As many of you know, we recently got back from a whirlwind family trip to Europe. And I do mean “whirlwind.” I will try to get some destination-centric posts published soon, but today I wanted to talk about our flights. In-depth airplane seat review isn’t really my niche, so don’t expect any photos or detailed description of how intuitive armrests were. I recommend SeatGuru or other miles and points blogs for that.
Also, we flew exclusively in economy, so nothing exciting going on here, folks. No Krug champagne, caviar or any lie-flat seats to speak of. It’s not that there is anything wrong with those types of posts and many readers seem to eat them up, figuratively speaking. So, when I finally fly in Singapore suites, expect a 10-part series, no joke.
Still, not all economy seats and airplane meals are created equal, so I do believe you should research your options and choose the one that is least painful. I would have to be absolutely desperate to ever again redeem miles on Air Berlin on US-Europe flight. No leg room whatsoever. Without further ado, let me offer a brief description of all the flights we took.
Flight from Philadelphia to Barcelona on American Airlines
We first flew from Orlando to Philadelphia and had a 2-hour connection there.
Seat comfort: OK, typical for economy.
Entertainment: Many options, but screens stink. We had to repeatedly press on them when selecting a movie. Super annoying.
Food: Not that tasty, but edible. Not surprising, since even their domestic first-class food stinks.
Cost: 30,000 AA miles per person, plus $5 in taxes.
Overall impression: good enough, but not great.
Flight from Barcelona to Mallorca on Vueling
I wrote about the insane idea of flying to Mallorca from Barcelona for part of the day. Well, we did it, and I can confirm that is indeed insane (though scenic). But that’s a post for another day. Vueling is clearly a discount carrier, and they don’t pretend otherwise.
Seat comfort: not good, almost no leg room. However, the flight was only 30 minutes, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Entertainment: none, except for Vueling magazine.
Cost: $50 roundtrip per person.
Overall impression: for the price, I can’t really complain. I would fly Vueling again.
Flight from Barcelona to Vilnius on Ryanair
Ryanair is the largest discount carrier in Europe, so chances are, you will fly them at some point if you cross the pond on a regular basis. They have a terrible reputation, but as long as you learn the quirks, you’ll be fine.
Ryanair was by far the best option for getting us to Vilnius, Lithuania (3 hours from my hometown in Belarus). Crossing the border took about 30 minutes. A nice bonus was the fact that we flew over the Alps:
I think I would be willing to pay for the flight just for this view alone!
On to the flight itself:
Seat comfort: Not great. The seats are narrow, and leg room is pathetic. That’s why I paid extra for exit row seats. Still not that comfortable, but somewhat bearable.
Entertainment: None, unless you find hawking of perfumes by flight attendants mildly amusing.
Food: None (for free), but decent selection is available for sale. Prices are fairly reasonable.
Cost: factoring in prepaid luggage, exit row seat fee and Priority Check-in, I paid $110 per person all-in. This is a bargain, considering the fact that it’s a 4-hour long international flight to an obscure Vilnius airport.
Overall impression: Ryanair delivered exactly what it has promised for a fair price (again). Thumbs up!
Flight from Minsk to Frankfurt (with a Connection in Vienna) on Austrian Airlines
This was my first time flying Austrian Airlines, and I was impressed. The planes were spotless and flight attendants super friendly. They also gave my kids special packages with crayons and various goodies, which was much appreciated.
Seat comfort: OK, plus the flights were short anyway.
Entertainment: None, except for in-flight magazines.
Food: Snacks (crackers or chocolate waffles). They also gave free alcohol!
Cost: This award flight was included for free as part of my one-way redemption via United from Europe to US. See next segment for details.
Overall impression: Very good airline, and I hope to fly with them again.
Flight from Frankfurt to Orlando
We flew non-stop from Frankfurt to Orlando after spending the night in nearby town of Wiesbaden.
My son sitting on the lap of “Albert Einstein” in Frankfurt airport
Seat comfort: Decent, plus my husband and I ended up in exit row seats, which was much appreciated.
Entertainment: Great, and unlike American Airlines, the screens actually work. Very intuitive (yes, I said it!)
Food: Very good, especially compared to junk that was served on American. Alcohol is free.
Cost: 30,000 United miles+$130 in taxes total per person. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I was able to add Minsk-Frankfurt segment at no additional charge, since our layover was less than 24 hours.
Overall impression: Very good flight, I would pick Lufthansa over American if given a choice.
“DG” doesn’t mean “D-G”, and “34” means “3,4”
Flying within Europe can be a bit confusing, and tight connection can seriously mess you over. We had to stop in Vienna on our way to Frankfurt. Originally, our layover was 1.5 hours, but then changed to 40 minutes. Not good. Fortunately, our flight was on schedule.
When we got off the plane in Vienna, I saw that most people were lining up to go through passport control. So, that’s what we did. A helpful (but ultimately clueless) fellow passenger from Belarus overheard our conversation and told me we don’t need to stand in line if we have to connect on another flight.
I checked my boarding pass and it listed F as our gate. There was a door for connecting passengers and above it were letters DG. My sister-in-law and I assumed it meant D-G. Nope. So, we went through security, walked half a mile, only to end up at the same exact spot. Remember how the connection was only 40 minutes? We were now down to 20.
Anyway, we hurried and made it to our flight 3 minutes before they closed the aircraft door. The lesson: don’t listen to helpful strangers and ask the officials instead.
Also, a crazy thing happened in Minsk. You had to wait till they assigned the check-in counter and I saw number 34 finally pop up on the screen. So, we went there, but it wasn’t our flight. Hmm, let’s go to the other side of the airport and try 3 and 4. Bingo! The crazy thing is, some announcements did have commas in the numbers, just not that one. So, basically, allow for extra time to compensate for cultural quirks and lack of commas.
A note on airport lounges
I have Chase Sapphire Reserve which allows unlimited Priority Pass lounge access for me and my travel companions. Since we had to spend time in many airports, I was excited to put it to good use. Do you want to know how many times I utilized it? Exactly once, in Minsk airport, out of all places. And even then, I just grabbed a few drinks to take with us on the flight, to total dismay of the lounge attendant. Gotta love Soviet hospitality! Don’t ever change, comrades.
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Yes, I know the stock photo image is super random, but I just love this model! He always puts a smile on my face.
Anyway, the Priority Pass probably saved me $4 tops during this almost 2-week trip. Either we didn’t have a lot of time before departure, or eligible PP lounge was located in another terminal. The one in Barcelona didn’t open till 6 AM, and that was our boarding time.
Ironically, there was a lounge in Vilnius airport and we could have used it since my mom was delayed at the border and ended up meeting us 30 minutes after we got our luggage. Unfortunately, I never checked since I thought we would leave right after landing. So, we ended up buying food. Oh well.
Like I said before, lounge access sounds good in theory, and if you are a frequent flyer, it’s probably worth it. For a family who flies once or twice per year, the value is a bit questionable. It may pay off, but it may not. I certainly wouldn’t renew a credit card based on this benefit alone.
All of our flights got us safely from point A to point B and on-time, which was my main concern. Some were more comfortable than others, but ultimately, an economy seat is an economy seat. Don’t expect bells and whistles, but you might get free alcohol if you fly Lufthansa and Austrian.
Miles and points considerably reduced our out-of-pocket trip cost, but I still had to shell out a good bit of money. See my post for detailed breakdown on award redemptions, though we ended up eventually switching from Madrid to Barcelona.
Overall, the trip was a success because we got to see new places and spend time with my family. And that’s the whole point of miles, isn’t it?
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Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.