Using miles for an amazing trip from Chicago all across Europe

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As part of our points redemption series we sat down with JM who recently took an awesome trip to Europe. He booked Air France flights on miles from Chicago to Copenhagen with a stop over in Amsterdam. After getting to Europe he bought some budget flights to hit up some more cities before returning on points to Chicago from Munich via Air France.

Learn all about how he earned miles and redeemed them in his interview below and be sure to follow JM on Instagram @passionateworldadventurer. He's got some amazing photos from some of his past adventures that’ll make you jealous and get you to start planning your next trip.

First, a little about JM.

I am Server Systems Administrator from Chicago who as of today I don’t have a full time job after the company I used to work shut down last July. I am in my 30s and I am taking a break in life as of the moment. So I have been just traveling almost every other month to Europe and Asia. I drive Uber on the side for extra income.

Tell us a little about your most recent trip:

I traveled solo again backpacking in Europe around mid February to early March. I visited 10 cities in 7 countries visiting friends that I met last November when I was also backpacking in Europe and last December when I was in Asia. I went to Copenhagen, Paris, Brussels, Slovenia ( Bled and Lujblana), Montenegro (Podgorica and Budva), Zurich, Berlin and Munich. I started my trip flying out of Ohare to Copenhagen via Amsterdam. ORD-AMS-CPH via KLM on Economy seat. For moving to different countries within Europe, I didn’t use miles flying with local airlines since its cheap. I took a train from Paris to Brussels since its only roughly two hours apart. Coming back, I flew from Munich to Chicago via Stockholm. MUC-ARN-ORD via Lufthansa and Scandinavian airlines on Business class.

I stayed at my friend’s houses in their respective countries. For other places I don’t know anybody, I stayed at hostels. In Paris, I stayed at the luxury Park Hyatt Vendome as they gave me a free stay voucher.

What made it such a great trip?

It was an awesome trip because it wasn’t just a typical sightseeing touristy trip. It was more of an immersive trip staying with locals. I learned more about their culture staying with them and eat more authentic local food. My friend in Slovenia have a farm and one morning I noticed that their milk tasted really good. I later realized that they “produce” their own milk since have a cow. So, the next early morning before my flight out, I woke up very early and milked a cow. I think that’s once of the coolest I have done in my travels. Also, I experienced my first international snowboarding in Slovenia. They have nice slopes and a great time shredding.

I also had a great time in Munich. My friend who is a Bavarian who I met when I was in the Philippines last December brought me to a mini-Oktoberfest called Starkbierfest. It is always held in the winter when the monks during Lent season brew a very strong beer. It was one of the most amazing experience I had as well. I also learned that the government in Germany takes big taxes from their citizens but I believe it still pays off because for many different reasons. Some of which are you can literally walk in and out of the hospital and you don’t have to worry paying a bill. Also, they offer free college to every citizen. All you need to do is choose what school/university you are going then get the degree. On that note, I learned that there is a high percentage literacy in Germany. Also, when you own a dog, you pay a tax for having one.

If I were to go on a similar trip what are the top 5 things I shouldn’t miss?

  • In Brussels, you have to visit the Atomium (super cool infrastructure they built for the 1958 Brussels World's) Fair.
  • Visit the Olympiapark in Munich—this is where they held the 1972 summer Olympics.
  • In Copenhagen, if you love amusement parks you have to go to Tivoli Gardens. It is a big park with all the rides and restaurants. It’s great for kids and young at heart.
  • In Berlin, join free walking tours. You will have more insights about different historical places in the city and also, don’t forget to check the club scene. I had a great time going out and dancing until early morning to some cool house and techno music.
  • In Montenegro, its darn cheap everywhere. Taking a taxi to go around in the capital, Podgorica it will only cost you 1-3 euros and that’s like distance of 5 miles. Check also Budva, it’s a town in Montenegro where they have nice beaches facing the Adriatic Sea and awesome nightlife.

How did you use miles to pay for the trip?

Outbound:

  • Original flight was Chicago-Paris-Copenhagen via Air France
  • Changed to Chicago-Amsterdam-Copenhagen via KLM
  • Coach seat: 35,000 Skymiles and $28.40 redeemed at Delta website

Inbound:

  • Munich-Stockholm-Chicago via Lufthansa and SAS (Scandanavian Airlines) airlines
  • Business class: 55,000 Aeroplan miles and $141.20 redeemed at Air Canada website. Miles transferred from American Express Membership Rewards (MR) points.

Inter-Europe flights: I paid cash since it's cheap but for some legs I used united airlines Mileageplus miles.

  • Brussels-Slovenia --Adria Airways
  • Montenegro-Zurich-Berlin---Montenegro Airlines and Swiss Air
  • Economy: 23,000 UA miles and $89.30.

The flights were high as $700 so using miles became reasonable.

I earned the American Express MR points thru opening a Premier Rewards Gold card and got a 50,000 opening bonus miles after meeting the minimum spend. For the Delta miles, I have flown international with them in the past and earned few miles but I also transferred American Express MR points to my Delta account to cover the difference. For United Airlines MileagePlus points, I have transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points from the card I opened with them last year. I earned 50,000 UR points after meeting minimum spend for their Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

What’s your next trip that you’re planning to go with points?

I am flying to Japan and the Philippines next month all legs on Business class with the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Taiwenese airlines EVA Airways coming back. Both airlines are in the Top 10 airlines in the world in 2016.

Check out some of the amazing photos from JM's trip.