I just booked myself a five city, four country award for 15,000 United miles + $73. Let’s back up a little bit before I explain my current award.

My 2013 Euro Hopper

Two years ago, I flew a Seven City, Seven Flight, Six Country Award in Europe for 12,500 United miles plus taxes. I was able to get all that flying in because United allowed unlimited connections within Europe, so I added six between Zagreb and Munich.

Source: gcmap.com

The huge drawback on such awards is that a connection is a layover of less than 24 hours, so I had less than a day in each city. United doesn’t allow any stops greater than 24 hours on one way awards. I made clear in every post about that award that I knew it wasn’t for everyone because not everyone would enjoy such rapid travel.

But I had a blast.

  • It was my first trip to Dubrovnik, and I achieved a dream of cliff jumping into the Adriatic under the centuries old city walls. I have to go back.
  • It was my first trip to Rome, and I got to see the Colloseum and Forum, places I’d wanted to see since Latin I. I have to go back for longer.
  • I had never been to Brussels, Oslo, or Amsterdam, and while I enjoyed my time knocking off 2-3 of the top sites and activities in each, I learned that I don’t need to go back for longer trips any time soon.
  • Finally I got to Munich in time for Oktoberfest and my flight back to the United States.

As a break from my slow travel routine, I really enjoyed my week of breakneck speed. It was also a useful sorting mechanism. Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Rome, and Munich need extended visits. Brussels, Oslo, and Amsterdam don’t.

Two things have changed since that week in 2013.

  1. United now only allows four segments on a one way award.
  2. United has increased the price of an intra-Europe award to 15,000 miles one way.

My 2015 Euro Hopper

Fast forward to 2015. I’m about to spend four months in Europe that I have mentally divided into four parts, each of about one month.

  1. Madrid, Spain
  2. Helsinki to Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius (the Baltics)
  3. Belgrade, Serbia
  4. Bucharest and Romania

I plan to end the main trip in Bucharest, but my return flight to the United States is an award that flies two segments in Emirates A380 First Class and begins in Zurich.

How to get from Bucharest to Zurich?

Another Europe hopper with 23 hour layovers. This time four segments between five cities and four countries.

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Source: gcmap.com

I start in Bucharest and end in Zurich. My only hard requirement was to fly direct flights only because when you have less than 24 hours on the ground in each place, you don’t want a tough journey to get there.

Because of schedules and interest, my trip ends up being Bucharest to Athens to Dubrovnik to Zagreb to Zurich.

  • This will be my first time in Athens, and I am ecstatic to see the Acropolis.
  • This will be my second time in Dubrovnik. Last time I only had about three hours of sunlight for cliff jumping. This time I plan to jump and hang out on the rocks at least twice that long!
  • This will be my second time in Zagreb. It’s a great place to be on a Friday night.
  • Finally I get to Zurich on Saturday afternoon, my favorite time to arrive in a new city, a few days before my flights back to the United States.

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The entire award costs only 15,000 miles and $72.80 in taxes that I paid with my new Citi Prestige® Card. Its $250 annual airfare and airline fee credit will give me back the $72.80.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.47.54 AM

Searching and Booking the Award

Searching the award took me about 20 minutes. It involved a lot of Wikipedia consultation, searching all the possible routes, and writing down the flight times to make sure the scheduled landing time of one flight is less than 24 hours before the scheduled departure time of the next.

Finding award space is the easy part. Intra-Europe award space is usually a gimme, available on almost every flight in economy.

I started at the beginning and checked out the Bucharest airport Wikipedia page to find the direct Star Alliance flight options. There are a lot: Athens, Vienna, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Lisbon, Copenhagen, and Istanbul among them.

I immediately eliminated many of the cities because I’ve spent extended time there recently, they were too far away, or I didn’t have interest. My clear top choice was Athens. I was flexible about the date of arrival in Zurich at the end of my award, so I searched Bucharest to Athens on a few days and noted the flight times.

I searched united.com, here’s how, because all the relevant United partners in Eastern Europe are searchable on united.com. The only European partner not searchable on united.com is Brussels Airlines. Search it on aeroplan.com.

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From Athens, I had a ton of options since it is the hub of Star Alliance carrier Aegean. (To make things easier on yourself when constructing these awards, plan a hub at least every other city.)

I only wanted to go to Dubrovnik. Athens to Dubrovnik is served by both Aegean and Croatia Airlines, but even combined, is not served daily. There was only one day and flight that worked for me. I noted its time.

From Dubrovnik, I had to get to Zurich in two more segments, so I opened the Dubrovnik airport Wikipedia page and Zurich airport Wikipedia page to find cities in common. There are actually a ton of cities in common because Croatia Airlines flies many seasonal routes from Dubrovnik.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.51.00 PM

I zeroed in on Zagreb and conveniently there are several daily Croatia-to-Zagreb and Zagreb-to-Zurich flights. I picked the ones that gave me closest to 24 hours, without going over, in each city.

Booking

I put the first segment on hold on united.com with the PayPal trick. Then I called United web support at 866-211-1861. I told the agent I just needed to add three segments to my itinerary and fed her the date, cabin, and flight number of the other segments. She never mentioned or charged a phone booking fee. That’s the advantage of starting the award with an online hold.

I paid with my Citi Prestige® Card to take advantage of its $250 airfare/fee credit. The whole call took about seven minutes. In less than thirty minutes I searched and booked the award.

In the end I get:

  • 22 hours in Athens
  • 20 hours in Dubrovnik
  • 19 hours in Zagreb
  • 3 days in Zurich (before my Emirates flight)
  • (2 days in Dubai as a free stopover on an Alaska Airlines award)
  • (arrive in Houston for a wedding)

It’s going to be a heck of a week!

Other Possible Itineraries

The Star Alliance dominates Europe. These are the European Star Alliance members and their hubs:

  • Adria Airways (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
  • Aegean Airlines (Athens, Greece)
  • Austrian Airlines (Vienna)
  • Brussels Airlines (Brussels, Belgium)
  • Croatia Airlines (Zagreb)
  • LOT Polish Airlines (Warsaw)
  • Lufthansa (Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, Berlin)
  • Scandinavian Airlines (Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm)
  • Swiss International Air Lines (Zurich)
  • TAP Portugal (Lisbon)
  • Turkish Airlines (Istanbul-Ataturk)

All these options make a four segment, five city itinerary very easy to create. Put the cities that you want to explore the most first and last because the three middle cities will only have 23 hours or less of exploration time. Also be sure to check the ease of getting from the airport to the city. Frankfurt is about a 15 minute train while Paris is about a one hour train. That matters a lot when you only have 23 hours.

Other Regions

This award may be possible in other regions, but Europe has some major advantages:

  1. No other region has close to the 11 European partners.
  2. No other region has cultures change over such short distances–short flights are nice when you only get 23 hours in a place.

Bottom Line

I’m taking the long way from Bucharest to Zurich, taking advantage of all four segments United gives you on a one way award with daylong stops in Athens, Dubrovnik, and Zagreb.

I searched on united.com with the help of Wikipedia. I put the first segment on hold and called in to book the award.

The award cost me 15,000 United miles and $73. I paid with my Citi Prestige® Card. Because of its $250 annual airfare/fee credit, I will have the $73 credited back to me. I’ve used up my free $250 for 2015 in the first month of having the card. I’ll get another free $250 for airfare and award taxes in January 2016, so I’ll get $500 in free money for the card’s first $450 annual fee. That’s in addition to the card’s 50,000 bonus points, 3x category bonuses, and free American Airlines and Priority Pass airport lounge access. Read my full review of the Citi Prestige.

There’s no excuse not to have 15,000 United miles. Right now the United card is offering 55,000 bonus miles.  You can get the United card and Citi Prestige on the same day.

 

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