The Best Ways to Use Miles and Points to Get to Europe

There are a number of ways to use miles and points to get to Europe for very cheap. Some of the best redemptions depend on your specific route and destination but others are great deals regardless of where you’re departing from and landing. Here’s a list of 8 of the best ways to use points and miles to get to Europe! 

Update: See my article on the best way to use miles and points to get to Paris for a more in-depth look at getting to Europe. 

1) Flying Blue

  • 25,000 miles (depends on the promo)
  • 50,000 miles – Standard redemption to Europe Flying Blue

Photo by Can Pac Swire via Flickr

Flying Blue offers amazing promo deals that sometimes offer as much as 50% off to Europe! These deals pop up at the beginning of each month so you’ll need to keep a close on them to take advantage of them. Even if you don’t catch one of the promo deals, the standard rate of 50,000 miles roundtrip to Europe is not bad, especially if you can minimize the fees by booking with a SkyTeam alliance partner like Delta. Flying Blue also allows you one stopover and one open jaw so you have increased value. 

How to get miles for Flying Blue

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guests
  • Citi Thankyou Points

2) British Airways Avios

British Airways Avios operates on a distance-based chart, so to take advantage of these best redemption rates you need to be departing from the East Coast of the United States and landing somewhere in Western Europe. However, even if you’re coming from the West Coast, some of the redemptions can still be pretty decent. And remember, with British Airways you can stopover and/or open jaw pretty much anywhere but you’ll have to factor in the increased distance added to your redemption.

London Heathrow U.K. - British Airways Flag carrier

Photo by Daniel Mennerich

There are several ways to take advantage of the British Airways Avios distance-based system when getting to Europe. I’ll show you how to utilize these Avios with three different One World airlines, including British Airways.

a) Aer Lingus

  • 25,000 Avios – Boston to Dublin
  • 40,000 Avios – NYC/Chicago/Toronto to Dublin
  • 50,000 Avios – LA/San Francisco to Dublin

One popular way to get to Europe with British Airways is to book flights with the Irish airlines Aer Lingus. The Boston to Dublin route is highly valuable because it contains a total of 2,987 miles, which puts it just under the 3,000 mile range of the next bracket for British Airways. That’s how you can do a round trip for only 25,000 Avios and the route is only about 6 hours so it’s very doable in economy. Check here for a list of all Aer Lingus direct flights from North America.

You’ll need to search United’s website to find availability for Aer Lingus and then call in to British Airways to proceed with the booking.

b) British Airways

  • 34,000 Avios – NYC to Dublin

Off-peak flights from the East Coast to Europe can be as low as 34,000 Avios. However, I don’t generally recommend to fly with British Airways to Europe because you will get hit with heavy fuel surcharges. Take a look at the fees for the route below.

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While the off-peak redemption requires fewer miles than the Aer Lingus redemption, it also requires much more in fees than the same route would require booked with Aer Lingus.

c) Air Berlin

  • 40,000 Avios – NYC to Berlin
  • 40,000 Avios – NYC/Boston to Düsseldorf
  • 50,000 Avios – Chicago/Miami to Berlin
  • 50,000 Avios – Ft. Meyers/Miami to Düsseldorf

Air Berlin is a solid choice to get to Europe from the East Coast with minimal fees. Just take a look at the redemption below… the fees pale in comparison to what you would have to pay if you booked a British Airways flight on its own metal. 

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How to get British Airways Avios

  • American Express Membership Rewards (10:8)
  • Starwood Preferred Guests
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Chase British Airways Credit Card

3) Iberia Airlines Plus

  • 34,000 Avios – NYC/Chicago to Madrid
  • 42,500 – Miami to Madrid Iberia Airlines

Photo by Bernal Saborio via Flickr.

Iberia Airlines Plus is part of the same Avios system as British Airways and implements a distance-based system as well. However, it has its own unique redemption policies that do differ and has an advantage over British Airways in that you can avoid higher taxes and fees.

One sweet redemption is getting from Chicago or New York to Madrid for only 34,000 Avios and “only” about $180-$200 in fees (which compared to British Airways is actually not bad). You can lower the fees by booking flights on American Airlines, but keep in mind that the milage requirement will go up since Iberia charges more miles for certain partners and you can’t book one-way awards on American Airlines with Iberia

How to get Iberia Avios

  • American Express Membership Rewards (10:8)
  • Transfer 1:1 from British Airways Avios

4) Singapore Airlines

  • 34,000 miles – East Coast (JFK and Houston) to Europe II

Photo by Pieter van Marion via Fickr.

Singapore Airlines is another great way get to Europe but you’re restricted geographically just like British Airways. If you depart from the East Coast/Houston to “Europe II,” you can get rates as low as 34,000 roundtrip if you capture the online 15% booking discount. The following locations fall into the Europe II category:

  • Barcelona
  • Frankfurt
  • London
  • Manchester
  • Milan
  • Moscow
  • Munich
  • Paris
  • Zurich

However, you need to note that Singapore Airlines will charge you significant fees. For example, I came across the following fees when trying out some bookings:

  • NYC to Frankfurt – $464
  • Houston to Moscow – $393

You can get around these hefty fees by booking Star Alliance partner United with Singapore Airlines. As shown on their Star Alliance partner award chart, flights from North America to Europe can be booked as low as 55,000 miles, but partner airlines are not given the 15% discount and the redemption rates are higher, so the deal is not to sweet (though still decent). 

One thing to remember: Singapore Airlines allows one stopover and one open jaw on round trip saver awards to everywhere except Europe and the U.S.

How to get Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guests
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi Thankyou Points

5) American Airlines

  • 45,000 to Europe American Airlines

Photo by ERIC SALARD via Flickr.

American Airlines MileSAAver awards allow for redemptions to Europe as low as 45,000 round trip. Try to avoid booking British Airways flights on the American Airlines website to cut down on fees charged. If you stick with American Airlines you can keep your fees as low as about $50 but if you route with British Airways through London, your fees can easily amount to $650 plus.

American Airlines does not allow for stopovers at international destinations although open jaws are permitted. The lack of stopovers is a bummer but if you only have your sights set on one destination in Europe this becomes less of a concern and the roundtrip for 45,000 becomes much sweeter.

How to get American Airlines Aadvantage miles

  • Citi Platinum Select/Executive
  • Citigold Checking bonuses
  • Starwood Preferred Guests

6) Korean Air

  • 50,000 miles to Europe

korean air plane

Photo by My16SidedOffice via Flickr.

Korean offers decent redemptions to Europe. When booking with a SkyTeam partner you are allowed one stopover during the entire journey that can be in the zone of departure or arrival and one “surface segment” (open jaw) at the destination that is not considered a stopover. This allows for great flexibility when booking. Korean Air will often require surcharges when getting to Europe but if you can find availability on airlines like Delta that shouldn’t be a major problem.

How to get Korean Air SKYPASS miles

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards 
  • Starwood Preferred Guests
  • SKYPASS Visa Signature Card

7) ANA

  • 55,000 miles to Europe

ANA is a great option to get to Europe because you can avoid high fees by booking with Star Alliance partners like United and they allow for flexibility with generous stopover and open jaw policies. With ANA, you’re allowed to open jaw twice and stopover once. The rules for the open jaw are a little confusing because they define some continents as “countries” and alternate the terms “zones” and “areas” without clear definitions of exactly what they are referring to.

However, in terms of going to Europe, you can pretty much open jaw anywhere in the continent and stopover there one time as well. To find out more about these booking policies, read more about booking ANA award flights here.

How to get ANA miles

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guests

8) United

  • 60,000 miles to Europe

United’s Saver Awards allow you to get to Europe in economy for 60,000 miles (the same mileage requirement applies to Star Alliance redemptions). While this redemption is among the highest of the airlines on the list, you have to remember that with United you don’t have to worry about fuel surcharges and so your tickets to Europe will cost next-to-nothing. You’re also allowed an open jaw on a roundtrip ticket and two open jaws, allowing for superb flexibility and maximization of miles.

How to get United Mileage Plus miles

  • Starwood Preferred Guests (bad 2:1 ratio)
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Chase United Mileage Plus Credit Card

Guide to Korean Air SKYPASS Award Miles

Korean Air SKYPASS is a quality frequent flyer program with some great sweet spots serving different places around the globe. The program requires a bit of extra effort to proceed with booking alliance partner awards, but that little bit of extra work definitely pays off in the end. Here’s a guide to booking awards with Korean Air SKYPASS miles on SkyTeam alliance partners with a look at some of the best redemptions available. 

What is SKYPASS?


SKYPASS is Korean Air’s frequent flier program. Korean Air is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance so you can use SKYPASS to book award flights on SkyTeam Alliance partners in addition to several non-alliance partners. 

SkyTeam Alliance Partners

The SkyTeam Alliance

Non-SkyTeam Alliance Partners

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Etihad
  • Hawaiian

How to get SKYPASS miles?

There are three ways to get SKYPASS miles with major credit cards: 

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)
  • Starwood Preferred Guests (1:1)
  • SKYPASS Visa Signature Card

Ultimate Rewards

For Ultimate Rewards, you can go with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® and earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first three months of opening up your account or you can go with the Chase Ink Plus® and earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 within the first three months of opening up your account. 

Chase Sapphire Preferred 50,000

Starwood Preferred Guests

You can also go with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which offers 25,000 to 35,000 points for its sign-up bonus. Keep in mind that when SPG points are transferred to programs like SKYPASS, you receive a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 miles you transfer. 

SKYPASS Visa Signature Card

Finally, you can look into the SKYPASS Visa Signature Cards issued by US Bank. They have both a personal and a business version where you can earn up to 30,000 SKYPASS miles relatively easy with only a $2,000 minimum spend. [offer expired]


The annual fees for both cards aren’t waived but are reasonable coming under $100. If you’re looking for a way to jump start your earnings or cap-off your SKYPASS miles these cards are definitely decent options. Just be aware that US Bank can issue you the lesser “Classic” card if they don’t deem you credit-worthy and that card comes with a very low bonus of only 5,000 miles, so consider that when applying.

Booking policies

The only real drawback to Korean Air is that booking partner awards requires a bit more effort than some other airlines, as they have some unique policies and hurdles you’ll have to clear in order to finalize your booking.

Redeeming Korean Air SKYPASS miles for family members

Korean Air allows its members to make bookings for immediate family members (up to 5) through its “family plan” but you’ve got to jump through a few hoops first and through the registration process. Family members that qualify for this include: Grandparents, parents, spouse, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, parents-in law, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.

You’ll have to send in the application online (emailing to is the preferred method), or via fax/snail mail and if you’re a non-resident of Korea, you’ll have to include a copy of some form of identity verification, such as family registers, resident registration, birth certificates,marriage certificates, etc.

Expect about 48 to 72 hours to process the application but make sure that you have a hand-written signature on the form and not a digital version because they won’t accept that!

Tip: If you don’t want to bother with this process (or don’t have the necessary documentation), you can always consider transferring points from individual Ultimate Rewards/SPG accounts into separate SKYPASS accounts and just complete separate bookings. 

Booking award flights

Update: you can now search and book partner awards online! 

Booking award flights with partner airlines on Korean Air SKYPASS is a bit of a painful process. Here’s why: 

  • First, to book an award flight with a partner airline you must call in to book.
  • Second, the Korean Air website will normally not show you partner availability so you should search on other websites, such as Delta’s to find the availability. 
  • Third, to make matters even worse, when you finally do find the availability you are looking for you will be required to send in the application for booking award tickets along with a copy of the passport of each passenger. 

Although this process is a little lengthy and a little weird, I really think the bit of extra effort it requires is still worth it given the great redemption rates of Korean Air.

Put reservations on hold 

One thing that is great about SKYPASS is that you can put your reservations on hold. I’ve read reports of some being told that the limit for held reservations is 14 days, 30 days, and even longer. When I inquired with SKYPASS (two times), I was told that you can keep a reservation on hold up until 3 days before the departure. This means that, at least in theory, you could have a reservation on hold for months and months at a time.

I wouldn’t count on such long holds being allowed 100% of the time and you’ll always have to contend with fluctuating taxes, but in any event, you shouldn’t have to worry about putting reservations on hold for just a couple of weeks at a time. 


SKYPASS has different zone charts for bookings on Korean Air, Star Alliance Partners, and non-alliance partners. Since I’m just focusing on booking SkyTeam Alliance flights with Korean Air right now, below are the award charts for bookings made on Star Alliance Partners. 

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Certain routes have their own rates which are a little cheaper. You can take a closer look on their website to see what routes offer these discounted rates.  

Stopover and open jaw rules 

Korean Air offers flexible rules for stopovers and open jaws. 

  • One stopover is permitted during the entire journey (this can be in the zone of departure or arrival).
  • Up to two transfers are permitted between city of departure and destination for each direction (for a total of three segments each way). 
  • One “surface segment” (open jaw) is permitted at the destination, and is not considered a stopover. 

These rules allow you to maximize the value of your bookings by essentially offering you ways to stop over in certain destinations free of charge.

You can only book roundtrips

  • SkyTeam Bonus is valid only for round-trip and same amount of mileage will be redeemed for one-way trip. 

So basically, it’s a waste to book one-way awards.


There are no fees to cancel or modify your bookings.

Update: Korean Air now will charge roughly $27 for cancelled bookings.

I asked what the latest date possible would be to cancel a booking and was told that “it depends” on the reasoning. It sounded as if one could cancel a booking last minute without penalty but I’m sure that YMMV on that.

Once you cancel your booking, your miles should be redeposited back into your account within 48 to 72 hours and the taxes and fees will be refunded no later than 4 to 6 weeks. 


You can get around surcharges by booking your award flights with the right partners. Most of the partners like that fly to and from North and South America (Delta, AeroMexico, etc.) will have surcharges of next-to-nothing. However, when flying to and from Europe or Asia you might have to deal with more surcharges. (I’ll try to write up more on surcharges later.)

Sweet spots

In an effort to keep this article at a reasonable length, I’m only going to focus on SkyTeam Alliance partner sweet spots from North America to various destinations around the world with SKYPASS and I will follow up with additional sweet spots on a later article.

Here are the summaries for the sweet spots: 

  • North America to Hawaii
    • 25,000 miles in economy
    • 45,000 miles in business class
  • North America to Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico
    • 25,000 miles in economy
    • 45,000 miles in business class
  • North America to Europe
    • 50,000 miles in economy
    • 80,000 miles in business class
  • North America to South America 
    • 50,000 miles in economy
    • 110,000 miles in business class
It’s all about the sweet spots!

1) North America to Hawaii

  • 25,000 miles in economy
  • 45,000 miles in business class

Korean Air offers possibly the best way to get to Hawaii with miles and points. One of the only other programs that allows for such low redemption to Hawaii is British Airways, but you’re limited to departing off the West Coast. With SKYPASS miles, you can depart from anywhere in the United States and always break up your flight with a stopover.

For example, you could depart from the middle of the United States, stop over in the San Francisco Bay Area, and then be on your way to Hawaii and come back all for only 25,000 miles. That means with just hitting the sign-up bonus on card like the Sapphire Preferred® you and a partner could have airfare covered roundtrip to Hawaii. (Read about Loophole Travel’s recent redemption to Hawaii for more on this sweet redemption.)   

Compare SKYPASS to other programs:

  • Aeroplan: 45,000
  • American Airlines: 45,000
  • British Airways Avios: 25,000 Avios (from the West Coast)
  • ANA Partner: 40,000
  • Delta: 45,000
  • United: 45,000
  • Singapore Airlines: 35,000 

The business class redemption to Hawaii for 45,000 miles is pretty exceptional as well. In fact, that’s the same amount of miles required by United, American Airlines, Delta, and Aeroplan just to get to Hawaii in North America in economy roundtrip, as you can see above. 

2) North America to Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon 

  • 25,000 miles in economy
  • 45,000 miles in business class

Getting to Mexico and a few other destinations like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with Korean Air SKYPASS is also a bargain. Since they are also a part of North America, the mileage requirements are the same for Hawaii. 

Compare SKYPASS to other requirements for getting to Mexico:

  • Aeroplan: 40,000
  • American Airlines: 30,000
  • ANA Partner: 30,000
  • Delta: 35,000
  • Flying Blue: 25,000 miles
  • United: 35,000

3) North America to Europe 

  • 50,000 miles in economy
  • 80,000 miles in business class

Korean Air SKYPASS has some of the cheapest redemptions from North America to Europe in economy at 50,000 round trip.

Compare these rates to the following airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000 to 75,000 
  • American Airlines: 45,000 to 60,000
  • ANA Partner: 55,000 
  • British Airways: 34,000 (Departing Northeast to northwest Europe; surcharges likely)
  • Delta: 60,000 to 82,000 
  • Singapore Airlines: 34,000 (from IAH/East Coast to western Europe and with online 15% discount; heavy surcharges likely) 
  • United: 60,000 

While British Airways and Singapore Airlines offer lower redemption rates, keep in mind that those rates are restricted geographically and will usually incur much higher taxes and fuel surcharges than booking a partner airline like Delta with Korean Air. With Korean Air, you can depart from anywhere in the U.S. and arrive anywhere in Europe for the flat rate of 50,000. That’s what makes it such a great sweet spot.  

The sweet spot gets even sweeter for business class, as Korean Air even beats out ANA’s ridiculously low rates for business class to Europe and only requires 80,000 miles! That’s only 20,000 more miles than many other airlines require for economy to Europe.

Compare this SKYPASS redemption to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 110,000 miles
  • American Airlines: 115,000
  • ANA Partner: 88,000
  • Delta: 125,000
  • United: 115,000 miles (140,000 miles if booked with alliance partner)

4) North America to South America 

  • 50,000 miles in economy
  • 110,000 miles in business class

The redemptions are among the best for getting to southern South America. For example, take a look at the mileage requirements for getting from North America to Santiago, Chile. Only 50,000 miles are required!    

Compare SKYPASS to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000
  • American Airlines: 60,000
  • ANA Partner: 55,000
  • Delta: 60,000
  • Flying Blue: 50,000
  • United: 60,000

Just note that for some airlines that divide South America into two regions (usually “North” and “South”), you might be better off booking with another award program. For example, take a look at the rates for going from North America to a destination (Lima, Peru) typically included in the northern portion of South America:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000
  • American Airlines: 35,000
  • ANA Partner:  55,000
  • Delta: 60,000
  • Flying Blue: 35,000
  • United: 40,000

The 50,000 SKYPASS redemption from North America to a place like Lima, Peru isn’t that bad but it’s definitely not the best redemption you can find. Thus, if you’re headed to northern South America, you might not want to go with Korean Air and save yourself a good 10-15,000 points. 

The business class redemptions aren’t bad for getting to “lower” South America, though. For example, it will only require 110,000 miles to get to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in business class with SKYPASS. 

Compare this to other requirements for getting from North America to Rio De Janeiro:

  • Aeroplan: 110,000 miles
  • American Airlines: 115,000 miles
  • ANA Partner: 88,000 miles 
  • Delta: 150,000 miles
  • United: 110,000 miles

While it’s not the lowest redemption (I don’t think many, if any, airlines can compete with ANA on this redemption), it’s still among the best for the major airlines. 

Final Word

Korean Air SKYPASS is a great way to redeem miles for SkyTeam partner airlines. There are some rich sweet spots that are among the best out there and while you might have to jump through a few extra hoops to take advantage of some of these, it can definitely be worth it when you’re saving tens of thousands of points. 

Cover photo by My16SidedOffice via Flickr.

The Best Way to Get to Israel with Reward Points and Miles

[This post contains credit card offers that may no longer be available.]

Anytime I hear someone talk about planning a trip to Israel, the first question I ask is, “Have you ever heard of Flying Blue?” With Flying Blue, you can get to Israel with some of the best redemptions you’ll find from any airline. What’s more, you can throw in an additional stopover to Europe at no extra cost! Here’s a breakdown of the best way to get to Israel with reward points and miles.

What is Flying Blue?

Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program for Air France and KLM, and several other air lines. Read more about Flying Blue redemptions and how to book them here.

Here’s how many miles you will need to get to Israel

  • Economy: 50,000
  • Business Class: 125,000

These are pretty phenomenal rates, especially the economy rate.

Earning the Points

The first step to getting to Israel is earning the points you’ll need to get there. Luckily, Flying Blue is a transfer partner of three of the major rewards programs:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guests
  • Citi Thankyou Points


Thus, it’s very easy to accumulate miles for this program in a hurry if you need to. If you’re looking to rack up some points in a hurry, I’d recommend looking into the following cards:

Just getting one of those cards can earn you enough miles to cover your trip in economy and getting the bonuses from a couple of them can get you really close to having a business class ticket waiting to take you to Israel.

The wailing Wall and the Temple Mount

Photo by Neil Howard via Flickr.

Redeeming Flying Blue miles to get from North America to Israel

The most valuable redemption Flying Blue has to offer is probably the 50,000 economy award to Israel. Now, you will still have to pay some fees and/or fuel surcharges to take advantage of this redemption but the value is still unbeatable.

Here’s what you’d pay flying Air France and KLM:

via Air France and KLM

You can get an even better bargain flying via partner airlines like Russian’s Aeroflot and Delta.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 10.41.19 AM
Via a combination of Aeroflot, Delta, and Air France

So how much value does this come out to if you were to compare it to paying cash for your airfare?

If you snagged a paid fare for the JFK to TLV flight you would pay $2,267.99, which means that a 50,000 redemption would come out to a value of approximately 4.2 cents per mile for this trip which is excellent and honestly a somewhat conservative valuation given how much those tickets can cost.

Furthermore, when compared to the rates of other rewards programs you see how much of a steal this 50,000 redemption award is.

  • Aeroplan: 80,000
  • American Airlines: 80,000
  • ANA Partner: 65,000 (high surcharges likely)
  • Delta: 70,000
  • United: 85,000

Compared to most other airlines, business class from JFK to TLV for 125,000 miles is a steal, too (ANA can’t really be beat by anyone with their routes to the Middle East).

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Business class via Alitalia and Delta.


  • Aeroplan: 165,000
  • American Airlines: 140,000
  • ANA Partner: 104,000 (high surcharges likely)
  • Delta: 170,000
  • United: 160,000

Adding a trip to Europe for free?

Flying Blue allows for one stopover and open jaw. This stopover can be on your inbound or outbound leg. Therefore, you hit Europe up either on your way to Israel or on your way back.

For example, your route might look like:

  • JFK -> CDG (Paris) [stopover]
  • CDG -> TLV
  • TLV -> JFK

Unfortunately, after calling in a few times I wasn’t able to see the exact amount of surcharges that I would incur for this flight but I imagine it couldn’t be much more than what shows for booking the legs individually.

See even more of Europe

Don’t forget that Flying Blue allows for one open jaw in your destination zone. Typically, you might be restricted to your destination zone for your open jaw. For example, since you’re arriving in the Middle East, you would be restricted to planning an open jaw in one of those countries.

However, somewhat inexplicably, Flying Blue includes Israel with its Europe region. That means you’re allowed to open jaw in places like London or Paris on your way back from Israel. Thus, you could hit up two spots in Europe in addition to the Middle East and only have to pay for a one way ticket to get to your European open jaw destination.

In this case your route might look like:

  • JFK -> TLV
  • TLV -> FCO [paid ticket]
  • FCO (Rome) [open jaw]  -> CDG (Paris) [stopover]
  • CDG -> JFK

You would just have to take care of your leg from TLV to FCO but those flights can be as cheap as $166. This, in my opinion, is one of the cheapest ways to do Europe, let alone also get to the Middle East! Even when compared to airlines like ANA,which has some pretty unbelievably low redemptions to Europe and the Middle East, economy redemptions for Flying Blue are still more valuable with this itinerary!

So the take-a-way for me would be that with Flying Blue you can get to the Middle East and Europe for fewer miles than most airlines require just to make it to Europe! If you’re thinking about taking a trip to Israel, Flying Blue is definitely one of the best ways to go!

Cover Photo by jaime.silva via Flickr



Guide to Booking Award Flights with ANA

The reward program for ANA has some very valuable sweet spots for both economy and business class redemptions to pretty much every corner of the globe. In addition, it’s pretty easy to rack up ANA miles from transfer partners making it a solid option for redemptions. However, the booking rules can be a bit confusing to comprehend. Here’s a guide for booking flights with both ANA and ANA partner airlines with ANA miles.

Star Alliance

ANA is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance out of the big three (One World, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam). This means that you can use your ANA miles to fly on any of these other airlines (subject to availability).

Star_Alliance logo and members

The trick is to find availability for seats that can be booked with Star Alliance partners. The good news is that ANA is one of the best sites to perform searches for Star Alliance partner availability. Read about how to find Star Alliance availability here.

ANA Partners

ANA also has several non Star Alliance partners that you can book with.

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ANA non-alliance partners

How to Get ANA miles from credit cards


Aeroplan is a transfer partner of  two major reward programs:

  • American Express Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio)
  • Starwood Preferred Guests (1:1)*

*Remember, when you transfer Starwood points in increments of 20,000 you receive an additional 5,000 in miles, so 20,000 points will earn you 25,000 Aeroplan miles. In addition, Starwood will often run promotions where you can earn additional bonuses on your transfers, such as up to ~25%!

Just don’t

There’s also the ANA Card USA. It has an annual fee of $70 and offers 5,000 miles upon your first purchase. This abysmal sign-up bonus should be a last resort and I would only consider it if you just had to have the 5,000 miles and had exhausted all opportunities with American Express. 

Unique program policies

ANA has a few unique program policies. For example: 

  • You can book trips for up to 10 family members but they must all be registered
  • You can pool points with other family members but they must be registered and you must “apply” while paying for the application fee with 1,000 ANA miles
  • You can put reservations on hold for 24 to 48 hours by calling in (although YMMV)
  • Cancellations cost 3,000 ANA miles per person

In addition to these unique policies, there are several other booking policies. I don’t wont to bog down readers with all of them, so here are some of the important ones:

  • You must begin your trip within one year of ticket issuance
  • You can apply from 9:00 a.m. (Japan time) of 355 days before your boarding day (not including the date of departure) until 96 hours before departure.
  • You are able to change the boarding date or flight up to 24 hours before departure.
  • The name of the passenger, and the name of the individual supplying the miles cannot be changed.
  • The airline, passenger, sector, and route cannot be changed. (However, in certain cases where both ANA and Air Japan operate flights over the same sector, passengers may switch between the 2 airlines.)
ANA definitely implements some unique booking policies

Fuel surcharges

You are almost always going to incur fuel surcharges when using ANA miles to book award flights. However, United Airlines is an exception, and thus can be a very valuable partner to redeem miles with. Air Canada and Air New Zealand are also great partners to use to avoid or mitigate charges.

The surcharges imposed by ANA aren’t the highest in the industry and many can be quite reasonable, but they are often pretty much impossible to avoid unless you book United Airline/Air Canada flights. For a closer look on fuel surcharges, keep reading further.

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Stopovers and Open Jaws

The rules section for “transfer partners” on ANA’s website is a little unclear but after playing around with bookings on the website and calling in to verify, I realized that the below rules apply to both ANA bookings and bookings with Star Alliance partners

1) One stopover is allowed on either leg

2) One open jaw is allowed subject to the following rules:

  • When the point of departure and final point of destination differ, both locations must be within the same country.

This means you can fly out of Chicago and come back to Houston, for example. (Confusingly, many regions like Europe and the U.S./Canada are considered one “country.”)

  • If the destination of your outbound trip and the point of departure of your inbound trip are different, they must be within the same area.

This is what confused me because they use the  term “area” versus “zone” and then they provide a small chart that doesn’t completely describe the areas. (See the chart below.) Thus, if you’re wanting to explore options for open jaw for inbound flights, I suggest experimenting with the website or calling in to see if the destination of your outbound trip and point of departure of your inbound trip fall within the same “area.”

November 25, 2016 update: the website is clearer on this point now.  

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  • For zones in which the destination of your outbound trip and the point of departure of your inbound trip are different, the required number of miles will be calculated by halving the required number of miles for each zone and adding them together.

The stopover can be combined with the open jaw rules for pretty flexible routing that can somewhat make up for the lack of one way redemptions in some cases.  For example, I was able to book the following on the website:

  • Outbound trip:
    • IAD -> LHR [stopover] -> CDG
  • Inbound trip:
    • LHR [open jaw]-> IAH [open jaw]

I called in just to make sure that this was a valid booking and didn’t get a 100% yes — it was more like, “we are pretty sure you can do that but the only way we can tell you for sure is if you transfer miles to ANA…” Thus, while this route should work according to the rules above, I’d always try to double check with ANA before planning on such a booking.

ANA sweet spots

ANA has several sweets spots that are worth mentioning.

Here’s a summary of the sweet spots for ANA:

  • North America to Europe
    • Business class: 88,000 miles
    • Economy: 55,000 miles
  • North America to South America
    • Business class: 88,000 miles
    • Economy: 55,000 miles
  • North America to Africa and the Middle East
    • Business class: 104,000 miles
    • Economy: 65,000 miles
  • North America to Japan 
    • Business class: 75,000 miles
    • Economy: 40,000 miles
  • North America to Asia 1
    • Business class: 80,000 miles
    • Economy: 45,000 miles

Keep reading below to see details on booking these sweet spots and to see how much you would pay on fees.

North America to Europe

ANA offers one of the cheapest and most efficient ways to get to Europe with award bookings. Take a look at the award chart below.

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Notice the sweet spot from North America:

  • 88,000 in business class

Compare that to the following

  • Aeroplan: 110,000 miles
  • American Airlines: 115,000
  • Delta: 125,000
  • United: 115,000 miles (140,000 miles if booked with alliance partner)

Here’s a real world example of a flight between IAD and LHR. First, you can see how much this trip would cost on United’s website.

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United offers flights from North America to Europe for 115,000 miles but only if you fly with United. Partner airlines require 140,000 miles!

So you’d be looking at 115,000 miles assuming you were able to find United availability. If you booked the same trip on another partner airline, you’d be looking at 140,000 miles!

Now, take a look below at how much this same flight would cost with ANA miles.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 11.09.55 AM
ANA requires only 88,000 miles and $183.70 to fly business class roundtrip to London from North America

88,000 miles plus $183.70 in fees to fly business class from North America to Europe is an absolute bargain, espcially given the product level of ANA.

And the deal is even sweeter when you book with Air Canada because the fees go down to $68!

But remember, those low fees are with flying United and Air Canada. Here is an example of what you’re looking at if you can’t get around the fuel surcharges

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North America to Europe with TAP Portugal requires $613 in fees
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North America to Europe with Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa requires $497 in fees

As you can see, the fuel surcharges can be pretty hefty and so I’d try my best to find availability on a United or Air Canada flight to avoid the charges.

Getting more value with stopovers 

Now let’s say you wanted to add a bit more value to the prior trip from D.C. to London  by making London a stopover en route to Paris, and let’s just throw in an open jaw back to Houston so you can see how it works.

So this flight path is going to look like this:

  • IAD -> LHR [stopover] -> CDG
  • CDG -> IAH [open jaw]

This route is legal because it has one stopover in the zone of your destination [CDG in Europe] and you are returning to the same zone of your departure [United States and Canada]. (You could also make your second leg depart from anywhere within the same “area.”)

So let’s see how much more we’d pay in fees.

ANA booking ANA booking

So that’s $155 more in fees to get the extra addition of Paris to your London trip.

If you searched long enough you could probably find better stop over deals than this but I noticed that a lot of the stopovers in Europe would incur pretty significant fees. For a true budget flyer, it might make more sense to just buy a one-way ticket on a budget airliner to your desired stopover location and then open jaw back from there to North America.

For example you could do:

  • IAD -> LHR
  • London -> Paris [with budget airline]
  • CDG [open jaw] -> IAD

And finally, don’t forget about economy flights from North America to Europe… at only 55,000 miles, that’s not a bad deal at all.

Therefore, ANA is one of the best options for getting to Europe from North America! 

North America to South America

Getting to South America can be a lucrative way to redeem ANA miles, too. In fact, with the potential for lower surcharges, I’d argue there’s even better value in flying to South America than to Europe in business class.  For example, Houston to Rio De Janerio is only 88,000 miles in business class and the fees are only $62!

Here are the miles required by other airlines or this route.

  • Aeroplan: 110,000 miles
  • American Airlines: 115,000 miles
  • Delta: 150,000 miles
  • United: 110,000 miles
Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 11.57.59 AM
88,000 miles and $62.24 for North America to Brazil in business class!

Getting more value with stopovers 

Let’s say you were planning a larger scale trip to South America where you wanted to see Rio de Janerio, Santiago Chile (and maybe take a flight to Easter Island), and Lima, Peru (and take a short flight to Cusco to get to Machu Picchu).

For the same amount of 88,000 miles you could get to Rio de Janerio, Santiago, Chile, and Lima, Peru. You’d still have to cover your tickets from Rio to Santiago, Easter Island, and Cusco, but having everything else worked out with business class tickets for only 88,000 miles would be great.

A sample flight path would like this:

  • Outbound: IAH – YYZ -> GIG
  • Inbound: SCL[open jaw] -> LIM [stopover] -> IAH

This is all legal because your inbound leg departs from the same area (SCL in South America) as the destination of your outbound leg (GIG in South America) and you only have one stopover on your route (LIM which is also in the area of your destination).

The best part of this routing is that your fees would only come out to $101.25.

Take a look at what this itinerary looks like booked on the ANA website. Again, when I called in to verify this route I got the same “we’re 99% confident you can book this route but you’ll need to transfer your miles to ANA for us be sure.” 

Note: you could probably find better routings not flying through Canada but I just wanted to show  how much value you could get from 88,000 miles!

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Total fees number to only $101.25!

Also, economy awards from North America to South America can really be bargains at only 55,000 round trip!

North America to Africa and the Middle East

104,000 in business class to Africa and the Middle East in business class is another bargain, in my opinion. Availability might sometimes be an issue, especially without the added flexibility of one way awards but being able to get to places like South Africa and Dubai in business class for 104,000 miles round trip is pretty phenomenal.

  • Aeroplan: 165,000
  • American Airlines:  140,000
  • Delta:  170,000
  • United: 140,000 (160,000 on partners)

Just keep an eye out for those surcharges, as you can see on the routes below they can be quite pricey. (Partner Etihad is known for having little to no surcharges, so seek availability with them.)

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 12.24.14 PM
$498 in fees with Turkish Airlines
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$593 in fees with Ethiopian Airlines

Also, economy awards from North America to Africa and the Middle East can really be bargains at only 65,000 round trip!

Getting more value with stopovers 

Don’t forget that Africa and the Middle East are part of the same zone (Zone 8). That means you would be able to combine a trip to the Middle East with your trip to South Africa. I struggled to find some availability for this trip so I wasn’t able to price out the fees but with enough time and willingness you could probably secure this route for a mere 104,000 miles.

Partner Restrictions

There are some restrictions when booking with certain partners that you should be aware of:

  • There are unavailable periods during which flight awards may not be used.
  • Even if your itinerary includes ANA flights, the Chart of miles required for Partner Flight Awards will apply if the itinerary includes even one flight partner airline.
  • Flight award passengers cannot use Suite Class, First Class and Business Class on certain aircraft flown by Singapore Airlines (A380, A380 and B777-300ER).
  • Flight awards for Hawaiian Airlines flights can only be used only be used for flights within the Hawaiian islands.
  • EVA Air Elite Class cannot be used.

Check here for more specific rules.

Sweet spots booking directly with ANA

When you book directly with ANA you are subject to different rules. They operate with a different map and on a seasonal basis.


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They have low season, regular season, and high season, which change for different years. Take a look at the season chart for North America/Europe and Japan.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 6.40.06 PM

There are some real sweet spots for getting to Japan and Asia 1 (China, Guam, Hong Kong, Macau, Philippine, Taiwan).

The following rates apply during low season:

  • North America to Japan 
    • Business class: 75,000 miles
    • Economy: 40,000 miles
  • North America to Asia 1
    • Business class: 80,000 miles
    • Economy: 45,000 miles

The drawback is that you’re going to have to pay fuel surcharges for ANA flights. The good news is that they really aren’t that bad. In fact, as you can see below, the total fees for flying ANA from North America to Japan are actually cheaper than those including a United flight!

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 6.45.21 PM
Since there is one partner leg on this trip, the partner rate of 90,000 miles apply
Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 6.45.09 PM
Only 75,000 miles and $85 in fees for round trip business class to Japan is great!

Remember, that while one stop over is allowed on ANA  flights, no stopovers can be made for flights departing from Japan.

Final Word 

So there you have it, ANA is one of the most valuable transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood and should definitely be considered an option if you’re planning a trip from North America to any of the zones discussed above. 

Cover Photo by lkarasawa via Flickr. 




Top 17 Tourist Attractions in London

If you’re coming to London it’s really hard not to be a tourist for at least a day or two. Even after spending months and months living there, I still enjoyed putting on my tourist hat and venturing to different tourists shops and attractions from time to time. However, London is absolutely full of tourist attractions. I had the luxury of time on my side when it came to trying out these attractions but if you only have one or two weeks then it can be a littler harder to narrow down your choices. Hopefully this list of MY top 17 tourist attractions in London can help you plan a little better, especially if you’re into the broad range of interests like myself.

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17. Hyde Park (Free-£)

Hyde Park, one of the largest parks in London, is a great place to go for a nice walk and get a little relaxation from the city life for a bit. Together with Kensington Gardens it encompasses 253 hectares (625 acres) and while a bit smaller than Central Park in New York, it’s still pretty easy to find some solitude in this park, at least momentarily. If you’re in the mood to expend a little bit of energy then consider renting pedal boats for about £10 on the Serpentine for an hour or so and enjoy the scenery from the lake. Check the events calendar to see if anything interesting is coming up and consider stopping by Speakers’ Corner, a traditional site of public speeches and protests since the mid 1800s.

Hyde Park
Hyde Park

16. The National Gallery (Free)

The National Gallery in London is one of the best places in Europe to see tons of renowned art work. Come here to see Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers (the most famous of the bunch he painted) and some other works of his as well. There’s also tons of Rembrandt and works from countless other famous artists like Johannes Vermeer and Titian. Apart from the art, the building’s architecture, both inside and out, is also a site worthy of a visit on its own.

Van Goghs famous Sunflowers

15. Big Ben and Westminster Palace (Free)

If there’s one thing you’ve got to see while you’re vacationing in London its Big Ben, right? Make your way to the Westminster Tube Station and step on out and bam! Big Ben is right in your face! Take a stroll across the River Thames on Westminster Bridge as you listen to the bell’s echo from inside the clock tower and feel like you’ve officially made it to London. This area is usually filled to the brim with tourists about 99% of the time so be prepared for swarms of people. However, I’ve found it to be relatively calm to visit it at night when far fewer people are around so consider an evening visit for a less stressful experience.

Big Ben London at night

14. The British Library (Free)

The British Library might not be at the top of your list but it should definitely be a strong contender for a place to see in London, especially if you’re even remotely interested in history. It’s free to get in and the place is full of fascinating documents like the Magna Carta, original Shakespeare print books, original music sheets from greats like Mozart and Bach, works from the Beatles, and even Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook. That’s just a small fraction of what there is to see there and if you catch an exhibit at the right time, you can see a lot of other cool stuff (we saw Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Declaration of Independence alongside an original copy of the Bill of Rights).

Sculpture outside The British Library
Magna Carta The British Library

13. Take a double-decker bus (£)

When you think of London these big red busses are probably one of the first things that spring to your mind. While you’re in the city you might as well take advantage of a great (and cheap) way to take in the scenery. (Go straight up to the second deck and try to sit in the front row for the best views.) Sure, you can always go for the hop-on-hop-off busses but taking one of the official red busses will allow you to get up close with some real Londoners and it’s a great way to people watch as you navigate through the busy streets of London. The bus fare is only £1.50 and they accept Oyster Cards, contactless payments, and even Apple Pay making it very convenient for tourists.

Red double-decker bus London

12. Watch a West End Show (££-£££)

London’s great theatre scene is one of the best in the world. There are numerous theaters available for you to choose from and countless plays to see like Wicked, Stomp, The Phantom of the Opera, and my favorite, The Lion King. I’ve actually seen the Lion King in both New York and London and I think that both are equally spectacular. West End shows are going to cost you a pretty penny usually but in some cases you can find reasonable rates for the tickets, all depending on where you want to sit of course.

The Lion King - Lyceum Theatre
The Lion King – Lyceum Theatre. Photo by Andy Roberts

11. Tower Bridge (Free-£)

To many, Tower Bridge is the most famous bridge in the world. It’s one of the many iconic sites around the city and is always a great place to take a few memorable photos. Built in the late 1800s, it was originally considered an eye sore to many locals but as time went on, the love for the bridge began to grow. Today, you can go inside the bridge and walk across the glass floor walkway for only about £8 — it’s an interesting experience and offers you a slightly dizzying view of the River Thames below and panoramic views of the London skyline. If you’re not interested in going inside the bridge, then try to plan your visit for a time when the bridge will be opening for ships to pass through, it only happens a few times a week so witnessing it is a pretty cool feat.

Tower bridge London
Tower Bridge London

10. Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio (££)

So if you’re not a Harry Potter fan then this option may not excite you much and there’s nothing I can really do for you. However, if you are a Harry Potter fan then you really can’t turn down the option of going to see the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour because it will blow your mind. This “studio” is more of a Harry Potter museum to me and it’s chock-full of thousands of props, amazing sets like Diagon Alley, and full of a bunch of inside info on the Harry Potter movies. Make sure to get you some butterbeer and maybe a chocolate frog or two before you leave but be weary of overpriced gift shop at the end! Tickets start at £25-33 for children/adults.

Diagon Alley Harry Potter London
Weasleys Dining room Harry Potter tour London

9. The London Eye (£)

London Eye

There are a number of options for you to get a great view of the city of London. You’ve got the Shard, Tower Bridge, The London Eye, and a great deal of other options around the city. While the “Coca-Cola” London Eye is about as touristy as it gets, I still give it the nod because of the great shots you’re afforded of Big Ben and Westminster Palace — I’m not aware of any other easily accessible views as good as this one, though they may be out there. A full rotation on the Eye takes about 30 minutes so you have more than plenty of time to take in and photograph your views, and if you’re feeling the need to splurge on champagne or chocolate, there are plenty of options for you to do so here. But if you just want to keep it simple, tickets start at about £20.

The Shard London

8. The Natural History Museum (Free)

The Natural History Museum is a perfect destination to bring the family to. But even if you don’t have kids, it’s still a great place to entertain yourself for a few hours as you discover fully assembled dinosaur remains, massive whales skeletons suspended from the ceiling, intricate displays of birds and creepy-crawlies, and get a taste of what a real-life earthquake feels like while standing in a quivering mini-market. And the best part is: the museum is free. The museum is home to over 80 million items so you don’t need me to tell you that there’s a lot to see here. Try to allocate between 2-3 hours if you really want to see a lot of it, though if you’re a science lover you might still need more time than that.

Outside Natural History Museum London
Dinosaur Bones Natural History Museum London

7. Westminster Abbey (Free-£)

This iconic building is one of the most beautiful structures in the entire city of London. The history of the site dates all the way back to the 11th century when Edward the Confessor founded it in 1065. Everything about the place has an almost scared feel to it. It’s been home to every Coronation since 1066, 16 royal weddings, and it’s where thousands of prominent British figures have been buried, including 17 monarchs. There’s a lot to see inside including St. George’s Chapel, the portrait of Richard II (the oldest surviving portrait of a British Monarch, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, plenty of other memorial sites, along with the stunning Gothic architecture. Tickets for tours will run you £20 for adults and you can book online.

Outside Westminster Abbey London

6. Day trip to Stonehenge (£)

If you’re coming to London for a week or so and you’re interested in doing a day trip there are more than plenty of options. There’s Oxford, Bath, and any number of small towns and villages you can check out only about an hour or two away. If you’re into “wonders of the world” type attractions then consider giving Stonehenge a visit. I’ve got some tips for visiting Stonehenge but the best word of advice I have is to do your best to read up on the history of the site and try to get yourself excited about seeing such a mysterious and legendary structure. Otherwise, you may fall victim to the “it’s just a bunch of rocks” mindset. Also, try to book an inner-circle private tour if you can spare the extra £ because your experience will be much more intimate with the “Henge.” Standard tickets start at about £15.


5. Fish-n-chips/Pubs (£)

This one is a given but you’ve got to try to make sure that you give yourself the opportunity to try some good ole fashion British fish and chips while you’re here. I tried at least a handful of places over the year’s time that I was in England and just about any pub I tried them at in London left me pretty satisfied  (the meat pies are always a solid option as well).

British fish and chips with peas

In addition to feasting on fish and chips do your best to try to experience one of the over 7,000 pubs in the London area. The pub culture is really something that sets London/Britain apart from many other places in the world and is a major part of London’s charm. You may notice that people are always at the pub, especially from about 4-7 when many of the pubs have lads lining the exterior of the pub because there isn’t any room inside. That’s how dedicated Britons are to their pubs.  Try your luck by just hopping into the nearest pub or check out some of the top pubs in London.

4. Catch a game at Wembley Stadium (££-£££)

Wembley Stadium is a brilliant stadium and one of the coolest venues I’ve ever watched a sporting event at. I didn’t manage to catch a soccer (football) game there but I did catch an NFL game and it was a really cool experience. Fans from all the different teams showed up and it created a unique sporting atmosphere. We were there to see the Dallas Cowboys take on the Jacksonville Jaguars but a lot of people were there just to rep their team (in full game-day attire). If you’re visiting in the fall and you’re an NFL fan, then I highly recommend you attending one of these games! (Just try to get your seats a little early because the prices can get a little high.)

Wembley Stadium

3. Buckingham Palace (Free-££)

Checking out Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard may be one of the most quintessential London things there is to do (for tourists, that is). When you visit the Palace, take a look to see if the flag is flying on top of the palace — if it is that means the Queen is home. If the Queen happens to be out and about then you can actually arrange a tour of the state rooms and the Queen’s Gallery for about £35. Not looking to drop the extra quid on a tour? Then take the free option and check out which days you can witness the changing of the guard ceremony, always starting at 11:30 am.

Royal Gibraltar Regiment Soldiers Take Part in Changing the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace
Photo by UK Ministry of Defence

2. The British Museum (Free)

The British Museum is one of the finest museums in the world and one of my all time favorites. And once again, it’s yet another free attraction in London! The highlights of my trip to the British Museum were seeing the Greek Parthenon marbles, the Rosetta Stone, and the Easter Island statue. Of course, there were hundreds of other remarkable exhibits including Egyptian, Roman, and Asian artifacts so whatever your appetite is for history it will likely be appeased here. This place is very busy during the day and on weekends, though, so try to plan your visit for early in the morning if you want to a little bit of time to enjoy the exhibits in peace.

British Museum
Rosetta Stone

1. The Tower of London (£)

The Tower of London is a must-see destination for anyone coming to London, even if you’re not into touristy destinations. That’s because there’s so much history in these walls that it’s hard to imagine not stopping by it for at least some time. If you pay to go in (about £20) you’ll have the chance to follow along on an official Beefeater tour as they take you by Traitor’s Gate and old execution sites. You’ll also get a chance to see the astonishing display of the Crown Jewels, which is a brilliant collection of crowns, sceptres, and spoons (Coronation spoons — they’re kind of a big deal). In addition to that, it’s a great feeling to just  walk along the castle walls like people have done for hundreds of years and ponder all the rich history of this site that dates back to the 11th century. If you’re planning way ahead, then look into booking a slot at the Ceremony of the Keys, a nightly ceremony that’s been going on every night for over 700 years! Not many tourists find out about the ceremony until it’s too late for them to book, so be sure to get on it if you’re interested.

Tower of London

Should You Drive in Lisbon, Portugal? Probably Not.

Every once in a while, we find ourselves in a sticky situation. A situation where we’re not sure how we got there and would really like to get out. Driving in Lisbon, Portugal on a busy sunny weekend was one of those situations. If you are thinking about renting a car and driving through the streets of Lisbon then please consider the advice in this post.

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Driving in Lisbon

First, let me just say that I didn’t do any of the driving — our car was manual and I’ve yet to teach myself how to work such a thing so my SO Brad handled the wheel while I was busy recording footage out the window with our GoPro. Brad’s a very efficient and experienced driver. In fact, he’s one of the best drivers I know. With that said, driving through Lisbon was still an overall “nightmarish” experience for both of us.

Road to Lisbon Portugal

Arriving in Lisbon

We first arrived in Lisbon from the south, over the 25 de Abril Bridge bridge — you know the beautiful bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It’s a hell of a way to make your entrance into Lisbon, with great views of the surrounding bay/river. Everything was pretty good up to that point. And really, things were still okay once we made it across the bridge.

Bridge at Lisbon Portugal

Our first destination was to find Pasteis de Belem, so we turned west right off from the bridge. This area in Lisbon was totally tolerable from a traffic standpoint. While I found that they did drive quite aggressively in Lisbon, there wasn’t a very high concentration of crazy drivers or pedestrians in the west area of the city.

Busy street at Lisbon Portugal

We even easily found open parking very near to Pasteis de Belem and were able to park our car and then walk about the area and admire some of the colorful architecture. It was still relatively early, about 10-11am, so the streets weren’t congested too bad, though the line at Pasteis de Belem was already waayyy out of the building.

Buildings in Lisbon Portugal
Buildings in Lisbon Portugal

After we had a little breakfast, we decided to check out the really interesting part of Lisbon: Old Town Lisbon. This is where all of the amazing castles, viewpoints, and awesome hills are. Little did we know, things were about to get really hectic.

The madness begins

Trolly in Lisbon Portugal

As we began to approach the hilly side of Lisbon, the lanes became narrower and we soon found ourselves navigating a labyrinth of tight corners, alleyways, busy pedestrian crossings, clamoring cable cars, and tuk-tuks. The drivers became much more aggressive in this part of town. We got cut off, yelled at, honked at, and received a bunch of crazy stares as we fought for survival. It was every man or woman for themselves.

The thing was, this seemed like just another Saturday in Lisbon, not too much out of the ordinary. It was stressfull and pretty annoying but we still maintained our composure, at least for a while.

Things became a bit unravelled at one point when we got stuck behind a pile of cable cars that weren’t moving at all. The worst part: we were in the middle of a really busy intersection! Herds of pedestrians were weaving through the intersection, in front of us and in back so we couldn’t move. Cars were laying on their horns. Bells were ringing. People were shouting.

At this point, the honking and defensive gesturing had gone on long enough, so I jumped out of the car and actually started to direct traffic.  Looking like Chris Pratt out of Jurassic World, I stood out in the middle of the street and forced pedestrians to hold and signaled for a line (yes, an entire of line of bumper-to-bumper vehicles that were behind us) of cars  to back the f*** up and  let us get out!

(It’s really too bad I didn’t have the GoPro running for all this.)

The crazy thing is that the people actually listened to me. One by one, the cars slowly moved back. The pedestrians waited patiently. And once there was as little as an inch for us to break free, we darted down some tight roads not even trying to get the GPS to work and just hoped to find somewhere where we would decompress (and maybe chug a pitcher or two of sangria). The only problem was that we needed to stop to do so and so our quest to find parking in Lisbon began.

We drove, and drove, and drove, looking for parking and found nothing! The parking lots were all full. And not just full, but jam-packed to the point that if you entered into a lot it was pretty much the land-of-no-return and you weren’t going to be able to get out. The streets were lined with vehicles for what seemed like miles. And what made it worse is the whole time you’re looking for non-existent parking, you’re also trying to avoid collisions with cable cars and a bunch of drivers who are zipping through the streets like they’re trying avoiding the policia.

A parallel parking spot, on a steep incline, with only enough room to fit a slim stack of Euros between the cars.

Calm area of Lisbon Portugal
A calm section of Old Town

However, we finally did find parking about a mile and a half further from where we were originally planning to park. Even this spot was a challenge. A parallel parking spot, on a steep incline, with only enough room to fit a slim stack of Euros between the cars. Luckily, we squeezed right in, half of our vehicle hanging up on the curb. The entire process had only lasted about an hour but it was the most stressful hour we’d experienced in Portugal by far.

Once we finally got out of our car we made sure to make the most of our time and resorted to walking everywhere so we didn’t have to go through that experience any longer. And while we weren’t able to catch a ride on a cable car, we did very much enjoy walking around the city — it’s definitely a great place to stroll around and with the hills and cable cars clamoring around, it reminded me of San Francisco.

Lisbon Portugal

So that was our driving experience in Lisbon…. I do want to say that we only spent one day driving in Lisbon so it could’ve been just a crazy day or we could’ve just gotten really unlucky and it may not always be so crazy. However, from other research that I’ve done, Lisbon just seems like a tough place to get around in a vehicle. With all that said here are a few pointers if you’re considering driving in Lisbon:

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Try to avoid driving in Old Town

Driving in the Algarve was fine and even driving outside of Old Town Lisbon was okay. Therefore, I recommend that if you must drive in Lisbon, try to park away from Old Town and then make your way into Old Town via cab, bus, tram, or just resort to walking.

Try to avoid weekend driving

It’s very possible that given the beautiful conditions and the fact that it was a Saturday, we were just asking for crazy conditions in Lisbon for driving. I know plenty of other cities that also become nightmares for parking and such on weekends, so maybe if you can swing driving in the middle of the week, it won’t be so bad?

Only try this if you know you can handle it

Only attempt driving in Old Town if you’re comfortable. For some, it may not be as bad of an experience. There are some areas that aren’t heavily congested and are a lot of fun to ride through. And even amidst all the pandemonium, looking back it was still kind of fun so if you like really adventurous stuff you might actually enjoy it a bit. However, if you’re the type who really doesn’t deal well with stressful driving conditions, then Old Town Lisbon is not the place for you to drive because those brief moments of calmness are outweighed by the craziness.

Be aggressive

Be aggressive. This is the only way you’re going to find parking and not have to waste a lot of time getting stuck because of inconsiderate drivers. If you’re from a part of the world where drivers regularly offer to give you room to pull out or to make your life a little easier, that’s likely not going to happen here.

Don’t rely too much on your navigation system

Don’t rely too much on your navigation system. Our navigation system, while rock-solid in the Algarve, was going mad due to the maze of streets we were trying to work through. It proved to pretty much be useless when we got to the really densely populated parts of Old Town. You’re better off relying on manual GPS tracking or even a paper map.

Remember where you’re parked

Take extra time to remember where you parked if you ended up finding a parking spot in some random side-alley among the maze of streets. It’s really easy to lose track of where you parked in those areas. And if you just really want to park in the one of the lots close to the famous lookout points located around the city then my suggestion is to make it to Old Town at like 8am and stake out your parking spot so that you can have it for the the day (assuming you can park there that long).

I hope I’m not making it sound like the Portuguese are A-holes because they were absolutely great people with an amazing culture. I think their driving, which was crazy to us, is simply “just the way they do things.” They’re not trying to be rude to you, so try not to take offense when you get cut off by car after car who feel no need to use their turn signal and just enjoy your time in Lisbon. After all, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, even if driving there is a bit absurd.

The Top Five Best Beaches to Visit in the Algarve, Portugal

Whether you have one week or only a weekend to explore the Algarve, you’ll find that you’ll have plenty of time to see some of the top beaches. On our recent trip to the Algarve we really only had about one full day to get out and explore but I felt like we were able to see many of the top sights there. We’d just spent months living in the cold and cloudy UK and the sun in southern Portugal felt like a warm slice of heaven every day we were there, especially at the beaches.  So here’s a breakdown of the top 5 best beaches to visit in the Algarve (the first two destinations aren’t exactly beaches but they are coastal destinations worth your time!).

National flag of Portugal

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1. Farol do Cabo de São Vicente (Cape St. Vincent)

Cape St. Vincent is a stunning sea cliff area where instead of jumping into the water, you’ll just be amazed by the sheer beauty of the landscape. The Greeks and Romans actually believed this place to be sacred for hundreds of years; in fact, the Greeks actually built a temple there that they dedicated to Heracles. It was here that they believed the sun sunk from the sky and marked the edge of their world. It’s a fascinating feeling to look out from these cliffs and imagine that millions of people before you once thought that this marked the outer bounds of their existence….

Dramatic cliffs at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente
Dramatic cliffs at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente

This cape was also a place of war, where pirates plundered from Holland and France. More buildings would likely still be standing here but the famous earthquake of 1755 is said to have flattened the area. Still, there’s an interesting lighthouse to check out that was built in 1846.

Red lighthouse at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente
The Red lighthouse at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente

This was the first place that we stopped at on the edge of the European continent and it was our first glimpse of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. A heavy layer of grey clouds hovered overhead as we made out way from sunny Albufeira and with the coastal winds picking up, it was pretty cold at this spot so be prepared for winds and bring an outer layer. Also, be careful navigating around the cliff sides, they can be pretty treacherous at times, not to mention high at about 75 meters!

2. Fortaleza de Sagres (Sagres Fortress)

This place is just a few kilometers south from Cape St. Vincent so it’s a must-see if you make it to the area. This is the only destination not 100% free but entrance into the fortress was only €3. This is the place where Prince Henry the Navigator built his famous school of navigation. Some of the most famous and well-respected mariners, astronomers, cartographers, and ship builders convened at this place to construct and learn how to navigate ships during the period known as the Age of Discoveries.

Cliffs outside Fortaleza de Sagres
The cliffs just outside of Fortaleza de Sagres

The fortress was originally built back in the 15th century but had to be rebuilt in 1793 after it was destroyed — not by earthquake — but by Sir Francis Drake back in 1587. It’s a cool structure to roam around and ponder the history of some of the greatest explorers of all time. One of the cool sights is the 39 meter wide wind compass that has been partially restored known as the “Wind Rose.”

The Wind Rose at Fortaleza de Sagres
The Wind Rose at Fortaleza de Sagres

I recommend walking around the trail that follows along the outside of the peninsula where you can stand among the most southwestern point of Europe and look out from the cliffsides. You’ll likely comes across several local fisherman perched out on the edge of these cliffs trying to catch some tasty sea bass.

Paved trail at Fortaleza de Sagres
Paved trail at Fortaleza de Sagres

There’s also really intriguing geology around the area with rocks scattered about that kind of give off an otherworldly feel.

Rocky terrain Portugal
Interesting rocks

Once you make your way back to the entrance of the fortress you can ascend to the top of a mound that sits over the entrance gates and catch a better view of the wind compass and other surroundings.

Outside fortress at Fortaleza de Sagres Portugal
The outside of the fortress at Fortaleza de Sagres

3. Praia De Dona Ana

After you get your history fix and battle the likely cold windy conditions found on edge of the continent it’s time for you to head back east toward some more laid back beaches. One of the best views in the entire Algarve has to be Praia De Dona Ana!

Portugal Algarve Praia De Dona Ana
Praia De Dona Ana

There’s a small parking lot right by the beach that surely is taken up during peak season but at other times of the year will likely still have spots open. From the lookout point, you’ve got great photo opportunities of the clear, blueish-green waters and golden sea stacks.

Algarve Portugal Praia De Dona Ana
Praia De Dona Ana

The beach also look irresistible but because temperatures were still a bit cold, we held off from swimming. If you happen to be visiting the Algarve in the summer, especially on the weekend, then you better get here early because this is one of the most busy beaches in the Lagos area.

4. Praia De São Rafael

Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael

We caught this beach right at sunset and it was one of the most relaxing scenes I can recall from my entire stay in Europe. What was also great is that there was nobody around whatsoever. We were able to hop around the lush sea bluffs for over an hour, exploring little crevices in the sides of the cliffs and opting for photos without seeing a soul (other than a few fisherman perched in the distance).

Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael
Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael
Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael

There is a restaurant/bar located right on the beach that looked like fun  but we opted to stay perched on the edge of the cliffs in solitude. Climbing around these cliff areas is exciting but again just make sure that you exercise plenty of caution when you attempt this because it’s a pretty long drop all the way down.

5. Benagil Beach, Faro, Portugal

Bengail Beach is a must stop. The beach area is nice and all but the reason that you want to come to this beach is for the awesome sea cave tour that you can embark on! You’ll be darting through grottos and catching glimpses of color-changing seas as you zip through the sea stacks along the shore.

Algarve Sea Cave Tour
Benagil Beach Sea Cave Tour

The highlight of the boat tour is catching the famous Benagil Sea Cave. Try to allocate about an hour total if you’re planning on doing a tour and check out the link above if you’re interested in finding out more for information on the grotto tour.

Benagil Sea Cave
Benagil Sea Cave

The “secret beach”

There is a secret beach called Praia do Carvalho (ssshhh…) in the Algarve that is accessible via a cave and it is just west of Benagil Beach. We saw this beach from our boat tour and were not able to actually go down on the beach but it looked like a really cool secluded beach that you could check out!

Remember, we saw all of these top five beaches in one day and still had time to settle down for a bit and enjoy a couple of great meals, so even if you only have one or two days in the Algarve you can still see plenty (just get an early start)!

Looking for more information about Portugal? Check out where to eat in the Algarve and find out how to work the toll roads!

Foods and Drinks You Must Try in Portugal!

Portugal is a great country to visit for foodies, especially if you are into a variety of different seafood dishes. Here are 8 foods and drinks that you must try if you visit Portugal. (These were found in both the Lisbon area and the Algarve and you shouldn’t have a hard time finding them in either region.)

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1. Grilled Sea Bass

Grilled sea bass Portugal

The first thing to know about ordering fish of just about any type in Portugal is that you will have to pick out the bones. On top of that, you will sometimes have the skin on the fish as well (this is uncommon in most American restaurants – we usually don’t do bones or skin). We ordered grilled sea bass twice (once in the Algarve and another time in Lisbon) and the latter time, the fish came out with the skin. We’d never tried skin on fish before but it wasn’t bad at all! In fact, the grilled sea bass boasted an amazing, juicy texture that was full of flavor — I definitely recommend you trying it if you’re making you’re way to Portugal.

2. Salted Cod (Bacalhau)

Salted cod Portugal

This is the national dish of Portugal and so it’s also a must-try while you are there. I had some very tasty cod at a cafe in Lisbon, near one of the famous overlooks. While I enjoyed the fish, they definitely don’t hold back on the salt at all. I know I ordered salted cod but I just didn’t expect it to so salty that I couldn’t even finish it. So if you’re a salt person, you can’t go wrong with the fish but if salty foods aren’t your thing, maybe stick to some other dishes. Just know that the Portuguese claim that there’s over 365 to 1,000 different ways to cook their cod so you might be getting something a little different each time you try it.

3. Tapas

Tapas Portugal

Most people think of Spain when they hear someone mutter something about tapas but don’t forget that Portugal has some amazing tapas that you can find as well! We had one of the best tapas plates in the Algarve while we were in Portugal. It had a little bit of everything: octopus, crab, shrimp, squid, etc. but it was one of the best meals we had during our European trips!

4. Pastéis de Belém

Pasteis de Belem Portugal
Pasteis de Belem Portugal

This dish at this specific place is sort of a rite of passage when you visit Portugal. The custard dishes are very good and if there’s one place to try them it’s here. Don’t be too intimidated if you show up on a weekend and there’s a huge crowd – it actually moves pretty quickly because this place is used to dealing with the crowds. I was slightly disappointed to hear that they only had one flavor variety for the dish but in a way it kind made it appeal a bit more to me in a classical sense (I think you can top them with powdered sugar and/or cinnamon). They stuff the pastries in a cylinder for you to take on the go so you can always order more than you think you can handle, though the eggy centers of these pastries are very rich!

5. Green Wine (Vinho Verde)

Vinho Verde Portugal

For me, green wine or Vinho Verde was more of something that we just had to try. Before you get too excited just know that “green wine” isn’t actually green. Green refers to the type of grapes used in the winemaking process so your “green wine” could actually be red or white. These grapes used are younger than the ones typically used producing wine and that’s what gives off the light and slightly sparkling taste. I’m not much of a fan of white wine and that’s the type of vinho verde we ordered so I can’t really rave too much about it. However, if you like drier wines with a bit of a tartness then you’ll probably fall in love with this stuff.

6. Chicken Piri Piri

Piri Piri Chicken Portugal

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Portuguese cuisine is chicken Piri Piri. The chicken we had with Piri Piri sauce was great. Full of spice and flavor. Although the Piri Piri peppers used to marinate and bast the chicken originated in South Africa, you can find Piri Piri sauce bottles and menu options just about anywhere in Portugal. We wanted to really expand our horizons so we didn’t eat it more than once but I don’t think you can go wrong with this dish while in Portugal.

7. White Sangria

White sangria Portugal

We tried some great white sangria (or sangria blanca) in the Algarve. Every place that we tried the more traditional red sangria was also pretty good as well. I also enjoyed seeing sangria on tap as I thought that was pretty cool but the best stuff was always the pitchers full of chopped berries and fruits that you knew were fresh and required a little bit of work to put together.

Fun Fact: As of January 2014,  the European Union only allows sangria made in Portugal or Spain to bear the name “sangria.”

8. Steak and Eggs

I’m not sure exactly how traditional this meal is to the Portuguese but I saw it on menus at a few different restaurants. Since breakfast isn’t really a big deal in Portugal it can be a little difficult to find hearty breakfast options at restaurants. We came upon a place outside of Lisbon where we ordered steak and eggs for a nice brunch that filled us up. You might not be able to find it at many cafes around breakfast time but it’s a good option if you’re in the mood for something a bit more familiar while staying in Portugal.

Need more info on visiting Portugal?

Find out how to work the toll system from Lisbon to the Algarve or find some great places to eat in the Algarve!

Renting Pedal Boats on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London

The trend-setting Serpentine

Hyde Park is one of the best places in the charming city of London to catch a break and relax. One of the fun things to do in the park is to rent a pedal boat and boat around the Serpentine, which is a 40 acre man-made lake in the middle of Hyde Park that was created back in 1730 pursuant to orders by the Queen.

It was a bit revolutionary for its time, as most man-made lakes were long and straight while the Serpentine was one of the first man-made lakes designed to appear natural with its curvy shape.

Other places around the world took note of this natural design and soon hundreds of man-made lakes were popping up around the globe assuming more natural shapes. So when you’re paddling around the lake just remember that the Serpentine, like most pats of London, is rich in history and tradition.

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Prices per adult: £12 for one hour; £10 for 30 minutes

It obviously seems worth it to pay the extra two pounds for an extra 30 minutes but do note that they actually allow you an extra ten minutes to get back to the dock so the thirty minute option actually gets you about 40 minutes.

Because it’s only a matter of two pounds, you’re probably not going to worry about potentially choosing one option over the other. Just know that if you’re overweight or just big and don’t have experience with these boats you might be ready to head back by the time 30 minutes rolls around.

Pedal boats Hyde Park London

You rent the pedal boats from the gift shop/boat house on the northeast side of the lake. Thus one of the easiest ways to get to the pedal boats is from the Hyde Park Corner Underground station. Once you pop out of that station just follow the Serpentine Road until you see the little blue boats — you can’t miss them.

They have windows on the outside of the gift shop but they were closed when we were there so if you don’t see anybody selling tickets at those windows then just go inside the gift shop and they will take care of you inside.

One thing to remember is that you can only rent these boats from March to October, from 10am to sunset.

The paddling experience

I’m not going to lie, the paddle boats were causing us a little bit of trouble. For two pretty big guys (plus our heavy bag we had with us), I think we had our pedal boat loaded down pretty good so that we were making very little progress with a lot of effort.

We saw several boats fly on by us with smaller kids on them so I’m thinking that if you’re much lighter you probably won’t have any issues. It’s also possible that our boat was a bit broken because it felt like our pedal mechanism was constantly getting stuck so watch out for that.

Pedal boats Hyde Park London

Another thing to be prepared for is if you’re over six feet tall (I’m 6’1″) your legs may be a bit squished. It wasn’t horrible but having your kneecaps come up to your chin is never the most comfortable position. Also, try to position your shoes correctly on the pedals for the best experience.

If you’ve got a big foot (11 in mens or larger) then try to make sure that the metal rods on the pedals fit right into the middle of your shoe, otherwise you’re going to have a hard time making full rotations.

So aside from a little discomfort peddling around the boats and taking in the views is a nice way to relax. We didn’t see any fish but we did come across a lot of ducks and a couple of massive swans that I swear looked like they were standing 5 feet tall. Some of the ducks seemed to really enjoy tailing us while we peddled off.

Birds Hyde Park London
Birds Hyde Park London

I think we would’ve enjoyed our time on the Serpentine a little more if we weren’t worried about the weather. As you can see by the photos, some powerful looking storm clouds were rolling through and considering we had two laptops and my DSLR on us in the middle of this 40 acre lake, we got a little worried that we might get stranded in a rain shower.

That’s another thing – they didn’t have any lockers for us to store our stuff so try to plan that out ahead of time if you know you’re going to have bags on you.

Birds Hyde Park London

Overall, it’s a cool experience and fun way to relax in the middle of London. Personally, I found Central Park in New York City to be a bit more interesting to explore but Hyde Park is still a great place to check out. If you’re visiting London from March to October and looking for things to do then definitely consider spending 30 minutes to an hour pedal boating out on the Serpentine.

Looking for other ideas on what to do in London? Check out these London related articles:

A Guide to the Tolls in Portugal: Lisbon to the Algarve

The toll system in Portugal is still a little confusing to me even after going through it this past spring in 2015. I heard from numerous sources that there were different rates and ways to pay while planning our trip yet when we arrived to rent our car it seemed that a lot of that information was wrong.

So here’s what you can expect when renting a car while trying to get from Lisbon to the Algarve.

Renting a car at Lisbon Airport

First thing is renting the car. We found the rental procedure at Lisbon Airport to be pretty straight forward. We went with Avis and the staff for them was very helpful and spoke pretty good English so there weren’t really any hiccups in the process.

Also, for Avis, we didn’t have to take a shuttle or anything to get our car because the garage is right there by the airport so that was nice and that appears to be the same for other car rental companies.

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Get the transponder

When renting your car with Avis be sure to tell them that you want the transponder in your car.

I recall there being a small fee for having the transponder put into the car and a small daily fee as well but from my understanding the alternative routes for paying would’ve been to find some random post offices or pay shops to pay the tolls or some other means that we weren’t fully clear on.

The only thing we were clear on was that the transponder would allow us to be charged as we travelled and then we would pay one final fee at the end (though the bill takes about a month to hit your credit card). Thus, going with the transponder seemed like the most convenient way for dealing with the tolls.

Toll transponder Portugal
The transponder.

Note: There may be easier ways for you depending on your routes and destinations, but I’m simply stating what worked for us to get us from Lisbon to the Algarve in a relatively simple way. Quite frankly, every other way of paying sounded like a headache compared to this way.

How exactly do all the tolls work?

While we understood how we would pay for what we would be charged, I still wasn’t clear on how all of the tolls worked. When I asked Avis how much we should expect to pay, the staff member just told me that it ranged from like €1-€20 — a pretty drastic range.

When I pressed with more questions, she attempted to explain how it all worked but it wasn’t really getting across. It ended up being one of those slightly awkward scenarios where you just kind of act like you understand what the person is telling you for the sake of moving on to your next destination.

Freeway in Portugal

Once you get your car you want to think about your route and how the tolls are going to add up for you. I’m pretty sure that each toll works in a different way depending on your location.

Unlike in most areas in the United States, where you pay the total toll once you pass through each toll gate, on the highway to the Algarve you first drive through an entry gate that begins the “toll” for your charge and then once you pass through an exit gate — depending on how many miles you’ve traveled — your total will then be calculated based on the distance.

(I think this is how it works based on how we were charged, so you might want to make sure for yourself.)

Here’s a helpful link with a breakdown of charges you can expect on major routes.

You should be able to see the toll fee light up on the screen as you pass through but not every toll showed the total. Also, if you go the transponder route you’ll pass through the lanes on the left, under the green “V” signs each time. I’m not sure how the other lanes work at all.

Toll road Portugal

Getting from Lisbon to the Algarve via Highway A2

If you travel straight from Lisbon to the Algarve via A2 you should expect to be charged right around €20!

To get to the Algarve from Lisbon we took the A2/E1 highway, which is one of the most popular toll highways. We knew we would be getting charged but we didn’t realize it would be about €20!

The alternative to taking the A2 highway is to jump on the IC1 (on the west) but when we input that route into our GPS it added almost 2 hours to our route.

Whether that was accurate or not we were a bit short on time and sunlight so we opted to take the quickest route to get to the Algarve.

Car navigation

While the tolls can be a bit confusing and stressful the good news is that the drive down to the Algarve is a very scenic drive even on the A2.

I suspect that the smaller highways may have been a bit more scenic but I can’t verify that. If you’ve never driven in Portugal be prepared for a lot of people speeding down the interstate in their little cars.

We didn’t have any major issues with them but you’re bound to come across several of these people who fly by at reckless speeds and never use their blinkers (turn signals).

A2 highway Portugal
Scenic hills along the A2

Tolls on the A22 Road in the Algarve

So once we arrived to the Algarve we jumped from town to town for the weekend.

We decided to use the A22 road (the toll road of the Algarve) instead of the free highway that runs roughly parallel to that road for the same reason as before: we were trying to see a lot of different spots in a short amount of time and the alternative route would’ve cost us a couple of hours overall of driving time.

Also, I was told that the free highway was poorly maintained and even worse, poorly marked, making it much more difficult to navigate so consider that.

I believe that the tolls on the A22 work differently than on the E1. These tolls charge you flat fees as you pass through their gates that are much cheaper and range from €0,50 to €2,00.

Here’s a breakdown of the fees charged on the A22 road.

As you can see, the fee charged to you depends on the class of vehicle you are driving and can vary by up to €1,50 depending on the location of that gate you are driving through.

How much do the tolls cost to travel from Lisbon to the Algarve roundtrip?

The final amount we were charged was: €55.

Keep in mind that this included the round trip from Lisbon to the Algarve and also several trips hopping around the different beaches and towns in the Algarve for a couple of days.

The one drawback to the transponder is that you are putting trust in the rental company to get your charges correct. Apparently, there are stories of people getting screwed over by the car companies but I don’t think that happened in our case.

I think it was safe to assume that we were charged correctly and I only would’ve questioned the charge if it had been a pretty outrageous number. Still, it’d be a good idea to calculate a rough estimate before you get charged so you can get a sense of what you will be paying.

Again, I can’t say for sure how all of the different tolls work in Portugal. It is a bit confusing and a bit stressful for outsiders to deal with. However, if you are planning on traveling from Lisbon to  the Algarve then I highly suggest that you go with the transponder and expect to pay around what we payed for a couple of days worth of exploring.

Now that you know how the tolls work in Portugal be sure to check out the best sea cave tour in the Algarve and also where to eat in the Algarve!

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