Anatomy of a (partly) award trip: France, Switzerland, Germany

This week I'm on my first big vacation since last summer's Club Carlson-financed trip around Central Europe, which means it's time for one of my patented anatomies of an award trip. You can find previous entries in the series here.

Getting there: United to Munich

Booking this flight was the occasion for a post in August about never finding a good enough excuse to redeem points for premium cabin travel. After writing that post, the price of our nonstop flights from Dulles to Munich fell even further, and I ultimately redeemed just 30,000 Flexpoints for a $599.76 roundtrip ticket.

Total cost: 30,000 Flexpoints. Total value: $599.76. Value per point: 2 cents per Flexpoint.

Getting around (1): train tickets to Lausanne

We arrived in Munich on Saturday, and don't have to be back in Germany until Thursday, so we decided to visit a friend currently working in Lausanne, Switzerland. After taking the Munich subway to the main train station, we popped into the "traveler's assistance" room to buy tickets.

Interestingly, at the Munich train station there were automated kiosks that sold tickets within Germany, but our itinerary required us to travel to Zurich, then switch to another, Swiss rail company for the second leg, and the kiosks wouldn't accept Lausanne as a destination (I believe they would have sold us tickets to Zurich if that were our final destination).

However, in the "traveler's assistance" room we walk up to the extremely friendly, extremely fluent English-speaking counter and were able to buy the exact tickets we wanted in a matter of minutes.

Total cost: $236.02. Note that we expect to pay this amount, or somewhat more, on the return trip to Zurich and then back to Munich.

Getting around (2): taxi from Lausanne to Evian-les-Bains

Once in Lausanne, it's easy to get from the train station to Evian-les-Bains, where we're staying. It's easy, that is, if you arrive before the last ferry across Lake Geneva leaves for the night. In our case, we were arriving on a Saturday, so we needed to be on board by 8 pm. Our train was scheduled to arrive at 7:40 pm. This was, obviously, cutting it pretty close, but it's not like we had any choice: we had to cross Germany and Switzerland after all, and we were on the only train that would get us to Lausanne that night.

Ultimately, our train arrived a few minutes late, at 7:47. We sprinted through the station looking for signs for the Lausanne metro, jumped onboard without paying (sorry, Lausanne), and managed to make it to the dock just in time. Just in time to see the last ferry pulling away from shore, that is.

At that point our hands were tied. We'd been traveling for 24 hours, we had no internet connection or hope of an internet connection to call an Uber (if they even have Uber) or research bus or car transportation. So we dragged ourselves up from the dock to the nearest taxi stand, where a car was waiting.

I asked the driver if he could take us to Evian-les-Bains, and he shrugged and said, "oui." Assuming this was a fairly regular occurence at 8:01 pm every night, I asked him how much it would cost, and he said he didn't know, but he would use the taximeter. Figuring I couldn't do much better than that, I finally asked if he could take credit cards, and he said he could. We hopped in and were on our way.

Now, I don't mean to be critical. Maybe it was his first day on the job. Maybe no one has ever missed the last ferry before and needed to be driven to their hotel on the other side of the lake. Maybe Swiss and French tourists carry hundreds of dollars in cash as a matter of course. But this is what happened next.

We drove along for 5 or 10 minutes, when the driver was suddenly struck by a realization: "I'm not sure my card reader will work when we get to France." I remind him I had asked if he could take cards, and he repeats that the card reader works on Swiss Telecom, and he doesn't know if it will work on the French mobile network. He says he'll drive me to an ATM, and I politely decline. Finally, he comes up with the idea of estimating the fare based on the distance to Evian. This seems sensible, and we settle on 220 CHF for the ride, which he charges me while we're still in Switzerland. We get back on the road, and I tell him to turn the taximeter back on. He agrees to pay me the difference it the fare ultimately ends up being less than 220 CHF.

The taximeter ultimately ended up around 260, so I guess the guy's confusion saved me 40 francs. I never did find out whether his credit card reader worked in France.

Total cost: $224.44 (two one-way ferry tickets would cost $42.85, so I "wasted" $181.59 on this part of the trip).

Staying there (1): Hilton Evian-les-Bains

For our first three nights, we're staying at the Hilton Evian-les-Bains, which is one of the only two properties in the area that participates in a loyalty program (the other is a Best Western Plus in Lausanne). The Hilton Evian-les-Bains is a beautiful, well-maintained spa/resort hotel a very short walk from the ferry terminal. They have a big, comfortable executive lounge where breakfast is served during the summer high season, and which offers desserts in the afternoon and hors d'oeuvres in the evening (you read that right, dessert first, then hors d'oeuvres). In the evening they also set up an open, unsupervised bar in the lounge, from which you are definitely not supposed to fill up the takeaway coffee cups with the liquor, wine, or cocktail of your choice.

During the low season (right now) Diamonds can take breakfast in the restaurant, which has an extensive buffet they call "continental" but that struck me as a pretty good take on an English breakfast, right down to the grilled tomatoes.

Total cost: 99,000 Hilton Honors points. Total value (comparable stay): $401.89. Value per point: 0.41 cents per Hilton Honors point.

Staying there (2): Park Hyatt Zurich

I don't always stay at Park Hyatts, but when I do, I redeem suite upgrade awards. In this case, I actually redeemed the suite upgrade attached to my customer service case number after the Hyatt Regency Lexington gave my "confirmed" suite upgrade to a bridal party instead (and refunded the entire cost of my stay back to my account).

The Park Hyatt Zurich is one of Hyatt's 13 Category 7 properties, and the first Category 7 property I'll stay at (I hope to visit at least the Park Hyatt New York before my Globalist status finally expires in March).

Total cost: 60,000 World of Hyatt points. Total value: $1202.31. Value per point: 2 cents per World of Hyatt point.


As you can see, the cost of this trip hasn't really been hacked at all.

For our hotel stays, I used the balances I had to guide where to stay during the trip. For example we're staying in Evian instead of in Lausanne, where our friend lives, because of the presence of the Hilton here, and at the Park Hyatt Zurich in order to try to wring some value from my Globalist status and Hyatt points balance.

While that means I didn't have any out-of-pocket expenses for my hotel stays (except 12,000 Ultimate Rewards points I had to transfer to World of Hyatt), on the other hand if I were absolutely focused on cost I probably could have spent far less by simply booking far in advance and staying at the absolutely cheapest properties in each city. The flip side, however, is that then we'd be staying at the absolutely cheapest properties, and not at this lovely Hilton or at the Park Hyatt Zurich.

Additionally, I got somewhat less value than I generally hope to from my Hilton Honors points: just 0.41 cents per point, meaning my grocery store spend with the Hilton Honors Surpass American Express earned just 2.46% in rebate value. I didn't hesitate to redeem points anyway since having already earned them, they were worthless until redeemed. However, if I find myself consistently redeeming for less than half a cent per Hilton Honors point, I can use that information to adjust where I allocate my manufactured spend.

My US Bank Flexpoints redemption, on the other hand, was just a few cents away from the maximum possible value, making me feel great about the Flexpoints I earn throughout the year (and bad about the upcoming devaluation).