Back from Europe: a Crazy/Amazing Rollercoaster of a Trip
This will be the final installment in my series of posts about our recent trip to Montenegro, France and Iceland. In it I want to highlight what went right, what went wrong and what I would have done differently if given a time machine.
Most of you have probably heard some horror stories about flying to Europe this summer. Lost luggage, flights canceled at the last minute, and the list goes on. Fortunately, we were able to avoid most of these mishaps.
Part of the reason, no doubt, has to do with the fact that we went to Europe at the end of May before the true peak summer season started. My kids were done with school, and we were off a few days later. If your schedule allows it, I highly recommend avoiding July and August when it comes to visiting Europe.
Since all of our flights were booked in the cattle class, my expectations were very low. In general, I put all economy flights in three categories: tolerable, awful and garbage. So, if I get a “tolerable” economy flight, that’s actually a huge win in my book.
Our long/stressful “trek” from Florida to Montenegro
If you read my introduction post from the series, you know that this is where things went wrong. I won’t rehash all the details and let you read it instead. A short recap: our plane from Chicago to Frankfurt was delayed, which made us miss our flight to Tivat (Montenegro).
Truth be told, by booking two connections (MCO-ORD, ORD-FRA, FRA-TIV), I broke my own rule. I never buy a flight to/from Europe that has more than one connection.
In fact, originally, I redeemed United miles on Austrian Airlines flight from New York to Podgorica, with a 3-hour connection in Vienna. The plan was to fly to NYC the day before and spend a night before leaving for Europe the following afternoon.
But then I found award tickets from Orlando at no additional cost via miles, and figured it would be a shame to leave this option on the table. Sure, the 1.5-hour connection in Frankfurt was risky, but I decided to take a chance.
So, we got on our United flight from Orlando to Chicago, hoping for the best. BTW, I would rank it somewhere between “awful” and “garbage”. Pitiful leg room, some lady going to the bathroom barefoot. Oh, and the cherry on top: a screaming toddler running in the aisle at one point, wearing nothing but a diaper.
The only reason I’m not ranking it as 100% “garbage” is because the flight was relatively short. I have to say, out of all domestic airlines, United is probably my least favorite. But I’ll definitely fly it if it’s the most convenient option and if I can use miles.
Masks were not required (except for Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt), but we wore them on all of our flights anyway. To me, it’s not that much inconvenience that may possibly save me from some nasty infection. I find KN-95 masks to be too uncomfortable, but don’t mind the surgical type. I’m actually planning to keep wearing a mask around airports and planes, thought don’t demand that others do the same.
Anyway, that flight was relatively uneventful and on-time. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. Somewhere around midnight, we finally took off from Chicago. And that’s how we hit the series of unfortunate events described in my first post.
After switching our Tivat flight to Dubrovnik on Croatia Airlines set to leave the following day, we headed for the shuttle to our Frankfurt hotel. We felt dejected having just missed our plane to Montenegro by one minute. Oh, and we also forgot my husband’s special Australian hat on the plane. Speaking of, I was able to locate it and get it mailed back to us from Germany for $180 (more than the cost of a new hat LOL).
Anyway, this trip was not off to a good start, all because I booked too many connections with no extra time buffer in case things go wrong. But at least the tickets were reserved with miles and Lufthansa stepped up by accommodating us and rebooking everything at no cost. At one point my husband left for a few minutes and brought back roses for me and my daughter. This certainly brightened my sour mood.
A few observations on our Lufthansa flight from Chicago to Frankfurt. In general, I much prefer Lufthansa to US-based airlines when it comes to crossing the Atlantic. Their food is usually edible, unlike what we got on our United flight from Iceland to Newark. The latter resembled what I usually feed to my cats. I’m not complaining, this is something I fully expected.
The older I get, the less tolerable I find long-haul overnight flights in economy. And this Lufthansa flight was no exception. It didn’t help that we ended up on one of their older planes with meager leg room. I don’t have any photos, but it was a rather uncomfortable flight. Then again, the same can probably be said about most overnight flights in economy that are longer than 8 hours.
The bottom line is, we survived, and I would not hesitate to book something similar again in order to save miles/money. But I’m definitely not opposed to splurging on business class under the right circumstances.
On the other hand, due to flying during the day for only 5.5 hours, our United flight from Reykjavik to Newark was quite tolerable. Not because the plane had great leg room (it didn’t) or because of decent food (it wasn’t). Long overnight flights are just harder on your body, so this is where you will get the best value when redeeming miles in business class.
But I’m here to tell you that it’s definitely possible to survive in economy and go on to have a fabulous trip in Europe despite your middle-aged body taking an initial beating.
A few observations on our intra-European flights
First of all, I don’t remember anything about our Croatia Airlines flight from Frankfurt to Dubrovnik. Seriously, nothing at all. I’m sure it’s because I was exhausted from all the stress of the previous day. But it must have not been that bad. An uneventful flight is always a good flight in my book.
After staying in Kotor, we were set to fly from Tivat to Paris on Transavia France, a low-cost carrier. I have nothing but good things to say about them. First of all, the tickets only cost us $50 per person, an absolute bargain. We did have to pay for seat assignments to make sure my family would not be split apart.
I think it was only 8 euros per person or around that amount. I also paid 25 euros to check one suitcase. Still, even when factoring in these extra charges, it was the absolute most cost-effective way to get to Paris. No mileage redemption would even come close.
You get nothing on board, not even free water. But the flight left on time, the plane was clean and leg room was OK (though not great). Plus, we were only in the air for 1.5 hours, so lack of seatback entertainment didn’t bother us. No complaints whatsoever. Transavia France gets “tolerable+” mark from me. Recommended when the price is right.
After Paris, we were set to fly to Reykjavik on Play Air. At $150 per person, we paid considerably more compared to Transavia. But it was still much cheaper than Icelandair. It did cost me 38 euros to check in my one suitcase.
The legroom on our flight was terrific, though it’s my understanding that Play Air uses several types of planes. Compare the below photo to one taken on Transavia, and you can clearly see the difference. BTW, I’m 5 feet 11 inches. Even my much taller husband was super comfortable on this 3-hour flight.
As is the case with most low-cost European carriers, you get no entertainment or free food, so plan accordingly if you were seduced by cheap Play Air tickets from USA to Iceland.
They do sell meals on-board, and I took a photo of the menu to give you an idea on what to expect. The prices don’t look terrible, but I would probably bring some food with me on the plane just in case they are out of certain items.
Overall, I was completely satisfied with our flight, and would also rate it “tolerable+”. My only complaint is that my suitcase was destroyed on this flight, but this likely had nothing to do with the airline itself.
For the most part, I view my flights as I would bus rides. They are meant to get me from Point A to Point B, hopefully at a convenient time with the least number of connections. But at the end, it comes down to price. I like to have decent leg room, but am unlikely to pay an extra $50 x 4 in order to get it. Well, at least on relatively short flights. The same principle applies to using miles.
Speaking of, I do try to use miles whenever possible, in order to save money and preserve flexibility. Even though our journey from Florida to Montenegro didn’t go exactly as planned, I didn’t really suffer any financial loss and avoided spending extra miles or cash on a flight to New York. So, I feel like this was an overall win, though going forward, I will certainly be more mindful of short connections in Europe.
Still, miles and points conservatively saved us $4k on this particular trip, and that’s nothing to sneeze at!
Readers, please share your experiences flying to Europe this summer.
How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.