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Booking BAP: A $5,000 Trip to Europe for $238 & Points!

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In a few weeks, I’ll be in Brussels, Amsterdam, and Prague for the first time. I am calling this trip “BAP” (after the 3 cities).

This is the trip I booked waaay back in August 2016 for biz class seats with Etihad miles. At the time, I paid ~37,000 miles for round-trip seats from New York to Brussels on Brussels Airlines. Etihad has since raised the price to 88,000 miles – which can still be a good deal to Europe in Business.

That was about 9 months ago – the furthest out I’ve ever planned a trip. At the time, I figured I’d fill it in when the time came. Which is now.

brussels amsterdam prague

I’m coming for ya, Brussy

Here’s how I put together a $5,00+ week-long trip to Europe for $238 out of pocket.

Booking BAP (Brussels, Amsterdam, Prague)

1. To New York and back

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Reminder: Get Your Club Carlson Free Night E-Cert (If You Haven’t Already)

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Man, I was a Club Carlson fanboy for a while there. You couldn’t get me out of Club Carlson hotels when they offered the BOGO for cardholders of the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature.

And then, they brutally snatched the benefit away, leaving peeps (and their brand) in the dust.

It was a too-big-for-their-britches move during which they artificially inflated their points currency, and made themselves completely irrelevant when compared to the big players… but that’s just one man’s opinion.

The upshot was they started apologizing in the form of free night e-certs good at any Club Carlson property.

Except there was one snag. Not everyone got them.

But, you can email US Bank via their online platform if you didn’t get one!

How to do it

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu St. Helen’s, Dublin

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Ireland was my last hurrah with the Club Carlson program, which is now dead to me.

After leaving the Radisson Blu in Limerick and kissing the Blarney Stone, we drove into the city of Cork, and then looped back up to Dublin to stay our final night at the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s in Dublin.

Arrival and check-in

The hotel is located in an area that is rez. ee. dent. shul. OK?

That means that traffic is terrible at rush hours, because people are going to or from work.

It’s about 3 miles (~Whatever kilometers) from Dublin proper, but there is free parking in a huge lot right in front of the hotel. For late night escapades, you can easily get a taxi to the city center and back.

The reason I chose this location was because:

  • It was a new property for me
  • It was near the M1 which goes right to the airport
  • The property looked gorgeous

Because I had an early-ish flight back to Boston on Aer Lingus, I wanted to hop right on the highway and get outta there.

I knew the traffic would be bad, and I budgeted time for that, but wow. It was really bad. We were stuck on the same 3-block stretch for over 20 minutes.

Anyway, arrival and check-in.

We parked in the rain after a lovely day in Cork, and walked in.

You’re instantly transported to some other era, where opulent mansions still exist.

Upon opening the door to the Radisson Blu St. Helen's

Upon opening the door to the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s

Indeed, this property is a 1700s estate converted into a hotel. And it is lovely.

The desk agents checked us in within a few minutes and told us how to climb through a maze and get to our room.

Hallways of the Radisson Blu St. Helen's

Hallways of the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s

Again, no upgrade to a business class room, but we figured we’d eat in the lounge at DUB and then again on the flight over. So whatever. Ireland was 50/50 with the upgrades for Gold status elites in the Club Carlson program (through the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature which is now deep in a sock drawer and will never be used again).

The room

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu, Limerick

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After an underwhelming experience at the Radisson Blu in Galway, we hopped in our rental car and drove the ~2 hours to Limerick.

Through Shannon to Limerick

Through Shannon to Limerick

It was a pretty easy drive, except for the zillion confusing roundabouts.  And the fact that I don’t really know how I got to the Radisson Blu in Limerick other than dumb luck and some hairpin turns.

It’s literally one weird turn off the highway and then a narrow road into a parking lot that also randomly has a hotel in it. There seemed to be nothing around, but apparently it was only 15 minutes into downtown Limerick.

We didn’t end up going into the city because there was a marathon going on that day. Traffic was terrible and there was no parking. Instead, we drove to Killarney National Park for a day trip (though I could’ve spent several days there).

In a forest in Killarney #Ireland

A photo posted by Harlan Vaughn (@harlanvaughn) on

Anyway, we got to the Radisson Blu in Limerick and had a bite to eat and put our things down before we left again. But it was a fine crash pad.

Irish beers at the bar

Irish beers at the bar

Arrival and check-in

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Reminder: Club Carlson Program Changes in One Week! Book awards by May 31st

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The time draws near.

RIP

RIP

I managed to burn most of my Club Carlson points during my trip to Ireland earlier this month (reviews of Radisson Blu Royal in Dublin and Radisson Blu in Galway are up so far). But I also had a paid stay at the Radisson Blu St Helens and ended up earning ~44,000 Club Carlson Gold Points between that and the room charges in Dublin.

Nearly enough for 2 nights at a Category 5 property... if booked before next week

Nearly enough for 2 nights at a Category 5 property… if booked before next week

Book now, change later?

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu, Galway

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After getting the rental car out of the tiny garage at the Radisson Blu Royal in Dublin, I used Google maps to guide me out of the city and onto the highway that would take us the short drive into Galway (a little over 2 hours).

A pretty straightforward drive across Ireland's midsection

A pretty straightforward drive across Ireland’s midsection

We’d heard really mixed reviews about Galway, and were excited to explore the town for ourselves.

All was going smoothly until the home stretch into the city of Galway.

Arrival and check-in

The city is changing the entire flow of traffic, and the directions I’d pulled up were no longer accurate. One-ways were rerouted, or closed, and the road that the Radisson Blu is on (Lough Atalia) had horrible traffic. I had to figure out the reroute while driving on the left side, in a city I’d never been to… and I had to pee so bad OMG.

The roundabouts are the worst.

We finally got parked at the Radisson Blu after a few false turns. As soon as I got in, I found the bathroom, then went to check in.

There was some sort of convention there I guess, as there were all these teenagers draped and strewn about all over the lobby. But we checked in relatively quickly and the desk agent was beyond nice.

Again, we were upgraded to a “Business Class” room which included free breakfast.

Hallways of the Radisson Blu Galway

Hallways of the Radisson Blu Galway

The hotel is about a 10-minute walk from the pedestrian area of town where most of the shops and restaurants are concentrated. From there, it’s another 10-minute walk to the other side of the River Corrib where the “real” Galway is located – lots of authentic pubs and shops over there.

The room

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Special Guest Review: Exploring Ireland’s Radisson Properties

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My partner Jay wrote an article about our hotel stays at the Radissons of Ireland. I’m still working on full reviews of all the properties – they’ll be posted soon.

I thought it might be nice to read a different viewpoint and hear a new voice. Jay recently opened the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature card (pre-devaluation) and is still getting the hang of this points and miles business. So our trip to Ireland trip really was a last hurrah with Club Carlson – for both of us.

Ireland is Club Carlson HEAVEN, by the way. They have hotels in every major Irish city (see map below). It’s really too bad that not only are BOGO award nights going away, but categories are going up, AND the free night certificate they give after $10,000 in spend is only good in the United States.

Anyway, I’m also working a few new articles for the What to Do series. I’d definitely welcome other guest writers that would like to share their viewpoints about the best places to stay, where to eat, and how to get to your neck of the woods. Feel free to email if you’re interested – I’d love to learn about new places!

Without further ado, take it away, Jay!


We stayed at almost 50% of the Radissons in Ireland (4 out of 9)!

Our Radisson/Club Carlson Circuit

In order, we stayed at:

  1. Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dublin
  2. Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa Galway
  3. Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa Limerick
  4. Radisson Blu St. Helen’s Hotel Dublin

That’s a lot of Radisson!

Blu Royal, Dublin

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Royal, Dublin

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Getting there and checking in

After flying into DUB and picking up the rental car at the airport, we drove down into the City Centre of Dublin (you can take the N1 the entire way there).

With a little huge amount of help from Google Maps, I navigated my way toward the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Dublin. There is a small parking facility attached to the hotel with a discounted rate of 10 Euros per night – which is a steal to park for 24 hours – so I parked there and went to check in.

The check-in could not have been any better. Francois, the desk agent, was so kind, welcoming, knowledgable, and professional (he’s the French one – his words!). He recommended a few good places in the area and we chatted a bit about Dublin. After a few minutes, we were all set with an upgraded Business Class room that included free breakfast. Sweet!

Check-in area at the Radisson Royal Blu Dublin

Check-in area at the Radisson Royal Blu Dublin

Restaurant on the ground floor

Restaurant on the ground floor

Lobby seating

Lobby seating

The hotel bar where they serve O'Haras stout beer - yum!

The hotel bar where they serve O’Haras stout beer – yum! (Sorry about the blur!)

The property is beautiful. It’s clean, bright, and airy inside with lots of really nice touches. Definitely one of the nicer Radisson hotels I’ve stayed in.

The room

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Club Carlson: Dead to Me

Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

Forgive the histrionic title.

I tried hard to be a Club Carlson fanboy for a long while. I Club Carlson-ed my way through Europe last year, stayed at their resort in Fiji, and just came off a trip to Ireland where I stayed in four Club Carlson properties (Ireland is Club Carlson heaven).

I’ve always considered Club Carlson to be my auxiliary program, after Hyatt, but their prices and properties have been so aligned with my travels recently that you’d think they were primary.

They were the little hotel loyalty program that could. But now it seems, and in the words of my Mom, that they’ve gotten too big for their britches.

After the recent round of devaluations, it’s kinda like… um, you have some nice properties but you’re not all that great. Now their award chart is Hiltonesque, and so is the sudden about-face from generous to… what’s the word I want to use here? Brash?

I’ve already shoved my Club Carlson Visa Signature card in a drawer. The plan is to get the 40K anniversary bonus and then cancel it. Within a week, I went from being one of Club Carlson’s biggest cheerleaders to where I am now – a hater! I won’t mess with their program any more. It falls into the realm of “not worth it.”

The future

My hotel strategy moving forward will be Hyatt as a primary program and IHG as a backup for when Hyatt isn’t available. I never got into Starwood and honestly don’t see why others trip over themselves to earn that 1 Starpoint per dollar with the SPG Amex.

The reason Club Carlson got themselves into a huge devaluation is because they printed Gold Points left and right. Even still, 70,000 points for one night in a European Radisson? No way. And with $10,000 of spend on the co-branded credit card, I get 1 free night – but it has to be in one of their sub-par US properties? I’d rather run that money through a 2% cashback card and get $200 back – which is about how much a night in a US property would cost.

Speaking of companies printing too much of their points currency… American’s AAdvantage program is gearing up to devalue in 2016 it seems like. They are giving out wayyyy too many miles this year. #predictions #Nostradamus

Bottom line

There’s been so much spilled ink typed words about Club Carlson’s devaluation recently that I thought I’d throw my hat in as well.

While in Ireland this past week, I absolutely loved the Radisson Blu Royal in downtown Dublin. It was bittersweet, though, because I felt like I was having a last hurrah with Club Carlson.

Easy come, easy go. The free award night from having their credit card, and the reasonable redemption rates, were what put Club Carlson on my radar. Before that, I’d never even stayed at a Radisson. And from here on out, I don’t foresee myself messing with Club Carlson’s now-stingy and untrustworthy program too much more. Maybe just to burn the points that are left in there.

Is anyone else moving on from Club Carlson right about now? Are their recent devaluations – arguably overdue – a deal breaker for the entire program?

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Booking Dublin: A Change of Plans

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Major change of plans is more like it.

Thanks to The Points Guy, I caught wind that an award I’d long had my eye on, BOS-DUB in business class on Aer Lingus, was widely available for booking with Avios points.

The good news: it still is.

I immediately transferred over some Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards (I love combining them when I can and British Airways is perfect for that – so is Singpore) to my British Airways account, and called in to book my dates.

Get 'em while they're hot!

Get ’em while they’re hot!

Throughout April and May, and possibly into the summer months, award availability is peppered here and there.

Business class award availability on Aer Lingus

Business class award availability on Aer Lingus (Click to enlarge)

That screen shot was taken just now. There are still some flights out there.

The best way to book this is by checking availability on the United website, then by calling British Airways to book over the phone.

I called them post Avios-hack (to change a different set of flights), and my hold time was less than 5 minutes. In fact, I was all booked and set up with flights in under 15 minutes (pre-Avios hack).

If you’re interested in booking, you have either one month or when availability runs out, beginning today. The Avios program is changing on April 28th, and this particular award will go from 50K round-trip in business to 75K, which is a pretty staggering change.

I’ve been interested in experiencing Aer Lingus business class, and visiting Ireland, for a very long time, so it’s all very serendipitous.

But what about the Delta flights?

Of course I had a pretty severe schedule change with Delta.

The mighty schedule change

The mighty schedule change

I was willing to get down to DC to take advantage of an awesome fare that Delta had earlier this year. I was even thinking I could spend a day or two in DC, maybe catch the tail-end of the cherry blossoms. But when the Aer Lingus award availability came around, I was then willing to get myself to Boston, and am now thinking of spending a day there instead.

I called Delta and explained that I had a schedule change of over 4 hours, and that those times no longer work for me – could I please cancel and get a refund? They immediately canceled the ticket and said to expect a refund in 5-7 business days. Awesome. So those are done.

It was a great deal, but then again, so is the Avios redemption on Aer Lingus, and even more so now that it’s time-sensitive.

The 2 round-trip flights would’ve been over $10,000 had I paid for them. Instead, I got nearly 11 cents per point of value by booking with Avios. An incredible deal – get on it if you can!

BOS-DUB on Aer Lingus business class

BOS-DUB on Aer Lingus business class

Getting to Boston

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Today: Club Carlson’s #HashtagHotelPromo on Twitter!

Tweet tweet

Tweet tweet

Today, March 19th, Club Carlson is hosting an “exclusive Twitter party” from 11am-11pm Eastern time.

Per Club Carlson:

Promo info

Promo info

Anyway, it’s starting right now and goes all day. It might be worth following Club Carlson on Twitter and checking in throughout the day. Who knows, you might win some Gold Points or other goodies.

Last time Club Carlson had a Twitter promo, the hashtag was a trending topic for most of the day. I fully expect that to happen again today. Keep an eye out for #HashtagHotelPromo.

Bottom line

I love the Club Carlson program and find a ton of value in it consistently, especially in conjunction with the US Bank Club Carlson Visa.

Have fun with Club Carlson’s all-day promo today! Hopefully you win some prizes. I will be checking in here and there – love fun promotions like this!

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Beke Hotel, Budapest, Hungary

Dang, I am behind on my posts.

I should continue my “Get Me to NOLA” saga, think some more about my best advice or write more about what to do in Iceland (the plan is to cover the entire perimeter of the island, in parts).

But then I realized I have still left out parts of Eurotrip 2014 after reading Travel is Free’s awesome review of the Radisson Blu Beke in Budapest this morning. I stayed at this hotel too and wanted to contribute my review and photos, because I’d argue that the room I stayed in looked even more 1970s than theirs.


Getting there

I went to the Radisson Blu Beke Hotel in Budapest in early October of 2014, right after staying at the Park Inns in Munich and Vienna.

Screenshot 2015-03-05 12.14.15I got out at BUD after flying in from VIE on an Austrian flight, paid for with 15,000 United miles. I’d already researched how to take public transportation and went to buy a bus and train ticket at the tourist desk in the airport. I walked out, hung a right, and the bus was already waiting there. I didn’t understand the announcements and relied on Google Maps to show me where to get off. Then, I took the train and got out at the bus and train terminal near the Radisson Blu Beke, and walked there in about 10 minutes.

Check-in

I found the check-in process to be really pleasant, actually. I was checked in by the assistant manager of the hotel, as I arrived in the middle of a tour group coming in, and he seemed to be supervising and helping with the overflow. Even with dozens of people in line, I was checked in in about 10 minutes, which was blazing fast, considering.

While in line, I looked around and noticed a bar attached to the lobby, and made a mental note to check it out. Along with my room key, the assistant manager gave me a coupon for a buy-one-get-one drink, which was a nice touch. It definitely did its job of getting me into the bar.

He also acknowledge my Gold status with Club Carlson and told me I’d been upgraded to a suite… sweet!

The room

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