My Baltic Explorer trip covered 7 cities in the Baltics, Poland and Germany over a period of 4 weeks. Despite staying at mostly mid-scale and upscale hotels, it was an inexpensive trip, compared to other European capitals! The Baltics turned out to be a great value destination, especially for family vacations! Similar to my ASEAN Explorer, I want to share my cost of transportation and hotel stays to show how you can spend less when traveling. Read on to find my top tips how to save money when traveling to the Baltics!
Transportation: Let’s take a look at my transportation expenses first. After my disastrous experience with Malaysia Airlines cancelling my flight without offering alternatives, I treated myself to a luxury trip and flew Singapore Airlines in First Class – one of the best inflight experiences you can find in the world and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I utilized Ultimate Rewards points earned with my Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card to top up my KrisFlyer account. It was an excellent use of points for me, spending 144,000 points for a ticket that sells regularly for more than $10,000 or a value of 7.2 cents/mile. Would I have spent $10,000 for this flight – no, but thanks to points I don’t have to and can afford a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
My transportation across Europe was a lot less luxurious, with a mix of Economy class flights on KLM and AirBerlin, a ferry trip across the baltic sea and bus travel with Lux Express and trains across Eastern and Central Europe. I love to travel by bus or train, because I get to see more of the country I’m visiting and it’s a lot easier than air travel. And as you can see from the table below, it’s also cheaper than flying, without necessarily taking more time on short or medium distances! I spent only $250 for 7 trips, including a splurge to take a Deutsche Bahn First Class ICE train!
Lodging: My trip included a total of 24 nights at mid-scale to upscale hotels, with an average value of $120/night. I reduced my lodging expenses by using points for the most expensive hotels and dates and paid cash for all the nights that I could find good rates! I used points for 14 nights, achieving at least 3x the average points value for my redemptions. The best use of points were the Holiday Inn Helsinki during the IHG PointBreaks promotion, the Westin Warsaw with 5.7 cents/SPG point and the Hampton Inn Krakow with 4x the average points value! I utilized 5 Bonus Award Nights from Club Carlson, which sadly are no longer offered! For the majority of cash nights, I utilized the Club Carlson Visa benefit of a 2-for-1 weekend nights in Europe, or Accor Hotels Private Sales, which regularly offer 40% discounts on regular rates!
1. Go off the beaten path!
Most visitors to Europe head to Paris, London, Rome or Berlin – and those are all beautiful cities. The Baltic cities have a long history, beautifully restored historic buildings and have a lot to offer – without the high price tag of a vacation in other European cities. That’s especially true for a family vacation, with the lower cost of accommodation, travel and food! The Baltic cities have the advantage of fewer tourists, so it won’t feel as crowded, so give it a try!
2. Use Airline Miles for Maximum Value
“Maximum Value” is different for everybody – I use my airline miles for premium cabin flights, because they offer the best redemption value for my miles and allow me to travel in great comfort! I avoid using miles for cheap, short-haul flights and especially look for high fees and surcharges. Singapore Airlines typically charges high fuel surcharges on their award tickets, but they are prohibited for any flights from the Philippines, saving me more than $350!
3. Compare cash and points rates
Consider your hotel points as another currency and compare the rates for cash and points before booking – sometimes paying cash is a much better value than using points, so you should save your points for a better occasion!
4. Lock in a good deal and keep looking for promotions!
As soon as I have my flights booked, I lock in key hotel stays (after arrival, before departure) with the best, refundable rates I can find. I then continue to look for promotion and deals that might offer better rates. As I get closer, I will re-book my hotels at better rates for extra savings!
5. Check for alternative modes of transport
In the US, planes are often the only reasonable way to travel. But in Europe, in Latin America and even Asia, you often have great alternatives with high-speed trains or luxurious buses – a far cry from Amtrak or Greyhound! For trips that are less than 4-5 hours by bus or train, you won’t save much time by flying, if you consider the time you need to get for travel between the city and the airport, check-in, security and luggage! And you get to see more of the country you are visiting to boot!
6. Consider Elite memberships to save on dining expenses
My elite membership in hotel rewards programs, some of them earned through stays and others through status match or credit cards, provided me with perks like free breakfast or happy hour in exclusive hotel lounges. It not only makes my stays more comfortable, but also a lot cheaper: A good hotel breakfast can run cost over $20 per person in many European hotels, so the savings add up quickly! You can read my reviews of the Hilton Visa Reserve, Hilton AmEx Surpass and Club Carlson Visa cards to get elite status without the high stay requirements!
I hope the photos and reports from my trip are inspiring you to travel to the Baltics and this report saves you some money getting there and around. Enjoy your trip!