Has the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine spurred you to contemplate where you’d like to go when travel becomes a thing again? I am feeling relatively hopeful so I thought I’d put together some trip ideas to file away. I don’t know if any of these will actually materialize, but I find it enjoyable to at least engage in a bit of daydreaming. Here’s a plan for a trip to the Czech Republic and Poland using various loyalty currencies.
Choosing a Primary Destination – Wroclaw, Poland
I find the best way for me to put an itinerary together is to start with a primary destination and then add other places in descending priority. This gives me something to build around and makes it a little easier to decide what to cut if necessary.
As a budget traveller who enjoys visiting Europe, Poland remains a major draw and there are several places I would like to visit. Having already been to Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk and Torun, the city of Wroclaw is high on my list for a future trip.
It’s possible to fly into Wroclaw on Aeroplan points, but it would require two connections. I’d prefer to avoid that if possible. When you take a look at a map of the region, you’ll see that the closest major airports with transatlantic flights are Warsaw, Prague and Berlin.
I enjoyed Prague when I visited in 2018 but I left wanting to see more of the country beyond its most famous city and the large tourist numbers it attracts. A little research revealed a couple of interesting Czech cities, Liberec and Pardubice, that I could include in a hypothetical trip.
In addition to 5 nights in Wroclaw, I also added a couple of nights in a Polish mountain resort town for a change of scenery and to capitalize on a terrific Radisson point redemption opportunity.
Designing an Itinerary – Prague Loop
My trips tend to be the in the 8-12 night range, but I’ll stretch this one to 15 nights, give or take a night depending on reward flight availability. (Perhaps I should also point out that I prefer a somewhat slower pace, either in the itinerary itself or the agenda at each stop, so others might find my distribution of time in each city or town quite different than what they would choose.)
Here is what I came up with:
Liberec – 3 nights
Szklarska Poreba – 2 nights
Wroclaw – 5 nights
Pardubice – 3 nights
Prague – 2 nights
This itinerary is based on flying into and out of Prague and immediately heading off to the first stop upon arrival. One benefit of a loop itinerary is that you can reverse the order of stops if doing so will work better for lodging or transport availability. In this case, I could switch the direction and sequence to Pardubice, Wroclaw, Szklarska Poreba and Liberec. The only one that couldn’t change would of course be Prague as I’d want to be there in advance of my flight home.
If I were to drop any of the stops it would most likely be Szklarska Poreba. While a mountain hike is fun, I pretty much live in the forest already so it doesn’t quite hold the same appeal as it might for an urban dweller. And, while in Liberec, it’s possible to take a cable car up nearby Jested mountain so I could get my scenic vistas that way.
While Prague itself is more of a gateway city than a destination here, I chose to give it two nights because I suspect I’d regret not taking advantage of the chance to do some of the sightseeing I missed the first time around.
If I had lots more time in the area, I’d maybe revisit nearby Dresden and perhaps spend a night in the well preserved town of Gorlitz on the German-Polish border. The few hours we spent there previously was a little too short.
If I wanted to spend more time in Poland, I could instead fly out of Warsaw with a one-stop flight back to Halifax connecting in either London (Heathrow) or Toronto on Aeroplan points. There is also the possibility of scoring a cheap one-way cash flight to Halifax on Condor with a connecting flight on LOT to Frankfurt.
The places in this itinerary can all be reached easily by public transport. Note however that the Radisson in Szklarska Poreba is quite a walk from the train station and I’m not sure how readily available taxis would be if bad weather made going on foot unpleasant.
Conveniently, there is a regional cross-border pass called the Euro-Neisse ticket for cheap travel to day trip destinations in the Liberec area.
What also caught my eye during my brief research was the Leo Express rail service. Before the pandemic, a new direct route between Prague and Wroclaw was running on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. As well, check out this video by rail expert, The Man in Seat 61, to see a journey between Pardubice and Prague onboard a train that travels between Prague and Krakow. I’m not averse to taking the bus, but all things equal I’d chose the train.
Departing from Halifax, here are some sample flight options using either Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles or Aeroplan points. (Note that the Aeroplan results reflect “preferred pricing” for Aeroplan credit holders so these amounts might be a smidge higher if you don’t have one.)
Halifax – Prague (via Toronto)
September 8, 2021
Air Canada Rouge
34,500 Aeroplan points plus $61
As you can see, there are multiple options out of YHZ depending on how long of a layover you prefer.
[UPDATE: According to Flyertalk it appears American Airlines will be cutting the PHL – PRG route in 2021]
Halifax – Prague (via Philadelphia)
September 7, 2021
30,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles plus $81 USD taxes and fees
When booking Halifax to Prague, the Alaska Airlines website strangely requires you to search it as a multi-city itinerary. Otherwise it will only show options with a business class flight between Halifax and Philadelphia with economy onward to Prague, all priced at the higher reward level. So you need to check availability for each segment separately, and you’ll notice that economy availability in September and October 2021 between Halifax and Philadelphia is currently extremely scarce.
One reason I gravitate toward Alaska miles is the possibility to add a free stopover in Philadelphia. I have yet to visit the city and the ability to tack it on for no additional miles is enticing. Note also that economy flights on American Airlines booked with Alaska miles are only 22,500 between October 15 and May 15. If this trip were later in the autumn it would be nice to save a few miles by flying home through Philadelphia before the seasonal service to Halifax ends. Unfortunately, an overnight layover would be required. But if you were taking advantage of the free stopover for a few days that wouldn’t be a problem.
Remember that Alaska Airlines will be joining the Oneworld alliance at the end of March so things like free stopovers on one-way rewards, reduced miles for offseason flights on American and the ability to redeem miles for Condor flights are all subject to potential changes as part of the transition.
Prague – Halifax (via Toronto)
September 24, 2021
Air Canada Rouge
35,000 Aeroplan points plus $46 taxes and fees
There are options to redeem at 36,300 points if you want a shorter layover in Toronto.
Condor is scheduled to fly Frankfurt to Halifax on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in September so it would be my preference to book a one-way from Prague to Halifax with a Lufthansa segment to Frankfurt as long as the price was reasonable. It’s so much nicer to land back in Nova Scotia after crossing the Atlantic. Hopefully Condor will remain an option out of Halifax.
Another possibility would be to fly on a budget carrier to somewhere like Dublin and then fly WestJet direct to Halifax. You’d have to give yourself enough time to prevent missing your onward flight on a separate ticket and this likely means flying in the day before, which will add to your travel costs with an additional overnight stay.
The objective with hotel loyalty points is to save on lodging, so I’ll highlight a few reward options on my radar. However, if rates and are low and there’s a good points-earning promotion on at the time, it might be better to pay cash instead and cover the cost with points such as Scotia Rewards. Save the hotel points for a trip where rates are higher.
Liberec – Clarion Grandhotel Zlaty Lev
There is a great opportunity to redeem Choice Privileges points in Liberec. The Clarion Grandhotel Zlaty Lev is rated #2 on TripAdvisor and is located right in the city centre. Of course, with Choice there’s no way to know for sure how many points will be required in September, but it ranges from 8000 to 10,000 between now and April 15, 2021 so it’s at least possible it’ll be in the same ballpark.
It’s also worth noting that this is one of those sweet spot Choice hotels where you can book any room for the same number of points, including a one bedroom suite that looks pretty nice from the pictures.
Because you must wait until 100 days out to book with points, there’s a bit of risk if there’s no availability and you’re locked in to your dates. Fortunately, hotel rates are generally very reasonable in Liberec so I expect it wouldn’t be too hard to find a suitable independent hotel.
Szklarska Poreba – Radisson Hotel Szklarska Poreba
This is a new hotel in the Radisson portfolio with a lowest possible redemption rate of only 9000 points for a standard room. Hotels in Europe at the category 1 and 2 level are extremely few and far between so this is a welcome addition, even if it is a bit off the beaten track.
Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any availability on points at the moment. If and when I do, I might make a couple of speculative September bookings just for the heck of it.
Wroclaw – Hilton, Marriott, Radisson, Best Western and Accor
IHG has good options in Krakow, Warsaw and Gdansk but it will be a while before Wroclaw joins them. A Holiday Inn Express is in the works but it’s not slated to open until late 2021. In the meantime, there are a number of other chains represented in the city.
It’s a long way off to be comparing rates, but the Accor hotels, of which there are several, have by far the lowest of the bunch and rank well on TripAdvisor. Low rates at good hotels make it tough to redeem points that could be put to better use at a more expensive destination later. If there happened to be a generous stay-based promo with Accor, it might be worth doing some hotel hopping here. Or if there is an especially good promotion through a site like Rocketmiles, Kaligo or Pointshound, one might prefer to earn some bonus frequent flyer miles.
Pardubice – Independent hotels
With no chain properties in the city, the goal will to be to find a well-located, well-reviewed small hotel or B&B. I’ve found Booking.com to be a good resource for searching accommodation of this type where every room in the establishment can be different. As for points, this might be a convenient opportunity to make use of any travel funds squirrelled away by using Cash Air Miles to pay for groceries and earmarking those savings for a trip.
Prague – Choice, Hilton, Marriott, Radisson, Best Western, Wyndham, Accor
Prague has many chain hotels if you wish to redeem points. Again, make sure to compare the reward rate with the cash price to confirm that you’ll be getting enough value to warrant using them, and compare the chain hotels with other options. It might be better to book a cheaper independent hotel to earn some Hotels.com stamps if you spot an especially enticing deal and have some gift cards to use.
I can speak highly of two hotels I’ve stayed at previously. The Clarion Hotel Prague City was 10,000 or 12,000 points per night depending on the day of the week and included an excellent breakfast. The Park Inn Prague was of a high standard as well and offered a great Radisson points and cash rate. I also know of someone who redeemed Dream Air Miles to stay at the Best Western City Hotel Moran and was pleased with it.
The two Hiltons in Prague are popular, particularly for the nice lounges available to status holders. Just remember that you’re in central Europe, so while lounge access is convenient, finding affordable eats and drinks in the city won’t be terribly challenging as long as you avoid the places geared to tourists.
The Holiday Inn in Prague is not all that well located for sightseeing and the two high-end Mr. and Mrs. Smith properties require more IHG points than I’d be willing to part with. As with Wroclaw, I’d be weighing all my options in Prague.
It’s a pleasant mental escape to think about possible trips and to consider different options to redeem points. I’m not ready to book anything but hopefully my research will prove useful later on. I have lots of ideas bouncing around my head of where I’d like to go once international leisure travel has resumed.
Not only are loyalty points beneficial to save on travel, they can also help guide your planning to some degree. This is one reason I try to stay on top of all the various promos and points earning opportunities so I have multiple programs to tap into for free or discounted accommodation or flights. As a budget traveller, IHG Rewards has often been my preferred hotel loyalty currency, but as shown above, there are some destinations where your chosen chain has a minimal footprint, so it pays to diversify.