Erin was so kind to share her family's trip with us to Eastern Europe where they visited Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovenia. She's got some great tips on how she leveraged Hilton points and Chase Sapphire rewards (among others) to redeem this trip for free.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm from Baltimore, MD and work in publishing. My husband and I both have 9-5 jobs so we can't travel as much as we'd like to for fun. We prioritize maximizing the vacation time we have to see the world, little by little. Since having 2 kids, our travel style has changed... and doubled in price! We rely on points and miles to make amazing travel possible for our family. Traveling with 2 toddlers (ages 3 and 1) isn't always easy. Some people say we're nuts. Some people say we're silly because they'll never remember the trips. But we make it a big priority in our lives because we love to explore... we cherish the time together... and we believe deeply in the benefits of seeing other cultures and experiencing new things.
Can you tell us a little about your most recent trip that you used points to go on?
The four of us recently went on a fantastic 2-week trip to Eastern Europe, visiting Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovenia. We used 70k United miles each to fly Aer Lingus business class from Washington Dulles to Dubrovnik. (My son is under 2 so we only needed to buy 3 seats and pay a small fee for the infant).
In Dubrovnik, we used 210k Hilton points to stay 3 nights at the Imperial Hotel. Since I'm a Hilton Diamond member thanks to my Hilton Aspire Amex card, we received a suite upgrade and free breakfast. This is a beautiful property in an absolutely perfect location just adjacent to Old Town.
From there, we took a beautiful drive to Mostar, Bosnia, and then back to Croatia to a lovely island called Korcula. From there we visited the beautiful port city of Split, and then continued on to the Plitvice Lakes which were absolutely stunning. We booked lodging for all of these stops directly through the Chase Sapphire Ultimate Rewards travel portal for a 50% bonus.We finished our trip in Slovenia, basing out of the InterContinental Ljubliana for 4 nights. My husband and I each have the IHG card, which gives a free annual night. We used 2 free certificates and 80k IHG points for 4 nights at this sleek, luxury property. Because we are Platinum Elite members through the card, we received a Club Level upgrade which gave us access to free breakfast, snacks and happy hour in the penthouse lounge with stunning panoramic views of the entire city.We used 60k United miles per person to fly home United Polaris business class from Ljubliana to Washington Dulles.
**What made it a great trip? **
PICTURE PERFECT! We knew it would be pretty... but the scenery and landscape on this trip was absolutely jaw-dropping and beyond belief. The crystal blue waters of the Croatian coastline were the clearest and brightest I've seen in the world. The Plitvice lakes were absolutely awe-inspiring, and the Slovenian countryside dotted with their signature Hay Racks just begged to be aimlessly explored.
What are 5 must-see's from your trip?
Dubrovnik Old Town - It's a tourist hotspot now thanks to the Game of Thrones, but walking the city walls is a must-do. The afternoons get mobbed with cruise ship crowds, but the mornings and evenings are much less crowded. The Hilton was a perfect location because we could explore in the morning, take an easy walk back to our hotel in the afternoon to escape the crowds and give our kids the chance to nap, and then head back out for an evening dinner and stroll.
Mostar, Bosina - This was the most impactful and surprising stop on our trip. Only a decade after the brutal wars, the city still has a long ways to go in rebuilding. Bullet-ridden and bombed-out buildings are still very much mixed into the architecture of the city and surrounding areas. But despite all the horror the people have lived through, there's a strong sense of hope and promise in the air for a happy future. The Stari Most (Old Bridge) connects the Muslim and Christian banks of the city, and you'll hear the Call to Prayer blast through speakers 5x a day just as if you'd wandered into the Middle East.
Marjan Park, Split (Croatia) - Climb the paved path in the woods for a relatively easy hike to the best views of the city. Eat breakfast at the cozy cafe at the top and enjoy breathtaking views of the stunning waters and ancient city as you drink your espresso.
Plitvice Lakes National Park - Turquiose lakes and waterfalls surround you as you stroll on the boardwalks around the UNESCO World Heritage site. Make sure you wander the upper section as well as the lower, so you can look down for spectacular views. We stayed at a wonderful, private chalet that was absolutely perfect for our family--complete with a playground, babbling brook, hot tub, kids playroom, and every amenity you would need at a cabin.
Lake Bled - Water so vivid you can't believe it's real, and a tiny church on a teeny island in the middle of it. Absolutely gorgeous. Take a carriage ride to the Bled Castle that sits atop the adjacent mountain and get the most beautiful views you can imagine. Enjoy a slice of famous Cream Cake at a cafe along the water.
What’s your next trip that you’re planning to go with points?
Our next big family trip on points and miles will be to Japan next year. Because it can be tricky to find availability for 4 premium class tickets (we want to be comfortable on that long of a flight with kids!), we had to book flights very early. We earned the SkyMiles from the elevated sign-up bonuses on the Amex Delta cards this year. We're flying home from Tokyo using 70k United miles each in United Polaris. I'm still working on the itinerary and haven't booked hotels yet, but plan to use a mixture of Hilton and Hyatt points in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.