My wife and I try to take a nice vacation somewhere each year for our anniversary in late October, sometimes international, sometimes domestic. Initially, we’d planned to do a roughly 10-day roadtrip to the Napa Valley, a place I’d never been – somewhat shocking, given how many times I’ve been to Cali. But then, in early May, I’d caught wind of an American fare sale offering $1,900 business class fares from DFW to Paris. It didn’t require much thought. “Screw Napa,” we both said, “let’s go to Europe”. Given the weak euro, and that we’d be traveling in shoulder season, I figured we could probably get the all-in cost fairly close to a Napa road trip, given that accommodations in the Napa Valley are pretty pricey.
Just like for my summer cruise around Europe, this will be a multi-part trip report series. Here’s the tentative list of posts, but like last time, this is subject to change, especially the titles, as I actually get down to writing each one. The posts will also not necessarily go up in this order, but you can always come back to this post to see what has already been posted.
- An Unplanned (Mostly) Business Class Autumn Junket to Romania (this post)
- Flight Review: American Airlines A321 First Class, Dallas to Philadelphia
- Airport Lounge Review: American Airlines Admirals Club, PHL Terminal A West
- Flight Review: American Airlines A330 Business Class, Philadelphia to Paris
- Making the Most of an Unexpected Sunday Morning in Paris
- Flight Review: Air France Economy Class, Paris to Prague
- Two Days in Prague, the City of Magic
- A Closer Look at the Enchanting Prague Castle
- Hotel Review: Archibald City Hotel, Prague
- Airport Lounge Review: Erste Premier Lounge, Prague Terminal 2
- Flight Review: airberlin Economy Class, Prague-Berlin-Bucharest
- The Old, the New, and the Ugly in Bucharest
- Tales of Transylvanian Castles, Kings, and Ruthless Dictators
- Hotel Review: Hotel Scala, Bucharest
- A Gastronomical Review of the Czech Republic and Romania
- Flight Review: Czech Airlines Economy Class, Bucharest to Prague to Paris
- Airport Lounge Review: Menzies Aviation Lounge, Prague Terminal 2
- Bottoms Up – A Beer Review of the Czech Republic and Romania
- Hotel Review: Hilton Paris Charles de Gaulle
- Airport Lounge Review: American Airlines Admirals Club, Paris Charles de Gaulle
- Flight Review: American Airlines B777-200 Business Class, Paris to DFW
Of course, a business class fare to Paris only took care of part of the journey. While Paris is lovely and all, we’d both been already. What we really wanted was to spend a few days in Prague, followed by a few in Bucharest, with the main goal of spending our anniversary day visiting Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) in Transylvania. That would involve putting together flights from Paris to Prague to Bucharest and back to Paris again, and getting optimal flight times proved to be a little bit of a challenge. My inner avgeek also wanted to sample as many new airlines is possible, while also keeping the cost of intra-Europe flights as low as possible. The end result ended up being this:
- Depart DFW: Saturday, 24 October, 2015, American
- CDG-PRG: Sunday, 25 October, Air France
- PRG-TXL-OTP: Tuesday, 27 October, Darwin Airlines (Etihad Regional)/Airberlin
- OTP-PRG-CDG: Friday, 30 October, Czech Airlines
- Depart CDG: Saturday, 31 October, American
Why the connection through Philadelphia on the outbound? I was hoping to try both US Airways domestic First and the business class “Enovy Suite” before US was euthanized in the merger. Unfortunately, that was partially foiled two months after buying the tickets, as the reservations systems integration was scheduled for one week prior to our scheduled departure date – though we did still get to experience the legacy US Airways product, so it wasn’t a total bust.
For the intra-Europe flights, after a couple of months of watching airfares, I found a multi-city itinerary sold by Czech Airlines which would carry us from Paris to Prague on an Air France code share, and from Bucharest back to Paris via Prague on CSA metal for $258.60 each. To get from Prague to Bucharest, Tarom had the lowest price, but would also require a Wednesday mid-morning departure, something I really didn’t want to do as it would eliminate half a day in Bucharest. I instead found a Tuesday late evening departure on Airberlin via Berlin for $137.94 each; this would get us to Bucharest a little after midnight, but would also enable us to enjoy a full day in Prague, followed by a full day in Bucharest the next day.
Unfortunately, Airberlin also levies a “convenience fee” on tickets booked online. You can only avoid this fee by paying via debit card or Paypal. Ugh…BUT, then I remembered that you can fund a Paypal payment with a credit card, and I had a $25 credit sitting there from an old Silvercar promotion. As an added bonus, the routing meant my first flight on a Saab 2000 from Prague to Berlin, and on an exotic airline to boot (Darwin Airlines/Etihad Regional). Boom – sold. That had our triangular route done for an average fare of $384 per person all-in, with 3 new airlines – CSA, Darwin Airlines, and Airberlin. Not bad. Of course, this required separate tickets, so I booked an extra cautious 6 1/2 layover in Paris to avoid issues. We didn’t need it, but we ended up with a free Sunday morning in Paris as a bonus.
With a full day in Bucharest to recover, and a Friday flight back to Paris not scheduled until 3:20 P.M., we had the entire day Thursday to do our trip up to Bran Castle. Plenty of tour companies run guided tours to Transylvania, but we ended up settling on Balkan Trails, a mom-and-pop outfit that runs custom tours in Romania and Bulgaria. 100 euros per person got us a personal driver/guide for the entire day, inclusive of entrance fees to two castles. That sounded like a much better deal than 70 euros per person for a large group bus tour. And it’s always a nice bonus to sneak in a road trip in a foreign country.
A Sneak Peak in Photos
So what were we able to squeeze into a week in Europe? I’ll have plenty more photos in the actual posts, of course, but here’s a sneak peak.
The 6 1/2 layover in Paris gave us enough time to take a train to the city center, and at 8 A.M. on a Sunday morning, it’s almost peaceful, even at the Notre Dame.
Lots of beautiful public squares and buildings like Wenceslas Square in Prague…
…and the Roman Atheneum in Bucharest.
There were plenty of fabulous castles…
Bran Castle, aka Dracula’s Castle
…the old world charm of the Transylvanian town of Brașov…
…and the beautiful fall foliage of the Carpathian Mountains, thanks to the time of year.
Of course, there was plenty of delicious Czech and Romanian food to enjoy after all that sightseeing.
And don’t forget the beer, which is actually cheaper than Coke in both countries.
Have a whetted your appetite? If so, come back Saturday for the first installment in this series!
Photo at top: me crashing into my Envoy business class seat shortly after boarding my flight to Paris in Philadelphia.