When I met my
Girlfriend Fiancée Wife Katie in Ireland, I was certain I had just met my future wife, but that’s another tale for another blog. When it became clear that my new job wasn’t going to work out as I had hoped, I knew it was time to end the long-distance and move to Ft. Lauderdale to be with her. With that, I had made up my mind that I was going to make an honest woman out of her and propose. Was I spending all my time researching diamonds and finding out her ring size? Nope. I was trying to figure out how I could plan the perfect proposal back where it all began in Dublin.
I had a cache of points that I accumulated over the years from personal and business travel, as well as lucrative credit card sign-up bonuses. Let’s start with the breakdown of what I used, and then I’ll go into how I was able to acquire them.
68% discount, not bad! Since I had spent the majority of my life savings on the ring, being able to send two people to Dublin AND Edinburgh, ALL IN, for $1,087.96 is a hell of a deal. Let’s dig into how I actually booked this and the considerations I had to make.
Round Trip Flights with British Airways Avios: 80,000
These points are what originally got me into this hobby. Back in 2013 when I was working as a consultant, I got the Chase British Airways Visa card which netted me a 50K signup bonus. On top of that, I was able to hit the $10K spending requirement (using my personal card for business expenses) for 50K more. Further, I had a business trip to Cape Town, South Africa that I used my card to book, and that topped me out at over 150K BA Avios total, in addition to me gaining silver status. Aer Lingus is a partner of British Airways, so it’s possible to use BA Avios for Aer Lingus flights. Due to BA’s distance-based award chart, you can fly New York to Dublin for 20K Avios, one-way, in economy. The real value here is avoiding the taxes British Airways charges to fly BA into London, which can run you over $500 each ticket. Unfortunately, making this booking takes a bit of work.
Booking the Flight
One of the most difficult parts of booking award flights is finding availability, which is why a lot of people get frustrated using their points; I’ll try and detail this as much as possible to show you how you can do this too. In order to find availability, I headed over to Qantas to search for availability. Since Aer Lingus and Qantas are partners, Qantas will show availability for Aer Lingus flights, but you’ll need to create a free account in order to do this. Next, I input my date and look for acceptable flights. They key here is being flexible, as the exact dates you would like to go are usually almost impossible to find, unless you’re booking extremely far in advance (over 300+ days).
I wrote down the flight times, dates, and number, and proceeded to call British Airways directly. This is probably the worst part of the booking, mostly because the hold times are horrendous. Sometimes you can get better luck using skype and calling the UK call numbers, which I did. So using the information on Qantas, I was able to book over the phone after about 35 minutes of waiting, paying only the taxes of $228.62 for both tickets. I also love Aer Lingus. They get some mixed reviews, but after living in Dublin for a year, I’ve flown them transatlantic and domestic quite a bit (in both Business and economy) and I love their in-flight product.
Round Trip Flights with Aer Lingus Dublin to Edinburgh – $265.68
Not much to write about here. Your options are British Airways, Ryanair, and Aer Lingus. The price above is round-trip for two people. It’s only an hour flight, so it’s not worth using your points, as you can find much better value elsewhere. Normally, I’m a Ryanair guy after flying them extensively around Europe, but for this trip with Katie, I decided to go a step up and fly Aer Lingus (what a great guy I am).
3 nights in Dublin at Radisson Blu Dublin – Club Carlson: 2 e-certs and 50K points
Read my hotel review here.
Club Carlson probably isn’t the most luxurious hotel brand there is, but I love their chain mostly because their hotels are great, and there’s a ton of availability across Europe. After taking out the Club Carlson Visa and two work trips to London (where I stayed at Radisson Blu properties), I was able to accumulate over 156K Club Carlson points. I also had Katie take out the same card to get her sign up bonus of 50K points. Club Carlson used to have an amazing benefit of getting the 4th night free at any award stay, but unfortunately got rid of it in 2015. In order to retain customers back when we took the card out, Club Carlson gave each customer a free night e-certificate to use at any Club Carlson property. Because I couldn’t redeem the e-certificate for the hotel I wanted in Edinburgh, I decided to use both for the first two nights in Dublin; this saved us $584.22, but also came with a free upgrade and daily breakfast (probably the best hotel breakfast I have ever had). I then used 50K Club Carlson points for our 1 night when we came back to Dublin for our last night.
1 night at the Shelbourne Dublin – Marriott Rewards: 40K points
During the time I lived in Dublin, the Shelbourne was always THE spot to go if you wanted to celebrate something special. I got drinks there with my fellow Trinity classmates to celebrate graduating our MBA program, so I had to incorporate this into the proposal. At this point, I only had 20K points left in my Marriott rewards account, since I used 60K points for when Katie and I went to Paris and stayed 3 nights at the Marriott Opera hotel (which I highly recommend). Chase ultimate rewards to the rescue! Luckily, I had a ton of UR points, so I was able to transfer 20K Marriott points to my account almost instantly to give me enough for a night at the Shelbourne. Nights at this hotel can be as high as $650 a night, and in this case saved me $280. Was it the best value of UR points, not really, but it was worth it to me.
2 Nights at the G&V Royal Mile Hotel in Edinburgh – Amex Hotel Collection
Read my hotel review here.
In Edinburgh, our two options were the Radisson Blu Royal Mile or the G&V Royal mile, as we wanted to stick with Club Carlson properties. Both hotels are 70K Club Carlson points, and since it was considered “off-season,” rates were pretty reasonable at $167.19 per night; therefore, I decided to pay cash here, but I was still going to try and get some value. I went ahead and booked a 2 night stay for cash and then booked ANOTHER 2 night stay, but this time I booked it through the American Express Travel Hotel Collection portal. When you book through the portal you get favorable rates (in this case $167 was the lowest), and you also get an additional $75 hotel credit for anything on the property as well as a free room upgrade (depending on availability). I then called the hotel directly (using skype) and asked them to merge the two reservations, which they were happy to accommodate. So in all, we were able to get 4 nights, a free room upgrade, plus a $75 credit we could use for anything (restaurant, spa, etc.).
In conclusion, we had an amazing trip back to where our relationship began and were able to create an awesome memory without breaking the bank. Most importantly, she said yes! And, for $1,088 I was able to pull off what she lovingly calls her “princess proposal,” priceless.
So how was our trip only $38 you’re wondering? Well, as if the above wasn’t ridiculous enough, Aer Lingus oversold our seats, so we got bumped from our returning flight and had to stay an extra night in Dublin. Due to EU rules, we were each given a €600 check plus hotel and meal vouchers. So in total, we got a bonus night in Dublin (we made our own pub crawl), and after currency conversion, got about $1050 back. So this trip actually only cost us $38!!