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Our recent summer trip to Portugal was indeed pretty incredible, but it almost didn’t happen at all.
You see, we recently bought a rather large boat to use as a second home in the Seattle area (my husband’s home town). Due to this new expense, the budget for our annual summer European holiday took a nose dive.
Uh, to pretty much nothing.
Never one to let a lack of adequate funding spoil a great trip to Europe, it was time for me to get creative. I was determined to make the most of my travel rewards – including airline miles, hotel points and credit card rewards – to spend 10 days traveling around Portugal on as tight a budget as possible, while still making it a fabulous vacation for both me and my husband, Dave.
My goal? To do the whole 10-day trip for $1,000 or less. I got pretty close. Here’s how I did it…
My Travel Rewards Arsenal
To make this trip work, I was armed with the following:
483,000 Delta miles (90% business accrued. Ridiculous, I know. I have no life.)
43,000 Starwood SPG points
60,000 Marriott Rewards Points
80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (from my Chase Sapphire card)
Since Dave would already be in Germany working, his flight to Europe was easy, it was paid for by his client (that was a lucky break). For my ticket, 60,000 Delta miles did the trick (if Dave’s ticket hadn’t been paid for, we would have burned another 60,000 miles for his flight).
It made the most sense to start in Porto and work our way down, so I began looking into flights from Munich to Porto.
The Munich airport hotel turned out to be ridiculously easy, the Moxy Munich Airport (part of the Marriott family) was just 15,000 Marriott points for a free night. I booked us there for the night before we left for Portugal and the night before our flight home to Atlanta at the end of the trip (it was a great little hotel).
First stop, Porto!
Coming from Munich, we’d have to connect somewhere regardless, so I checked with Delta to see about using miles on either Air France (via Paris) or KLM (via Amsterdam). Air France was available (yay!) but only in business class (uh-oh).
When I asked how many miles that would be, the agent said 25,000 per ticket…for business class. Since you can’t even get a domestic coach seat for that anymore, that was a steal for business class (yay again!).
Next up, where to stay in Porto. I could have used my Starwood (SPG) points for the highly-rated Sheraton Porto Hotel & Spa but I had other plans later in the trip for my SPG points. This would be the one stop where we would pay for the hotel, so I needed a good deal on something in town and walking distance from everything we wanted to see.
Enter Booking.com (my favorite hotel booking site). After a little research, I found the Oporto Stories Apartments and it turned out to be fabulous! We booked the top floor terrace apartment and the view was spectacular. And more importantly, it was close to everything (meaning no taxis required), an easy train ride from the airport and only $118 a night.
Next stop, the Azores
With Porto figured out, it was time to move on to the Azores. The flight was easy (and one of the reasons I chose to do the itinerary in this particular order), a non-stop flight on Ryan Air for $105 per person, including the added fees for 2 carry-on bags and premium boarding. With flights that cheap, I didn’t even worry about looking into options with points.
Our hotel in the Azores was also a no brainer, the new AZOR Hotel in Ponta Delgada. This was where I’d spend most of my SPG points but at 7,000 points for a free night, it was a real steal. We stayed 3 nights for a total of 21,000 points.
We did need a rental car in the Azores but luckily that was pretty affordable as well, about $70 for three days.
Up next, the Algarve
From the Azores, we needed to get back to Lisbon to rent a car and make the three-hour drive to the Algarve.
Since only a few airlines fly to the islands, my points options were limited (I tried with Chase points but no luck). Fortunately, the Azores airline, SATA, was incredibly inexpensive, just $178 for both flights! Again, no points needed with fares that good.
Once again, we would need a car and though you can redeem Chase points for car rentals, I didn’t find them to be a great deal on the Ultimate Rewards site. So, we paid for that out of pocket, too. About $100 for the entire three days, not too bad really.
For our accommodations in the Algarve, I’d chosen a fabulous Airbnb.com apartment situated on a cliff overlooking gorgeous Vale Centeanes beach. For this one, I got creative. You can’t use points for an Airbnb rental but it turns out you can purchase an Airbnb gift card with your Chase points. How about that?!?
The apartment wasn’t extravagant, just $122 a night for a total of $366 for our three nights. I redeemed 30,000 Chase points for a $300 gift card bringing the cost of the apartment down to just $66 for a 2-bedroom apartment with a killer view in Portugal’s most exclusive holiday area. Score!
(P.S. If you haven’t tried Airbnb, I highly recommend it. Click here for $40 off your first rental with my discount code).
Last stop, Lisbon
From Algarve, we planned to head back to Lisbon for one night before flying back to Munich. For our hotel, I chose the luxurious Sheraton Lisbon Hotel and Spa and redeemed SPG points for the room using the Cash & Points option – $75 and 5,000 points.
And for the flights back to Munich, my Chase points came in handy again for a nonstop on TAP Portugal for 30,560 points for both of us.
When all was said and done, here’s how the trip costs broke down:
Ryan Air – $210
SATA Air – $178
Porto – $236
Algarve – $66
Lisbon – $75
Azores – $61
Algarve – $78
Delta Miles – 110,000 + $167 in taxes & fees
SPG Points – 26,000 (3 nights in Azores & 1 in Lisbon)
Marriott Points – 30,000
Chase Points – 60,560
Factoring in all the costs for flights, lodging and rentals cars, we spent a grand total of $1,071 for two people traveling around Portugal for 11 nights (including the 2 nights in Munich).
Of course, there were expenses for gas, food, the occasional Uber ride, etc. But, overall, I’d say we did a pretty excellent job of maximizing our travel rewards for one amazing vacation.
And with the right credit cards and travel reward programs, you can too!