US to Europe for the weekend, with only one day off at work? Yes, absolutely!

I had always wanted to try a weekend trip to Europe; doable, in theory, originating from home on the east coast of the United States. Mind you I am not talking about a turn and burn, a trip just for the fun of flying or with a meeting or dinner in the middle, but an actually meaningful weekend trip to Europe. So Meghan and I tried it over a recent long weekend featuring a Monday holiday. In fairness, we left Thursday evening after work rather than Friday, so we stretched the "weekend" concept a bit. That said, the Monday holiday meant that we did the whole thing with only one day off from work (Friday), had an excellent time, and returned feeling completely refreshed despite the contortions we had to go through to make the logistics work. You can do it too, like this...

But first, is it worth it?

That depends on a few factors related specifically to geography, ticket price, and your personal finances. Geographically speaking, this really only works for American travelers who are originating roughly east of the Mississippi, or who specifically live in hub cities such as Dallas, Houston, or Denver  from where there is a direct flight to your destination. The further west you live, the fewer options you'll have. Also consider that the further west you live, the longer you'll spend in the air, the more tired you'll be on the ground, and the less rewarding the trip will be. Ticket price also becomes an issue the further west you go. For example, travelers from New York and Boston will often find Thursday to Monday airfares to London, Paris, Madrid, and Lisbon in the $450 - $550 range (that's 30,000 to 36,666 Ultimate Rewards Points on your Chase Sapphire card). Round trips to those same cities from Dallas or Denver will often run almost triple that. At some point one must ask -- based on their own personal finances -- how much is too much for only three days on the ground?

Further reading: How to fly for free using Chase credit cards

Getting there

Target big cities in far western Europe. The further removed from the big European cities you look, the longer it will take to get to your destination, and the less time you'll have there for just a weekend. Of course, Norwegian Air is starting to change that with their insane deals on routes like Providence to Edinburgh, but you'll also find yourself with less flexibility on flight times there. Ultimately we're looking at places like London, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, and Reykjavik when thinking of a weekend trip. Shop around and compare prices on Google Flights before booking with money or with points through your credit card provider or airline. If you're not originating in New York or Boston (the two American cities from which we consistently see the best trans-Atlantic prices), it is very possible to book a separate ticket from home into the northeast, and go from there. We just don't see prices consistently good as NYC / BOS from other east coast hubs such as Washington, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Atlanta. There's added risk in that plan, though, as a delay getting into the hub city may cause you to miss the flight across the ocean. Be careful.

Further reading: Review - British Airways 747 Boston to London is mixed bag with lots to love, lots to be annoyed by

Getting ready

The goal is to maximize your usable time at the destination, so find some discipline to begin adjusting your sleep schedule before you go by about an hour each night. I try to keep a midnight bedtime in my day-to-day life, so my goal is always to go to bed at 11pm five nights before I leave, then 10pm the next night, 9pm the next, and finally 8pm the night before I leave. It's tough, but it's worth it. You'll have better luck if you're already an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type.

On the ground

Don't try to pack too much into your trip, or you'll wind up exhausted and miserable coming back the other direction. When we tried this, we found that it made a lot of sense to have an easy day about town in your destination on Friday, plan a more intense excursion (if that's what you like) for Saturday, and then take another easy day exploring the town on Sunday before departing on Monday. The game is to minimize extraneous coming and going logistics so you can maximize whatever it is you love when you're there. If you're making this an even shorter Friday evening to Monday trip, then make Saturday your easy day, Sunday your adventure day, and of course keep Monday for travel.

Further reading: Two-day guide to stunning beauty and charm of Lisbon, Portugal, Western Europe's oldest city

Case Study: Washington, DC to Madrid, out Thursday, back Monday

We originally had notions of London when we tried this as a case study earlier this year, but Madrid proved just too good an opportunity to spend visiting the Bodegas Arrayán and Alonso Cuesta wineries in Méntrida, and to see the incredible opening celebrations of Plaza Mayor's 400th anniversary.

  • Flew DCA to BOS aboard jetBlue on Thursday late afternoon (using TrueBlue points)
  • Flew BOS to LHR and then LHR to MAD aboard British Airways, Thursday night through Friday morning (using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points)
  • Enjoyed a beautiful day in Madrid on Friday
  • Quick train to Toledo and the Méntrida wineries on Saturday
  • Enjoyed an even more beautiful day in Madrid on Sunday
  • Flew MAD to PHL aboard American on Monday (again, Chase points), rented a car in PHL to drive home to DCA
  • Home in time for dinner on Monday

The British Airways and American flights (actually LHR to MAD was aboard Iberia) were all booked under the same ticket on British Airways. The route network between the New York / Boston pair on one side and the London / Madrid pair on the other side is particularly strong thanks to the partnership between the three airlines. The pairing of Air France and KLM with Delta can sometimes offer similar benefits dealing with Paris and Amsterdam, but I've not seen anything top the strength of the OneWorld alliance on routes involving BOS / NYC and LON / MAD.

Further reading: Our first take on Spain's excellent, compelling Méntrida wine region

Bottom line

It isn't for everyone, but I recommend this approach to anyone in possession of energy and a desire to explore in combination with a good match of geography, ticket price, and cash or points. It's a particularly great way for folks in the U.S. with limited time off to spend more of the time they have in Europe.

Where have you gone on your quick trips? Domestic or abroad? How have they worked out for you?