Trip Report: How We Got a Luxury Scandinavian Trip for FREE

Taylor and I strive to travel as much as possible while spending as little money as possible!  We do this by using points and miles.  Without points and miles we wouldn’t be able to go on half the amount of trips we took the last few years.  We recently took a trip to Europe and spent time in Finland, Sweden, and Paris.  Here’s a breakdown on how we saved over $6,600 on our recent trip and some tips on how you can save money traveling too!

Trip Itinerary - Short Version

First, let’s cover the trip itinerary in a quick summary so you know exactly what we did it.  The trip duration was 9 days in length.  We flew from Newark, NJ to Paris and then flew from Paris to Helsinki.  In Helsinki we spent 2 nights, explored the city and got a chance to jump in the Baltic Sea (it was freezing).  After Helsinki we headed north into arctic circle for 3 nights.  Here we explored Santa Claus Village and the Northern Lights Village.  Our goal was to see the northern lights and also meet Santa in the north pole (not exactly the north pole but close enough).  After the arctic circle we headed to Stockholm Sweden for 2 nights and then wrapped up our trip in Paris for a night.  In total it looks something like this:  

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Flights

  1. Newark, NJ to Paris – La Compagnie
  2. Paris to Helsinki – Air France/Finnair
  3. Helsinki to Ivalo (Artic Circle) – American Airlines/Finnair
  4. Ivalo to Stockholm – Finnair
  5. Stockholm to Paris – Delta/Air France
  6. Paris to Newark NJ – La Compagnie
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Hotel Nights

  1. Helsinki – Marriott
  2. Helsinki – Marriott
  3. Romanvieni (Artic Circle) – Santa’s Igloos Artic Circle 
  4. Saariselka (Artic Circle) – Northern Lights Village Saariselkä, Saariselka
  5. Saariselka (Artic Circle) – Northern Lights Village Saariselkä, Saariselka
  6. Stockholm – Marriott
  7. Stockholm – Marriott
  8. Paris – Hilton Garden Inn Orly 

How we booked this trip

Now I’ll be honest, this is the first long trip (long meaning more than 5 days) that we used points and miles to fund the entire thing.  In the past we strived to get the best value out of our points and miles often volunteering to pay cash instead of redeeming our points if it wasn’t the best redemption.  However, since we are building our very own home on wheels (converting a sprinter van) we promised ourselves to be more money conscious and decided if we can’t fund it with points or miles, we aren’t doing it.

So in total we saved around…

$ 0

Total Saved

Like I said in the intro, we did this by redeeming our credit card points and frequent flier miles on flights, hotels, and rental cars.  

We used the following points and miles:

Redemption Type Total Points/Miles
American Airline Miles
20,000
Chase Ultimate Rewards
301,080
Citi Thank You Points
30,000
Delta SkyMiles
20,000
Hilton Honors Points
28,000
Marriott Bonvoy Points
90,000 + Free Night Certificate

Notice that I am using more than one point/mile program.  Taylor and I have a diverse portfolio of points and miles from different companies which gives us more flexible options to redeem the best deals possible. 

Tip 1: Take advantage of deals!

Most of the time when Taylor and I travel, we take advantage of discounted deals.  For example, we try to fly business class on long haul flights.  In order to do this we can only travel on dates that have the best deals possible.  So when a deal pops up (and it doesn’t matter where in Europe), we jump on it.  We do this because we know that flights in Europe are relatively cheap and easy to book, and that the hard part is getting across the pond (Atlantic Ocean) in business class.  

I show how to find cheap flight deals in our “Ultimate Guide to Finding Cheap Flights”, e-book which you can obtain when you sign up to receive our travel tips!

 

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Tip 2: Have Flexible Travel Dates

In addition to taking advantage of discounted deals, we stay as flexible as possible with our travel dates.  We try to determine what dates have the best redemption and then plan our hotels around that.  I understand not everyone has this ability due to work schedules, prior commitments, or especially if you have children with school, etc.  However the more flexible you are, the further your points and miles can take you!

It’s often harder to find redemptions on flights compared to hotels so that’s why we always book our flights first. 

 

trip report how we got a luxury scandanavian vacation for free
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Trip Itinerary - Long Version

Flight 1 - Newark to Paris Round Trip - La Compagnie

How was your trip what - how did you get there is a great question to ask

Our flight that got us across the Atlantic Ocean was with La Compagnie and it only cost $999 round trip in lie-flat business class.  La Compagnie offers a unique flying experience because it is an entire business class cabin.  Yes that’s right, every seat is a lie-flat business class seat that comes with 2 meals, free wifi, and wonderful in flight entertainment.  

This flight deal was so good that we booked the flight again for another Euro trip heading to Prague.  However, we didn’t pay cash for this flight we used our Chase Ultimate Reward points. 

Since we accumulated a large amount of Chase Ultimate Rewards through credit cards, we were able to redeem our points for travel at 1.5 cents per point so every $1,000 equals 66,666 points.  

So we booked this flight at a rate of 66,600 ($999/.015 = 66,600) points each or 133,200 points in total.  

Total trip savings so far = $1,998

Flight 2 - Paris to Helsinki - Air France/Finnair

To get to Helsinki from Paris we booked a flight on Finnair using miles from Air France.  Since Air France is an airline partner of Finnair, we’re able to redeem Air France miles and book Finnair.  This flight would have cost us $302 each but since we used points and miles it only costs us 15,000 Air France miles + $32.5 in taxes and fees each or 30,000 miles + $63.  

Paris to Helsinki cash price - how we save money traveling to europe

You might be wondering how in the world do we have Air France miles if we live in the United States?

Well we have Citi Thank You points which are transferable to Air France’s Flying Blue program, so if you have a Citi credit card that earns Citi Thank You points you can transfer your points to Air France and redeem your Air France Flying Blue miles on flights. 

Transferring our citi thank you points to flying blue

Above you can see I am transferring our Citi Thank You points to Air France Flying Blue Point Program.

Flying blue receipt for miles and cost of taxes and fees

Here we are redeeming our Flying Blue points which were originally transferred over from Citi Thank You Points from our Citi credit card.

Total trip savings so far: $1,998 + 539 = $2,537

Hotel Nights 1 and 2 - Helsinki - Marriott

Our first two nights in Europe were spent in Helsinki, Finland.  We stayed at a Marriott partner hotel part of the Design Hotels collection.  We used our one annual award night certificate which we obtained from having American Express Marriott credit card and 30,000 Marriott points to save a total of $254 each night, totaling $508 in savings.  

Hotel St. George Helsinki Redemption
Cash price for Marriott Helsinki

Luckily when redeeming hotel nights with points or free night certificates you do not have to pay taxes or surcharge fees so this stay was completely free!

Total trip savings so far: $2,537 + 508 = $3,045

Flight 3 - Helsinki to Ivalo (Artic Circle) - American Airlines/Finnair

After our time spent in Helsinki, (which you can learn about how our recommendations on what to do here), we flew north into the arctic circle on Finnair.  

We were able to save money on this flight by using American Airline miles to redeem the flight on Finnair.  We are able to do this because of the Oneworld airline alliance.  Both American Airlines and Finnair are a member of the Oneworld alliance, which allows you to redeem miles from one airline for another since they are partner airlines.  This allows us to accumulate miles for a domestic carrier and travel internationally!  It’s pretty amazing right?   

American Airlines Redemption flying to europe for free

In total this flight was going to be really expensive if we didn’t use points.  It would have costs each of us $318 ($636 total) if we paid cash.  Instead we each redeemed 10,000 American Airline miles and paid $18 ($36 total) in fuel charges.

Total trip savings so far: $3,045 + $636 - $36 = $3,645

Rental Car in the Arctic Circle

We stayed in two locations in Arctic Circle that we’re nearly 3 hours from one another.  Since Taylor and I do not prefer to travel with large groups or tours we often opt to use our own method of transportation and rent a car if possible.  Here we used our Chase Ultimate Reward points to redeem our rental car with Avis. 

Rental Car for Artic Circle redeemed with chase points

This car would have costs us roughly $202.74 if we didn’t use points.  Redeeming through the chase portal allowed us to redeem this car rental for 13,510 points saving us that $202.

Total trip savings so far: $3,645 + 202 = $3,847

Hotel Night 3 - Santa's Igloo Rovaniemi

Since our goal was to see the northern lights in northern Finland, we wanted to stay at hotels that offered the aurora/igloo cabin experience.  While in Rovaniemi there’s a few places like this and one in particular that caught our eye was Santa’s Igloo right next to Santa Claus Village. 

Taylor wrote an amazing, “Everything you need to know, a travel guide for Lapland Finland” if you’re interested in learning more about what the trip was like. 

Santas Igloos at Santa Claus Village Hotel from the inside
Santas Igloos at Santa Claus Village Hotel - how we saved money traveling to europe

Staying a Santa’s Igloo cost a pretty penny and without points we wouldn’t have stayed here.  It would have costs us $736 for one night, which is more than the Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand our favorite hotel we ever stayed at (don’t worry we didn’t pay for this either!).  At least it came with free breakfast?

Santa's Igloos Arctic Circle Hotel Costs in Cash
Santa's Igloos Arctic Circle Hotel redeemed with chase points

So again booking through the chase portal we redeemed for 1.5 cents per point bringing this to a total of 49,111 chase ultimate reward points, saving us $736!

Total trip savings so far: $3,847 + $736 = $4,583

Hotel Night 4 and 5 - Northern Lights Village Saariselkä

Similar to Rovaniemi we stayed in another aurora cabin hotel further north in the Arctic Circle in the town of Saariselkä.  This wasn’t as expensive as Santa’s Igloo Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi but it was still pretty pricey but the experience was incredible.  

Saariselka northern lights village aurora cabins outside (1 of 1)
Saariselka northern lights village aurora cabins (1 of 1)

The total costs of this hotel for two nights (which came with free breakfast and dinner!) was $1,216.76.

Northern Lights Village Saariselka Northern Finland - paid with points
Northern Lights Village Saariselka Northern Finland - paid with points saving us over $1200

Again I want to reiterate, this trip is not possible without points and miles.  The thought of Taylor and I spending $1,216 with cash out of our pockets for only two nights is insane!  We are only able to do this because we’re able to accumulate hundreds of thousands of points and miles.

Also, if you can’t tell already we are eating up a lot of our Chase Ultimate Reward points on this trip over 260,000 points used so far!

Total trip savings so far: $4,583 + $1,216 = $5,799

Flight 4 - Ivalo (Arctic Circle) to Stockholm Sweden - American Airlines/Finnairc

After our time spent in the arctic circle, it was time to leave Finland and head to Stockholm Sweden.  

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that great of a redemption from Ivalo (northern Finland) to Stockholm so I had to use my chase ultimate reward points to pay for the flight redeeming the points at 1.5 cents per point thanks to my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card.  Taylor did the same with her points.

If you haven’t noticed, we redeem our chase points through the chase portal for 1.5 cents per point as a last option.  We always try to get the maximum redemption value possible, but we know with chase we’re guaranteed a 1.5 cents per point value. 

Using Chase points to pay for our flights in Europe

The screenshot above showcases booking the flight for 1 person using 12,004 points, saving us $180.07.  Multiply that by 2 for both me and Taylor we’re now at a savings of $360.14 and redeeming 24,008 points in total.

Total trip savings so far: $5,799 + $360 = $6,159

Hotel Night 5 and 6 - Sheraton Stockholm

We stayed in Stockholm at the Sheraton for 2 nights which is right near Grand Central station and next to Gamla Stan, also known as old town.  Bottom line it was a great location and we loved the city of Stockholm.  For this stay we used our Marriott points and redeemed 60,000 points in total or 30,000 points per night. 

Sheraton Stockholm Hotel Marriott redeemed with points
Sheraton Stockholm Hotel Marriott redeemed with 60000 chase points for free travel to europe

The costs of this hotel was $127 per night or $254 in total.  So our 60,000 Marriott points saved us $254.  

Total trip savings so far: $6,159 + $254 = $6,413

This wasn’t the best redemption value and we could have redeemed less points through the chase portal, but understand that not all currencies are the same.  A Marriott point is worth much less than a chase ultimate reward point.  This is something I explain in much more detail in our online course which teaches you example how to accumulate thousands of points and miles.   

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Flights and Hotels?

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Flight 5 - Stockholm Sweden to Paris - American Airlines/Finnair

After our stay in Stockholm we had to fly back to Paris to catch our final flight back home on La Compagnie to Newark.  We used Delta miles to fly on Air France and we’re able to do this thanks to another airline alliance.  Delta and Air France are both part of the Sky Team alliance, similar to American Airlines and Finnair with the Oneworld alliance.  This flight wasn’t too expensive but again we wanted to save as much money as possible so we used our Delta Sky Miles.  

The flight costs $112 or $224.00 total.  Instead we each used 10,000 (20,000 in total) Delta Sky Miles and paid $23 ($46 in total) in surcharges/taxes and fees.

Delta redemption on Air France from Stockholm to Paris
Delta redemption for kevin on air france from stockholm to paris
Total trip savings so far: $6,413 + $224 - $46 = $6,591

Hotel Night 7 - Hilton Garden Inn Orly Airport

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We booked this hotel last minute since we thought we were going to stay at the Waldorf Astoria at the Palace of Versailles but then quickly learned that the palace isn’t open on Mondays!  So we quickly called got our points refunded and used them to book a hotel near the airport so we don’t have to rush for our flight the next day.  

For this stay we used our Hilton points and since we’re diamond members thanks to our Hilton Aspire credit card, we get free breakfast.

Using Hilton points to stay at the hilton garden inn orly aiport for free

I didn’t capture a screenshot of how much the room was this night, but it wasn’t too expensive.  For conservative numbers I will say it costs $100 including taxes and fees.

Total trip savings so far: $6,591 + $100 = $6,691

Flight 6 - Paris to Newark - La Compagnie

Our flight back home to the United States was on the return segment of our roundtrip business class flight on La Compagnie.  I documented the savings for this flight in the very first section.  

Additional Savings

In addition to the flights, hotels, and rental cars covered by points and miles, we also saved money on food while traveling in airports.  Since Taylor and I have several credit cards that offer the Priority Pass, we’re able to access airport lounges around the world.  Most lounges offer free food, beverages, and alcohol.  We usually always try to find the lounges when traveling so we do not have to spend any extra money in the airports. 

Summary

I hope you found this post informative and it didn’t come off as bragging in any way shape or form.  My intent is to show you that these strategies really do work and can save you a lot of money.  For us, this enables us to take more vacations per year and in luxury.  I truly believe anyone can replicate our results if they plan accordingly and dedicate themselves to learning the strategies.

We are incredibly grateful that we figured out how to accumulate points and miles to redeem for trips like these as we know we wouldn’t be able to travel like this if we didn’t.  Since 2016 we saved over $81,000 on our past vacations and endured some luxurious experiences that we absolutely would not have paid cash for.  This trip is good example of that and in total, we were able to save $6,691 for our flights, hotels, and car rental.  

If you have any questions or comments please let me know.  If you’d like to learn more about our online course that teaches you how to accumulate points and miles then check out our e-course below. 

 

Want to learn how we use

Points and Miles

to fund our vacations

Check out our e-course to learn how we accumulate over a million points and miles to redeem for free travel anywhere in the world. 

About The Author

Kevin Mathers

A washed-up hockey player, surfer, and husband currently working towards financial freedom and showing you how we do it as a couple. I started this blog initially as a personal finance blog but after getting married, Taylor (my wife and best friend) and I decided to switch gears into the travel world sharing our experiences with you along the way.

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