What did you book? – Castle in Champagne and Two First Class Alternatives

Castle on Airbnb, Park Hyatt Vienna, Air India & Emirates First, Eurowings

by Mohammad & Sash
a collage of a plane and a building

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In the March instalment of ‘What Did You Book?’, Sash and Mohammad lay out their most noteworthy bookings made in February. Hopefully they made the most of the extra day of February to book something exciting!

Mohammad continues to be knee deep into planning a very special trip this Spring. There will be more to come on that front – however it does involves a rather stunning Chateau in Champagne, France and a stay at the Park Hyatt Vienna. Waitaminute.. Chateau? Lets just agree to disagree with the ‘Castle’ description that property gives itself – but whatever it is – it promises to be a memorable stay in the French countryside.

Meanwhile, Sash hasn’t left the country in 2 months and is starting to feel antsy, but he has a big Japan trip coming up in March that he will be reviewing. February was a time for more bookings, and he will be talking about two opposing first-class flights he booked: Emirates’ newly refreshed A380 First Class and Air India First Class. In addition, he will present a Eurowings intra-Europe flight booking through United.

What did Mohammad Book?

French Chateau on Airbnb

I’m generally not an Airbnb or vacation home kinda guy when travelling with my immediate family. Nowadays, I prefer to earn or use points on my stays, and not have to worry about issues like last minute cancellations, scams, misleading advertising, clean fees where I still have to clean etc. I don’t mean to be too harsh on these platforms as I’ve basically never had an issue in the past, but they just don’t provide me with peace of mind that I personally get with a well reputed hotel or one belonging to a major brand. That personal view aside, I also just don’t find Airbnb’s a ‘deal’ anymore in most urban markets in the North America and Europe.

The exception for me though is when I’m looking at getaways for a larger group, usually in a rural setting like a lake, countryside or mountain setting. In these kinds of places, the goal is to spend time with your companions in an area big enough to host everyone with plenty of communal space. I’ve had some amazing stays in the past at some absolutely dreamy cabins/ chalets booked on Airbnb/VRBO.

Coming back to the booking – as part of a larger trip this coming Spring, I wanted to find someplace off the beaten path for our travelling contingent of up to 16 people somewhere in central Europe/Northern Europe. In my pursuit of researching smaller French and German towns, I found myself going down the rabbit hole of ‘castles’ listed on Airbnb across Europe.

Search results for castles was perhaps broader than what I was expecting as it including all sorts of intriguing chateaus, country houses, cabins and… yes actual castles like the one below.

a castle surrounded by trees

Saar Castle, Germany – one of a number options on continental Europe

The whole experience of looking through what was on offer was surreal and I knew if I could find one that fit our needs than I absolutely had to try and make it work. After a couple of hours of searching, I finally settled upon a great looking property in Jussecourt-Minecourt in Champagne France. While it calls itself a castle on the listing – it doesn’t quite fit that description in my mind , nevertheless it caught my attention nevertheless with its Downton Abbey vibes.

a large white building with columns and a lawn

Not only was it close to the region where I am planning for us to be in, but Spring in Champagne should be lovely. Location wise this property is within 1-2 hours drive from many places of interest such as Rheims, Colmars and Strasbourg and has a nearby village as well.

The property itself has 8 bedrooms and each comes with an ensuite bathroom which in itself was a rarity amongst the properties I surveyed. The property spans 18 hectares of private land and include walking trails, gardens, orchards and even has a pond and a river that passes through it where you can do some fly fishing. There is a minimum 3 night stay requirement at this time and reservations include four full time staff members who are responsible for the upkeep of the property as well as meal preparations which can be provided for an additional 10 euros a person per day for breakfast, with dinners costing 25-65 euros depending on the menus selected during the stay.

a room with a green couch and a coffee table


a room with a table and chairs

Booking process

So in a departure from the usual bookings we talk about here, this Airbnb listing was going to need cold hard cash. From a cost perspective, with 16 adults it would cost USD ~$105 per person per night excluding the meal charges.  The property had a very reasonable booking policy, allowing me free cancellation till about a month before my stay.

While thinking of ways to maximize the points earning option on this Airbnb, I remembered that British Airways and Delta both have dedicated links for Airbnb where you can earn points on stays if booked through their portals.  While a great idea in theory – you should always ensure that the prices via either of these portals matches the one you see on the public website as its not always the case. Fortunately it was for this property so I was able to lock in 2 Avios points per dollar spent for the booking.

Next up was deciding which payment method to use. Ordinarily for such a chunky outlay, I usually advocate for applying the charge on a credit card for which you need to meet a challenging minimum spend. In my case I had been waiting for an opportunity like this in order to apply for a Bilt Mastercard, and hope that I get targeted for their unpublished/targeted bonus that many users have reported receiving for the first 5 days from the day of card activation. That would allow my to maximize more than half of that targeted promo in this booking alone, earning me some very valuable Bilt Rewards .

Lastly, over the past year or so, I had been purchasing Airbnb e-giftcards whenever I’d get targeted for the Amex/Amazon ‘Use a point’ promotion or when Shoppers Drugmart would run a giftcard sale. This booking proved a great opportunity to exhaust the couple of hundred dollars that I had collected in giftcard.

With my giftcards loaded into my account, I’ve gone ahead and made a reservation on the account, and will go ahead and charge the cost once I have received my Bilt card.

Park Hyatt Vienna

a building with many windows

Park Hyatt Vienna, source: Hyatt.com

I’ve consistently heard positive things about this property and I’m glad to be finally getting a chance to stay at this hotel as well as visit Vienna which I’ve been wanting to for quite a while. Despite being a Park Hyatt in a  European city, the Park Hyatt Vienna is a category 7 property meaning a stay here will cost between 25,000/30,000/35,000 World of Hyatt points. During

a screenshot of a computer

Suite availability is generally plentiful at the property as well. I booked a couple of rooms and was able to apply a suite upgrade for myself, whilst applying two Guest of Honor certificates to two other rooms using Hyatt’s website’s new online ability to apply these certificates.

Location wise, the hotel seems to be in a prime location in central Vienna. On the nights of our stay, the cash rates are USD $800-$900+ a night, resulting in a pretty terrific USD ~3 cents per point redemption. I’ll also be looking at arranging for a group tasting menu at the hotels own restaurant “The Bank Brasserie” which I’ve also heard a lot of positive feedback on.

What did Sash Book?

Well my winter hibernation is nearly over as I get ready to start travelling again. I may have broken a record for the number of bookings made the past 2 months and it was difficult to choose which ones to present for February’s instalment of What did you Book.

a man sitting at a desk with a computer

An AI attempt of myself making travel bookings

Emirates “New” A380 First Class

As many of you readers know, Emirates continues to be my favorite First Class product, despite others perhaps actually being better, I’ll admit it. During the course of my 2024 travelling planning, I was keen on trying the newly refreshed Emirates A380 First Class Cabin, that is only flying to select cities.

a desk and chair in an airplane

Emirates A380 Refreshed First Class, source: pointhacks.com.au

I have to position out to Tokyo this fall to catch my flight to New York-JFK aboard JAL’s amazing new A350-1000 First Class Product. While my $856 mistake fare from Air France fell through (I planned to upgrade to La Premiere), I’m satisfied with my secondary booking, flying none other than my favorite airline, Emirates, from Toronto- Dubai- Beijing.

a map of the world with a red line

Emirates First Class Routing, created using gcmap.com

I was surprised that Emirates has over 130 calendar days of first-class seats available over the coming year departing from Toronto, with good availability out to China. The cost was 178,750 Skywards points + CAD 1708.13 in taxes.

a screenshot of a computer

I’m sure the jaw hit the floor at these astronomical taxes, but these taxes are what keep availability good. The blow is also softened when you realize that the Dubai-Beijing leg only costs an extra 15,000 skywards and approximately $600. I had written about this in a previous article: What Did You Book? – Emirates First and Etihad Guest Miles

a large stone building on a mountain

The Great Wall of China, source: shangri-la.com

I haven’t been to Beijing since 2009, and never been to the Great Wall,  so it will be nice to check that off my bucket list and explore the city for a few days before I connect to Tokyo, which I booked aboard JAL B787 business class for 35,000 Alaska points. I also decided to stop in Dubai for a few days to check out the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah that Mohammad keeps raving about.

a large building with a pool and trees on the side of it

Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, source: hilton.com

Air India First Class

“What’s wrong with you, Sash?”

“You’re booking what, Air India? You’re mad, bro!”

“Let’s take bets if Sash actually flies this.”

These are just some of the comments I have received from my close travel friends, and I’ve been basically told to get my head checked.

OK, hear me out, folks!

Over the past year, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Air India has improved, specifically on the soft product side. As far as the hard product goes, that depends on the aircraft you are on, and this is exactly what made me lock in the booking. You see, Air India is flying ex-Etihad 777 aircraft on routes between Mumbai/Newark (my booking), Delhi/London, Mumbai/ London.  If you don’t know what this product looks like, here it is:

a seats with a table and two monitors

Etihad 777 First Class, source: samchui.com

You can’t deny that this is a pretty nice looking First Class hard product, and it is a fully enclosed suite with doors. Let’s also talk about the amenity kit and Pajamas provided by Tumi, which I have heard good reviews about.

a black bag with a toothbrush and toothpaste on a marble surface

Air India First Class Kit by Tumi, source; thedesignair.net

a grey shirt and black pants on a rack

Air India Tumi Sleepwear, thedesignair.net

The only disappointment, if any, will likely be the soft product, specifically the service that I am not expecting to be at the level of Emirates or Etihad. As far as food goes, look, I love Indian food, and I’m sure it won’t be as bland as some of the garbage served by North American Airlines; I think I will be content.

The cost of ticket was 132,400 Aeroplan points + $105.50 in taxes for a First Class flexible fare. Note that this is fare includes a flight to Ottawa. The full routing is: Mumbai-Newark-Toronto-Ottawa

a screenshot of a flight ticket

I look forward to reporting back on my experience and winning the bet that my friends have placed on me. 

Eurowings with United Mileage Club

Eurowings is Lufthansa Group’s budget airline with an extensive network within Europe. I was looking for a particular route on a specific day from Paris to Hamburg, and the only option was on Eurowings costing CAD 146. Undoubtedly, this is a cheap fare, but I investigated redemption opportunities and came across the ability to redeem United Mileage Club points on Eurowings for just 6,000 points and $47 in taxes. I’ve been sitting on a chunk of United points that I’ve been meaning to redeem, and this seemed like a great deal.  Plus, it’s a fully flexible ticket, unlike if it was booked with cash.

screens screenshot of a calendar

a white airplane in the sky

Eurowings A320, source: flightsim.to

Final Word

Our Feburary instalment of “What Did You Book?” a Castle booking by Mohammad along with Sash’s two opposing first class flight bookings on Air India and Emirates.  Mohammad also discussed his Park Hyatt Vienna Hotel and Sash also presented a sweet spot of using United MileagePlus points on Eurowings.

As always, please feel free to leave your questions, comments and/or feedback below! Thanks for reading along; see you next month in another edition of What Did You Book.



Sarah Ramkissoon March 1, 2024 - 9:58 am

Thanks for awesome castle recommendations Mohammed – I’ve stayed in a few of these in France (and in one near the Normandy coast that belongs to a friend) and they are amazing. You feel like royalty – or at least one of the landed gentry. And to Sash, I’m with you – Emirates F still has first place in my heart – despite having glow other fabulous F’s.

Uncle Lee March 1, 2024 - 9:56 am

Win lose or draw, I am looking forward to dinner at Sona, and hearing about your AI F-escapades, @Sash.


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