Despite being further behind on other reviews, I thought it was best to start cranking on our summer trip. Greece has been through a lot of turmoil and I think it’s important to still consider it as a tourist destination, and I know many of you are starting to think about where to go next summer.
This was an exceedingly affordable trip based on how we put it together. I’m not generally a budget traveler. The savings here were entirely from being opportunistic with our use of miles and points. While we had expenses for meals and attractions, our expenses for airlines and hotels were almost zero.
We were fortunate enough to find 4 business class tickets to Europe in the peak of summer, not an easy feat. It pays to follow the blogs, as this would likely only have been possible due to a timely post courtesy of View From The Wing about a snafu in the American Airlines/US Airways integration that left lots of business class seats open.
Due to the fact that these were US Airways flights, we wouldn’t have to deal with British Airways fuel surcharges. We paid a grand total of $220.40 for 4 round-trip business class tickets. Of course, we had to shell out miles, which absolutely have value. These were all saver seats, so it was a grand total of 200,000 miles. I’d value those miles at a bit less than 2 cents a piece. But, since I’m not generally a “buyer” of miles, there was no extra cash outlay to acquire these miles. So, out-of-pocket expenses for airline tickets were about $200. This was an easy decision to book (and book quickly).
That’s where my trip planning started, and originally had us going into Paris and returning from Amsterdam. But, my daughter started studying Greece in school and my wife has always wanted to visit there. I was able to find availability to Athens before the inventory dried up and made the switch. So, we planned roughly 5 days in both Athens and Paris with almost a full day in Amsterdam.
I originally started planning for us to stay in downtown Athens at one of the SPG properties there. Given that we had less than a full week in Greece, we were thinking we would tackle Athens and save the islands for another trip. My wife doesn’t like to change hotels too many times during a trip and we were already looking at 3 stops along the way. She suggested it would be nice to have some time at a beach, which is when I focused on Arion, which is a Luxury Collection property managed by SPG. It’s alongside a Westin about 25 minutes South of Athens in a town called Vouliagmeni. More on the room types later, but we redeemed points for rooms at Arion, so no hard costs associated with lodging here.
I looked at a variety of hotels in Paris, Since there were 4 of us, connecting rooms were high on the priority list. While we really did enjoy our stay at Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, I knew they didn’t have a lot of connecting rooms. I also figured a suite would be difficult to swing in the busy summer season. We started focusing on SPG properties, including the Westin Vendome and Le Meridien Etoile, but neither had connecting rooms that they could guarantee. Connecting rooms is a tough thing in a market like Paris, especially in high season.
We were working on a suite with Le Meridien which would have included a pull-out sofa for the kids. Around this time, we expanded from 4 people to 5, as a very close family friend (we refer to her as our 3rd child) agreed to come on the trip with us. Le Meridien didn’t have a room-type that would accommodate 5, but we were hoping to find a way to add on a connecting room or find something close by.
I decided to put some time into researching Hyatt properties, which ended up being a great idea. The property went way beyond confirming connecting rooms, offering to upgrade us to a 2-bedroom suite using one of our Diamond suite upgrade certificates. That was an easy yes!
The final piece of the hotel puzzle was two connecting rooms on points at the Sheraton Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
We needed to get from Athens to Paris, solved by tickets that were roughly $70 a piece. And, a train voyage from Paris to Amsterdam that should have cost about $20 but didn’t and turned into something of a debacle.
All of our transportation and lodging cost less than $1,000 for a 12-day trip, or less than $100 a day.
I’ll be breaking our trip down into a bunch of different posts about the various aspects and I’m happy to answer questions along the way. We were in Greece right in the midst of the financial crisis, with lines at ATMs and riots in downtown, so there was definitely historical significance to some of the things we experienced. Here’s a rough idea of what I expect to cover:
- British Airways First and Business Class Lounges at Philadelphia Airport
- US Airways Business Class from Philadelphia to Athens
- Arion: A Luxury SPG Resort (Various Posts)
- Flying From Athens To Paris
- Hyatt Regency L’Etoile Paris
- Eiffel Tower
- Arc de Triomphe
- Disneyland Paris
- A Study of Macaroons
- Various Restaurant Reviews
- Taking The Train From Paris To Amsterdam
- Sheraton Schiphol Airport
- US Airways Business Class from Amsterdam to Philadelphia
Happy to answer any questions along the way. Hope you enjoy the ride!