Arriving in Paris

Bonjour from Paris!

Christmas vacation is here! That means we get to spend ten days in Paris and three in Geneva!

Before the vacation could begin though, we had to get to Paris. Fresh off of practically 24 hour travel days getting to/from Malaysia, I was so relieved that this time we would only have to deal with one direct flight Abu Dhabi to Paris. Utilizing our American Airlines points, Tony was able to secure Business Class seats for the 7.5 hour flight.

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Frequent Flier

When booking an Etihad flight with American Airlines points, you don’t get to choose your seats and so while we ended up with two seats next to each other, the third seat was four rows up and on the opposite aisle. Up in row 8, Tony got to relax, sip champagne and watch movies while back in row 12 with Matteo, it took me 4 hours to get through a 1.5 hour long movie, and I ended up logging about 1,000 steps according to my Withings watch with only 2 steps between my seat and Matteo’s.

I kid, I kid. Honestly, Matteo was great on the flight, but he was busy; wanting/needing snacks, distractions, the iPad, his headphones, his batman toys, activity pack, stickers, all at different times and then back out again once I had put them all away. Oh well, he still does GREAT flying and for that we are so grateful.

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Matteo outside the beautiful Notre Dame

We arrived in Paris at around 2 pm local time. Getting through passport control and collecting our bags was a piece of cake. My favorite part of flying business class with Etihad is their chauffeur service — a ride to/from the airport. By the time we left the airport in Paris, we were beginning to hit rush hour. It ended up taking almost 2 hours to get to our Airbnb apartment in the Opera district but we just got to sit back and relax.

The Airbnb we’re staying at is a first floor, 2 bedroom apartment with a kitchenette and tiny bathroom. We’ve been very pleased with the location. The only negative is that the washer/dryer isn’t working — which is a bummer as when packing as lightly as possible, we factored in being able to do laundry at the 2 Airbnbs we’re staying at on the front and back end of the trip. For what it’s worth, Matteo’s doing his part to lessen the dirty laundry pile by insisting on wearing the same superhero shirt for the last three days.

Each day, we choose a “big” attraction to see in the morning (when Matteo’s at his best) and then “secondary” sightseeing for the afternoon. So far we’ve been able to visit the Sacre-Coeur, Notre Dame, and we’ve taken a river cruise down the Seine as well as vintage shopping, visiting the Lego store, shopping at Galeries Lafayette, and browsing the shelves at the beautiful book store Shakespeare & Company.

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View of Paris from the Sacre-Coeur

The food we’ve sampled so far in Paris has been wonderful! One of the ways we save money when traveling is by only eating two meals a day (a late breakfast or early lunch + dinner) and thanks to the Airbnb, we’ve been able to grocery shop in order to avoid eating out every meal, but what we have had, we’ve enjoyed. Of note was a beautiful breakfast/brunch near the Sacre-Couer at a restaurant called Hardware Society. YUM. We’ve also indulged a bit in street food — there’s a crepe stand about a block away from our Airbnb. We also walked through the Christmas market at the Champs Elysees, and each sampled a treat along the way (Tony ordered mini pancakes with fresh strawberries, I had a beignet).

We are really enjoying our time in Paris so far. The good thing about being here for 10 days is knowing that we can take our time — our days don’t have to be packed from morning to night in order to see it all. And that slower pace is nice for Matteo too, who definitely needs a break now and then in order to stay happy as we travel (that, and a stready diet of Goldfish crackers and McDonald’s chicken nuggets).

Tomorrow we check out of the Airbnb and in to the Park Hyatt. It will be fun to get to see another Paris neighborhood and we know from experience that the Park Hyatt amenities will be second to none. I’ll be looking forward to sharing more of our trip over the coming week.

Au revoir!

p.s. Thank you to Tony’s high school French teacher, wherever you are. He retained enough knoweldge from his two years of French to do quite nicely ordering food and asking simple questions. I am so impressed!

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Ringing in the New Year @ 36,000 Feet

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Etihad A330 Business Class Cabin

So far since our move to Abu Dhabi, we have booked two award trips as a family which allows to save money while still traveling in more comfort than we could reasonably afford other wise.  We originally booked a return from Munich on Air Berlin and had a long layover in Dusseldorf.  A few weeks before we left for the trip I was able to find a direct flight to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways in business class.  This upgrade cost us an additional 10,000 American Airlines miles each — the award ticket is 30,000 miles one way for business class as opposed to 20,000 miles in economy from when flying from Europe to the Middle East.

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Chocolate Santa’s in the Atlantic Lounge @ Munich Airport (not our Chanel bag)

Upon arrival at the Munich  airport we were fast tracked through check in, bag drop, security, passport control, and boarding (though admittedly none of these areas had any delays or lines since the airport was pretty quite at 7:00 pm on New Years Eve).  We found ourselves in the Atlantic Lounge in Munich in no time at all with more than 1.5 hours to spare before boarding.  While we enjoyed the pre-flight treatment traveling in business class, we would have had lounge access anyhow thanks to our priority club membership. The real reason we wanted this flight was for the onboard experience of Etihad business class.

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Toasting to the New Year at Altitude 

Remade our way to our departure gate at about 9:00 pm where we quickly boarded through the jetway and made our way to the business class cabin. The cabin was configured in a 1-2-1 formation allowing direct aisle access for every seat.  Jen and Teo had two adjoining seats, angled into each other which allowed her to help him with his meal/ipad/bed without having to move around the cabin to reach him thanks to the “honeymoon” style setup.  I was seated in the row in front of them with my seat facing out towards the aisle which gave much more privacy even though the seat next to me was empty the whole flight.

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Couldn’t wait for his “bed seat”

We have flown Etihad economy half a dozen times the last year and have always been impressed with their crews, service, and attention to detail.  We had another wonderful service experience by the business class team who paid attention to every last detail and made sure to give special attention to Matteo (including giving him a special children’s amenity kit which he loved).  Pre-flight drinks were immediately handed out and my champagne flute was refilled every time I turned around.  As soon as we reached cruising altitude, the crew sprang into action with a 3 course dinner service that started with a ramekin of warm nuts, followed by a starter, main course, dessert, and finally a cocktail or coffee/tea.   I chose the Artichoke soup as my started (which was delicious), went with the salmon main dish (good but a touch  over cooked), and finished with a cappuccino and some strawberry ice cream.

After watching some TV episodes on the expansive Etihad in flight entertainment during the meal, we all fell asleep for a good portion of the flight and before we knew it we were prepping for our landing. We were ready to get home to Abu Dhabi as it was now 7:00 am local time after losing 4 hours through the night to time changes.  We were given fast track passes to go through immigration and once we landed we flew through immigration, collected our bags which were awaiting us at the carousel and then headed to the Etihad Arrivals lounge.  We stopped to freshen up and grab a quick snack for breakfast.  One of the nice touches of Etihad premium cabin tickets is that it includes chauffeur service to anywhere in the UAE upon arrival.  We didn’t have to worry about a cab or airport pickup as we had a brand new Audi A6 awaiting us to quickly shuttle us home in style.  Overall we had a terrific flight home which was possible only through earning points and redeeming them for terrific value.

Salzburg for Christmas

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One More Breakfast at the PH Vienna “The Bank”

After a lovely three days in Vienna, we started our fourth day with one final big breakfast at the Park Hyatt before packing up our suite and making our way to the train station.  The three of us purchased our tickets in advance from the Hutteldorf station which was one stop west of the Hauptbahnhof in Vienna where everyone else in our group booked their departure.

We decided to take the Westbahnhof and booked our tickets a few months out; this was cheaper than booking directly with OBB (the main rail company in Austria). For our journey, the cost was 24.50 euro total for the journey to Salzburg.

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Waiting for the Train in Hutteldorf

The train ride across the Austrian countryside was quite pretty and it was enjoyable to get outside of the city and see some of the smaller villages and rural areas of the region. Because the train was quite full, and we had a lot of luggage, it wasn’t quite as comfortable as it could have been but overall it was by far the best option to travel the 300 KM journey.

We arrived in Salzburg around 3:00 pm and had a nice 15 minute walk to our hotel.  We choose the Crown Point Salzburg for 4 nights due to its good reviews, proximity to Salzburg’s “Old Town” area where most of the historic sites are located, and of course the great rates they were offering during our four night stay.

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Westbahn Train Vienna to Salzburg

The city of Salzburg is famous for its fortified Castle, towering churches, and for being the birthplace of Mozart.  It is a quant city along the Salz River and has a much more laid back feel and charm as compared to Vienna.  Fewer tourists and a slower pace made Salzburg an ideal destination to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas.  We spent our time meandering through the Christmas markets, town squares, cafes, churches, parks, and took a funicular ride up to the Salzburg Fortress.  The Fortress is one of the largest and best preserved castles in all of Europe and was originally constructed in 1066; it was last used regularly during WWI to house Italian prisoners.

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Locks of Love Bridge over the Salz River
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Salzburg Castle/Fortress
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Looking up at the Castle
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View from the Castle over Salzburg

Walking through Salzburg’s Old Town is interesting as you stroll through winding, narrow paths housing restaurants, cafes, quaint shops, and also high end designer stores all along the same streets.  There is a mix of local stores/touristy shops, and high end brand stores that make for great window shopping and people watching.  The Old Town is separated by a series of bridges that cross the Salz River and one of these is the locks of love bridge which features thousands of padlocks along the chain link fence.

The river has great cycling paths and walking/jogging paths that stretch along a nice 12 km loop.  In addition to the typical tourist areas and shops there are some great playgrounds, gardens, and parks located throughout the city.  We spent a few hours on Christmas morning at a small playground that had a slide that was way too fast (and would never fly in the US in 2015) but incredibly fun for kids (and adults). The 7 of us had a great time watching Matteo meet some new playground buddies and soaked up the sunshine until it was time for lunch.

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Salzburg Christmas Market at Mozartplatz
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Surf & Turf for Xmas Dinner at Sky Bar 🙂 
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Xmas Day Playground Fun
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If you are in Salzburg GO HERE, and you’re welcome

4 Days was a great amount of time to see Salzburg and though we could have tried to fit more attractions in (Salt Mine tour, Casino Salzburg, nearby skiing), we really enjoyed being able to spend time catching up with family and moving at a slower pace.  Salzburg was a great place to stay over Christmas and we would definitely recommend a visit even if you can only manage a quick day trip from nearby Munich or Vienna.  We checked out on Boxing Day and as the AZ Galietti’s headed Munich to fly home, we continued our trip to Innsbruck where we had no idea what was in store for us.

Vienna in December

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Christmas Market Outside Karskirche (St. Charles Church)

We kicked off our holiday travel taking an early morning flight from Abu Dhabi to Dusseldorf before our final transfer to Vienna.  We arrived in Vienna at about 7:30 pm local time and checked in to our room at about 8:30 pm.  It was a full day of travel but given the crazy stories many have had to endure during this time of year we had a very easy go of it.  We got to the airport early and had a quick breakfast in the Al Dhabi Lounge before heading to our 9:00 am Air Berlin flight.

The flight was amazing and luckily we only had about 30% of seats filled on board.  We were able to stretch out across our entire row and watch a good selection of In-Flight Entertainment and were very impressed with the service and food options even in economy.  The layover in Dusseldorf was a comfortable and uneventful 4 hours in the Hugo Junkers Lounge.  Our final flight was to Vienna was fully booked but it was a quick hour flight and we were in the Vienna airport breezing through to the City Airport Train in no time.

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Relaxing on our AirBerlin flight 

Stepping out from the subway station was beautiful, we arrived on a cool, wet night and it started to rain a bit but it was refreshing coming from the Abu Dhabi sunshine.  We went the wrong way initially from the station but eventually we found our hotel and it was absolutely gorgeous.  We were greeted warmly and treated to a stunning Park Hyatt Suite which was the nicest room in which we have ever stayed. Before going to the room we were given a personal tour of the property which had just opened in June 2014 after a massive conversion from the buildings original purpose as a 100-years-old bank.

The property managed to preserve some of the cool architectural details of the old bank such as the restaurant “The Bank” which makes use of the old bank lobby and teller stations, and the indoor pool which is located in the old bank vault.  The hotel also had a beautiful lounge on the main floor, including an adjacent whiskey and cigar room which featured an extensive selection of premium whisky and cigars.  All in all, we both agreed that this was the nicest property we have ever visited and the service was top notch.  Every day when we returned they kept the stroller in the lobby for us so we didn’t have to haul it up and down the building and stairs throughout the lobby.

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Park Hyatt Exterior with Christmas Market
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Entrance to Park Hyatt Suite
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Walk In Closet/Changing Room
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Bedroom looking in from Living Room (and a sleepy Matteo)
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Park Hyatt Suite Bathroom
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Pool inside the Old Bank Vault
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Beautiful Fitness Center Looking into the Pool (state of the art machines)

We had a lovely time exploring Vienna and enjoying quality family time while seeing some beautiful sites.  Vienna is a large city but not overwhelmingly so; it has a very efficient public transportation system which we accessed by purchasing a 3 day Vienna Card . The Vienna Card allowed us unlimited use of subways/trams/buses and gave discounts on tickets at many attractions and restaurants.  With our hotel located in the “inner ring” of the city, we found that it was incredibly easy to simply walk out the hotel doors and  explore.

The Christmas markets were a main draw for us in choosing Vienna as our holiday destination, and they did not disappoint. The markets were fun to wander through, while drinking some coffee of mulled wine, eating some amazing treats, and shopping for some unique gifts.  The city was alive with people; most of the attractions and sites we visited were fairly crowded but the crowds gave a good energy to the city especially over the Christmas Break.

After 3 days of touring the city we had seen most of the major landmarks and sites that were open in the winter.  We enjoyed the food scene, had a great time wandering around the city, and always felt safe and comfortable walking around and bringing Matteo along.  If you plan a trip to Austria, be prepared that dogs are allowed everywhere including restaurants, subways, trains, shops, and hotels.  I have heard it stated in more that one place the the Viennese like dogs more than kids. The dogs we saw out were always very well behaved and leashed,  never really causing us to give them a second thought after our initial curiosity was satisfied.

All in all, Vienna was a beautiful city and we both agreed it would be a great place to return to in the summer or spring months when the weather allows for new activities to explore.  After our three days in Vienna, we made our way to the train station to hop aboard on our way to Salzburg for Christmas.

 

 

Maximizing AA Award Travel

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The Holiday season represents one the busiest and craziest travel seasons of the year as people around the world look to visit family or go on holiday during school and work breaks.  Attempting to book award travel over the holiday season can prove very challenging especially the longer you wait to book, as award seat availability is usually very limited with such high demand for airline travel.  The three of us booked a trip to Europe this holiday season back in September and I was happy to find economy availability for three of us so close to Christmas especially to and from popular European Christmas destinations.  Our only real option back in September leaving from Abu Dhabi was to fly in to Vienna and out of Munich on Air Berlin economy with our American Airlines miles.  We booked two separate one-way award reservations with American Airlines miles as Air Berlin is partner in the Oneworld Alliance.

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Current AA Partner Award Chart
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AA Partner Award Chart from March 22, 2016 on (Devalued) 

Last month American Airlines announced a devaluation for their award chart which is effective as of March 22, 2016.  In short, this means that most routes (but not all) booked after this date will require more miles effectively making AA miles worth less money than they were on March 21.  With this upcoming devaluation in mind, many in the miles and points game are looking to maximize their stash of AA miles prior to March 22.  One of the “sweet spots” in the Onewold award chart is a relatively low 30K business class redemption for one-way travel between the Middle East and Europe as these flights are typically 6-9 hours each way.  Economy class is 20K miles, so for an extra 10K miles you can stretch out in lie flat business class cabins if you know where to book and which  partners have these cabins.  Consider that after the devaluation in March the same business class flight will cost 42.5K miles and you can see why many are scrambling to book these routes prior to March 22.

One great aspect of using American Airlines miles is that they allow free award changes as long as your departure and arrival airport remains the same.  This means that your dates can change and even your airline can change if you are able to find a better flight or airline that better meets your needs.  Last week I started to poke around British Airways and American Airlines websites attempting to find routes that were better suited for our travel over break.  I was hoping to find some business class space now that the devaluation was coming so that we could take advantage of the current redemption options to Europe from the Middle East.

Our return flight home originally was scheduled via Air Berlin in economy from Munich to Abu Dhabi with a 9 hour layover in Dusseldorf on New Years Eve.  I was hoping to cut down on the layover in between flights and get us home sooner.  I managed to find a Qatar Airways flight (also oneworld alliance) which flew the same route with a two hour stopover in Doha rather than 9 hours in Dusseldorf.  This meant a shorter flight instead of heading north to Dusseldorf and also a much better layover.  All in all this would reduce our travel time by close to 9 hours  so I called up American Airlines to request the change.  The change worked out great and it actually led to a refund of about $30 since the taxes on award flights were cheaper through Qatar than in Germany.   We were now booked on a better product (by most accounts Qatar is a superior product to Air Berlin) for the same mileage with no other change fees.

A few days later I was looking at other options (again hoping to find a business class option) and came across a direct flight from Munich to Abu Dhabi in business class on Etihad Airways.  Etihad is not technically a Oneworld alliance member, but does have an agreement as a codeshare partner with American. As a result you can book Etihad flights with American miles.  Etihad is the national airline of the UAE and consequently they are based out of Abu Dhabi; this is great for us since Etihad is amongst the top rated airlines in the world and they are known for their lavish products, lounges, and outstanding service in the industry not to mention the Etihad terminal is a mere 5 km from our apartment.  We have flown Etihad 4 times over the past year (all in economy) and are always impressed with the experience.  I was able to find their “Guest Seat” award space in business class on the Etihad website and I called up American to change the reservation again (same airports), but American Airlines was not able to see the award space on Etihad (I called a second time to make sure it wasn’t just an inexperienced CS Rep but to not avail).

After a bit of research online I discovered that this was believed to be a problem in American Airline’s IT system in the U.S. office and that the work around was to call the Australian or UK office.  I found the number, dialed AA Australia and was fortunate to talk to a wonderful CS Rep who saw the space on Etihad.  In the end I booked the three of us home direct to Abu Dhabi from Munich in Etihad business class for a total of 90K (30K per person) American miles.  This allows us a direct 6 hour flight to Abu Dhabi and comes with a top notch business class cabin and seat to boot, since this is an overnight flight with a 9:45 PM departure we will hopefully all sleep on the lie-flat business class seats and wake up close to the UAE.

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Etihad Pearl Business Class on their A340-600 

This trip represents great value to our family and being able to change dates and airlines makes it much easier to lock in a good award and then look for better options.  We are hoping to book one more trip using our American miles before their devaluation in March.

It is important to note that you can book the trip prior to March 22 for future travel, even if the travel is after this deadline, the booking date is what matters. This trip will most likely be to Europe next Christmas and my stagey will be to book prior to March 22 and lock in the low (current) business class redemption rates.  We can then tinker with the exact dates and flights later when we want to secure our detailed travel plans.  This again will allow us to maximize the value of our American miles before the devaluation while still allowing us to change the details of the trip (except origin and destination).

The Happiest December

This has been the most lovely December in recent memory for many reasons. Firstly, Tony’s work schedule has been AMAZING! The first week of December was a short work week as the country celebrated both National Day and Martyr’s Day, giving us the long weekend that allowed us to explore Istanbul, Turkey. When Tony returned to work, the school began its exam schedule which shortened his work day to 8:15 to 12:20 each day. That means he’s home even earlier than normal giving us time to work out, prepare meals, play with Matteo, and enjoy the gorgeous weather together as a family.

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“Winter Wonderland” at The St. Regist Saadiyat Island Resort. The children DESTROYED this “snow” area and had a blast! 

Abu Dhabi has its share of fun, Christmas family activities all around town (thanks to the high population expat community, Christmas decorations/music/activities are everywhere). Last week, we went to a Christmas tree lighting at one of the hotels. There was a Santa Claus, beautiful decorations, and a ton of people! More importantly, there was a roped off area full of “snow” for the little ones to play. As is typical, it took Matteo a bit to warm up to the idea of playing with other people, but he finally gave it a try and ended up having fun.

Card 2 (1)We also had our first professional photos taken since our wedding! We were able to squeeze into a local photographer’s schedule when she had a cancellation for her 30 minute, Christmas mini sessions (next year we will book in advance!). In case you were wondering, 30 minutes is a LONG time for an uncooperative three year old to do something he has no interest in being a part of. He repeatedly told us he was done and tried to get up and leave the studio. The photographer wisely started with the photos of just Matteo, and by the time we got to taking the family photos, Matteo was DONE. She ended up getting some very cute shots of Matteo, and a few of the three of us that we can work with :). Above is the image of our Christmas card — I’m not hopeful that we’ll get the final images back before we leave for our trip on Saturday, so this year will be a digital Christmas card kind of year. We were so happy with the photos that next year we vow to book a session early enough to send out physical cards!

We are now gearing up for our Austria/Germany trip. I’ve been brushing up on my high school German skills in preparation (thanks Frau Stamp, you remain the world’s best German teacher), and have taught Matteo a few German phrases (Guten Tag! Ich heisse Matteo.). It will be fun to experience two new countries and, of course, get to see one side of our family as Tony’s mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law are meeting us in Vienna. We’ve learned from our National Day weekend travel experience (CROWDS), and will be arriving at the airport earlier this go around to minimize the stress of waiting in the large line of expats leaving the UAE for the holiday break.

2015 has been a year of change and course correction for our family. It’s awesome to look back on the last 12 months and feel proud and happy –we took some big risks this past year, and I’m happy to say that they’ve paid off. We enter this Christmas season grateful for our lives; for each other, our families, Tony’s employment, and the new friends we’re making.

It’s been a very good year.

Austria and Germany

Trip Two: Abu Dhabi – Vienna – Salzburg – Innsbruck – Munich – Abu Dhabi December 18 – 31

With a nice, long two week winter break at the end of the first school term we have decided to head to Austria and Germany for the holiday season to check out the Christmas markets. We booked this trip as soon as we arrived in Abu Dhabi as flights and hotels tend to book up fast for much of Europe during the festive season and rates can get quite expensive with so many traveling over the holidays corresponding with school breaks.  Because airfare is relatively expensive during the holiday season, and we chose Vienna (one of the most expensive cities in Europe), we decided to make full use of banked miles and points for this trip.Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 7.08.55 PM

We had a stash of American Airlines miles earned last year when we both received sign up bonus’s for American Airlines and old US Airways credit cards (now they are the same miles since the merger). American miles are a great way to get to Europe from the Middle East as they require only 40,000 round trip in economy.  We booked this award trip by purchasing two, one-way tickets since we wanted to fly into Vienna and then out of Munich at the end of our trip.  By mid-September there was not a lot of award availability and round trip flights listed us to flying to Vienna direct from Dubai at 1:40 am. This would have meant we would have to leave our apartment in Abu Dhabi around 9:30 pm and drive to the Dubai airport and basically be up all night.  We chose instead to fly via Air Berlin flight —  a One World Partner and bookable via American Airlines website. We found a flight departing from Abu Dhabi at a much more reasonable 9:30 am and arriving in Vienna via Düsseldorf. This leg of the trip cost us 60K miles (20K x 3 people) and $120 in fees ($40 x 3 people).  For the return leg, we found a flight back to Abu Dhabi from Munich on December 31, again on Air Berlin, with a 10 hour layover in Düsseldorf — long enough to allow us to pop into Düsseldorf for the afternoon to grab lunch and have a walk about the city.  This flight again cost us 60K miles (20k x 3 people) and $120 in fees ($40 x 3 people).  This is a great value for us as it is difficult to find award space during the Christmas season when booking so late in the year for a family of three.

Once in Vienna the expenses are just beginning  — Vienna is one of the more expensive European cities, especially during the peak of the holiday season.  We have booked three nights at the Park Hyatt Vienna,  currently running at $584 per night for its base Park Hyatt King Studio room.  We booked our first two nights there using two free nights that are valid at any Hyatt in the world after signing up for the Hyatt Visa.  Our third night was booked using Hyatt’s “points+cash” program which allows gold passport members to use a combination of a fixed amount of cash and points no matter what the rack rate of the hotel may be during the stay.  The third night cost us 12,500 points + $150, the going rate for all Category 7 Hyatt properties.  This gives us a great redemption value, as we would gladly spend 12,500 points in place of an additional $434.  We get to  stay at one of Hyatt’s premier European properties, which would have cost us $1,752 for three nights, for a total of only $150 plus 12,500 Hyatt Gold Passport points.  On top of this value, because we have earned Diamond status, we are also eligible for a free room upgrade (based on availability), will have a free breakfast each morning, a 4:00 pm check out, and have access to the premium lounge throughout our stay (free snacks all day!).Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 7.59.56 PM

After a few days in Vienna we will train to Salzburg, then to Innsbruck, before finally reaching Munich. The hotel stays at each of these cities are much more reasonable than the super expensive capital Vienna.  Visiting a major European capital over the holiday can potentially break the bank. Thankfully, with a lot of planning, flexibility, patience, and travelhacking it is possible to travel in comfort and style (and on a budget) even during peak seasons.

As if this trip wasn’t exciting enough, we recently found out that the rest of the Galietti clan will be joining us from the US and it will be a great holiday celebration in Vienna and Salzburg with Brian and Angie, and Mom and Dad! We are looking forward to a wonderful Christmas vacation with family — as well as Matteo’s first experience with real winter weather!