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Monday, September 28, 2015

Trip Report: Our Honeymoon to Europe (or, We're Just Insane)

In conjunction with AirlineReporter.com

Background info: My wife Kat and I were married last October 2014. We met at an airport, I even proposed at an airport. We're both definitely travel nuts... I mean, just look at our cake!
One of our wedding cakes, courtesy of our amazingly talented friend,
Elly Artiz of Cakes by Elly!
We've already traveled short and long haul together, so it was natural that we wanted to go all out on our honeymoon.

We decided pretty early on that we'd postpone our honeymoon until this summer, because Europe was our first choice, but we didn't really want a depressing winter honeymoon. We had considered going to South America so that it would be summertime there, but some of the political and economic instability had made us hesitant, and the excess visa/reciprocal fees for US citizens (almost $1,000 just to be able to visit the countries we wanted) would eat into our budget. Finding a super deal on Air France's Airbus A380 in premium economy to Paris, then onto Istanbul, sealed the deal. We had to fly out of San Francisco, but that's no biggie for us.
Air France's Premium Economy section on their Airbus A380. Source: Air France
We really weren't going to spend too much time in Istanbul, but it got us close enough to travel to other parts of Europe, especially to where it would be "exotic" to us. Plus, our US passports gave us visa-free entry into most countries (the only exception was Turkey, and that was a mere $20/person fee for multiple entries).

Kat knew what she was getting into (#FFNerd- and #AVGeek-wise) by marrying me, and thankfully she trusted me enough to give me the green light and go along with building an insane flight itinerary.

It took about a month's worth of researching and planning on where to go and what flights were available, but we were able to use some United miles (gifted by my parents... thanks, Mom & Dad!) to book the following award flights on their Star Alliance partners:
  • Istanbul to Vienna on Turkish
  • Vienna to Budapest on Austrian
  • Budapest to Hamburg on Germanwings
  • Hamburg to Geneva on Germanwings
  • Zurich to Paris on Swiss
  • Paris to Dubrovnik on Croatia
  • Dubrovnik to Athens on Olympic
  • Athens to Istanbul on Turkish Aegean (I'll explain later)
Route map of our award flights, courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
Eight flights for just 30K miles roundtrip, the intra-Europe "saver" economy level roundtrip award for each person. I definitely feel like I got a great return for the miles. Knowing the intricate rules for United's awards definitely helped, as I basically planned a "simple" open-jawed round-trip with multiple connections to get me to my "destination" and back to my origin.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a fan of United's MileagePlus program. I find the American AAdvantage and Alaska Mileage Plan programs to be more valuable and superior for accruing redeeming miles.

However, I was duly impressed with Star Alliance's coverage of non-Northern Europe. Oneworld isn't perfect, and quite frankly Star has superior coverage for getting around the rest of Europe, with plenty of hubs (and thus, non-stop flights) all throughout the continent.
A sampling of views from the window seat.
(I'll still need to have a talk with Mom & Dad about getting a different points-earning credit card, but that discussion will come later).

For those who know me, you may be wondering why we didn't book business class seats.  Unfortunately, "business" class in Europe (what we would call "first class here in the US) usually means the same coach seat, just up front and with a blocked middle seat.  Along with the short flights, I felt the extra miles wouldn't be worth it.
Row 1 in Business Class on a Turkish Airlines Airbus A320, for an intra-Europe flight.
At least this middle seat has a fold-down tray/armrest.
Along with our positioning flights from Southern California to the Bay Area, as well as flights to Thessaloniki that got flushed down the drain, we're looking at:
  • 4 separate tickets, 16 flight segments (14 flown) between 13 different airports on 9 different airlines (and just 1 flight cancellation!);
  • 14 nights at mostly-Hyatt hotels and Airbnbs;
  • 3 car rentals; and of course,
  • 8 European cities in 7 different countries, plus a couple days in the Bay Area and Napa Valley
This special honeymoon trip report will be split up into segments:
  • Flight reviews will be posted as part of my coverage on AirlineReporter (.com | my articles). 
  • Hotel reviews, foodie pics, and trip notes will be posted here on VNAFlyer.
  • This entry will be constantly updated with links to individual segments as they post.
  • You can also get updated when items post by following along on Twitter (@VNAFlyer) or Facebook (/VNAFlyer).
I'm excited to share our travels and experiences with you, so thank you for following along, and please feel free to post comments and questions any time!

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