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I’m off to Budapest tonight for the first time and in typical fashion, I don’t have my trip planned out. I’m staying until Monday evening, so I hope to take in all the city has to offer – hit up some baths, eat some good food and even try some Hungarian wines (which my former Hungarian coworkers used to rave about).
The real reason for the trip is that I am taking my best friend Lori who lives in Madrid (who appeared in this post) to see Britney Spears for her birthday. Since we live across the pond from each other, I try to visit at least 4 times a year and since we’ve both never been to Budapest, I thought this would be a great birthday weekend.
Quick backstory: I actually met Lori in 2005 on a US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Madrid. I was jealous because she was in the bulkhead (for some reason I was in a regular coach seat) and at one point during meal service I asked her nicely to un-recline her seat, which she did. That was it and then 3 days later in Madrid at 2am at then popular club Ananda I felt someone poking me – it was Lori who was shouting, “You’re that tall guy from the flight!” Long story short, she was visiting her friend Claire who just so happened to be in the same study abroad program as me in Alacala de Henares. We all became close friends and I even helped Lori get a job with me as an assistant buyer at Lord & Taylor in NYC after she graduated. After a couple years she (smartly) decided to move to Madrid, where she is now a teacher and editor of her own fashion blog, Lifeandstylemadrid.com.
The point of my story is that I’ve met some of the most influential people in my life from traveling. In fact, just last night I went to a fabulous dinner at Soho House NY (curated by Danyelle Freeman of restaurantgirl.com fame) with a recent seatmate I met in first class on a Delta flight from Miami to JFK. While I’m 100% respectful and don’t start unnecessary conversations with those who don’t want to, I’m also always interested in meeting interesting people, which happens more often than not on planes – especially in the front of the bus.
Back to Budapest, what sealed the deal was Starwood Preferred Guest’s offering of 2 premium tickets to the Britney concert for only 5,000 points. The face value on the tickets is 17,900 Forint ($83) so with fees it would have been at least $200 for the two tickets, so I’m getting 4 cents per Starpoint. I generally just use SPG points for hotels, but this was a good redemption in my opinion. I have a friend who recently redeemed Startpoints for a concert and he said the seats were phenomenal. My expectations are high!
Hotel: Since becoming an Amex Platinum cardholder I’ve been meaning to check out the FHR (Fine Hotels & Resorts) benefit, which provides nice perks like 12pm guaranteed check-in, free breakfast, 4pm checkout, space available upgrades and other perks. However, I normally book my hotels in advance at good rates and I get most of those benefits from being a top-tier elite with Starwood, Hyatt and Intercontinental.
Well, it just so happens that the Four Seasons Gresham Palace is one of Amex’ Budapest FHR hotels and I’ve always wanted to stay there since reading about it on Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List of hotels. I’ve only ever heard amazing things and I decided to splurge since I used miles for my flight. My rate is 390 euros a night for a Gresham room. I’m staying Sunday night in Budapest alone, where I’ll switch to the cheaper Le Meridien Budapest and get my triple points for a Sunday night stay, so expect a review of that hotel as well.
Flight: For Lori’s flight, I redeemed 20,000 American miles and got her a non-stop Madrid-Budapest roundtrip on Malev. Most flights were $400+, so I felt like this was a good redemption, especially for a coach ticket.
For my flight, I was torn. I’m currently 45,000 elite miles away from hitting Delta Diamond (125,000 MQMs) so sneaking in a trans-Atlantic hop would certainly give me a nice boost. However, Delta makes it really expensive to upgrade internationally on paid coach fares. They require Y, B or M fare classes on their own flights, but they also allow upgrades on Air France from Premium Economy (S, A,W fares) to business using systemwide upgrades or miles. The cheapest premium economy flight was $1,700 and there were no upgrades available in either direction, so I’d have to roll the dice and hope for Air France to release space. However, if they never did I’d be stuck in premium economy with a tight connection in Paris on the outbound and a 4 hour layover on the return. Not ideal.
On the flip-side I’m swimming in miles and points and I might as well use them like I recommend to everyone else! Plus, with Delta’s current 100% transfer promotion, I could buy the 100,000 miles needed for only $1,130 and be confirmed in business class on all legs. Sure beats paying more to fly in premium economy! Since I’m going to Europe for a long weekend, I didn’t want to risk not sleeping on the outbound and being jet-lagged and worn out for Ms. Spears.
So for 100,000 SkyMiles and $90, I booked a KLM itinerary on the outbound with a reasonable 2 hour connection in Amsterdam and coming home I’m spending a night in Rome and then flying Alitalia nonstop to Miami (where I have to be next week anyway). So now I avoid having to buy a JFK-Miami ticket and I get to try out a new carrier’s business class (even though I had already purchased an Alitalia business class ticket for my premium November elite status run).
I found all of the award inventory in about 10 minutes using ExpertFlyer‘s Awards & Upgrades search function. I tried booking it at Delta.com and all of the KLM and Alitalia flights showed up when I used the multi-city search, but when I went to book the ticket, the engine barfed and gave me a crazy error. Oh Delta.com – the bane of my existence! A quick call to the Medallion line at Delta and my ticket was booked.
So now to the point of this post – what should I do in Budapest? What restaurants should I hit up? What baths should I go to? I’ll be there from a Friday afternoon to late Monday afternoon.
Expect a full report when I’m back!