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In the miles and points world, there is a whole back and forth “argument” over whether it is possible to truly travel “for free”. I have seen fairly compelling points on both sides. On the one hand, if you are using miles and points for a trip, then you’re not spending cash and so your trip is “free”. On the other hand, those miles and points DID have some sort of cost (even if only an opportunity cost), so the trip is not truly free. Plus, you are likely to have other expenses on your trip for things like food or activities where you can’t use miles and points. And while you might be able to offset those costs with flexible “cash” points, that means you won’t be able to use that cash for other things.

2024 London and Paris Trip Itinerary – 9 Days for 4 people

Still, I always enjoy reading about other people’s trip cost breakdowns, so I thought I would share the list of what we spent on our recent European trip. I am already tracking all of our expenses, so it wasn’t too difficult to collate these and share them.

As a reminder, this trip was 4 people – myself, my wife and 2 of our kids (ages 15 and 11). We left Cincinnati on Monday, March 4th and flew American Airlines business class from JFK-LHR and then were scheduled to return on Tuesday March 12th in Delta One from Paris direct to Cincinnati. Unfortunately, our flight was cancelled and we had to spend an extra day in Paris before flying back on Air France Airbus A350-900 business class from Paris to Newark. We got back home late on Wednesday March 13th.

a statue of a woman on a small island with a bridge and a tower

2024 London and Paris Trip Cost

Here is our total cost breakdown for the 9 day trip.



  • Marriott Courtyard Paris Gare de Lyon City tax $71.23 (we had paid for this using Capital One Venture miles but there was additional city tax due when we got there)
  • Holiday Inn Express CDG Airport City tax $11.42 (again, city tax on our award booking)
  • Holiday Inn Express CDG Airport $174.61
  • Holiday Inn Express CDG Airport $174.61 (2 rooms for 1 night due to the flight cancellation)

Meals and food

Our total meal cost was $337.49 (though obviously we paid it in Euros and Pounds – these were the costs that showed up on my credit card statement). For those 9 days, there were 28 total meals that we had, though we didn’t pay for all of them. Here is how I categorized those 28 meals:

  • London meals paid for – 7
  • Paris meals paid for – 6
  • Included in hotel cost – 5
  • Ate at lounge – 3
  • Ate on airplane – 3
  • Provided by Delta for delay – 1
  • Skipped / ate snacks – 3

So really it was only around 13 meals out of the 28 that we truly paid for, though that does also include the cost of some of the snacks and things that we bought while we were out. We did eat a fair amount of McDonalds and other fast food (since we’re not foodies and that’s something that for the most part everyone likes), but also did stop for a meal of fish and chips at the Plough and Harrow (next to our hotel in London)

a plate of food with a fork and knife

and a nice afternoon snack of crepes and hot chocolate in Paris.

a man and woman sitting at a table with cups of coffee

Activities / Other

Cost Breakdown – Was This a “Free” Trip?

Okay, so if you add that all up, it comes to a total cost of $3,934.81. So where does all this talk of a “free” trip come in? Well, I also “gained” a bit of miles, points and money while on this trip, as follows:

  • IHG welcome points (300 points * 5) 1500 IHG points @ 0.5 cpm $7.50
  • IHG points from booking 2 rooms 5020 IHG points @ 0.5 cpm $25.10
  • I used my Capital One Venture X credit card for most of the spending, so earned about 6000 Venture miles – $600.00

Then when our flight was cancelled, we got the following

Total value of the miles, points and money gained – $4,554.89. So comparing that to the $3,934.81 that we spent, you can see that we made a profit of $620.08. Now of course that is pretty fuzzy accounting and the vast majority of the money that we got back was due to our flight being cancelled, which of course is not something that you can really count on.

And of course, it is totally disingenuous and “funny math” to NOT count the value of the miles I redeemed as expenses but TO count them when I received them. For a full accounting, here are the miles and points that we spent on this trip

  • Courtyard Paris 32,811 Venture miles + $300 annual travel credit from the Venture X card – $628.11
  • HIX CDG 2 IHG free night certificates – $349.22
  • American AAdvantage miles 230K AA miles @ 1.55 cpm – $3,565.00
  • Amex Membership Rewards (transferred to Virgin Atlantic) 200K Amex Membership Rewards @ 2cpm – $4,000.00
  • Holiday Inn Express London Hammersmith 78K IHG points @ 0.5 cpm – $390.00

That’s a total value of $8,932.33 in miles and points that we used. Taxes and fees on the flights were accounted for in the cash section above, which were pretty hefty on the Virgin Atlantic redemption especially.

2024 London / Paris Trip

The Bottom Line

So, with all that being said and shared, our 9 day trip for 4 to Europe cost us somewhere in between negative $620.08 and a total cost of $12,687.14 (if you account for the value of the miles and points we used but not for their value when received). As is the case with most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I don’t REALLY think that this trip was free in most cases (though the EU261 compensation sure helped!), but I do also think that it goes to show the immense value of careful use of miles, points and judicious credit card signups.

What are your thoughts on whether traveling on miles and points is “free”? Leave them in the comments below

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