Life, Love, Travel & When Cake Turns Into Paris

My buddy reaches out to see if I would be able to do his girlfriend’s birthday cake and we start chatting about the trip he has planned for her. He confesses that he wishes that he could take her to her dream location since it’s her 30th birthday and I ask him where? His response: Paris. Actually can you help me with planning for this trip next year using points? I tell him that I think I can do even better – it might be possible to do it for this year! He looks at me in disbelief…and finally asks: do you think it’s possible and do you realize that this is less than four weeks away? Haha I reply with: “when is Paris ever a bad idea and did you forget that I am the queen of last minute, impulsive, international trips? We might as well try”…here’s a look into our adventure of booking flights!

FYI GF has been told so I am not ruining the surprise. Since he had originally planned a different trip so I told him that she would want to know so she can pack accordingly! But most importantly, why I am sharing this part of the trip now is that you also might be able to score this since the deal is STILL AVAILABLE-until April 30!

Best place to start when looking for a flight is Google Flights for two reasons. 1. I say it all the time but book DIRECTLY with an airline and hotel. If something goes wrong (a very high possibility with travel these days), the hotel or airline is able to assist you as opposed to when you book through a third party, the hotel/airlines really do not have the ability to help. 2. Google flights rarely gives me bad information on flights/hotels such as nonexistent rates or flights that are unavailable/way higher in price unlike other search engines I have tried and tends to be cheaper than Kayak (this is the other site that I do like and will always cross reference if I am paying cash for flights). I am showing these flight results because it gives some key info that you may not know such as who flies this route: Denver to Paris and this info will help guide you when searching for award flights. Pro tip: when searching do not put in an airport code for cities because there may be multiple airports such as in Paris and this can definitely save you lots of money and/or points!

We searched these two airlines as they are travel partners in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. I have found that most airlines’ apps are easier to use for searching so all images are from the United Airlines (UA) and Air France (AF) apps with the left side showing the flights for the former and the right side for the latter. It is important to familiarize yourself with how each airline presents its information so you are able to compare accurately such as the prices for AF are in euros.

But we were hoping to book a flight on points especially as Google flights said prices are HIGH so go back to the search screen and toggle to “search award travel”. Did you notice that these are the prices for ONE way, per person? So award tickets for two people would be 280K miles so onto AF.

AF’s website is incredibly frustrating so I was pleasantly surprised with the app being so easy to use and search with – it’s also helpful in that when you toggle to searching for an award flight, they give you what the lowest possible number of miles could be for the flight which is 60K miles. He had given me the dates of Saturday, May 13 through Friday, May 22 for the trip but when you are booking award flights, the more flexibility you have the easier it will be to find lower “saver or promo” points fare so be willing to look at other dates. Especially when flying with a carrier like AF that doesn’t have daily flights from DEN. If you look at the top right, there is no info for Thur, May 11 or Sat, May 12 as there are no AF flights those days. So here is it so worth it to take that extra PTO day since there are two promo fares available and I think an even bigger draw – the flights are DIRECT!

Info for the return flight on the left side: again promo rate of 30K miles and €185 in taxes and fees for two people. The one downside to AF is that it does charge a surcharge on award flights but the savings even with those added in is so significant that it is worth paying. The right side shows what a normal award redemption would be (40K miles with same €185 in taxes and fees) + baggage allowances + fare info. So the total for two ROUND TRIP, DIRECT tickets from Denver to Paris (CDG is one of the airports) is only going to be 60K miles and €370!!

BUT WAIT – there’s more!! It just so happens that Air France is one of Chase’s travel partner with a bonus offer so the rate is 1:1.25 so he actually only ended up needing to transfer 48K points! (To quickly figure out how many to transfer divide the number of AF miles needed 60K by 1.25)

You may have noticed earlier that there weren’t any points in my AF account – I have been aware of AF having promo flights so I have been looking at travel for myself for the past few weeks and with their very dynamic plan, I have been a little obsessive with a trip that I hope will come to together soon! But I digress, many programs require an account to search award flights so that’s why I have an AF account and the zero balance? I DO NOT move any points over until I find a flight and confirmed availability. Important note: some airlines show what has been called phantom awards so if you are moving a lot of points over, it would be best to call and have the rep put a hold on the ticket – most have been willing to stay on the line while I transfer. I have personally seen that almost all of the travel partners transfers have been instant or nearly instant.

AF’s loyalty program is called Flying Blue and is shared with a number of other airlines most notably KLM and they advertise their monthly promo rewards on the Flying Blue website (also where you sign up). The site also has a cool tool where you can see the starting price in miles for one-ways for all fare classes. But you look up award availability with AF or KLM.

While a lot of things fell into play for this redemption and he was pretty lucky with promo fares and bonus transfer, there were a number of factors that made this possible: 1. His original trip he booked flights with Southwest + refundable hotel rooms so not losing any money there. 2: Being flexible and looking (and knowing) who else flies out of a city was key to being able to not only pull this off but also saving a TON of points. This was so, so satisfying to help him make it work! On flights and hotel, he is spending about the same amount for this trip to Paris as he would have been going to Nashville and New Orleans!

FYI was still some availability in July, August and September for AF promo rates (that sale goes til 4/30) and the Chase bonus offer goes to May 15 – so you need to act fast! Soooooo who is now going to book a trip to Europe?! I hope that you learned a little something today and maybe even got inspired a bit.


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