Sunday, August 24, 2008

Europe Trip--Next Phase: Air

As September approaches, I'm closer to booking my airline tickets for Europe. While I've put a respectable number of frequent flyer miles on the Visa card, I don't think I'll have enough to cover a decent flight to and from Europe. (On a completely different side note, I think responsible banks should give FF miles for paying your card, not for spending, but that's a whole 'nother issue.)

Anyhow, flying from Huntsville, Alabama to Europe is obviously not going to be a simple, one-step flight. The only 747s that fly into HSV belong to FedEx and maybe UPS. My options then become:

  • Fly a connection from HSV to Atlanta, Washington, or Chicago--the only big international points of entry I can reach nonstop from here.
  • Next issue: what city or cities to I use for my points of entry and departure? The tour begins in Amsterdam and ends in Paris. That means flying an "open jaw" ticket from some point in the U.S. (ATL, ORD, or IAD) to one city then come back to that same city from a different city.
  • Or there's another option: fly into and out of London or Dublin and then enter Europe via RyanAir or some other low-cost carrier. That means an extra airplane trip with the added headache of flying to/from out-of-the-way airports well away from the city centers. I'm looking seriously at London, if only because I'd like to take a train from Paris to London to experience "The Chunnel." Ah, but what's more expensive? Open-jaw flying via Amsterdam and Paris or single-point-of-entry-and-exit travel via London? If I do London, I'd have to consider the cost of the additional ferry/train tickets and possibly hotel stay if I feel like puttering around London to do tea with the Queen or a pint with William and Harry. You know: the usual.

I'll look at the most direct route (HSV-ATL-AMS-PAR-ATL-HSV).

  • Hm. The best rate offered is $955 via Delta. That's the price for September 2008 (same dates), down about $200 from my last estimate, which was ~$1,100.
  • This is interesting: going into and out of London (also via Delta) would be $1,194. So the winner in the open-jaw vs. single-POE competition is open-jaw by about $300. So much for that Chunnel idea.

Now comes the next big question: will a travel agent help with mere airline travel if I had the bad taste to book a tour that was NOT from one of their wall catalogs? Or should I just call the airlines directly? Also, do I need to call a special number at the airline (or Visa) to try to cash in my FF miles? I don't care if I can't get the whole trip paid for--I'd settle for a discount.

Just out of morbid curiosity, I checked the business class prices for the same dates. Would you believe the price was ten times what a coach ticket costs??? $9,934! Jeez, I'm not paying that much for the whole tour, and that includes hotels! I guess I can tough out another crammed-in seat for nine or ten hours. But dang it, when in my life will I get to ride first class or business class again??? I miss leg room, d@mmit! Sigh. Guess I'll just have to suck it up. And if, by some rare chance, I have enough FF miles to pay for that coach ticket, then I just saved a ton of cash in exchange for nine hours' bodily inconvenience. I can take it.


In related vacation news, I now have some for-dummies DVDs on the utter basics for French and Italian ("the 100 phrases you must know to survive"). I've been eyeing the "Rocket German" and "Rocket French" classes, though, since a) I have enough time and b) I'd like to know a little more than the basics ("Where are toilets, please?"). I'm having a mental block about Italian, for some reason. Maybe because I'm more interest in German and French history. I was going to buy these classes with money from one of my savings accounts, but I've been having issues getting the ATM card replaced for that account. Whatever. I'll get moving eventually. Maybe when I book some airplane tickets I'll get more serious about educating myself about speaking with the people I'll be meeting.

Also, thanks to my sister I now have my first Euros for the trip. The bills are smaller, more colorful, and more elaborate than even the new U.S. dollars, but easy to manage. They've gone into the money belt for future use. Thanks, sis! Auf wiederzehen, etc.

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