Apr292016

Any partiers been to Belgrade, Serbia lately?

People have commented in the past about how it seems odd to let a hotel determine my destination for a trip. I am not referring to a luxury hotel resort dream getaway or an historic hotel icon steeped in old world tradition and fantasy. I am talking about going to a place like Vilnius, Lithuania due to a $30 per night hotel deal at the Crowne Plaza or Holiday Inn Express West Pensacola, Florida as a consequence of booking an IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks promotional rate.

Yet, many of us snatch up mistake airfares to fly off to places we never even considered visiting until the moment there was an opportunity to buy an airline ticket at a significant discount bargain .

In my quest to plan a September trip to anywhere in Europe, I have stumbled across Belgrade itineraries that work for low airfares. Hey, Belgrade, Serbia is one of the few cities in Europe with a Hyatt Hotel for those spending newly purchased Hyatt Gold Passport points from today’s Daily Getaways. Not that I am one of you few.

You might not think that Belgrade, Serbia is a place you really want to get away to in Europe and visit for a few days and nights. Perhaps some readers who have been there and done Belgrade can enlighten those of us with no experience to Europe’s ‘party city’?

Several articles I have read on Belgrade, Serbia describe the place on the riverbanks of the Danube as not among the prettiest cities in Europe, but Belgrade definitely ranks as a ‘party’ capital of Europe.

  1. http://belgradeatnight.com/belgrade/
  2. http://www.traveller.com.au/the-worlds-top-10-party-towns-im4q
  3. http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/belgrade-has-risen-from-the-ashes-to-become-the-balkans-party-city-1651037.html (article is 7 years old now, but most authentic piece I read in my quick Google search.)
  4. http://thehungrypartier.com/ultimate-guide-to-the-nightlife-in-belgrade/ (USA traveler Drew, The Hungry Partier, has been to Belgrade twice and lists 10 club favorites for summer and winter season partying.

I have traveled through several party capitals in Europe, so what seems more appealing to this budget traveler is the low price index for food and drink, activities and transportation in Belgrade. Numbeo.com Belgrade Cost of Living Index at 37.8 compared to New York City is quite a price index spread. I look at data and see food in Belgrade is indexed at 32% of the cost of food in Monterey, California. Restaurants in Belgrade are 41% of Monterey prices. That makes me think I might even consider eating out in a restaurant unnecessarily if I were traveling there.

Numbeo Monterey to Belgrade

Numbeo.com Monterey, CA to Belgrade, Serbia Cost of Living comparison.

This kind of data tells me that it is quite inexpensive to be a tourist in Belgrade. My activities tend to be the same kind of things locals do around the city as long as I have access. A site like Numbeo tells me the disposable income of people in Belgrade is under $500 per month on average. I am not loaded with greenbacks, but I do figure about $500 per week for my travel in Europe. In places where I save on hotels due to having points available for room payment, then more of that $500 can go to entertainment and activities. That means I likely can spend more to be entertained in Belgrade for a few days than the average local.

The cost of living index for Belgrade really hits home when I look at Monterey, California compared to Vilnius, Lithuania. My trip earlier this month with five nights in Vilnius pleasantly allowed me to not consider how much I was spending each day to eat and ride around on public transportation and go to museums. Kelley and I started out in Amsterdam and trying to budget 50 EUR per day is challenging there, even with hardly any museums or activities costing 10 EUR or more. No eating in restaurants and using discount multiple day Amsterdam city transportation passes to avoid $3 one ride fares were budget savers. Then we went to Vilnius for six days and 50 EUR a day meant a restaurant meal for the two of us, all the beer we could drink in restaurants and markets, hot food in grocery stores and plenty of food in the hotel room each day. We even picked up souvenirs.

Here is Monterey cost of living compared to Vilnius, Lithuania on Numbeo.com.

Numbeo monterey to vilnius

The data shows Vilnius is only 52% lower than Monterey for restaurants and 45% lower for groceries. A direct comparison on Numbeo.com shows Vilnius grocery store prices are 40% higher than Belgrade grocery store prices. I was buying whole cooked chickens for about $2.50 USD in Vilnius and spending about $20 per day to feed Kelley and I with fresh vegetables, fresh assorted fruits, hot chicken and packaged seafood (most expensive items), plus plenty of local beer. That tells me I can spend days in Belgrade on very little spend. To make Belgrade a short-list travel destination for me is finding a good value hotel that costs me very little in cash or points and possibly even earns some hotel loyalty points.

Belgrade in September is a travel destination I never considered before. I am not much of a late night person, but I do well in early morning. Perhaps I’ll be on California time for a few days if I go to Belgrade as my first destination in Europe and 3am Serbia will feel like 6pm in Monterey to me. I might be able to experience a day or two of  Belgrade ‘party’ summer nightlife, before returning to my normal sleep pattern of early wake, early snooze – just in time to greet the morning folks heading home after a night on the Danube dancing.

Hyatt Gold Passport in Belgrade

Hyatt Regency Belgrade

Friday August 6, 2016

  • Free night = 12,000 points.
  • Cash + Points night = 6,000 points + $78, or $87.37 after tax.
  • Nonrefundable advance purchase rate = $152, or $168 after tax.
  • Standard rate = $189, or $209.55 after tax.
  • 6,000 points saves $122 on Standard rate.
  • Room night total cost over $150, if you happened to buy discount points today on Daily Getaways when 6,000 points sold for around $70.
  • Belgrade probably has better deals (unless, like me, you are HGP Diamond with the opportunity to use a confirmed suite upgrade on Cash + Points stay and receive free restaurant breakfast each morning). Even then, there are probably better deals to be found in Belgrade if I searched more hotel rates.

Belgrade lodging suggestions are welcome.

Hyatt Belgrade cat 3

Club Carlson in Belgrade

Radisson Blu Old Mill Hotel Belgrade has a higher TripAdvisor.com ranking is #3 of 79 Belgrade hotels with a lower price than Hyatt Regency Belgrade #4 on April 29, 2016.

Club Carlson Visa card members have complimentary Gold elite membership in Club Carlson and can book 2-for-1 and 4-for-2 rates in Europe.

Belgrade Serbia

Radisson Blu Belgrade is $66.31 per night on 4-for-2 Club Carlson Gold elite member weekend rate for Wed to Sun Aug 3-7.

  • $66.31 Gold elite member 4 nights for 2 nights rate in Europe and earn points and promotion bonuses.
  • $92.25 nonrefundable advance purchase rate and earn points and promotion bonuses.
  • 38,000 Club Carlson points. Stay does not count for promotion bonuses.
  • 10,000 points + $69.19. Stay does not count for promotion bonuses.
  • High value is found in some 2-for-1 and 4-for-2 elite member discount rates when you can find them.

Radisson Blu Belgrade looks like the better value to me when compared to Hyatt Regency.

IHG in Belgrade

Belgrade IHG hotels map

IHG has three hotels and three hotel brands:

Hotel rates August 4-7, 2016 (3 nights)

Crowne Plaza Belgrade $112.48 or 30,000 points. TripAdvisor rank #8 of 79 Belgrade hotels.

Holiday Inn Belgrade $108.29 or 15,000 points. TripAdvisor rank #16 of 79 Belgrade hotels.

Holiday Inn Express Belgrade $64.06 or 20,000 points. TripAdvisor rank #27 of 79 Belgrade hotels.

Belgrade IHG hotels Aug4-7

Club Carlson looks like the best deal to me, although a low Holiday Inn Express Belgrade rate looks good if you happen to be in the city during the current IHG Share Forever promotion running May 1- Sep 5, 2016.

Loyalty Traveler – IHG Share Forever 65K + free night takes too many nights May 1-Sep 5, 2016 (April 13, 2016).

Marriott Courtyard Belgrade City Center is category 4 at 20,000 points per night. Rates for Aug 4-7 start at 102 EUR.

Starwood Hotels Metropole Palace, Luxury Collection Belgrade is a SPG category 3 hotel for 7,000 points per night. The rates for August 4-7 start at 128 EUR per night for a Superior room. There are no standard reward nights available in August for online booking, similar to what I saw today for Sheraton Dubrovnik in Croatia, where reward stays for any date during the entire month of August.are by phone reservations only. The paid rate is probably the better value compared to the potential value of 7,000 Starpoints redeemed for reward nights at other more expensive hotels.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

Comments

  1. Belgrade is one of the most underrated cities in Europe. The Republic Square near Parliament is pretty, and Tašmajdan Park has some pretty impressive sights. If you get a chance, don’t miss up dinner in the Skadarlija District in the old town – it’s the only part of Belgrade that retains a bohemian atmosphere. When you get to the Hyatt in New Belgrade (or the Crowne Plaza for that matter), do your best to request a room with a view of Vračar across the Sava River. You won’t be disappointed. And if you are looking for a party, ask around for the splavovi – party barges on the Danube. You’ll have a blast. 🙂

  2. Belgrade is not picturesque because it is one of the most heavily damaged cities in the 20th century in Europe. But it does occupy a beautiful position on the banks of the Danube and the Sava. The nightlife is cheap by Western standards and is quite varied, from clubs, live music, and great places to grab food. Serbian food is not gourmet per se in French or Italian style, but it is delicious and far better than most of Central Europe (There is more to life than just cabbage, meat and potato).

    The pedestrian area in the center is great for people watching especially during evening hours, Knez Mihajlova street. Skadarlija is the bohemian quarter – and while there are many tourists, locals still go. There are other “kafane” in the city where you can have great local food and live traditional music.

    The above comment is spot on – the river has the most interesting nightlife, there are barges on both sides of the Sava, and you can find anything from DJs to Turbofolk (it might be the worst music ever invented, but it is energetic, and after a few drinks, who cares!)

    A must to visit is the city fortress, it is a beautiful park, and if you have time, explore the military museum there (it is de facto a history museum of the region, since war has shaped everything before your eyes – Belgrade has had over a 115 battles in it’s history alone, and has been razed over 40 times. This is a city of destruction, it is worth learning about the history and appreciating that which can no longer be seen. Attila the Hun, Friedrich Barbarossa, Eugene of Savoy, Suleyman the Magnificent, Janos Hunyadi – all have battled in the city.)

    Finally, if you have three plus days, it is worth spending time during the day (assuming you have good weather) exploring the parks – Usce park (confluence of Sava and Danube on New Belgrade side) has a beautiful promenade along the river banks and you can walk all the way to Zemun, the former Austrohungarian city on the north side. On the south of the river, Kosutnjak is a beautiful hill park, former hunting grounds of the king.

    Finally, Tesla museum is neat to check out, do take the free guided tour in English. I would also recommend to see a couple of Orthodox Churches, St. Mark’s is beautiful in Tasmajdan area, but of course, St. Sava, one of the largest orthodox churches in the world.

    Enjoy your visit. Welcome to Belgrade, welcome to Serbia!

  3. We visited Belgrade last August and concur with the above comments and recommendations. September would be preferable to the heat of the summer. I understand the desire to use points in branded hotels, but I have to mention the sweet little boutique hotel where we stayed: Beograd Art Hotel, in a great pedestrian-only location on Kneza Mihaila, lovely breakfast, every detail beautifully done. The rate we chose included a walking tour which took us to Kalemegdan Fortress, Skalardija, and other points of interest like ? tavern, Princess Ljubica residence (an interesting 19th-century political story there), and the national bank.

    It’s a shame we are not taught as much Balkan history as we should have been in American schools, and what we are taught is U.S. policy-centric. Case in point: Tito, always portrayed in our school books as a bad guy, but fought the Nazis with his partisans and later sent a scathing letter to Stalin threatening to kill Uncle Joe with one attempt if he didn’t call off paid Soviet assassins. Definitely his own man; testimony to his strength holding the composite Yugoslavia together. How quickly things fell apart after his death.

    We arrived in Serbia with mixed feelings after visiting Sarajevo. We didn’t want to “like” Serbia, but came away with a great amount of respect and would definitely visit again. This is a fascinating region, and Belgrade, while not the prettiest capital in Europe, has a most interesting personality; this makes her a great date. More on our blog.

  4. GREAT recommendations from the commenters above. They covered what to do/see in Belgrade very well.

    If you have some extra time and can rent a car or get a bus ticket, I recommend driving north to Novi Sad, another beautiful Serbian city in the province of Vojvodina on the banks of the Danube. It’s the home of the Serbian National Theatre, gorgeous Austria-Hungary-era architecture, wide pedestrian streets, and great food. Just across the Danube in the adjoining town of Petrovaradin is a large Austrian fortress, built atop older fortifications going back to the Paleolithic. Its major feature is the clock tower visible from the river and with reversed hour/minute hands (hour hand is longer).

  5. @Owen – I’ll be in Sweden, Poland and Denmark in July. One of the drags of IHG PointBreaks is the next list covering September when I am looking for hotel deals will not come out until late July. I’ll have my plans set by then as to where I will be traveling.

    Holiday Inn Express Belgrade City is still on PointBreaks list for stys to July 31 at 5,000 points per night.

    http://www.ihg.com/hotels/us/en/global/redeem-rewards/pointbreaks

    You can buy 15,000 IHG points for $90 through Daily Getaways for the next week or two before the annual sales close out (must be U.S. resident).
    https://dailygetaways.ustravel.org/OffersList.aspx

    Thanks everyone for great suggestions. Belgrade and Serbia were off my radar until this past week.

    Unfortunately, Belgrade is now looking unlikely for me in September as my 2-week trip has now shaped up around remaining primarily in Switzerland and the Alps. Hotel reservations made, but no airline tickets have been purchased yet, so plans can still change.

    In the Swiss Alps I’ll probably be thinking to myself, “Right now I could have been in shorts dancing drunk on a party boat in Belgrade”, as I hike around freezing cold glaciers trying to breathe at 10,000 feet.

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