Have Cards, Will Travel

Holiday destination shopping

Reward yourself with a visit to one of my favorite Christmas markets


It’s not too late for a last-minute Christmas trip before the holidays hit. Christmas markets are great places to find handmade gifts, local pastries and enjoy beautiful decorations. Here’s how to fund your trip (either overseas or a little closer) on rewards points.

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Have a free weekend in December and a big balance of points in your credit card account from all that Black Friday shopping? Well, it’s Christmas market season, and it’s not too late to take a destination shopping trip with your rewards points.

I just got done planning a Christmas market shopping adventure, myself, for this weekend. By Sunday night, I’ll be bundled up in layers and sipping hot glühwein from a stein as I wander between stalls of gingerbread and schnitzel in Hamburg’s maze of Christmas glory.

Wish you could join me?

Many of Europe’s best Christmas markets are actually in very accessible destinations that aren’t too hard to get to by using your rewards points for travel.

If you can squeeze in a few days off before the holidays hit, here are five of my favorite Christmas markets to put on your radar.

See related: How to use rewards points to travel to hard-to-reach destinations

Hamburg, Germany

Germany is the quintessential home of the Christmas market and there isn’t a town or village without some kind of spectacular Christmas lighting.

I’m partial to the Hamburg’s Weihnachtsmarkt set up in front of the Rathaus (their city hall) on the harbor – because there’s nothing more magical than Christmas lights twinkling on the water. Also, my German friends live nearby and are great fun to hang out with in the warming tent. It’s a market I go back to again and again.

Getting there: I usually fly to Hamburg (HAM) via London (LHR) on American with a British Airways connection, using American miles from my Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard. Alternatively, you can book one of the dozens of Star Alliance flight options using points from the Chase United Explorer Card (starting around 65,000 miles return economy).

Berlin, Germany

As Germany’s capital and most international city, Berlin is also the capital city of German Christmas markets – with over 60 to choose from and enjoy. I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest you go Christmas-ing in Berlin, even though it isn’t nearly as easy to get to directly on my favorite oneworld partners (since the demise of Air Berlin).

Getting there: Fly to Berlin (TXL) with a quick stop via Munich (MUC) or Frankfurt (FRA) on Lufthansa. You can book via United or fly via Amsterdam (AMS) or Paris (CDG) with KLM/Air France (Flying Blue) miles (60,000 miles return economy). Chase Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card transfer to both United and Flying Blue 1:1.

Prague, Czech Republic

If Prague wasn’t already stunning enough without its holiday decorations, its two Christmas markets make the city look like a storybook come to life. Centered in the Old Town and Wenceslas Squares, you can find plenty of handmade gifts, taste Czech pastries and enjoy musical performances.

The best part about Prague’s Christmas market is that the Czechs celebrate an extended holiday, Epiphany, so the markets are open until January 6. So, you have a little more time to squeeze this one in!

Getting there: On my last trip to Prague (PRA), I opted to fly KLM via Amsterdam (AMS) using a combination of my Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Membership Rewards points from The Platinum Card® from American Express, transferred to Flying Blue (50,000 miles return economy). Alternatively, you can book the same Sky Team partner flights with 60,000 SkyMiles earned on a Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express.

Helsinki, Finland

Finland is the official home of Santa Clause (if you didn’t know) and its capital of Helsinki boasts the only Christmas market I’ve ever visited that features an outdoor sauna. Do you need any other reason to put this on your list? It’s important to note: In Finland, the hot wine (with or without alcohol) is called glögg – and you’ll need it to stay warm.

Getting there: Fly into Helsinki (HEL) on Finnair, Finland’s national carrier and oneworld partner. Finnair flights are bookable with American Airlines miles earned on any of the Citi / AAdvantage or Barclay’s Aviator cards – or Ultimate Rewards points transferred to British Airways Avios. If you have a spare day or two, you can also book yourself a quick connecting Finnair segment up to Rovaniemi (RVN) to visit Santa – and maybe even catch the northern lights.

Chicago, U.S.A.

If you don’t have a few days to spare to get yourself all the way to Europe this month, there’s one Christmas market I’ve visited in the states that is worth a stop if you’re in or near the Windy City.

While the Christkindlmarket in Chicago is small, it’s pretty authentic (on an American scale) and modeled after the market of the same name in Nuremberg, Germany. I have even visited this market with a German friend just to be sure it’s legitimate enough to recommend.

Getting there: Chicago (ORD) is easy to get to on points from anywhere in the U.S. if there is no winter blizzard in the forecast. As a shared United and American Airlines hub, you’ll have plenty of flights to choose from with points from either airline.

If you’ve never been to a Christmas market, you’ve got a whole month to sneak out on a last-minute trip – or a whole year to plan for next year’s shopping adventure. Pack warm clothes but leave space to bring home giant lebkuchen gingerbread cookies and a mythical Weihnachtsgurk pickle ornament to hide in your Christmas tree!

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