This article is part of our Trip Report – Our Summer Holiday in Dubrovnik and Beyond
In all of our Trip & Event Reports on Middle Age Miles, we’ll fill you in on How We Got Great Value – that is, how we planned our air travel, hotels, ground transportation and other activities to have a fun and memorable travel experience for great value. We use miles and points to reduce out-of-pocket costs, whenever we can do so and it makes sense from a value perspective.
Our trip to Dubrovnik presented a very interesting travel planning challenge. The impetus for the trip was that Middle Age Miles daughter KB would be doing an international study abroad program in Prague from July through early August. The plan was that Middle Age Miles son Andrew, Middle Age Miles sister Cymber, Philly and I would make our way over to Prague in early August to meet up with KB at the end of her program. All of us save for Cymber had visited Prague recently, so the next step would be to quickly move on to spend the majority of our holiday somewhere else in Europe before heading home.
Our First Travel Planning Steps – Getting Organized and Choosing Our Primary Holiday Destination
Our first step in planning this trip was simply to figure out everyone’s origination points and dates. Skipping over some of the complicating details, we knew we’d be traveling to Europe in 3 waves:
- KB from Denver (DEN) to Prague (PRG) in early July;
- Andrew from DEN to PRG in early August; and
- Craig/Philly/Cymber from DFW to Europe in early August
Next, we knew that we wanted to use United miles to fly KB and Andrew to Prague and back from somewhere in Europe. I spent a lot of time working through possible itineraries that would involve KB & Andrew flying from DEN to PRG, then from PRG to another European city, then from that city back to Denver. United’s “Excursionist Perk” would allow them to add the middle leg (from PRG to another European city) for free; that is, the entire 3-leg itinerary would cost the same 60,000 United miles as a simple round-trip back-and-forth between DEN and PRG. (For more details on the Excursionist Perk, see this article by miles redemption savant Richard Kerr.) Then, the other 3 of us could fly round-trip on AA between DFW and the chosen city.
The obvious destination possibilities to make an Excursionist Perk itinerary work were Star Alliance hub cities, on an airline with a non-stop flight from PRG to the hub. That way, KB and Andrew would have an easy trip from PRG to the destination city, and it would also be easy for them to route from the destination city back to DEN on a United award flight. That resulted in a list of possibilities that looked like this:
- Brussels (Brussels Airlines)
- Frankfurt (Lufthansa)
- Istanbul (Turkish Airlines)
- Vienna (Austrian)
- Warsaw (LOT Polish Airlines)
- Zagreb (Croatia Airines)
- Zurich (Swiss)
For a variety of reasons, these itineraries ended up not working for us – one reason being the time and/or expense it would take for the other 3 of us to get to the destination from DFW, and another being award availability (remember, our travel would be during peak summer travel season). But the thought process was solid – try to use the Excursionist Perk so that no one would have to pay anything extra for an intra-Europe flight to get to our destination city (save for award redemption fees).
Next, then, we focused on where the 3 of us coming from DFW could travel relatively cheaply. Last summer, DFW had introduced seasonal transatlantic routes from Philadelphia (PHL) to PRG and Budapest (BUD). And these routes were pricing pretty reasonably considering the season. For less than $1,100 each, round-trip, we could fly one-stop through PHL to PRG. And to boot, Philly and I could immediately clear Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) on the overnight transatlantic outbound leg from PHL to PRG.
This also simplified things. We could all meet in PRG, then all fly together between PRG and our destination city.
We ultimately chose Dubrovnik (DBV) as our destination city. In short, I thought it looked amazing, it had been on my list of must-see destinations for a while, and there were convenient non-stop flights between PRG and DBV.
How We Got Great Value – Flights
KB & Andrew, round-trip DEN-PRG (with 2 stops in each direction) – As we noted above, KB and Andrew flew on United award tickets back and forth between DEN and PRG. These were all Saver-level awards. The total cost for each ticket was 60,000 United miles + $105.01 in fees.
I don’t have the exact number of what a paid fare would have been, but a reasonable estimate combined with my best memory would put a paid fare in the ballpark of $1,500 each.
At our baseline value for United miles of 1.4 cents per mile, the effective “cost” of our redemption for each ticket was ((60k * $0.014) + 105) = $840 + $105 = $945. That’s a great deal compared to a $1,500 paid fare.
Or, looking at it the other way, we got about (($1,500 – $105) / 60k) = $1,395 / 60k = 2.32 cents per United mile for these redemptions.
Great value for these flights? Yes!
Craig & Philly, round-trip DFW-PHL-PRG – The paid fare for our flights was $1,101. For a ticket during peak summer holiday season between DFW and Europe, that was quite good in and of itself. Round-trip flights between DFW and most other European destinations during this period were mostly in the $1,500-to-$2,000 range.
But wait, there’s more. We booked our flights using Amex Membership Rewards (MR) points through the Amex travel portal. An “Insider Fare” deal discounted our flights to $1,033.41 each (a savings of 9.4%). And at this time, we still had a 50% pay-with-points rebate from our Amex Business Platinum card (this benefit is now only 35%). Thus, each ticket cost us 51,671 MR points and not a cent out-of-pocket.
Even better, we were able to apply SWUs to upgrade to business class on both transatlantic legs between PHL and PRG. As I noted earlier, the upgrade on the overnight transatlantic outbound leg was immediately available when we booked, which was great. And our upgrade in the other direction cleared a few weeks before our flight.
Again, we were very happy with our value here, combining a good paid fare with using MR points (earning EQMs and EQDs in the process, which eventually made it possible to re-qualify for Executive Platinum status), and applying our SWUs to upgrade.
Cymber, round-trip DFW-PHL-PRG – Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough MR points to book a third ticket. So, we used Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points and booked through the Chase travel portal at 1.5 cents per point. So, this ticket cost us 73,400 UR points – but nothing out of pocket.
Everyone, round-trip PRG-DBV – On this one, our bag of tricks ran dry. The only non-stop flights were on Smartwings. We didn’t have any award redemption options. The flights weren’t available on the Chase or Citi travel portals. Amex had the flights on its portal, via a Czech Airlines codeshare. But, we didn’t have enough MR points to purchase the tickets using pay-with-points. So, we swallowed hard and booked a paid fare at $282 each round-trip. At least we used our Business Platinum card, booking through Amex Travel, to earn 5x MR points on our airfare purchase! And, we got non-stop fights at extremely convenient times.
How We Got Great Value – Hotels
1. Hotel in Prague – Sheraton Prague Charles Square
We won’t spend a lot of time on this one, as the former Sheraton Prague Charles Square has now closed. It’s being re-branded and is scheduled to re-open in April as a Radisson Blu Hotel.
But in short – We booked one night at the front end of our trip and one night at the back end of our trip at the Sheraton Prague Charles Square, using 7,000 SPG points per night. (Wow, neither the Sheraton-branded hotel nor the SPG currency exists any more!) (Also, the hotel moved up one SPG category shortly after we booked, to 10,000 SPG points per night.)
This was a very good value. Again, I don’t recall what the paid room rates would have been for our stay, but they were well in excess of $200 per night for our peak summer holiday dates. At our baseline value of 2.25 cents per SPG point, we “paid” $157.50 per room per night for our stay. (Converted to Marriott points, this would be 21,000 points per night at a baseline value of 0.75 cents per point, for $157.50.)
I have to say, this hotel treated us extremely well, particularly Gharib at the front desk. They were great to KB & Andrew, even when they checked in before the parents got there. And on our second stay there, they upgraded all of us even though only I had elite status, to 3 of what must have been the best 5 rooms in the entire hotel.
I’m very sad to learn that this hotel no longer exists. (In fact, I can now see that the announcement that this hotel would be re-branded was dated about 3 weeks before we were there, so it was a “lame duck” Sheraton during our stay.)
2. Hotel in Dubrovnik – Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera
Well, at least this hotel is still a Sheraton!
We also redeemed SPG points at the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera, and this was one of the highest-value redemptions we’ve ever made. The award redemption rate was 7,000 SPG points per night. And, we booked a 5-night stay, so the 5th night was free – resulting in a total of 28,000 SPG points per room.
Paid room rates at the time, even with our best discounts, would have been about $1,600 for 5 nights. (We presumably could have knocked one room down by 20% by using the Citi Prestige fourth-night-free benefit – but not more than one.) Paying for a $1,600 stay using 28,000 SPG points means that we got 5.7 cents per SPG point! (And, frankly, we might have actually paid that rate if necessary given the menu of options in Dubrovnik at the time we visited.) If you want to convert that to present-day Marriott points, divide by 3, and you get 1.9 cents per Marriott point!
I spent a little time today looking at this hotel, and the situation is largely the same. That is, you can still get incredible value for your Marriott points at this hotel. The current standard points rate is 25,000 Marriott points per night ($187.50 at our current baseline value of 0.75 cents per Marriott point). And paid rates during the peak summer holiday season are generally $300 per night and up. Points availability is actually pretty decent during June/July/August 2019, with at least two-thirds of the nights showing availability. The one problem now is that there are very few 5-night blocks of award availability, so you would have a difficult time booking a 5th-night-free award stay at the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera hotel for Summer 2019.
How We Got Great Value – Car Rental
On this one, we didn’t choose the cheapest option, but our car rental was incredibly efficient and convenient.
We had originally booked a rental car from Sixt for the duration of our stay in Dubrovnik. But near the last minute, we canceled and decided to rent a car only for the days when we were planning to road-trip. For the days we’d stay in Dubrovnik, we could just use Uber, and we wouldn’t have to worry about parking in the city. This turned out to be a great choice.
We road-tripped for 3 days, and each of these days we rented a car through Mack Car Rental, through the hotel concierge desk. The rental cost ended up being about $150 per day all-in – but remember, we needed a car big enough for 5 people and the service was excellent. Each day we got a car, a guy from Mack brought it to the front door of the hotel for us in the morning. And they were very nice to us throughout the process.
We paid for our car rentals using our Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x UR points and get primary insurance coverage.
Sometimes, convenience is the best value. I wouldn’t change a thing about how we handled our rental car experience in Dubrovnik.
How We Got Great Value – Airport Transfers
I’m going to plug two services here that both treated us very well for quite reasonable prices, and therefore gave us exceptional value.
Prague – In Prague, we used Welcome Pickups for our airport transfers. The Welcome Pickups drivers met us inside the airport at PRG, just after we cleared immigration and customs. Service was outstanding, including good communications, waiting when we had one delayed arrival, and scheduling another last-minute pick-up when we needed it. The transfers to our hotel cost 27 Euros each (about $31) when there were 1 or 2 of us, and 40 Euros (about $46) when we needed a larger vehicle for all 5 of us together. We paid with our Chase Sapphire Reserve (online at the time of the reservation) and earned 3x UR points.
I plan to write a full blog post sometime soon dedicated to Welcome Pickups and the great rates and service we’ve received from them when we’ve used them in Europe. Based on our experience to date, we would happily use Welcome Pickups any time we visit a city they serve.
Dubrovnik – Welcome Pickups doesn’t serve Dubrovnik, but we still received excellent airport transfer service at a great price. A little internet research led me away from more expensive “easy” options and to the Vijad Cavtat tourist agency.
We received outstanding service from Vijad Cavtat for an excellent price. It was 25 Euros each way (about $29) for a comfortable private van that easily held all 5 of us and our luggage, between DBV airport and the Sheraton. Note that the fare had to be paid in cash to the driver at the time of the ride to get this rate. We could have paid by credit card through PayPal, but we would have incurred a 5% fee for doing so.
When we arrived at DBV, our driver was waiting for us with a sign. Both drivers we had were very friendly and spoke English well. Communications with Vijad Cavtat were prompt and easy.
We would call on Vijad Cavtat again in a heartbeat if we return to Dubrovnik. If you’re heading to Dubrovnik and need an airport transfer, email Vijad Cavtat at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do you think about the value we got on our Summer Holiday in Dubrovnik and Beyond? Are there any strategies here that will help you in your own travel planning? Please share with us in the Comments!
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