How I paid just $925 for my first class airfares and Railpass for Europe

Hi Frugalistas!

I’m off to Europe in October.  I’ve organised to spend 10 days in France, and then I’m heading to Istanbul for 4 nights before I come home.  It’s a bit of a special trip – in celebration of a significant birthday, so I want the best possible I can afford.  But I still want it to be frugalfirstclass all the way.

Etihad first class suite here I come! (photo:

Etihad first class suite here I come!

My itinerary includes a First Class Suite on Etihad Airways from Sydney to Europe.  Then I need a four day France Railpass.  I’ve done my sums and have worked out that a four day Railpass will be cheaper than individual point to point tickets, or a three day pass and a point to point for my shortest leg.   Then I’ve booked a Business Class flight on Turkish Airlines from Lyon to Paris (there is no First Class).  My flights home are a combination of an Etihad Airways Business Class flight from Istanbul to Abu Dhabi, then my first ever flight on Emirates – in a First Class Suite on their A380 service from Dubai to Sydney.

Here’s how I paid just AUD925  for all this (including chauffeur driven transfers!)

Firstly, I used my Etihad Guest points to book my flight to Europe.  I was a little short for a First Class points redemption, so I transferred the balance of my American Express Membership Rewards account to my Etihad account.  This still left me a few points short.  The best destination I could book at the time was to Geneva, so I paid the EUR27 (about AUD35 at the time I booked) with cash to top up my points, and pay for my ticket, including taxes.  Even though my ticket is a points redemption flight, I’m still eligible for a chauffeur transfer from the airport to central Geneva.

Total cost for the Sydney to Geneva leg – AUD35


Because I booked my Etihad flight and therefore cleared out my Membership Rewards points back in January, I’ve had time to restock.  The funds I’ve gathered on my card by making my usual purchases are enough to buy my Railpass and book my seats.  A four day in 30 days France Railpass is AUD350 currently.  Each of my four journeys involve a TGV journey.  These therefore incur a compulsory booking fee of approximately AUD10 each.   I will also use my Membership Rewards to pay for these.  I’ll be traveling from Geneva to Paris, and will just catch the Metro from the station to my hotel once I arrive.

Total cost of my Railpass – ZERO!

I couldn’t find a sensible way to redeem any points on either my Virgin Australia or Qantas frequent flyer accounts.  Therefore I had no other option but to buy a ticket.  There’s also no First Class on either Air France or Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, so I’ve booked a Turkish Airlines Business Class ticket from Lyon to Istanbul.  This was cheaper than booking from Paris, and also saves me having to pay for another Railpass day to travel back to Paris.  I was actually going to Lyon anyway, and my itinerary worked perfectly to be able to finish my French trip there.  I’ll catch the Lyon metro from my hotel to the airport.

Total cost of my ticket from Lyon to Istanbul – AUD890

Once I arrive in Istanbul, my hotel includes a free minivan transfer because I’m staying for 4nights.  Coming home, I’ve used some Virgin Australia Velocity miles to book an Etihad Business Class ticket to Abu Dhabi (unfortunately I couldn’t get a First Class redemption on the day I wanted to travel).  I’ll use an Etihad chauffeur transfer back to the airport.  I couldn’t book a flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney (I blogged about this saga previously).  Fortunately, on 31 March a solution arrived in the form of the brand new Emirates/Qantas alliance.  So, I got on the Qantas website on the morning of 31 March, and snared myself a First Class Suite from Dubai to Sydney.  Getting from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is easy and free – Emirates provide a chauffeur service for First and Business passenges between the two airports.  I’ve also booked a free chauffeured car on my Emirates ticket for the short drive home in Sydney.  I’ve used points to pay for my taxes and surcharges.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Total cost of my ticket from Istanbul to Sydney – ZERO

I appreciate not everyone has the opportunity to accumulate the points necessary for such a grand itinerary in First Class.  But, think about what opportunities you have for a First Class splurge trip if you are really smart with your airline loyalty program memberships and your credit card loyalty programs.

Author’s note:  at the time of writing, 1 Australian dollar was worth approximately 90cents US.

Related posts:

Railpass 101 – choosing your Railpass

Five Common Railpass Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

How I saved 200 000 frequent flyer points in 6 months


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19 Comments on “How I paid just $925 for my first class airfares and Railpass for Europe”

  1. Geek Goddess 04/08/2013 at 10:09 pm #

    Wow. I mostly fly United, because they bought out Continental. Of course, United changed out the point requirements needed for things, and also I can no longer transfer my Amex points to United, which is where a lot of my FF points came from! Most of my domestic business travel is now done on the company plane, so I don’t get points there, either.

    I didn’t realize I could get Railpass with my Amex points, though, so that’s great news. I’m going to Croatia for a week in September, so I’ll look into this.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 05/08/2013 at 6:18 am #

      Here, if we use the Amex travel service, we can pay with points. The conversion rate is good too.

  2. Jeff Titelius 05/08/2013 at 12:28 am #

    What an amazing journey this is going to be for you my friend!! What a way to mark a milestone Bday!! YAY for you!!

  3. Anita Breland (@AnitasFeast) 05/08/2013 at 3:13 am #

    Congratulations, this is quite something…have a wonderful trip and birthday!

  4. RosemaryK (@AussieFrance) 05/08/2013 at 7:00 am #

    This is definitely going on my Wednesday’s bloggers round-up this week so that others can benefit from your savvy.
    If you have time for a coffee in Paris, I’d love to meet up.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 05/08/2013 at 11:54 am #

      Thanks Rosemary. Yes, I was going to ask if you were around for a coffee. I’ll email you the exact dates.

  5. jpilkington09 06/08/2013 at 6:57 am #

    This post definitely makes me appreciate how lucky I am to live in Europe. Very pleased to hear you’ll be back in these parts – have you got an itinerary planned?

  6. mytimetotravel 07/08/2013 at 6:29 am #

    I thought this was going to tell me something useful about actually BUYING first class tickets. Of course you can use points or miles, but that’s hardly news.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 07/08/2013 at 6:47 am #

      I’m sorry my post didn’t meet your expectations. Most of my readers find these type of posts aspirational and inspirational.

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

  7. IndianaJo 14/08/2013 at 7:06 am #

    I wish I had access to US credit cards (I’m from the UK) and the points they give as I read so many blogs on flight hacking it makes me green with travel envy 🙂 Still, I do what I can with the offers in the UK and agree there is nothing sweeter than using points to get around cheaper or for free. I’ve never been to Istanbul so will look forward to your posts. I did, however, just spend a month in Italy – excellent choice! If you want any tips on Florence, I’ve got a few posts on my blog including Top 10 sights and as a money saver you might want to check out the Firenze Card.
    Have an amazing trip and happy upcoming birthday.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 17/08/2013 at 8:51 am #

      Yes, the American card bonus schemes are amazing – much better than anything we can get here in Australia too. I always look at those cards like the Firenze card you mentioned – sometimes they are worth it and sometimes not, but are always worth a look. If you get to jump the queue at the really popular sites they can be worth paying for the convenience, even if cost wise you might spend a little more.

      Thanks for your kind thoughts.

  8. Janice & George (@SandInSuitcase) 25/08/2013 at 6:59 am #

    Very smart!! And that Etihad first-class suite looks very sweet. We’ve flown business class before, but never first-class. We hear it really is the cat’s meow :-). Enjoy your trip!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 26/08/2013 at 8:01 am #

      I’ve been fortunate to fly both Etihad First and Business Class, and they are both are very good products. What I’m really looking forward to this time is the opportunity to compare the Etihad and Emirates first classes. Emirates is the one everyone talks about in glowing terms, but Etihad has been the more consistent award winner – a comparison post will, of course, follow post trip!

  9. Good for you, nicely done. I have never heard of that airline but will keep an eye out for the future. That first class suite looks amazing! I flew first class last year (Air Canada) and I never want to fly coach again. hahaha. Have fun!!!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 27/08/2013 at 6:27 am #

      That’s the problem, once you’ve been up the front you’re ruined for life! Etihad is the airline of the UAE. For us traveling to Europe we need a stopover in either Asia or the Middle East, so those airlines are very popular with Aussie travellers.
      Thanks for taking the time to drop by!


  1. Date Night: Patisserie des Reves – Resting in the shadows of the Chartres Cathedral – How I paid just $925 for my first class airfares and railpass for Europe | Aussie in France - 07/08/2013

    […] My itinerary includes a First Class Suite on Etihad Airways from Sydney to Europe.  Then I need a four day France Railpass.  I’ve done my sums and have worked out that a four day Railpass will be cheaper than individual point to point tickets, or a three day pass and a point to point for my shortest leg. Read more […]

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