Trip Planning: Back to The Balkans

a map of a country

Each year I look forward to our end of summer break when we usually take one of our biggest trips of the year.

Last year we headed to the Balkans. It was the first time for us visiting this region of the world and we enjoyed our trip very much.  We visited 4 countries (although one of them is a disputed territory)- Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania.

After the trip, I knew that I wanted to go back to the area at some point. While considering places to go this year I kept thinking about last summer’s trip. I decided to look into the possibility of seeing 2-3 more of these interesting countries.

When I started to look into some ideas, I was happily surprised to find flights available using my AAdvantage miles to exactly where I wanted to go, although not on the exact dates.

Due to the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 tragedy we decided to change our plans. We originally planned to visit 3 countries but will now go with 2.

For our Summer 2014 trip we’ll be heading Back to the Balkans, visiting Romania and Bulgaria.

Trip Planning:

The Flights: For our original plans, we were supposed to first stop in Chisinau, Moldova. Getting there would’ve meant an overnight in Moscow. Check out why we changed our flight in the link above. I was actually surprised to find award availability to the area and luckily finding an award flight to our alternate beginning destination was easy to find online.

We’ll now be flying to Bucharest, Romania and back from Sofia, Bulgaria. Getting to and from the Balkans includes stops along the way. While it is a bit annoying,  it also gives us a half day in Berlin, a city that we enjoyed very much during a visit last September. On the way home we stop in Helsinki pretty late where we have to spend the night.

We’ll be flying to Bucharest in economy and home from Sofia in business class. I don’t love to spend extra miles to fly premium cabins to often, I’d rather stretch my miles to use towards more trips. But with no award availability home in economy I didn’t really mind. Being flexible, whether it comes to dates, the destination or class of travel can definitely be key when it comes to booking award flights.

We’ll be flying:

On Air Berlin in economy:

  • New York (JFK) to Berlin (TXL)
  • Berlin (TXL) to Bucharest (OTP)
  • Sofia (SOF) to Berlin (TXL)

On Finnair in business class:

  • Berlin (TXL) to Helsinki (HEL)
  • Helsinki (HEL) to New York (JFK)

We flew on Air Berlin last year to/ from Germany and found the seats to be extremely uncomfortable but the plane did have one of the best inflight entertainment systems as well as pretty good food. I would’ve preferred to not have to fly in coach with Air Berlin again since this is all that was available, we can definitely deal with some discomfort. I can’t recall if I’ve flown Finnair before. If I have, it definitely wasn’t in business class so this should be fun (as well as Lucas’ first time flying solo in business).

The cost for this itinerary for Kim, Lucas and I is 240,000 AAdvantage miles + taxes & fees of $573.90. So for those of you that think award flights are completely free, boy are you mistaken! This breaks down to 80,000 miles per ticket + $166.30 for taxes. There is a telephone ticketing service fee of $75 for the entire itinerary. The $75 fee is a bit ridiculous if you ask me. Considering our initial itinerary was not bookable online, I feel that AA should waive the fee like some other airlines do. I guess it’s a small price to pay…

Lodging/ Hotels: We haven’t finished booking where we’ll be staying and will figure out around half of the trip while we’re away. So far we’ve booked a mixture of award stays and paid for cheap, local hotels in the $40-$60 per night range.

Here is where we’ve booked with points so far:

  • Bucharest: Radisson Blu Hotel Bucharest– The cost: 38,000 points per night but thanks to the Club Carlson card, we get our 2nd award night free so we are getting 2 nights for the cost of 1. The cost for a night at the Radisson Blu would’ve been $143.09 per night which comes to $311.94 for our stay.
  • Helsinki– Hilton Helsinki Airport– We arrive very late and airport hotels were very expensive so I decided to use 30,000 HHonors points.  The cost of this room would’ve been in the $150+ range.

We’re really looking forward to heading back to the Balkans and Lucas can’t wait to see some of the incredible castles that we’ve told him about!

Keep checking back to follow our visit Back to the Balkans!

For those of you interested in our first trip to the Balkans, check out these posts:

6 thoughts on “Trip Planning: Back to The Balkans

  1. Hi. I am the Turkish guy that we talked at the minibus when we were going to Plovdiv .I wish a happy New Year to you and your family. I also wish a New Year with full of travel.

    1. Nurhan! How are you? I remember you! You were sitting right behind us on that cramped mini-bus. I hope that you also have a Happy New Year! Will you be visiting NYC this year?

  2. Wow, i am doing pretty much the same trip in October ( Off Peak AA MILES) but i am starting in Albanian and ending in Serbia in 24 days.

    I am going follow your trip. Will you be taking buses from place to place? I look foward to reading the details.

    1. John- For the trip we took buses through Serbia, Macedonia and to Kosovo for a day trip. Albania has horrible tourism infrastructure so we had to hire a driver to move around. Let me know if you have any questions!

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