Europe 2014 (Part 2 of 6) | Planning

Travel Planning sucks, it just does.

Air Travel

For years I had traveled on US Airways, out of Dayton (closer to my home), they were price competitive and the flights were always nice.  Good clean equipment which always functioned.  In seat entertainment was better than the crap we had on one United Flight.   As part of the Star Alliance, those United miles counted.

So for years we’ve saved up miles.  We had a US Airways card at one point and racked up miles for our regular purchases.   We don’t really Credit Card, but we were playing the points game.   Every time we wanted to go somewhere and I tried to use the miles it was nothing but an exercise in frustration.  When we started collecting miles, it looked like it would take 35k miles for an international flight.   When we had 35k miles it now took 45k miles.  When we had 45k miles I needed 50k.   We now have 80k miles and I still couldn’t get Claudine’s ticket paid for.

And it gets better.   Since we’re doing a multi-city flight, not taking off and coming back to the same place, you can’t book that kind of ‘award’ travel online.   So you have to call.

I actually found the flights we wanted on US Airways, from DAY (Dayton) to LHR (Heathrow) to MUC (Munich) and back to DAY.

I called them and tried to use my miles for one of the tickets.   No can do, those flights no longer existed.   They weren’t really very interested in helping me either.  I was pissed.   And magically, the flights that I had found (Using KAYAK) actually no longer existed.  I could no longer find them, with any travel search engine.   Aggravated, I waited a day, they were still ‘non-existent’.

The next best deal was booking United Flights through Lufthansa, about $1700 round trip (multi-city for us).  Lufthansa (as is United) were Star Alliance members.  I talked this through with Kevin (who said, yeah, just book the seats and use your points for upgrades after the fact, that will probably work best for you).  He said, you should be able to get into First Class one direction for less than 70k miles.  Or so we thought.

Turns out that American had recently bought US Airways, which means, they were no longer part of Star Alliance, which means once again, no you can’t use your miles for anything good.   Grrr….

Rental Cars

Again using Kayak, I booked the best Rental cars deals I could find.  These ended up being booked through RentalCars.com, something I’ll never do again.

First the Kayak deal wasn’t super great, it wasn’t half the price of booking direct with any of these places but it was still a deal.   Until it’s not.

The UK rental turned into a huge bait and switch.  I booked a car for almost a week (Wednesday through Monday morning and pre-paid $350.00 (US).   Upon arrival they ‘upgraded me’ from a car that cost $65 US to a car that only costs 45 a day, what they didn’t share with me until afterwards, or that I didn’t catch on too was that car was 45 GBP per day (aka $80 a day), and they charged all kinds of fees.   A fee for the shuttle, a fee for picking up a car at an airport depot, and more.  All of these things were supposed to be included in my rentalcar.com pre-paid reservation.  They also really tried to snow me with the insurance.  In fact they initially said I had to have it to rent the car.   I explained to them, I spoke with my insurance agent, I’m covered, I’m also covered under our business policy since this is a business trip, I was told ‘Explicitly’ to deny any extra coverage.   They made me sign a waiver and acceptance that I was on the hook for a 17,000 GBP if anything went wrong, they don’t deal with any insurance companies other than their own.

This was Eurocar/Avis in the UK, and I’ll never rent from them again.   The car was fine, but the service was horrible.

The RentalCar.com deal in the UK (with Budget) went exactly as planned.   No bait and switch, no other add-ons other than a 6 Euro fee to add Claudine as a driver.   I will happily rent from them again.

Now, do you need a car in London/UK?  Well driving on the wrong side of the road is a thrill but it’s not for everyone.  You don’t, unless you a) have a ton of luggage which we did and that makes train travel a real pain.  I was carrying some equipment in a pelican case that made train travel not worth while.   A 100 GBP taxi ride both directions, for me was 2/3rds the cost of a rental car and then I have a car.   We also needed/wanted a car to drive through the Cotswolds, and western UK.   But now, if I’m not doing those things, a taxi/or train ride will do ya.   Especially if you stay near the Office.  There’s a nice boutique hotel that’s reasonable and it’s a two block walk.

In Germany, you’re on the right side of the road, driving there is no different than here.  The Marriott is about ~20 mins from the hotel, and about ~20 mins from our office so a car is needed there unless you’re going to be with the sales guys all day and have them chauffer you around.  Since most of my work was happening off-hours for them, that wasn’t going to work.

We also planned to do a little road trip in Germany too.  Down to see some castles and drive through the Alps.  So yeah a car was needed.

Hotels.

We did a couple things here.  I’m a Marriott guy.  I like Marriott I have had good results with Marriott properties.   They are clean, and if you shop around they aren’t over priced IMHO.

We also play the points game with Marriott.  The other credit card I use for fuel mostly earns me Marriott points, plus for the $69 annual fee that they always waive for me when I ask I also get a free stay every year.   I use these free stays on motorcycle trips and shoots.   This year I used our free nights stay at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel.   It was a $250 room after currency conversions that cost us $0.00.   We also stayed at the Marriott at Heathrow the night before our trip to Germany for $0.00 on points.

So in the UK we stayed at the Kew Gardens Hotel a nice little boutique hotel in Kew, two blocks from the office.   We have a negotiated business rate there and it was ‘cheap’ and it included breakfast.   The wifi in the hotel room was OK, but not great.  There was no wifi and no Cellular coverage what-so-ever in the restaurant/pub.   We stayed there for 3 nights, the last two nights in Bristol and by the airport.   In the past I have stayed at the Marriott in Twickenham but it was completely booked so Kew had to do and it was fine.

In Germany, the office is in a business park just outside of Hallbergmoos, there’s not much in Halbergmoos so we typically stay at the Marriott in Freising and we stayed there again.

It’s been recently renovated which means it now has AC, it didn’t use too and previously it sucked when it was hot out.    I have a few bones to pick with them, but overall the room was spectacular, and the service was pretty good and the price with breakfast was fair for what we got in return.    They neglected to let us know that the pool/hot tub/spa was unavailable.   When you walk 10 miles a day seeing stuff a hot tub is a nice thing to have and in fact we had looked forward to using it.

Sight Seeing Planning

We sort of had a travel agenda, but we didn’t have any plans for anything that required reservations, or so we thought.    We needed to stay flexible because this was a working vacation.   We needed to make sure that if work was required we didn’t loose any money on something we couldn’t get too.

So our loose agenda was this.

Tuesday: Travel
Wednesday: Arrive in UK in the AM
– Go Straight to the Office we couldn’t get into the hotel yet anyway, Claudine could visit Kew Gardens on her own
Thursday: Finish work in the UK, then do some evening sight seeing.
Friday (v): Do London for a day, London Tower and surrounding things.
Saturday: Drive out through the Cotswolds, then to Bath, and into Bristol for the night.
Sunday: More Bath, then south to the ocean/English channel, through the New Forest.
Monday: Travel to Germany
– Visit the Office, Office work Late Monday Night
Tuesday: More office work about half the day
– Tour Munich in the afternoon
Wednesday (v): Road Trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, visit the Austrian Alps, and then back to the hotel.
Thursday (v): Sight see around Freising/Landshut TBD, but take it easy for early Friday AM flight
Friday: Travel back to the US.

So, 2 complete days lost to traveling, 9 days in-country, about 4 and a half of those working[tm], leaving about 4 and half days to enjoy the sights, 11 days in total.   (v) denotes days taken as vacation days.

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