Hi Frugalistas! I’m off to Europe in October. I’ve organised to spend 10 days in France, and then I’m heading to Istanbul for 4 nights before I come home. It’s a bit of a special trip – in celebration of a significant birthday, so I want the best possible I can afford. But I still want it to be frugal first class all the way.
My itinerary includes a First Class Suite on Etihad Airways from Sydney to Europe. Then I need a four day France Railpass. I’ve done my sums and have worked out that a four day Railpass will be cheaper than individual point to point tickets, or a three day pass and a point to point for my shortest leg. Then I’ve booked a Business Class flight on Turkish Airlines from Lyon to Paris (there is no First Class). My flights home are a combination of an Etihad Airways Business Class flight from Istanbul to Abu Dhabi, then my first ever flight on Emirates – in a First Class Suite on their A380 service from Dubai to Sydney.
Here’s how I paid just AUD925 for all this (including chauffeur driven transfers!)
Firstly, I used my Etihad Guest points to book my flight to Europe. I was a little short for a First Class points redemption, so I transferred the balance of my American Express Membership Rewards account to my Etihad account. This still left me a few points short. The best destination I could book at the time was to Geneva, so I paid the EUR27 (about AUD35 at the time I booked) with cash to top up my points, and pay for my ticket, including taxes. Even though my ticket is a points redemption flight, I’m still eligible for a chauffeur transfer from the airport to central Geneva.
Total cost for the Sydney to Geneva leg – AUD35
Because I booked my Etihad flight and therefore cleared out my Membership Rewards points back in January, I’ve had time to restock. The funds I’ve gathered on my card by making my usual purchases are enough to buy my Railpass and book my seats. A four day in 30 days France Railpass is AUD350 currently. Each of my four journeys involve a TGV journey. These therefore incur a compulsory booking fee of approximately AUD10 each. I will also use my Membership Rewards to pay for these. I’ll be traveling from Geneva to Paris, and will just catch the Metro from the station to my hotel once I arrive.
Total cost of my Railpass – ZERO!
I couldn’t find a sensible way to redeem any points on either my Virgin Australia or Qantas frequent flyer accounts. Therefore I had no other option but to buy a ticket. There’s also no First Class on either Air France or Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, so I’ve booked a Turkish Airlines Business Class ticket from Lyon to Istanbul. This was cheaper than booking from Paris, and also saves me having to pay for another Railpass day to travel back to Paris. I was actually going to Lyon anyway, and my itinerary worked perfectly to be able to finish my French trip there. I’ll catch the Lyon metro from my hotel to the airport.
Total cost of my ticket from Lyon to Istanbul – AUD890
Once I arrive in Istanbul, my hotel includes a free minivan transfer because I’m staying for 4nights. Coming home, I’ve used some Virgin Australia Velocity miles to book an Etihad Business Class ticket to Abu Dhabi (unfortunately I couldn’t get a First Class redemption on the day I wanted to travel). I’ll use an Etihad chauffeur transfer back to the airport. I couldn’t book a flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney (I blogged about this saga previously). Fortunately, on 31 March a solution arrived in the form of the brand new Emirates/Qantas alliance. So, I got on the Qantas website on the morning of 31 March, and snared myself a First Class Suite from Dubai to Sydney. Getting from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is easy and free – Emirates provide a chauffeur service for First and Business passenges between the two airports. I’ve also booked a free chauffeured car on my Emirates ticket for the short drive home in Sydney. I’ve used points to pay for my taxes and surcharges.
Total cost of my ticket from Istanbul to Sydney – ZERO
I appreciate not everyone has the opportunity to accumulate the points necessary for such a grand itinerary in First Class. But, think about what opportunities you have for a First Class splurge trip if you are really smart with your airline loyalty program memberships and your credit card loyalty programs.
Author’s note: at the time of writing, 1 Australian dollar was worth approximately 90cents US.
Railpass 101 – choosing your Railpass