The next big trip we have coming up is a long week in Spain and I thought it would be useful to break down how we booked both the flights and hotels using points, miles, and a little cash. We’ll be spending 7 nights in Spain spread across 3 different cities with everything from long-haul business class to ultra low-cost carriers and points breaks hotels up to an Intercontinental. This will be our first time in any part of Europe and it will be a whirlwind tour all over the country where we get to see some family and explore some new cities before heading back home. We’ll start by flying into Barcelona to spend a couple days with my parents before they hop on a European cruise, head south to the city of Rota where we’ll meet up with more family for a couple days, and will end up with a few nights in Madrid before heading home.
I’ll break down how we booked all of the flights and hotels for less than $500 out of pocket thanks to points and miles and maybe give you some ideas for your next trip.
First, Getting from Seattle to Barcelona
One of the reasons we chose Barcelona as our first stop was that my parents would be there for a couple nights and we were able to make our own trip overlap. It will be interesting seeing them in person for the first time in months half way across the world. Much like us, it was points and miles that made it easy for them to make a big international trip without worrying too much about the cost. With my encouragement, they signed up for a couple of credit cards (a United card for each) and it was suddenly possible to consider a European cruise instead of a Caribbean one for relatively similar out of pocket costs! Miles really do open up the world for travel.
Anyway, we were looking for flights from Seattle to hopefully intercept them in that brief period they would be on land in Spain. We had a stash of several different kinds of miles and transferable currencies, so were looking for anything reasonable in business class if we could find it. As you’ll see on the return trip, we’re not people that “must” travel in business class, but will certainly take that option if we have the miles to make it happen. After searching for availability across several carriers, the best we were able to find was a Lufthansa flight in business class from Denver to Barcelona with a layover in Frankfurt, booked through United. It wasn’t hard to find a United flight from Seattle to Denver that could be booked into the same itinerary (but unfortunately they force you to take that leg in economy).
We already had a decent amount of miles in United, mostly from getting the Chase United card a while ago, and were able to transfer over some Chase Ultimate Rewards points to top up the account to the full amount needed. The total cost for Seattle->Denver->Frankfurt->Barcelona with the second two segments in business class came out to 140,000 United miles and $79.40.
This is definitely the biggest “splurge” of our trip, but hopefully the extra cost of business class pays off by letting us land in Spain relaxed ready to go.
Then, We Head South to Rota
After seeing our parents off on the cruise and spending another night in Barcelona, we fly south to meet up with a cousin that is currently living on the naval base in Rota. The closest airport is Jerez (XRY), but unfortunately there are no major carriers that run direct flights from Barcelona to Jerez. However, there is a notorious low-cost European carrier that services the route you may have heard of, Ryanair.
Ryanair services an interesting niche with intra-Euro travel for extremely low prices (often <$50 each way, sometimes half of that), but they have a very strict set of rules that may cause you to end up paying much more once you arrive at the airport if you’re not careful. Their baggage standards are a bit more strict than most airlines and they actually enforce them, not to mention that if you forget to check-in or print a boarding pass before showing up, the fees for doing so at the airport will quickly eclipse the price you likely paid for the ticket itself!
Partially out of convenience for the flight timing and partially out of curiosity for this notorious airline, we decided to book a flight through them and hopefully win the fee game they set up. Of course, we pretty much cheated right off the bat by paying for the “Leisure Plus” package that includes a checked bag and assigned seating. I’m pretty sure we’ll still be on the hook for ~$40 if we forget the boarding passes though!
Total cost for the 2 one-way tickets from Jerez->Barcelona was $127.32 which we paid for with one of our Chase Sapphire Reserve cards to get reimbursed via the $300 travel credit (but I didn’t subtract that out of the total cost).
Next, Onward to Madrid
After spending a couple days checking out the southern tip of Spain and visiting with some family, we’ll be heading to Madrid for the last few nights of our adventure.
Unlike the Barcelona to Jerez leg, there is a major carrier that I can use points for from Jerez to Madrid! Iberia operates a few flights per day between the two cities and because the physical distance between the two is fairly low, it’s the perfect opportunity to use British Airways miles. Unlike most airlines, British’s mile costs are based on the distance flown rather than having fixed costs per region. This is particularly useful for short trips in the same country like we need, because the lowest tier of the distance chart is only 4,500 miles per ticket!
Now I’ve never earned a British Airways mile directly, but luckily they are a transfer partner of several different transferable currencies. In our case, after confirming availability through the BA website, I transferred over 9,000 Ultimate Rewards and was able to book the tickets right away. Total cost for this leg of the journey was 9,000 miles and $21.18.
Much better than the ~$300 it would have cost to book the same tickets with cash!
Finally, Back to Seattle (with a free bonus destination!)
After we wrap up our sight-seeing in Madrid, it will be time to head back home to Seattle. Once again, I looked for something reasonable in business class that worked with our schedule, but was unfortunately unable to find any availability this time. There was however a ton of availability in economy on several different carriers, so it was time to compare prices and times. The flight that worked best with our schedule ended up being on American Airlines, but I had the option of booking with either American or Alaska miles (they are partners) for almost the same cost (American cost a few more miles, a little less cash, but was fairly equivalent).
Normally, I’m a fan of holding onto cash whenever possible, but decided to instead take advantage of Alaska’s very generous free stop-over on one-way tickets. A “stop-over” allows you to fly into a city, spend more than 24 hours there (or months in some cases), then fly onward to another destination for the same price as going to that final destination directly!
We discussed what other trips we wanted to book this year and ended up connecting the first leg of our next trip into the final leg of this Spain trip! This was even possible despite the two trips being a over a month apart thanks to us setting up the long “stop-over” in the city we live in (Seattle).
I think the extra leg did increase the cash price by $11.20, but the mile cost stayed exactly the same which made this a very valuable booking.
As you can see in the picture above, the final leg of the Spain trip cost us 40,000 Alaska miles and $139.92.
Total Flight Costs
- SEA->DEN-(business class)->FRA-(business class)->BCN on United and Lufthansa – 140,000 United miles + $79.40
- BCN->XRY on Ryanair – $127.32 for “Leisure Plus”
- XRY->MAD on Iberia – 9,000 British Airways miles + $21.18
- MAD->PHL->SEA(40 day “stop-over”)->LAX – 40,000 Alaska miles + $139.92
- Total cost for flights: 189,000 airline miles and $367.82
We’ll be staying with family in the middle of our 3-ctiy tour of Spain, but that leaves 5 nights split between Barcelona and Madrid that we need a place to stay. Luckily, both cities are rather large and contain a lot of different chain hotels that we can book with our stash of points.
First, 2 Nights in Barcelona
After looking at the relative location to what we wanted to see in the city and where my parents were staying, we decided on the Hilton Diagonal Mar Barcelona hotel for 30,000 Hilton points per night. I had originally booked both nights with points, but received a generous promotion on my Amex Hilton Honors card that gave us a free weekend night after spending $1,000 on the card. After looking at our expected travel plans for the rest of the year (and keeping in mind we have several other expiring free nights to use up), we decided to replace one of the nights with this certificate.
Replacing a 30,000 point stay with a free night certificate certainly isn’t maximizing the value of it (Hilton points aren’t worth a lot), but getting rid of the pressure to find something perfect before it expires was worth the trade-off.
Total cost for the two nights was 30k Hilton points and a free night certificate that was earned for “free” (opportunity cost would give it some value, but I’ll ignore that here).
Next, 3 Nights in Madrid
Speaking of free night certificates, both of us get a free night in any IHG property every year for paying the $49 annual fee on our Chase IHG cards. This is one of the best annual fees worth paying in my opinion, as it’s not hard to make use of the free nights every year with IHG’s large property footprint. Not to mention that $49 would be a good price for a low-end hotel, but these even work on the super high-end properties!
After looking at the different options, we decided using our free night certificates at the Intercontinental Madrid would be perfect for our trip. For the third night, we had the decision of staying in the same location for 40,000 IHG points or hopping to a different hotel for the last night. Since we weren’t going to have much time to explore the city before heading to the airport on the last day, we decided to book a cheaper property a little closer to the airport for our final night.
We were able to find a Holiday Inn Express not far from the city that was fairly well-reviewed and only cost 10,000 IHG points per night (a quarter of what staying at the Intercontinental for another night would cost).
Not only that, but we got rather lucky in that IHG’s most recent list of points breaks hotels happened to include this very same hotel! That means we were able to re-book the same night for only 5,000 which is an amazing use of our IHG points.
Total cost for the Madrid hotels: 2 IHG free night certificates ($98) + 5,000 IHG points
Total Hotel Costs
- 2 Nights at the Hilton Diagonal Mar Barcelona – 30,000 Hilton points + 1 free weekend night certificate
- 2 Nights at the Madrid Intercontinental – 2 IHG free night certificates (or $98)
- 1 Night at the Holiday Inn Express Madrid/Rivas – 5,000 IHG points
- Total cost of hotels: 35,000 hotel points + 3 free night certificates ($98)
Our travel planning is fairly relaxed once we get the flights and hotels taken care of, and we only just recently started looking at the different tours, events, and locations we want to see despite the trip being a mere week away!
We’ll definitely check out several of the historic buildings in Barcelona and might even catch a fútbol game which I imagine would be an amazing experience in Europe with one of the world’s most supported teams at their home field. In southern Spain, we plan to check out Gibraltar and possibly some of the very old cities in the area. Back in Madrid, there is even more amazing architecture to experience walking in and around the many different parks that the city offers.
Other than that, we’re just going to wing it and try to make the most of our time there based on how we feel in the moment.
There you have it, our 8 day Spain adventure that we’ll be taking off on shortly. Thanks to miles and points mostly earned from credit cards, we are able to make the trip in comfort for very little out of pocket cost. It still amazes me how a little organization and responsible credit use can yield huge results when it comes to traveling the world. Here’s a final breakdown of our costs:
- Flights total cost: 189,000 airline miles and $367.82
- Hotels total cost: 35,000 hotel points + 3 free night certificates ($98)
- Total Cost: $465.82 and a bunch of “funny money”
Hopefully breaking down how we booked the trip was useful towards planning your own trip in the future. Don’t forget to think about British Airways when you’re hopping between close cities and don’t forget that you can often stretch Alaska bookings into additional trips thanks to their generous routing rules.