2014 trip to Europe

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2014 trip to Europe

Postby jerome99 » Sun Jul 14, 2013 2:13 pm

My wife and I have decided to head to Europe next year for 10-12 days. Unless convinced otherwise, we plane on visiting two countries on this trip, possibly three. We would love to save some money and go just before the busy tourist season or just after. Based on this, what dates would those be? Germany, Italy and potentially Switzerland are our targets right now.

1. Any thoughts on cheapest airports to fly in and out of?
2. Can we avoid a rental car? Trains, buses, etc work for the areas we plan on visiting?
3. Would love to fly first class or at least some upgrade from coach. Getting an airline credit card now with some bonus offer worth it?
4. Any other tips to avoid spending money but doesn't significantly alter the enjoyment of the vacation?
5. Any other recommendations about places to see or things to consider would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby Gnirk » Sun Jul 14, 2013 2:47 pm

I've found that Rick Steve's books offers reliable information regarding lodging, transportations, sights, and restaurants for different areas of Europe. Also, Trip Advisor website has some good information,too. Especially the different forums.
If you can afford business class, go for it. If you are using airline miles, you will need to book business class far in advance of your departure.

If you will be using trains and public transportation for travel, pack as light as possible. My husband and I each used one carry-on 4-wheeler suitcase, plus a small bag for personal items for our two-week trip to London, Paris, and western France last year.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby archbish99 » Sun Jul 14, 2013 2:55 pm

I'll second Rick Steves emphatically -- he offers very useful advice on what places to get to early / late to avoid crowds, how best to avoid waiting in line, etc.

We hit the Netherlands, Belgium, and France in mid-September and felt like that offered a decent balance between good weather and off-season crowds. Our primary thought was going after schools were back in session so we'd miss traveling students and families. (Doesn't hurt that our anniversary is also in September.)

Our biggest hassle was car rental -- take trains everywhere you can (again, look to Rick Steves organization for help sorting out what pass you want, if you'd like help there.)
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby jebmke » Sun Jul 14, 2013 2:56 pm

July and August are the two main months to avoid. When we lived in Belgium, we would mainly travel in May/June and Sept/Oct.

You can do a lot without a car but it takes away some of the flexibility and by definition, limits your destinations. If you are focusing mainly on cities, definitely skip the car.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby enebyberg » Sun Jul 14, 2013 3:33 pm

1. Any thoughts on cheapest airports to fly in and out of?
The cheapest airports serviced by Ryanair and similar will not give you the upgraded business class you are looking for and often put you into airports that are not easy to travel from.

2. Can we avoid a rental car? Trains, buses, etc work for the areas we plan on visiting?
With a 10-12 day window, you want to see and experience as much as you can. Spending days traveling on the train might not be what you want. Have you ever been to Europe or these countries before? If not, I would suggest you fly to Munich see the city and surrounding Bavaria. Then take the train to Rome, (decide is you want to include Venice or the Mediterranean coast which will add a lot of time to your travel.) Then take the train to Zurich, rent a car and drive to Lucerne, spend the afternoon and then on to Interlaken and finally to Grindelwald for a day or two. Then back to Zurich and fly out or take the train back to Munich. Two or three days with a car won't kill your budget.

3. Would love to fly first class or at least some upgrade from coach. Getting an airline credit card now with some bonus offer worth it?
First class is not worth the price, business class is fine. I have a Capital One Venture Card gives me double mileage I can use on any airline of my choosing and it is the only credit card that does not charge 2%-4% extra for purchases made outside of the US. Every year, the card pays for a free round-trip ticket to Europe.

4. Any other tips to avoid spending money but doesn't significantly alter the enjoyment of the vacation?
Several countries have special lunch prices during weekdays. Take advantage of them and eat smaller meals or lighter meals at dinner. Buy your breakfast the night before in a grocery store if it is not included in your hotel. Go where the locals go and not where the tourists for meals. Train prices vary quite a bit. Take the train at off peak hours and save a lot. Day passes for buses in the cities can be much cheaper if you are trying to see a lot of sights.

5. Any other recommendations about places to see or things to consider would be greatly appreciated.
I've lived and worked in Europe for the past 20 years and have traveled quite extensively. Message me if you want to know more.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby stan1 » Sun Jul 14, 2013 3:54 pm

jerome99 wrote:My wife and I have decided to head to Europe next year for 10-12 days. Unless convinced otherwise, we plane on visiting two countries on this trip, possibly three. We would love to save some money and go just before the busy tourist season or just after. Based on this, what dates would those be? Germany, Italy and potentially Switzerland are our targets right now.

1. Any thoughts on cheapest airports to fly in and out of?
2. Can we avoid a rental car? Trains, buses, etc work for the areas we plan on visiting?
3. Would love to fly first class or at least some upgrade from coach. Getting an airline credit card now with some bonus offer worth it?
4. Any other tips to avoid spending money but doesn't significantly alter the enjoyment of the vacation?
5. Any other recommendations about places to see or things to consider would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!


Germany, Italy, and Switzerland is a little aggressive for a 10-12 day trip. If you want to go to Rome, Florence/Tuscany, and Venice you'll need 10-12 days just to cover those cities.

I think you need at least the following (you can spend much more time):
3 full days Berlin
3 full days Munich, including Dachau which is easily accessible by S-Bahn and bus.
2-3 full days Bavaria outside Munich
4 full days Rome
2 full days Florence
3 full days Venice

So you'll need to make some choices. I find it better to go to fewer places and spend more time there than to visit a new city every day.

You could focus on cities:
1) Berlin or Munich, Rome, and Venice (3-4 days each)

Or focus on one country/region:
2) Germany (including Berlin and Romantic Road),
3) Alps (Munich, Salzburg, Switzerland, Lake Como), or
4) Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice)

Late April/May and late Sept/Oct are good times to visit, although probably need to do June or Sept/early October if you want to visit Alpine passes in Switzerland.

1) Airfares (assuming you are talking about flights from US to Europe). You just have to price it out from where you want to depart. Air Berlin might be an option to consider. If you have flexibility with your U.S. departure city that might help. Flights to Berlin are often more expensive than flights to Frankfurt/Munich. It is relatively easy to fly into Frankfurt and take the train to Berlin.

2) Rental cars are a hassle in cities like Berlin and Munich, but to be honest travel by car is the best way to see Germany outside of major cities. Destinations like Neuschwanstein, Eagle's Nest/Berchtesgaden, Deutsche Alpenstrasse, Heidelsberg, and Rothenburg/Romatic Road are best travelled by car as you'll spend a lot of time trying to use public transportation. I would plan to rent a car for a few days when travelling outside cities. Driving in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria is easy -- although rental car agencies can be a hassle. Be prepared that there is a good chance you'll get a bill for $300-500 for a minor scratch you never saw and didn't cause. Air travel is often as cheap or cheaper than train travel, but pack lightly to avoid too many fees.

3) Skip First Class, price out Business Class and Premium Economy. Personally the most important thing to me is extra leg room which you can get on United and Delta for much less than a business class fare. Upgrades are hard to come by unless you are a 100K+ per year flyer and/or you are flying on a expensive ticket but sometimes you can get lucky. Sometimes you can find specials on business class seats that will be around $3000-3500 per person during shoulder season -- but no guarantee. Business class is better than coach, but personally I would not pay for it on an 8 hour flight to Europe.

4) Save money by eating creatively. Buy some bread, cheese, meats, and fruits for lunch. There are plenty of inexpensive dining choices that are not frequented by tourists (Doner kebabs!).

5) Answered above
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby awval999 » Sun Jul 14, 2013 4:28 pm

I'll second Rick Steves books but I will say to not rely on his maps because they will make you angry. They aren't detailed enough to find your way around.

I'll say that 3 days in a city is enough for me but it just depends on the travelers.

Good luck!
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby schnoodlemom » Sun Jul 14, 2013 5:08 pm

We're not accomplished travelers, but I have a few comments based on recent experience.

We just spent 5 days in London & 6 days in Paris using Eurostar (high-speed train) to travel between them, without need for rental car. For our transatlantic flight, we upgraded to Delta's Economy Comfort and enjoyed extra leg room.*

http://www.frommers.com/articles/7600.html

We covered the majority of the two cities' well-known tourist attractions but were dead on our feet each night before bed. For us it would have been really nice to have had some more vacation time (and money). Happy trails! :happy

*Checked baggage was free, too, because of using our Delta SkyMiles credit card.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby VictoriaF » Sun Jul 14, 2013 6:11 pm

In 12 days you should not try to see more than two countries. You could go to France and Germany, use Paris, Munich and Berlin as your bases, and take some local trips, e.g., to the Chartres Cathedral from Paris and Potsdam from Berlin. If you fly to Frankfurt, you may be able to add a day in Luxembourg on your way to Paris.

All your land transportation can be by train between the cities and by Metro and buses within cities. In France and Germany you would use a single currency (Euro), in contrast with the UK or Switzerland where you would need to get and get used to the pounds or franks, respectively.

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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby Puakinekine » Sun Jul 14, 2013 8:01 pm

I would visit only one or two countries. It is expensive in terms of time, energy and money to keep moving from place to place. If I was to do only one country from your list, I would go to Italy. If I wanted to save on costs, I would not go to Switzerland. France and Germany make a great duo in terms of logistics but you did not mention France.

1. Any thoughts on cheapest airports to fly in and out of?
2. Can we avoid a rental car? Trains, buses, etc work for the areas we plan on visiting?
3. Would love to fly first class or at least some upgrade from coach. Getting an airline credit card now with some bonus offer worth it?
4. Any other tips to avoid spending money but doesn't significantly alter the enjoyment of the vacation?
5. Any other recommendations about places to see or things to consider would be greatly appreciated.


To answer questions.
1. Not really, IMHO.
2. It really depends on what you want to do. Going to and from a major city is much easier by train. If you book ahead of time through the train company websites (click on the UK flag the English translation NOT the US one or you will be switched to a more expensive ticketing website) it may well be less expensive. Gas is very costly in Europe and driving and parking in cities is not easy. But, if you are out of the cities and touring about the countryside, having a car is less expensive in time and money. We did both on a recent month long trip to France and Germany, renting a car in a small town in the south of France and making day trips, traveling from the town to Paris by high speed train, spending time in Paris, using our feet and the metro, traveling to a town in Germany by high speed train, renting a car there and doing day trips, then a train to Munich for 3 days and a train to Frankfurt to get the plane home. We had planned on a longer time day tripping with the rental car in Germany, but the weather started deteriorating, so we turned in the car and opted for Munich for the last few days.
3. We would all love to fly first class. Like another poster, I would recommend using points or money to get into the economy plus cabin. My trips to Europe run between 24 and 36 hours, and I find these seats tolerable with a dose or two of ibuprofen and I am tall. Even the US airlines feed you on international flights (and seem to become more courteous) no matter what your cabin.
4.It really depends on what you like. We tend to rent apartments so we can eat in for one or two meals a day. It changes with every trip, but I was not at all impressed with any of the restaurant/cafe meals we had this time. But we did go to the local markets and bought cheeses, breads, fruits/veg, charcuterie/sausage and wine and had many meals that way. I was much happier with this sort of meal as the quality of the market food is still excellent. I don't speak French or German, but am able to point in all European languages. Breakfast was always coffee at "home" and pastries/bread from the local bakery.
5.Renting an apartment also means you can do your own laundry, which means you need to haul around less stuff. We also never shop while traveling.

An excellent website for train travel in Europe is http://www.seat61.com/ Rick Steve's site and books are good, but take all the safety warnings with a grain of salt. Be aware and have a bit of common sense (and a money belt) and you will be fine. Despite all dire warnings on the internet to the contrary, we had no issues with our rental car companies in either France or Germany. Tripadvisor.com, Flyertalk.com, and Slotrav.com are also useful sites.

Try not to get too much in. It will not be pleasurable. It is one thing to be exhausted and stressed at home for free, but even worse away at $200-300 per day.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby HongKonger » Sun Jul 14, 2013 8:16 pm

You should note that much of Northern Italy is closed during August as it is the time they take their holidays and head down South.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby MathWizard » Sun Jul 14, 2013 8:34 pm

We spent 12 days in Italy alone.

Sorrento and down the Amalfi Coast,
Pompeii,
National Museum in Naples,
up to Rome for several days,
Stayed near the Spanish Steps, which is near a metro stop
almost everything was within walking or a metro ride away.
The Roma Pass gave us access to major sites and metro rides for free.
Make reservation for the Vatican Museum in advance and you walk right in, we
avoided a line of 1 1/2 blocks. The end of the tour is the Sistine Chapel.
You can walk right into St Peter's Cathedral.

Trains got ius everywhere. Take the bullet train to Florence, it takes about 2 hours and
is smooth as glass.

We loved Florence.

We enjoyed Italy better than France.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby Fallible » Sun Jul 14, 2013 8:41 pm

VictoriaF wrote:In 12 days you should not try to see more than two countries. You could go to France and Germany, use Paris, Munich and Berlin as your bases, and take some local trips, e.g., to the Chartres Cathedral from Paris and Potsdam from Berlin. If you fly to Frankfurt, you may be able to add a day in Luxembourg on your way to Paris.

All your land transportation can be by train between the cities and by Metro and buses within cities. In France and Germany you would use a single currency (Euro), in contrast with the UK or Switzerland where you would need to get and get used to the pounds or franks, respectively.

Victoria


OP, I would just add that if you planned to stay in Frankfurt, I would be glad to contact my relatives, both ministers, there to see if they could provide you with "inside" information. They, of course, could also provide much information on the entire country, so let me know if that might help.

Have a wonderful trip!
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby penumbra » Sun Jul 14, 2013 8:50 pm

If your spending habits allow, probably the best credit card deal is the British Air Visa. If you spend $30,000 per year on it, you get a voucher for 2 business class tickets to Europe. The card has been an award winner for best value a few times. It also doesn't have any extra fees for charging things in Europe, although this feature has become rather widely available.

As mentioned, avoiding July and August is paramount. It's crowded and often hot.

A car is a wonderful way to see Europe, especially the smaller cities and countryside, but it doesn't mix well with seeing larger cities.. You might decide which is the greater priority. If it's larger cities, given the short amount of time you have, the train may work better.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby VictoriaF » Sun Jul 14, 2013 9:04 pm

Puakinekine wrote:I would visit only one or two countries. It is expensive in terms of time, energy and money to keep moving from place to place. If I was to do only one country from your list, I would go to Italy.


In my own travel, I go to a single country for two weeks or more. If it's more than two-three weeks, I consider trips to neighboring countries, which are usually ad-hoc decisions based on the discussions with people I meet. But the OP seems fairly new to international travel, and he would feel deprived if he visited fewer than two countries on this trip.

Puakinekine wrote:If I wanted to save on costs, I would not go to Switzerland. France and Germany make a great duo in terms of logistics but you did not mention France.


I agree about Switzerland being relatively costly. The last time I visited it I trekked in the Alps, but it's not what the OP envisions. I mentioned France, because the OP was looking for general suggestions. If for some reason he does not want to go there, then Germany and Italy are the recommended two out of the three he has listed.

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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby jeffyscott » Sun Jul 14, 2013 9:52 pm

We just got back from 2 weeks in Germany and Austria. Our airfare was covered by credit card sign-up bonuses plus a few miles earned for spending, which we managed to combine to get to 120,000 miles, there was $250 in fees for two round trip tickets. So, yes, credit card bonuses can definitely help.

We had no car in the larger cities (Munich, Salzburg) and definitely would not have wanted one there. However, transit and trains were somewhat confusing to us (we have very limited experience with using transit) and sometimes seemed swelteringly hot and stuffy. Walking in the sun gets hot and it was nice when we had an air conditioned car to provide a cool, comfortable way to get to the next place, instead of a hot tram in Munich or a packed, non-air conditioned bus in Salzburg.

For our rental car, we paid about $225 for 8 days and put about 850 miles on it, spending about $200 on gas, so it was just over $50 per day (or $0.50 per mile) for us to have a car. For the 5 days we did not have a car, our transport cost was only about $75-85, but covered only about 160 miles of travel...so also $0.50 per mile.

The worst thing about driving was the frustrating lack of speed limit signs and no warning that the limit would be changing. The silliest part is the signs telling you what the speed limit is not, seems like if you are going to the trouble of putting up a sign it would be just as easy to have it say what the limit is, instead of what it is not. There is also a lack of street signs, they don't put a sign on every street corner like here. So driving was also somewhat confusing (and GPS was practically a necessity) but at least we were cool and comfortable while lost.

Most likely we will never return to Europe, but if we did we would never go in warm weather again. Besides the transit, the smokers ruin every outdoor eating and drinking place for us and nothing is air-conditioned, so you don't want to sit in the hot inside to get away from the smokers.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby Watty » Sun Jul 14, 2013 10:52 pm

My wife and I have decided to head to Europe next year for 10-12 days.



It at all possible try to extend the trip by at least a few more days. This is not just about having a longer trip. Having a few extra days will allow you to still have a nice vacation if you hit a week of bad weather or have a few days that you are moving slow because you don't feel well. You will also feel less rushed and less pressured to be busy every minute of every day. There will also be more time to recover from a cancelled flight or a missed train.

Instead of 10-12 days I would try for maybe 16 days for a first trip to Europe.

One of the great things about Europe is that outside the large cities with some research you can find very nice modest hotels that are very affordable in the shoulder season. It will vary by where you are but I have been able to find very acceptable rooms for as little as $60 a night in Europe in the shoulder season so the extra cost can be minimal.

You do need to check when the local high season is through and not just assume that it is the summer. Italy gets uncomfortably hot in the summer so the high season there is more like May/June and September/October. (check on this)
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby JupiterJones » Mon Jul 15, 2013 11:54 am

I'll add to the chorus of voices recommending Rick Steves. Definitely his books, but also consider renting (via Netfix, your local library, etc.) or DVRing the appropriate episodes of his shows, including his three recent "European travel skills" episodes.

If you rent a car and drive into another country, check to see if you need to purchase a vignette for that country at the border. (I believe that the vignette for the country in which you rent the car is typically already on the windshield.)

I cannot stress enough the importance of packing light, especially if you plan on moving around a lot. There are several levels of light travel "enlightenment":

Apprentice: You're down to one bag each, but it's too big to carry on. Still you can reasonably manage to haul it around yourself onto buses, taxis, trains, etc. You don't need porters or bellhops. Aspire to at least this level of packing.

Journeyman: One bag only, and it's a carry-on size, with wheels and a pull-out handle. So you can strut right to the gate without stopping to check anything, and when the plane lands, you don't have to wait around the luggage carousel. At this point, you will be waaaay ahead of most travelers.

Master: One bag, and it's a carry-on sized travel pack or backpack. Cobblestone streets? Hotel staircases? No problem! Need to trot after that bus or train that's about to pull away? Easy! Plus, both hands are free to fool with maps, tickets, passport, etc.
Stay on target...
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby WHL » Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:09 pm

Summertime is expensive in Europe! I go to Germany quite often for work. My airplane tickets in the winter run around $1200, while I'm currently paying closer to $1700 for the same trip.

Your choice of airports depends completely on what airline you're flying and what you want to see. If your goal is to get the cheapest trip possible, then you and your wife should immediately sign up for the United Explorer card through Chase OR AAdvantage card through Citi OR the Delta card through AMEX OR the British Airways card through Chase, as well as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Hitting the sign-up bonuses on both cards will give 70k miles each (or more, depending on card), which is enough for a coach ticket to Europe from the USA. If you can also get approved for the Chase Ink Bold or Plus, which are business cards, they offer 50k points as a sign-up bonus - that would push both of you into business class. I added a few other airline cards, keep in mind they are not all compatible with the Chase cards - Chase UR points transfer 1:1 to United, Korean, and British. Also keep in mind some carriers impose huge fuel surcharges when traveling internationally on points (namely British). I would go for United and be happy with it.

If you're going to fly United (or any Star Alliance carrier), you will most likely want to fly into Frankfurt. It's a huge, but manageable, airport. I've flown both United and Lufthansa into FRA. US Airways offers flights into Munich, and is also Star Alliance (for now). If you're flying oneworld (American, British, Air Berlin) you will most likely go through London, though I fly directly to Dusseldorf from Chicago on most of my trips. SkyTeam alliance (Delta, KLM, Korean) offer a direct flight from many locations (ATL, Minneapolis, Detroit) to Amsterdam, which is about a one hour drive to Dusseldorf and the western Germany area that I travel to. Delta also has a direct ATL to DUS flight...not sure about other German locations.

As far as hotels, you can game the credit cards for those, too. Check into the Hilton HHonors cards - there are something like 4 cards you can hit bonuses for and transfer the points to your HHonors account, which should let you get a few nights for free.

Renting a car isn't hard, driving in Germany isn't bad, just make sure you check with your insurance to determine if you're covered. Most rentals are going to be Mercedes or similar, which are expensive - I always buy the insurance through Avis, but my company pays for it, so it's a little easier for my pocket.

There's so much more I could write but this thread already has quite a bit of information, so I'll leave it at this.
Last edited by WHL on Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby WHL » Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:11 pm

penumbra wrote:If your spending habits allow, probably the best credit card deal is the British Air Visa. If you spend $30,000 per year on it, you get a voucher for 2 business class tickets to Europe. The card has been an award winner for best value a few times. It also doesn't have any extra fees for charging things in Europe, although this feature has become rather widely available.


I would appreciate it if you'd post a link to this offer, because I've never seen anything close to this.

The most recent BA offer I've seen is 50k miles after a small initial spend, and another 50k miles after a large spend, something like 10k or 30k. Two business class tickets would be amazing, but I have a hard time believing it.

edit: http://www.britishairways.com/travel/re ... blic/en_us

The cardholder receives a companion ticket that can be redeemed when using Avios. The fees and surcharges are extensive (their website says approximately $650 for NYC to LHR). It is not a voucher for two free business class tickets.

Or were you referring to something else?
Last edited by WHL on Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby suming » Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:17 pm

Hi, JeffyScott
Would you please share which credit card would provide such good offer?
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby VictoriaF » Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:23 pm

JupiterJones wrote:Master: One bag, and it's a carry-on sized travel pack or backpack. Cobblestone streets? Hotel staircases? No problem! Need to trot after that bus or train that's about to pull away? Easy! Plus, both hands are free to fool with maps, tickets, passport, etc.


A few years ago, Alex Frakt recommended the site Onebag. After reading Onebag's recommendations I bought the MEI "Voyageur" pack, which is a soft but sturdy bag without the wheels but with a backpack option. Since then it's my choice of luggage when I am flying. The bag is small enough to avoid checking it in, it's easier to get into than a backpack, and if I have to carry it for more than half-hour, I pull out the pieces that convert it into a backpack(*).

Thus, I never worry if I have to walk up several floors in a youth hostel or when metro escalators do not work. The relatively small size and the absence of the wheels also keep me safe from over-packing.

Victoria

(*) It works well as an occasional backpack for walking for less than a couple hours. It's not a replacement for a real backpack for walking for days and for hours each day.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby WHL » Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:27 pm

schnoodlemom wrote:
*Checked baggage was free, too, because of using our Delta SkyMiles credit card.


Checked baggage is always free, in my experiences, on international flights originating from the US.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby jeffyscott » Mon Jul 15, 2013 1:30 pm

suming wrote:Hi, JeffyScott
Would you please share which credit card would provide such good offer?


It was two cards that combined that got us 120,000 United miles each

The first offer was 50,000 points from Chase Sapphire, transferable to United miles at 1:1, they also gave a 7% bonus that applied even to the 50,000...so was actually 53,500 and spending requirement was $3000 which resulted in another ~3500 points with the bonus and 2% on some spending. So in the end about 57,000 miles transferred to United for signing up and spending $3K.

The other offer was the United mileage plus card with 50,000 points for signing up and spending $1000, plus 5000 bonus for adding authorized user. So with 1000 miles from the spending, that one resulted in 56,000 miles.

So with those two it would be at about 113,000 miles. To top this off at 120,000 we transferred points from chase freedom card to sapphire and then on to United.

We each did this and then canceled or will cancel before annual fee is due.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby jebmke » Mon Jul 15, 2013 1:48 pm

Has United gotten any better in terms of flight availability for FF users? I dumped about 400K miles from United a while back because it seemed like it was nearly impossible to use them.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby archbish99 » Mon Jul 15, 2013 1:58 pm

JupiterJones wrote:I'll add to the chorus of voices recommending Rick Steves. Definitely his books, but also consider renting (via Netfix, your local library, etc.) or DVRing the appropriate episodes of his shows, including his three recent "European travel skills" episodes.

Everything but the current season is on Hulu for free. Definitely check out the Travel Skills episodes too, regardless of where you're going. We use many of them even for domestic trips.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby jeffyscott » Mon Jul 15, 2013 2:05 pm

We booked far ahead, in October, for our flights and there were several reasonable options available to us, most were from their star alliance partner Lufthansa as we were flying to Germany.

I looked recently, for future reference, and it seemed that there was good availability for non-peak season travel with less advance planning required.

It was easy enough to research this prior to transferring points as anyone can select the award flight search option on united.com and see what there is. In my experience it is easiest to do this by choosing one-way for researching.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby JupiterJones » Mon Jul 15, 2013 4:47 pm

Oh, and rental cars in Europe are more likely to have a stick shift.

You can usually request an automatic transmission, but it will usually cost more and limit your choices.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby protagonist » Mon Jul 15, 2013 5:01 pm

jerome99 wrote:My wife and I have decided to head to Europe next year for 10-12 days. Unless convinced otherwise, we plane on visiting two countries on this trip, possibly three. We would love to save some money and go just before the busy tourist season or just after. Based on this, what dates would those be? Germany, Italy and potentially Switzerland are our targets right now.

1. Any thoughts on cheapest airports to fly in and out of?
If you are not leaving until next year, both of you may be able to get credit card miles promos....you may get enough miles on it so that you don't have to pay for a ticket. To find out about current promos (they are constantly changing), check here: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/index.php
2. Can we avoid a rental car? Trains, buses, etc work for the areas we plan on visiting?
Of course you can. Whether you will want a car depends on the kind of experience you want to have....very subjective. If you are spending a lot of time in big cities like Rome for example (given your list), a car may be an expensive liability. If you want the flexibility to explore out-of-the-way places spontaneously, a car may be essential.
3. Would love to fly first class or at least some upgrade from coach. Getting an airline credit card now with some bonus offer worth it?
You are looking for cheap airports, but you want to fly first class? There seems to be a disconnect here. But yes, credit card promos are very much worth it.
4. Any other tips to avoid spending money but doesn't significantly alter the enjoyment of the vacation?
Depending on the kind of experience that is important to you. For example, if luxury hotels are not important to you, you can stay in cute little family-run affairs with tiny rooms for a fraction of the price or rent an apartment via Craigslist. Lodging is often the biggest expense for travelers.
5. Any other recommendations about places to see or things to consider would be greatly appreciated.
Hard to say, because I don't know what you like, or what you expect to get out of it. Again, it's a very subjective thing.


Thanks!
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby sesq » Mon Jul 15, 2013 5:20 pm

penumbra wrote:If your spending habits allow, probably the best credit card deal is the British Air Visa. If you spend $30,000 per year on it, you get a voucher for 2 business class tickets to Europe. The card has been an award winner for best value a few times. It also doesn't have any extra fees for charging things in Europe, although this feature has become rather widely available.


The Companion pass on british air is of marginal utility because they charge pretty hefty fuel surcharges that almost equal the price of the ticket.

If OP wants to go via credit cards, the better play is probably to go heavy on applications for chase ultimate rewards and united cards (United card is 55K, Ink is 50K UR, transfer to UA = 1 biz class tix, repeat w/spouse). Read more at Flyertalk (the credit card area mostly).

enebyberg wrote:I have a Capital One Venture Card gives me double mileage I can use on any airline of my choosing and it is the only credit card that does not charge 2%-4% extra for purchases made outside of the US. Every year, the card pays for a free round-trip ticket to Europe.


While it is true that all Cap One cards do not charge Forex fees, there are several others including (recently) the UA cards, Ink, Sapphire Pref, Hyatt, Marriott, British Air, Amex Plat (high fee, not for everyone), Citi Hilton Reserve, and Discover cards.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby jeffyscott » Mon Jul 15, 2013 5:35 pm

Bank of America travel rewards also has no forex fees, plus it has a chip so it is a bit more useful in Europe, at the few places that take credit.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby jebmke » Mon Jul 15, 2013 5:50 pm

jeffyscott wrote:Bank of America travel rewards also has no forex fees, plus it has a chip so it is a bit more useful in Europe, at the few places that take credit.

Many (most?) places take credit. We had no problem with either AMEX or Visa when we lived there. Even street vendors had little card readers. There are situations where the chip is critical (unattended gas station at night, unattended train station at night). Sometimes smaller hotels in villages will only take cash or bank transfer (in advance) - it does pay to ask.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby jeffyscott » Mon Jul 15, 2013 6:23 pm

Well, I think it depends on your travel style, in our two trips two Europe very few of the accomodations we stayed at took credit and some would take it but charge more. Many of the places we bought food or drinks also did not accept credit. On our recent trip, I used credit wherever I could (without incurring extra costs) and about 60% of our spending was cash. This is quite different from every trip we have taken in the US, where essentially 100% was paid with credit card. The acceptance of credit cards is far less common in Europe.

Anyway, chip card allowed me to avoid one line for train tickets.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby Near retirement » Mon Jul 15, 2013 6:29 pm

Like Victoria, I would advise strongly limiting the number of countries. Of course, style of travel needs to be considered. When I travel, I prefer to stay in the countryside, rent a car to come and go as I/we please, and be able to adjust our sails as we go. If wishing to spend time in cities, take train or other form of transport to avoid driving in metro areas ... Ghastly.

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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby Fallible » Mon Jul 15, 2013 6:35 pm

Near retirement wrote:Like Victoria, I would advise strongly limiting the number of countries. Of course, style of travel needs to be considered. When I travel, I prefer to stay in the countryside, rent a car to come and go as I/we please, and be able to adjust our sails as we go. If wishing to spend time in cities, take train or other form of transport to avoid driving in metro areas ... Ghastly.
...


If you don't mind my asking, what countrysides are you referring to? Where would you rent the car and did you mean driving only in the country? Thanks.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby Near retirement » Mon Jul 15, 2013 8:17 pm

I have driven numerous times in Italy, in Portugal and in Greece ... Montalcino area in Tuscany region of Italy; drove from Paris through France, across the Italian alps and in to the east coast of Italy; Portugal (Sintra area); Emilio Romano area of Italy; in Greece, only on Santorini; also drove the Amalfi Coast area, dropping rental car on outskirts of Rome in order to spend a few days there.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby penumbra » Mon Jul 15, 2013 8:33 pm

sesq wrote:
penumbra wrote:If your spending habits allow, probably the best credit card deal is the British Air Visa. If you spend $30,000 per year on it, you get a voucher for 2 business class tickets to Europe. The card has been an award winner for best value a few times. It also doesn't have any extra fees for charging things in Europe, although this feature has become rather widely available.


The Companion pass on british air is of marginal utility because they charge pretty hefty fuel surcharges that almost equal the price of the ticket.

If OP wants to go via credit cards, the better play is probably to go heavy on applications for chase ultimate rewards and united cards (United card is 55K, Ink is 50K UR, transfer to UA = 1 biz class tix, repeat w/spouse). Read more at Flyertalk (the credit card area mostly).

enebyberg wrote:I have a Capital One Venture Card gives me double mileage I can use on any airline of my choosing and it is the only credit card that does not charge 2%-4% extra for purchases made outside of the US. Every year, the card pays for a free round-trip ticket to Europe.


While it is true that all Cap One cards do not charge Forex fees, there are several others including (recently) the UA cards, Ink, Sapphire Pref, Hyatt, Marriott, British Air, Amex Plat (high fee, not for everyone), Citi Hilton Reserve, and Discover cards.

I don't think your comment about the BrAir voucher is accurate. Yes you do need to pay taxes and fuel surcharges, but from the west coast for example, fees might be say, $800 each, but two business class tickets to Berlin are $12,400. To Athens, about $11,000. As a benefit, it's excellent. And their seats recline to 180 degrees, and outstanding service to boot. Although more carriers are getting better seats, most seats on US airlines leave a lot to be desired. Have to check with Seatguru.com on an aircraft by aircraft basis. BrAir, as noted above, gives you up to 100,000 points for signing up while charging a small amount of dollars.. I believe it to be a great deal and have used it multiple times..
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby jebmke » Mon Jul 15, 2013 9:08 pm

jeffyscott wrote:Well, I think it depends on your travel style, in our two trips two Europe very few of the accomodations we stayed at took credit and some would take it but charge more. Many of the places we bought food or drinks also did not accept credit. On our recent trip, I used credit wherever I could (without incurring extra costs) and about 60% of our spending was cash. This is quite different from every trip we have taken in the US, where essentially 100% was paid with credit card. The acceptance of credit cards is far less common in Europe.

Anyway, chip card allowed me to avoid one line for train tickets.

Don't know. Maybe it was because our Visa was with a European bank. My company AMEX was also "local." We rarely had any problems over a 4 year span -- even in tiny villages in France. In fact, I rarely carried more than $20 euros since my Proton chip on the debit card was as good as cash everywhere.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby sesq » Tue Jul 16, 2013 9:59 am

penumbra wrote:I don't think your comment about the BrAir voucher is accurate. Yes you do need to pay taxes and fuel surcharges, but from the west coast for example, fees might be say, $800 each, but two business class tickets to Berlin are $12,400. To Athens, about $11,000. As a benefit, it's excellent. And their seats recline to 180 degrees, and outstanding service to boot.


I agree $1,600 is a decent deal for two biz tix to Europe, but its close to the coach price and you need to spend 30K on a card to get there. If you go UA+Ink x2 your spend is going to be about 12K and your taxes will be pocket change. Although there will be three additional cards to apply for.

I am fairly point rich and vaca time limited, so I don't like to part with cash.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby WHL » Tue Jul 16, 2013 11:30 am

penumbra wrote:I don't think your comment about the BrAir voucher is accurate. Yes you do need to pay taxes and fuel surcharges, but from the west coast for example, fees might be say, $800 each, but two business class tickets to Berlin are $12,400. To Athens, about $11,000. As a benefit, it's excellent. And their seats recline to 180 degrees, and outstanding service to boot. Although more carriers are getting better seats, most seats on US airlines leave a lot to be desired. Have to check with Seatguru.com on an aircraft by aircraft basis. BrAir, as noted above, gives you up to 100,000 points for signing up while charging a small amount of dollars.. I believe it to be a great deal and have used it multiple times..


I'll ask you again: where are you seeing an offer that says British provides a voucher for two free business class tickets? From the links I provided earlier in this thread, there is no such voucher!

If someone was to spend 30k on the BA credit card, they would have 137,500 miles in their account, and would receive a companion pass, entitling them to book one business class ticket using miles, and the companion pass to book a 2nd ticket on the same itinerary. Both tickets would be subject to fees and surcharges of anywhere from $1100 on up, depending on departure and arrival locations.

This is a decent value to experience business class but IMHO it is not a far and away amazing deal.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby MIGIHIDARI » Thu Jul 18, 2013 12:09 am

My wife and I went to Germany in June 2012. Booked trains (First Class) and hotels on what they call Romantic road. Used an online agent in germany for reservations. Enjoyed our 12 days immensely. We are physically fit and enjoy long walks. If you don't want to walk, this may not be the right way for you.
Germany is beautiful, food is great and beer is superb!
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby WHEEE » Thu Jul 18, 2013 10:47 am

My two favorite places in Europe are Italy and Spain. However you plan the trip, dont skip Italy! Oh and especially dont skip Venice.

Personally I need at least 2 weeks to start including more than one country on my itinerary, spend at least 3 days in any city/town you are visiting or it will feel like you are just moving around and not experiencing stuff.

When staying in a major city for over 4 days, it is cheap and fun to rent an apartment instead of a hotel. Going to supermarkets to see what you can cook can be super fun :D I wouldnt recommend this for small towns you are staying just a few days, I usually stay in cute b&b in colorful locales.

As soon as you set foot in Europe, your biggest concern will be energy/time, not money. I tend to splurge on things that will lengthen the time I get to enjoy or conserve my energy (such as making sure my hotel/apt is in central locations so I can walk around instead of cheaper hotels further out, booking multi-destination planes instead of a round trip that forces me to travel back to my origin etc)
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby nedsaid » Thu Jul 18, 2013 9:25 pm

Why not central Europe? Cities like Prague or Budapest. They aren't cheap places to visit but much easier on the wallet than Western Europe.

Did a rail trip from Berlin to Prague to Vienna to Budapest spending 3 nights in each city. Got to see plenty of sights in each place. Prague and Budapest are very well organized for tourism. Particularly Budapest. They want your visit and your currency and they knock themselves out for you. Vienna was very clean and very safe.
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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby VictoriaF » Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:10 am

nedsaid wrote:Why not central Europe? Cities like Prague or Budapest. They aren't cheap places to visit but much easier on the wallet than Western Europe.

Did a rail trip from Berlin to Prague to Vienna to Budapest spending 3 nights in each city. Got to see plenty of sights in each place. Prague and Budapest are very well organized for tourism. Particularly Budapest. They want your visit and your currency and they knock themselves out for you. Vienna was very clean and very safe.


Budapest is unique among capitals in that it has several thermal baths right in the city center and caves within the city limits, easily accessible by bus.

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Re: 2014 trip to Europe

Postby nedsaid » Fri Jul 19, 2013 9:37 pm

Wow, I didn't know about the caves. Thank you. Someday, I will go back.
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