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How I saved nearly $3,500 on two flights to Europe during the busiest time of year

How I saved nearly $3,500 on two flights to Europe during the busiest time of year

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When my parents told me that they wanted our whole family to meet in Germany next July to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on a European River Cruise, I was both excited and filled with dread. July is arguably the busiest time of the year to fly to Europe — and the most expensive.
My husband and I looked at flights and realized that if we didn’t have enough rewards miles to fly from Denver to Frankfurt, Germany, it would probably cost us nearly $2,000 per person. That would stretch the family budget but there was no way we could (or would ever want to) turn down this invitation. Celebrating such a large milestone together was a privilege and a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Fortunately, by strategizing my travel rewards and booking almost a year in advance, I was able to purchase two round-trip tickets for a total of 60,000 miles apiece and $230 in taxes and fees. I was so excited to save so much money that I wanted to share my strategy.
It’s still hard to believe that I’ll be cruising down the Danube with my whole family next summer.
A step-by-step snapshot
I’ll go into greater detail, but here’s an overview of how I booked these flights:

I started looking for flights as soon as I knew when and where we would be traveling.
I used a broad Google flight search, putting dates and destinations in so I could see what airlines flew from Denver to Frankfurt.
Once I knew what airlines fly that route, I could narrow my search and figure out what rewards miles I could use.
The best options were on United Airlines(shortest flight time, but more expensive). I knew that I could use the Chase Ultimate Rewards points I’d been accumulating on my Chase Sapphire Reserve® for a flight on United.
The cash price of flights on United was about $1,750 per person.
When I signed up for my Chase Sapphire Reserve®, I received a 100,000-point bonus after meeting minimum spending requirements (an offer that’s no longer available). After using the card continually since then, my husband and I had the points to fly from Denver to Frankfurt in mid-July for free.

Here is a more detailed look at my philosophy at my strategy for rewards miles.
Keep 100,000 rewards points or miles in the bank
I keep rewards “in the bank” the same way that I do with dollars in my actual savings account. It’s nice to keep a cushion and if my stash falls below about 75,000 rewards points, I start to get nervous because my goal is to always have the flexibility to jump on a great flight deal if one p
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