienna last week and stayed at the Park Hyatt. Booked a suite for the 4 nights there. There are a lot of markets within walking distance and they were all different, so you have to go to them all. There is Christmas Market right next to the hotel to get the party started. Of course, all the shopping right in the area will distract you from the markets.

      • I agree with Mike – gotta hit them all! My buddy said The Christmas market closest to the Natural History Museum was his favorite

  4. I’ve been to the Christmas markets a couple of times and agree with your friend, Salzburg is a delightful city and glad you added it. Too bad the PH Vienna wasn’t available-it looks very nice. Hope y’all enjoy your trip.

    • That one was available but I decided to do 58K Hilton instead of 30K Hyatt since it was a much better deal to me.


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