Tuesday, January 4, 2011

$59 tickets to Europe.

I love Europe

There I said it. 

Period.  End of story.
(not really)

I am that dorky tourist leaning on the Eiffel Tower.  And I completely
plan on taking a picture of me "holding up" the Tower of Pisa.

My first experience in Europe was in 1997 when I was on a summer missions trip to Russia.  Although that was a great, life changing trip, it left something to be desired.  A lot to be desired.

In 2009, my husband and I went to Paris for our 10th wedding anniversary.  It was BEAUTIFUL.  Yes the Metro was dirty.  (and smelled like pee in places)  Yes. It was crowded.  Yes.  It was expensive considering the devaluing Dollar.  But it was Paris.

I remember the morning we arrived.  We took the train into the city, checked into our hotel, and immediately jumped on the Metro to Isle de la Cite.  We came up out of the Metro and I stood there looking at Notre Dame thinking,  "I can't believe I'm really here!"  All the months of planning and saving came down to that very moment.  And I was in love.

This weekend I mentioned that my husband and I are planning a trip to Europe this summer.  Woo-Hoo!  Before our trip to Paris, I began planning our 2nd trip to Europe
I'm sick.  I know. 

Here's why:

During the winter of '08-'09 I began planning our trip to Paris.  I knew where we wanted to go and I knew the approximate dates. (mid-late June)  It all came down airfare.  And anyone who has travelled to Europe knows that airfare is the biggest cost of your trip.  I finally decided that Delta had the best rates at the time so I opened up a Visa/Skymiles account through US Bank.  They were running a promotional 25,000 skymiles award with a new account. 

I DO NOT LIKE CREDIT CARDS.  I don't believe paying for your vacation on credit is really taking a vacation.  I like to pay CASH for vacations.  When I opened the Visa accounts, I had cash in the bank for the vacation.  I paid for my airfare with the Visa and IMMEDIATELY paid it off. 

So back to the story...  At that time we had a total of 25,000 skymiles.  But within a month of having the Visa I received a letter from US Bank stating that they were no longer partnering with Delta and that if I wanted a Delta Skymiles Credit Card, I would have to sign up for an American Express card.  Great.  So I cancelled the Visa and checked into the American Express card.  They were running a similar promotion of 25,000 skymiles for new accounts.  So this time I opened two.  One for me.  One for the husband.  By now we had a total of 75,000 miles. 

By now it was getting close to our trip to Paris.  We were reserving our hotel rooms with the card and earning double miles.  We purchased train tickets to Loire Valley and to London with the card, meanwhile paying it off every month.  During this time, Delta ran another promotion.  If you were travelling to Paris through Minneapolis/St.Paul airport, you could earn an extra 2000 miles each way.  Hello!  We each earned just under 10,000 miles with the trip itself, plus the extra 4,000 a piece.  By the time we came back from Paris we had over 100,000 skymiles!  Add onto that total the amount that we had earned from making all of our reservations, we almost had enough skymiles for 2 "low" rate tickets to Europe.  I paid $75 to transfer miles from my skymiles account to my husbands, which Delta doubled giving us a total of 122,000 miles.

Its important to note that once we reached our goal, we have cancelled the credit cards.  We still have our skymiles accounts, but are paying for our new trip with cash. 

Like I said before, getting to Europe is not cheap.  However, once you are there how much you spend is really up to you.  You can stay at 4-5 star hotels, eat at swanky restaurants and easily spend $10,000 in a week.  Or you can stay at hostels, eat from street vendors and spend significantly less.  I'm not rich enough to stay at the Ritz and I'm too scared to stay at a hostel, so I guess that puts me somewhere in the middle. 

Now comes the fun part...I knew that if I could just get to Europe for under 122,000 skymiles, I could get practically anywhere I wanted to go for pretty cheap.  And keep in mind that airfare for under 122,000 skymiles during the summer months is nearly impossible.  After checking out the fares to the most popular cities, (Paris, London, Rome) I began looking at smaller cities (Zurich, Berlin, Brussels).  Finally I found it!  "Low" rate tickets from Ohio to Brussels, Belgium for 60,000/pp/round trip +$59 tax, in June!  I can get anywhere from Brussels.  Hop on the Eurostar to London or Paris.  Take a cruise to Scandinavia.  Drive to Germany.  Or just fly to another destination. 

And we have chosen to fly to Italy.  We are not leaving the airport in Brussels.  We are getting on a 2 hour flight to Rome.  I just checked on Orbitz while writing this and they offer roundtrip airfare from Brussels (BRU) to Rome(FCO) for $8!  Granted, you have to pay $66 in taxes for a total of $74, but that is much cheaper and much faster than going by train.  So far my total out of pocket costs for this trip is $341.  Woo-Hoo! 

Here's where I need your help.  Our vacation is 2 weeks long.  We have already decided that we want to spend the first week in Italy (Rome, Amalfi Coast, Florence/Pisa and possibly Venice).  We have to decide what to do for the 2nd week.  Here are the options we are considering:

1) Stay in Italy.  I'm sure there is plenty to do...

2)  Take a cruise to Greece and Turkey.  Expensive, but we don't have to worry about getting to each destination.

3)  Go back to France.  Maybe see the French Riviera and make our way back to Paris before heading back to Brussels. 

4) From Rome just start heading north through Italy into Austria and through Germany on our way to Brussels.

Decisions, Decisions....

Please help me decide!!!


Magpie said...

You're my new travel agent, Katie! Seriously, that is amazing and my hat is of to you!!


Kelli said...

First, reading this makes me that much more excited for you. Wow! Now, I'd say cruise to Greece because I would love to see Greece...BUT talking to you I really think Paris because you loved it so. Wow, this is a hard decision. I have no doubt that whatever you do it will be fulfilling!

Grace said...

I would go to Greece because I've always wanted to see that blue, blue water and the architecture is amazing!

paige said...

i would love to travel to both one day!!!
greece sounds breathtaking!

good luck on your choice. i think you will have an amazing venture either way!
& ps, what a fun pic!!

Heather said...

WOW...that is incredible. I just showed my husband this post, because we are currently planning a trip over the great pond. We'll be staying most of the time in Ireland, but are considering a short stint in either England or Scotland.

If you go back to France, perhaps you'd enjoy a tour of the countryside? We went to Normandy, and Gold Beach...and everything was so breathtakingly beautiful (and not to mention historical!).

la fourchette said...

Oh! This sounds wonderful.

Some ideas for that second week:

If you stay in Italy, the Cinqua Terre is wonderful...and the walks could work off the pasta before you return. ;}

From Italy, it's an easy hop to the French Riviera and you could wind your way through Provence on the way back up to Paris.

If you go to Greece, here's an out-of-the-box kind of idea: how about a sailboat cruise around the Greek Isles? I did this a couple of years ago and it was one of the most lovely, lovely times I've ever had...(and I live in the south of France, for goodness sakes!) You can see a bit about here and I think there's a link in this post for contacting the skipper.

Whatever you decide - the planning is half the fun, non?

Zane Wooder said...

I can't imagine how amazing it most of been to go with your husband to Paris. That is such a great way to celebrate your tenth anniversary together. I love how much you guys like each other.

-Zane of ontario honey

Rick Martin said...

Are you available for the details of airfare to europe. I am going to explore the europe with my friends on a vacation next month so I need a detail of fairs.

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