I think I’m officially in the Christmas spirit and it’s come early this year. I’m not sure where it’s coming from as the weather is not too winter-like in my hood, but I feel the spirit nonetheless. I’m ready for the family, the food and the parties that the holiday season allows us all to enjoy (and I’ll worry about the excess pounds and lack of sleep come January).
If you need some help getting into the holiday spirit or you just want to see the holiday season at it’s most beautiful then you must plan a trip to Germany and visit a Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt in one of the dozens of Germany cities and towns that have them every year. Visiting an authentic Christkindlmarkt is a travel experience that you won’t soon forget.
Next to visiting Oktoberfest in Munich, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is next my favorite time to visit Germany.
Is it Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt?
It’s both, Christkindlmarkt is the traditional name and Weihnachtsmarkt is the more modern.
What is Christkindlmarkt?
A Christkindlmarkt (literal meaning is “Christ child market”) is a street market and festival that happens during Advent, or the four weeks leading up to Christmas. These festivals start a bit earlier these days but a good rule of thumb is the fours weeks preceding Christmas Day.
These very first Christkindlmarkt took place over 700 years ago in Vienna Austria. One of the oldest and still one of the largest Christkindlmarkt festivals takes place in Dresden Germany and dates back to 1434. There are other famous Christmas markets are held in Dortmund, Erfurt, Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Augsburg and less famous (but no less fun!) versions in dozens of towns and cities across Germany.
Christkindlmarkt festivals are held in the town square and consist of market stalls and various Christmas themed attractions.
According to Wikipedia here is a bit of detail on what typically goes down:
Popular attractions at the market include the Nativity Scene (a crèche or crib), Zwetschgamännla (figures made of decorated dried plums),Nussknacker (carved Nutcrackers), Gebrannte Mandeln (candied, toasted almonds), traditional Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen andMagenbrot (both forms of soft gingerbread), Christstollen (Stollen), a sort of egg bread with candied fruit, Bratwurst, and for many visitors one of the highlights of the market: Glühwein, hot mulled wine (with or without a shot of brandy), or Eierpunsch (an egg-based warm alcoholic drink). Both help stave off the cold winter air which sometimes dips below freezing. Many other handmade items, toys, books, Christmas treedecorations and ornaments (and in recent years less useful gadgets) can be found at a Christkindlmarkt.
They had me with three words – hot mulled wine. I’m in heaven just sipping this delightful drink on a chilly night while taking in the gorgeous winter scenery and getting to know some locals. Fantastic stuff.
How to book an award ticket to Germany for Christkindlmarkt?
The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is also a wonderful time to plan a trip to Germany using frequent flyer miles and points. If you avoid the peaks of either holiday you can find some excellent saver award seat availability in economy, business and first class.
As there Christmas markets in many German cities (see a list here or map view here) you can also pretty much fly into any Germany gateway city and take a train or rent a car to get where you want to go. Frankfurt (FRA), Munich (MUC), Berlin (BER) and Dusseldorf (DUS) are popular destinations from the U.S. (with flights to Frankfurt being the most numerous).
If you already have a frequent flyer mile balance with a major U.S. airline:
Here is what it will take to book one round trip saver (lowest mileage required) award ticket between the US and Germany:
|AA||40,000||100,000||125,000||Bookable online; Consider AB routings but avoid BA routings which carry high fuel surcharges; Last minute ticketing fees may apply|
|DL||60,000||100,000||N/A||Bookable online; Consider routings and connections on AF or AZ as well|
|UA||60,000||100,000||125,000||Bookable online; Consider LH too; Last minute ticketing fees may apply|
|US||60,000||100,000||N/A||Bookable online; Note that US has lower mileage options out there (35/60) but timing does not match the Christkindlmarkt festival period|
NOTE: AA 40,000 economy award is for low season (10/15 – 5/15), otherwise it’s 60,000 miles
I found saver award seat availability on all of these airlines between Thanksgiving and Christmas and in all classes of service. If you don’t mind traveling coach class, the best deal without a doubt is booking an economy class ticket on AA or Air Berlin (AB) for just 40,000 miles round trip (and less than $100 in taxes/fees). That’s pretty darn amazing.
If you want to travel business or first class I’d look for the best option from your departure city and with the in-flight product you deem best or that you want to try. Know that DL saver seats are best available from where the big SkyTeam airlines – DL, Air France (AF) or Alitalia (AZ) – fly internationally from.
You can also always mix it up and fly coach one way and business or first on the return. This is always an option to consider when you are saving and/or short on miles.
If you have multi-use loyalty points balance with AMEX Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards:
Here is what it will take to book one round trip saver (lowest mileage required) award ticket between the US and Germany:
|Transfer points from:||Into miles with:||
|AMEX||AC||60,000||90,000||125,000||Book UA, US or LX this way. Avoid AC due to high fuel surcharges|
|AMEX||AZ||50,000||80,000||N/A||Must call to book. Some surcharges may apply here.|
|AMEX & Chase||BA||40,000 – 50,000||80,000 – 100,000||120,000 – 150,000||Based on distance. Book AA or AB (may require calling). Avoid BA routings to avoid high fuel surcharges|
|AMEX||DL||60,000||100,000||N/A||Same as above. Bookable online; Consider routings and connections on AF or AZ as well|
|AMEX||NH||43,000 – 55,000||68,000 – 85,000||100,000 – 120,000||Based on distance. Book US to avoid fuel surcharges.|
|Chase||UA||60,000||100,000||125,000||Same as above. Bookable online; Consider LH too; Last minute ticketing fees may apply|
Air France (AF) is another possible AMEX Membership Rewards option for Germany.
The easiest action is to transfer Membership Rewards points to DL (if you live in a DL/AF/AZ gateway city or can see saver availability for where your departing – be sure you check this first) or Ultimate Rewards points to UA (who has good saver availability to many cities). These are straightforward points transfers and award seats are bookable online.
However, for the most value for your points, consider transferring Membership Rewards points to AC, NH and AZ and either Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards points to BA. With some maneuvering you can find and book an award ticket to Germany for fewer points by transferring UR and MR points to these airlines and then booking their partner airlines with these miles. Some of these options you can also book online.
In order of ease to find/book award space, here are some higher value options to consider:
Transfer Membership Rewards points to Air Canada (AC) and book Star Alliance partners Swiss International (LX), UA and US to Germany. The taxes and fees are reasonable on these partners but not so much on booking AC directly so I’d avoid AC flights. The business class RT at 90,000 points is a particular good value and award flights are bookable online.
Transfer Membership Rewards points to ANA (NH) and book either coach or business class to Germany via US Airways (US). There are a few hoops to jump through here to set up and use ANA’s online award search and booking interface, but the savings make it worth it. Besides booking US via NH, you can book other Star Alliance airlines with great Germany service like UA and Lufthansa (LH) but fuel surcharges will apply and you should tally those up before you make this choice. If you want to learn more about checking availability and booking Star Alliance partner fights via ANA, check out this great write up by The Points Guy.
Transfer Membership Reward points to British Airways (BA) and book either both coach or business class to Germany – as long as you don’t actually book BA. BA flights over the water carry big fuel surcharges so focus on AA and Air Berlin (AB) options. You can check availability for both on AA.com’s online award booking tool but you may have to call BA to book this using BA points as BA’s award booking tool always tries to route you via BA wherever possible.
Alitalia (AZ) has a great saver award redemption at 80,000 for a round trip business class ticket. But to find availability on them (or other SkyTeam partners like DL or AF) you need to call or use a paid tool like ExpertFlyer. To book an award ticket via AZ you must call them. Fuel surcharges may apply but from what I’ve read they are not as scary as BA’s. I do not know this first hand. Possible points savings here but more hoops to jump through to obtain them.
One more option to consider:
If you live in the New York city area (or can get there cheaply) and you value a great flight experience over spending points wisely, this is a great opportunity to experience Singapore Airlines (SQ) famously amazing first class product (but please note that I didn’t check their availability for this report). I’m just sayin’…
In summation, you can see that there are tons of ways to get to Germany for Christkindlmarkt, or any time for that matter.
Leaving the airport:
If you fly into Berlin (BER) I suggest renting a car (about a 2 hour drive) or take a train to Dresden and see both one of the largest and oldest Christkindlmarkt. Dresden is a great city to spend time in and is very close to the Czech Republic and only about another 2 hours drive from Prague.
If you are flying into Frankfurt (FRA) or Munich (MUC), besides checking out the festivals on both those cities I suggest traveling to the Christkindlmarkt in Nuremberg. Again, it’s about a 2 hours drive away from either city via the autobahn. There is also train service available from either city to Nuremberg.
Remember, there are dozens of Christkindlmarkts so the city you fly into will likely have something going on, The two stated here are just two of the more famous and older festivals that may be worth visiting. Always go your own research and build a travel plan that’s right for you.
There are so many great little towns to see in Germany (and I love to drive fast) which is why I always rent a car if I’m staying more than a day or two in this country. If you go that route, you can find some great rental car rates at either Kayak.com or RentalCars.com.
Where to stay:
If you have hotel loyalty points (or want to transfer MR or UR points into hotel points) you can check out some award stay options with the larger hotel brands. While this approach okay, the hotels are usually tip top and it can certainly keep your out of pocket spend to a minimum, when I’m in a smaller European city I personally love staying at a well reviewed local place that meets my budget rather than a more professional business hotel. I always meet great people and feel more “local” when I go this route (but I do make the odd exception for a Starwood Hotels stay using Starpoints).
For European hotels, the one and only place I go to is Booking.com. Booking.com is so dominant for European hotel bookings that they drive over 50% of the region’s online hotel reservations. Booking.com is where I start my European hotel search – and usually where I end it too.
If you need some help getting into the Christmas spirit, take a trip to a real German Christkindlmarkt. Get your hot mulled wine on with your fellow German, you know you want to.
If a trip here doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit then you are certifiably a scrooge. Whether in December or any time a year, Germany is a great destination for award travelers. There are so many airline and flight options and lots of award seat availability during much of the year. If you haven’t crossed this country off your list yet then you have to make a plan (and if you have been to Germany there is always more to see and do so make a plan to travel back).
Photo Credit: ladybugblue/flickr