Weekly Inspiration: Paris on Points and Miles

Hello All!

It’s time for another installment of weekly inspiration! Now, I know my travel style is probably a little bit different than a lot of you- that is, I have apparently unlimited free time and go wherever whenever (not totally true, to be fair). However, I realize most of you have productive, working, lives, and some fairly limited time off. Thus, I’m working on making real, sensible, recommendations for you all.

How thoughtful of me! (Sorry, I’ll try to be less sarcastic.) Anyway, this week’s focus is Paris, the city of love. Voted the most romantic city in Europe, Paris is jam-packed with famous landmarks and tons of things to do. I know Paris tops the list for many of us, so let’s figure out how to get there for free- or at least really cheap, eh?

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Flights

Now, there are tons of ways to get to Europe. In case you guys haven’t been keeping up this last year, airlines are going full-warfare on flight prices, which means we’re seeing some incredibly low prices:

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A quick look at November shows us that several different carriers are willing to sell us tickets from New York-Paris for a total of $511 per person. That’s ridiculously cheap all by itself, but we want it free.

So! The American Express Business Platinum is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 75,000 points. One of its perks is a 50% refund on points you spend for airfare on an airline of your choosing. That means, looking above, that you can choose Delta, Air France, Iberia, Finnair, or British Airways, and pay a total of 25,600 points per ticket. That means you’ll be able to enjoy three roundtrip tickets to Paris with just one sign-up bonus!

Now, the American Express Business Platinum spend threshold is pretty high (10k for 50,000 points, and 10k for and additional 25k), so if you’re not looking for a heavy investment, that could be problematic.

In that case, I would recommend the British Airways Visa Signature from Chase, which will give you 50,000 points after spending just 3k in the first three months. (Or even up to 100,000 points if you put enough spend on it).

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Using British Airways Avios, you can then fly New York-Dublin for a mere 26,000 points + fuel surcharges roundtrip. (After meeting your spend goal, you’ll have 53k points).

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Flying on BA’s partner, Aer Lingus

From Dublin, flights to Paris are cheap. Airlines such as Ryanair can get you there for around $20 bucks, or, flying a nicer carrier will cost you around $100 roundtrip. Not bad, not bad at all.

Hotels

So you’ve managed to make your way all the way to Paris, now what?

You could spend two nights at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, which is one of the best hotels in Paris, using the two reward nights earned with your Chase Hyatt Visa:

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Or, you can transfer points from one of your Chase Ultimate Rewards cards (such as the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, which each have a 50,000 point sign up bonus after 4k spend in 3 months), and snag 3 nights at the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile, which costs a mere 15,000 points a night, or over 1,000 Euros for your three night stint.

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If you get both cards, you’ll have enough points for a full week at the Hyatt Regency, saving yourself 2,200 Euros.

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But Carissa, you say, this all seems like a lot of work. And you’re right, Paris is a notoriously expensive city, and hotels there cost more than almost any else in the world. So what if you don’t want to sign up for a couple different cards just for your hotels?

Well, my friends, I give you Airbnb. No, Airbnb is not free. And you won’t even use points for it. (Or at least not most traditional points). But it is dirt cheap, and cards that give you bonuses based on travel purchases (Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige, and a whole host of others) will give you the reward bonus for booking with Airbnb. Check out some of these rates for a stay in November:

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These are all full apartments

So if you ever wanted to stay in a chic Parisian apartment for really cheap, Airbnb is going to be your best friend. In fact, it’s what I used during my trip to Paris last year, and I find that it really has outsized value in such an outrageously expensive city.

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Now, if you really don’t want to pay for the Airbnb, you can get yourself the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, which gives you a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points (after 3k spend in 3 months). These points can be used to erase charges off your card, so your stay above there would cost 39,200 points, and you’d still have some left over for other fun stuff. (Souvenirs!)

Ok! I know this has been a lot of information in a short post, but I’m hoping I got it all out there pretty clearly. Paris doesn’t have to be unaffordable if you know how to play your cards right, and saving money on airfare and hotels leaves room in the budget for other fun stuff, like shows and ridiculously fancy dinners.

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Like the Moulin Rouge!

I hope you liked this post! Let me know if there’s somewhere you guys would like me to write about!

-Carissa “Fancy Pants” Ragland

The Incredible Côte D’Azur

Ok!

I promised a happy post and here it is. Guys, Nice is beautiful. There is a reason that the rich and famous come to play here, and that’s because this city is basically paradise. I’m sat here, on the beach, just watching the waves roll in and wondering how I got to be so lucky. In short, you need to visit. Spend some points (there’s a Hyatt here!) or get an Airbnb and just let yourself rejuvenate in this fresh French air.

Plus, a bottle of wine is only 2 bucks! I mean, that makes this place at least 1000% better.

Ok pause right now. My waiter just came over and was starstruck to learn that I write a travel blog, and that I was in fact writing about Nice at this very moment. Does that make me famous? Anyway, since he was so kind, I’ll go ahead and plug his restaurant. Everyone, go to the Neptune Plage on the beach because the wine is cheap and the view is gorgeous (and I don’t just mean the waiters).

So, what about Nice is nice? Apart from the water, there’s a lot to do. My first day here, I wandered the fresh market, picking up some of the plushest produce I’ve ever seen and enjoying it while sipping a cappuccino on an outside terrace.

Today, I gave in to my baser instincts and headed to Blast: An American Bar, where I stereotypically ate French Toast and loved every minute of it. The service was some of the bet I’ve ever gotten, so I left a 2 Euro tip (See? See how tipping is done?)

Nala and I have wandered the streets, eyeing the luxury shopping (Chanel? Gucci? Please.) and every so often visited something historic. That’s the beauty of Europe, you see. Everything is old, and oftentimes, beautifully preserved. We can find things here that predate the US by hundreds of years, still in use, and still gorgeous.

I’ve gone on a tour to see the rich and famous in Monaco. Along the way, I stopped in the medical village of Eze, which houses 40 people and a huge cactus garden because…France?

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I even went to the Le Casino Monte Carlo, where I paid 10 Euro for entry and got stared at because perhaps my leggings weren’t quite in the dress code.

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Le Casino Monte Carlo

In short, the French Riviera is everything you’ve heard it is and more. It is elegant, grand and rich, welcoming, humble and affordable.

Come visit.

-Carissa

The Tipping Point: What not to Do

Bonjour!

I am writing to you today from the beach of Nice, where I have sat myself with a glass of wine and the most incredible view.

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Seriously

 

But! Enough about the view. Today I’d like to talk about what happened yesterday, a ridiculous fiasco in the Principality of Monaco that has taught me, more than anything, to stick to my guns.

So let me lay the scene out for you here. Yesterday I took a tour to the village of Eze and to Monaco, an all day affair that showed us around some really beautiful places. I happened to be with three fantastic women from Philly, who ended up adopting me into their group and spending the day with me.

We had a great time wandering throughout Monaco (which I will write about later), minus this one, ridiculous, affair. You see, we stopped off for lunch at a nice, touristy, restaurant, where an insistent waiter urged our group inside. (He actually thought we were French at first, and spent several minutes coaxing us in with French, which obviously failed). I ordered the pumpkin soup, which was ah-mazing, and everything generally went over really well until the bill came.

We were mid-conversation, the women having asked me about tipping in Europe, when the waiter arrived with the bill and presented it with a flourish to one of the women (she had offered to pay for me, as thanks for my military service. Generosity is found everywhere!)

Upon presenting, he told her, “the service is not included in the bill.”

Now, I don’t know how much you guys know about tipping in Europe. I know for us, in the US, tipping is essentially required and at a minimum of 15%. This isn’t so in the EU. Here, tipping is not only optional, the amount you tip (if you do) generally spans from a few Euro onwards.

At this point, the woman told him to add five Euro extra onto the bill, to which he repeated “the service is not included in the bill.”

Ok, so maybe he was confused? Could he not do math? I myself turned around and explained to him that there was additional already added into the amount to be charged….at which point he emphasized, again, that service was not already included.

He emphasized insistently and very, very, rudely. At this point my jaw was hanging open, wondering what sort of waiter would address patrons like this. (Obviously the kind that preys on tourists).

Upon being asked, he told our party that tipping was generally at 15%-20%, at which point we folded and added a full 15 Euro to the bill, an altogether ridiculous amount in a society that doesn’t ever rely on tipping.

Now this is the first time I’ve ever been harassed for a tip, and I think it had a lot to do with the company I was in. I myself look vaguely like a down-on-her-luck college student (ok, high school), an image I have carefully cultivated so as not to be robbed of my earthly possessions. But the rest of us, who were obviously well-off enough to travel all the way to Monaco, weren’t quite as shabby as me. Thus, the waiter felt entitled to ask for, nay, demand, more money.

When we told our guide later what had happened, her jaw also dropped.

“This,” she declared in her amazing French accent, “is absurd. If someone spoke to me like this I would give them nothing.”

So. Lesson learned. All the things people tell you about tipping in Europe are true. Don’t overpay just because some pushy asshole is lying to you about how things work in their country. What a poor ambassador for Monaco, and most especially, what a terrible impression to leave on people who are naturally very generous. Tipping in the future? I think not.

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Here’s a tip: try looking at the camera.

-Carissa

Nice is Nice!

Hello Dear Readers!

Today I am in Nice! I left Barcelona early on Saturday and ended up here at around 8pm. It was a long, long, day, and Nala wasn’t the biggest fan, but we made it safe and sound. My apartment here is pretty nice, though it’s only got a futon for a bed, which is less than ideal. But! It’s about a two minute walk to the beach so can I really complain?

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Can you believe this view?

Yesterday was my first full day in Nice, and to get myself started, I signed up for a walking food tour throughout the city. Let me tell you guys, the French really know their stuff. So fresh!

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We even did an olive oil tasting

I actually happened to meet a few other Americans on the tour, so they adopted me into our group and we even spent the rest of the day together! Guys, people think I’m interesting. They even want to spend time with me! How cool is that?

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I’m popular!

Anyway, the French Riviera is so far way cooler than Paris (sorry Eiffel Tower), and I can see why everyone comes to live here. I certainly would. It’s stunning, and I’ll be spending the next week here taking as many poorly-lit and amateurish photos as possible so you all can see.

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Until then, au revoir!

-Carissa “I can’t stop speaking in Spanish” Rawson