Russia World Cup travel reward deals limited, but still available

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Personal Finance Writer
Summer Hull writes the weekly “Get to the Points” column for CreditCards.com

Get to the Points

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The
largest single-event sporting competition in the world is the FIFA World Cup. This massive soccer tournament has occurred every four
years since 1930, with some brief wartime exceptions, and it takes place in less than three months in Russia.

If history is an indicator, millions will travel to see one
of the matches from June 14 to July 15, across 11 cities in
Russia. More than 32 countries are represented in this tournament,
so let’s just say this is a pretty big deal in the world of sports and travel.

Travel
to Russia for the 2018 World Cup

The United States did not make the cut for the 2018 World Cup,
but that won’t stop die-hard fans from wanting to see the action in person. If
you don’t already have your 2018 World Cup tickets, those that are remaining
will reportedly go on sale beginning
on March 13
.

Russia has waived the regular entry visa
requirements for those traveling to see the World Cup beginning 10 days before
the first match until 10 days after the final match. You will need to have your
valid passport and a Fan ID that is
available to World Cup ticket holders
.

This is similar to the process that Russia used for the Sochi
Winter Olympics in 2014. I actually had Olympics tickets, airline award flights
and even hotel award reservations for the Sochi games four years ago, but that
trip ultimately fell apart largely due to hotels in Sochi running woefully
behind construction deadlines. My award reservations were not being honored as rooms
that were completed were needed for the Olympic Committee.

It all eventually worked out as I was able to change my plans
and go skiing in Norway instead of watching skiing in Sochi, but that
experience of planning a trip to Russia using miles and points during a huge
international event is helpful context for the World Cup.

If you want to use your miles and points to travel to the
FIFA World Cup in Russia, it will take research, strategy, patience and more
luck that I had in Sochi. Because we are now less than 100 days out and demand
is very high, you may not be able to use awards for all of your 2018
World Cup journey, but here are some tips if World Cup in Russia is on your travel
wish list.

Don’t
just search award flights to Russia

If you want to fly nonstop from the United States to Moscow,
you are going to be looking at flights on the Russian airline, Aeroflot, which
operates nonstop flights from JFK, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington Dulles. Not
all cities have seven-days-a-week service, so be sure to check different days of
the week.

Aeroflot is in the SkyTeam alliance, so theoretically you can book these
flights with your Delta SkyMiles, or potentially for fewer Korean miles you
earn with your Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred cards. However, because
of the limited number of flights and the huge demand for that time slot, that
is probably not going to happen for most people.

At this point, your two main options to fly to the World Cup
using miles are purchasing a flight with cash starting at
about $800 to $1,000 per round trip in economy, and then use points from a card
such as the Barclaycard Arrival World Elite Mastercard to offset the charge, or
search for award flights that get you close to Russia.

When I planned my award trip to the Olympics in Russia, I
booked flights to Istanbul, which is just a couple of hours from many of the Russian
tournament cities. I then added on an inexpensive flight from Istanbul to
Russia when I couldn’t find the saver awards I needed for that segment. Not
only is Istanbul geographically very close to Southern Russia, but award
availability on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul from several cities in the United
States is better than average. Some summer dates even offer business class
saver awards. Going through Germany on Lufthansa is another solid option to get
to Russia using miles this summer.

You can book airline awards on Turkish Airlines or Lufthansa via
Star Alliance partners such as United, using 70,000 United miles each way in
business class or 30,000 miles in economy. Regardless of the airline or route
you choose, don’t get fixated on having an airline award that gets you all the
way to Russia if you can’t find one. Even if your airline miles can just get
you as close as Western Europe, you will still have many more affordable flight
options from there than you would from the United States.  

As a tip for U.S.-based travelers, the weekdays surrounding July
4 are often the cheapest summer dates to travel, and the ones with the best
award availability. If you are trying to decide when to plan your flights to
Russia, July 3-5 is a good place to start. For example, right now I could book
a business-class award ticket from Houston to Frankfurt and on to Moscow via
Lufthansa on July 3 for just 70,000 miles plus $52 in taxes, which is a very solid
deal for summer travel during the World Cup. 

Use
hotel points for the World Cup in Russia

Just like with airline award availability, hotel award
availability during the World Cup isn’t going to be great. The vast majority of
chain hotels blocked those dates off long ago, but there are a few
exceptions if you are willing to get a little creative.

If you are hoping to see some of the matches in Moscow, which
is where the tournament starts and ends, the DoubleTree by Hilton
Moscow Airport Vnukovo
is one of the few hotels that still has
standard award nights available for most of the tournament dates. This is
likely because the hotel isn’t even scheduled to open until June 1. Staying at
this property may be a great way to be just a 35-minute train ride from
the heart of Moscow, while keeping cash in your pocket.

That said, keep in
mind my Sochi Olympics story where in which construction delays and other red tape
ultimately sunk my hotel award reservation. On the other hand, if all goes
well, spending 20,000 Hilton Honors points per night to be near the Moscow
World Cup events is a very good deal.

If you hope to see some of the matches in Sochi, there are
several Club Carlson properties in that area, some of which have some
availability during the World Cup. Park Inn by Radisson Sochi Center has
some availability at 15,000 Club Carlson points per night, but if you are
looking for rooms the actual nights of the games in Sochi, you may need to head
up the mountains to the Rosa Khurtor area. There you will find resorts such as
the Radisson Blu Rosa
Khutor
that is available for 44,000 Club Carlson points per
night. That will not be the closest spot in the Sochi area to the matches, but
as a consolation prize there will be a World Cup Fan Village
in Rosa Khutor!

Hotel and flight availability can change quickly, so keep
searching if you want to use your miles and points to get to Russia for the
2018 World Cup. Also keep in mind that trains to the matches are available for free to ticket
holders
, so if you are going all the way to Russia, try to take in
some events in different parts of the large, expansive, country.

See related: Why you should book winter holiday trips now with miles, points, The 3 types of rewards cards you must have in your wallet




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