When it comes to accumulating miles and points, much of my energy used to go towards planning trips to Europe or bringing my parents here to the United States. That was complicated enough, but we managed. Unfortunately, now there is an extra layer of complexity, namely figuring out the visa situation for my relatives.
Due to war in Ukraine, US embassy in Belarus closed its doors, so bringing my parents here is next to impossible. In the past Belarus citizens didn’t have any issues getting a Schengen visa, but that has changed as well. That’s part of the reason why I paid for my parents, sister and nephews to meet my family in Montenegro in 2022.
My wonderful nephews
It was an amazing trip, and we still talk about it. Unfortunately, it would cost me double to replicate it now and would require a separate ticket to Turkey. Speaking of Turkey, I was looking at meeting my relatives in Antalya in the summer of next year. However, due to demand, it’s gotten quite a bit more expensive.
We are looking at around $800 per person for a flight from Belarus to Antalya, plus modest hotel room for 6 nights. So that’s $4k right there for five people. We may end up going that route, but I want to try other alternatives. Since Belarus airline Belavia is under all kinds of sanctions at the moment, they are starting to cannibalize planes for spare parts, like they do in Iran. Obviously, that’s a safety concern.
Applying for visa to Hungary
Since my family lives near the border with Poland, it appears as the most logical choice for a visa. Of course, that’s what everyone else is doing, and as a result getting a visa to Poland is extremely difficult. Apparently, there are companies that can assist you, but they charge $450 per person for their services. No thanks. We might as well invest in a Turkey tour (visa-free).
But there are other roundabout options of getting into EU, and according to my research Hungary appears to be our best route literally and figuratively. The cost is a reasonable $80 per person, including local agency’s fees. When my mom called the office, they said that Hungary has the highest approval rate for visas to Belarusians. Also, Hungarian Embassy in Belarus issues Schengen visas, so that would allow my relatives to enter Poland as well. From there they could catch a short flight to Budapest, a city known for its amazing spas.
There are a couple of requirements, like having your flights and lodging booked in order to even apply for Hungarian visa. This roadblock is what likely stops a lot of people from pursuing this option. After all, even if you book everything, there is no guarantee of getting approved for a visa. So, you could potentially lose a lot of of money.
But this is where my frequent flyer miles come in. In the past I’ve booked several revenue tickets on Lufthansa for my parents and credited the flights to United. So, they each have a small stash, which is enough for five one-way tickets from Warsaw to Budapest. The mileage rate is extremely reasonable at 6k United miles per person:
And of course, the best part is that it’s totally refundable. I have 12k orphaned United miles in my account, so would need to get an additional 18k miles in order to have enough for 5 one-way return tickets. The easiest way to accomplish that would be to temporarily convert my Chase Freedom Flex to Chase Sapphire Preferred.
I have 35k points at the moment, which is more than enough. Yes, I would have to pay $95 annual fee, but it’s still cheaper than buying United miles. Plus, the $50 hotel credit would offset it substantially. I do have Lifemiles that I could use for the same purpose, but cancellations are not free, so I would rather stick with United program.
Lodging is a piece of cake, as I can simply reserve an apartment in Budapest that offers a fully refundable rate. Either way, this plan will cost a whole lot less than buying a tour to Turkey for five people. My relatives also won’t have to fly on the planes that are falling apart, a nice bonus.
And don’t forget the biggest perk of all: Free Priority Pass access for the whole gang in Warsaw and Budapest airport lounges courtesy of my Capital One Venture Rewards card!
Another reason to pursue visas to EU
While I really hope to meet my family in Budapest next year, that’s not the only reason for this rigamarole. My oldest nephew will be turning 18 next February, which will make him a potential target for a forcible conscription into the army. I will do everything in my power to prevent that, including helping him with expenses if he chooses to seek asylum in Poland where we have some relatives and friends. But in order to do that, he first has to have a visa to enter EU. Unfortunately, I’m not able to sponsor him to legally immigrate to the United States, since the process would first have to start with my sister.
As you can imagine, this is a heavy subject for our family to ponder, but it has to be done. I have no illusions about the future prospects of Belarusian males, and keep urging my relatives to be realistic as well. The war in Ukraine keeps chugging along, and my country is fully committed to helping Russia. Any day now Belarus troops could be thrown into the meat grinder, and I will do whatever it takes to make sure my nephew isn’t one of them.
To be clear, the main reason for pursuing visas to Hungary is so we can have a family reunion in Europe. This is more of an afterthought on my part. We don’t know what the future holds, but it’s always good to be prepared.
Leana is the 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.
Just to be clear, that comment is from a different Nancy, not the Nancy who writes for this blog. 🙂
@Nancy LOL I figured as much!
To be honest, I didn’t find that comment offensive in any way. I do believe it’s prudent to exercise caution when writing something on the internet. That being said, I don’t think I revealed anything that can be qualified as nefarious. These are volatile times, it’s good to keep your options open.
Best of luck with all of this. No illusions is the best way to approach the Ukraine situation and how it could affect your family. I’m not sure I understand Nancy’s post…
@Russ Thank you. It’s definitely not a fun topic to discuss. I feel sorry for my mom, as she hates the idea of her grandson potentially moving away too. They are very close. As they say, hope is always the last to die. Maybe things will normalize by next year, and I want to believe that will be the case. But the realist in me says otherwise.
As far as reader Nancy’s comments, I believe she was referring to being banned from getting EU visa for misrepresenting the purpose of your trip. Fortunately, that’s not what we are doing at all. The goal here is to meet in Hungary and afterwards my family will go back to Belarus. But it’s impossible to predict what things will be like by next summer, so it’s good to have options in case the situation escalates.
Some stories you should keep to yourself. You realize that if anyone wants to report you they’re facing a 10 year ban.
Hmm, 10 year ban for what? I’m looking for them to apply for visas to use as intended. As in go to Hungary to meet me and my family. No guarantees they will get approved, but it’s one of the options I’m considering. I’m not telling them to lie on the application, so I’m not sure what the problem is. We don’t know what the situation will be like next year, and as of now, we are simply looking for a place to meet, like we did in Montenegro last year. But I hear what you are saying, as these days one can’t be too careful.