I recently had some good conversation with Rand from WellTraveled Mile. Our travel style and personality are similar because we both like to travel practically and affordable. He recently took a trip to the Balkans and I wanted to know more about how he got there with points and miles. Here are some questions I asked him during a points and miles interview.
1. Where did you decide to go with your points and miles?
The funny thing is that I didn’t even know where Montenegro was until I started researching a trip to Croatia. The more I looked into the region I found some great travel content coming from Kotor Bay, Montenegro and the national parks within the country. After I nailed down those two destinations I decided why not add a week or two in Turkey to use a free stopover with my United miles.
2. What was your budget on the trip and what types of accommodations did you stay in?
My goal was to spend less than $1500 per person on the trip and we came really close to this. In the end we ended up spending $1700 per person and that included a $220 driving fine! Of course we payed attention to our budget when we chose were to eat and what activities to do, but it is pretty amazing that we were able to spend this little on a 36 day trip in Europe, especially when you consider we flew business class one way and stayed in a handful of luxury hotels.
As far as accommodations, we stayed in mix of luxury hotels, budget hostels and private rooms for rent. In total we redeemed hotel points for 12 free nights in hotels–6 nights with Club Carlson, 3 with IHG, 2 with Hilton, and 1 with Marriott. We were lucky because the Radisson Blu properties we stayed at are some of the more exceptional hotels. Our stay at the Radisson Blu in Dubrovnik was very comfortable–great room, food, and the grounds of the resort are amazing. It is definitely close to the top of my list for luxury resorts.
3. What did your award ticket look like for your trip?
On this trip I really wanted to check out Turkish Airlines Business Class and and also to use a stopover, so it really made the most sense to book the trip using United miles. For 80,000 United miles I flew business class from Portland-Houston-Istanbul and then continued onto Denizli, which is a smaller city in the South of Turkey. Technically this was my stop over. After a week of exploring the Turkish Turquoise Coast, I had a business class flight back up to Istanbul, which was considered my destination on the award ticket. Essentially I used the stopover as a free round trip of sorts within Turkey–instead of flying to IST and purchasing a roundtrip flight to/from Denizli. Since I booked this leg of the trip in business class for 50k miles I enjoyed 3 flights with Turkish Airlines and their lounges.
From Istanbul I decided to purchase a cheap one way fare from Istanbul to Sarajevo for around $65. After two weeks of driving along the stunning coastline of Croatia and Montenegro I flew home with a routing like this: Zagreb-Munich-Chicago-Portland. I had a hard time between choosing to book one or both legs in business class and ended up only booking the outbound leg in business, so my long haul flight home was in Lufthansa economy. Of course I enjoy getting pampered in business class, but I also really value stretching my miles to the maximum number of trips.
4. It sounds like you had a great time, what were some of the highlights of your trip?
I really enjoyed exploring off the beaten path by driving some of the back roads through Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia. At times we would pull out the map and look how to get from point A to point B, and then find possible shortcuts on smaller roads–most of these were literally only wide enough for one car.
You also can’t beat the wide array of landscapes in Montenegro, you can be hiking up the highest peak in Durmitor National in the morning and have a beer watching the sunset over the Adriatic Sea. That was quite the experience.
Thanks Rand for the points and miles interview. Seems like you used those United miles and hotel points very well to travel in an affordable way! Hope everyone is not just applying for credit cards and hoarding their points. Make sure you use them like Rand before they possibly devalue!
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