Most enjoyable distraction of past few days between working on taxes was tackling the problem of how to get from Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia to Rome this summer. My objective was finding the best balance between low cost flights and best upscale hotel rooms at good reward rates. I redeemed hotel points from eight different hotel loyalty programs for our summer travel. I figure I redeemed about $900 to $1000 in points for about $3,700 in hotel rooms.
The main problem with my original travel itinerary for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were dates near the end of our trip I reserved for a junior suite at Park Inn Meriton Tallinn, Estonia for 22,500 Radisson Rewards points per night. That was a good hotel deal I could not rebook at that points rate.
Shifting dates for Park Inn Tallinn by even one day meant rebooking the room for 42,000 points per night for the Business Class room premium reward stay. Park Inn Meriton Tallinn increased from Radisson Rewards category 2 (15,000 Points) to category 3 (28,000 points) on March 1, 2018.
Radisson Rewards Business Class reward nights are 50% more points for a larger room and breakfast included in reward stay. More often than not, I find myself wishing that I had booked a Business Class room upgrade for more points after a Radisson reward stay in Europe.
Better room and breakfast is definitely worth the cost of an extra 4,500 or 7,500 points at a category 1 or 2 hotel. March 1, 2018 Radisson Rewards raised the category of many category 1 and 2 hotels in places I wanted to travel around in Eastern Europe.
Tallinn, Estonia highest airfare in Baltics
Turned out Tallinn, Estonia on the date I needed to fly to Rome was double the price of flying potential routes from four other airport choices in the Baltics.
- Tallinn, Estonia TLL
- Riga, Latvia RIX
- Palanga, Lithuania PLQ
- Kaunas, Lithuania KUN
- Vilnius, Lithuania VNO
$200 to fly Tallinn TLL – Rome FCO on the date I needed to fly if I kept my reward booking for Park Inn. On top of that was most of the lowest-cost itineraries required flying in the evening and staying overnight somewhere in Brussels, Munich or a choice of several other cities in Germany, London, Warsaw or an airport in Scandinavia, then connecting to a flight to Rome the following morning.
Keeping the hotel reservation in Tallinn also meant no opportunity to hang out in Rome before flying to San Francisco.
Another problem is hotel choices in Riga were more than I wanted to pay. I did not have sufficient Radisson Rewards-Club Carlson points to book a Riga hotel stay in February for our summer trip after redeeming points for other Radisson hotels rising in cost on March 1, 2018.
Most hotels I considered in Riga were priced around $125 to $150 per night. Even Airbnb was showing me $90 per night for places that looked good to me. I could book Days Hotel Riga VEF for $60 per night. After reading the issues I had with the room from my April 2017 hotel review at Days Hotel Riga VEF to my wife, Kelley vetoed my plan to stay there, even if we could earn 30,000 Wyndham Rewards points for $240 in Riga.
Last summer, I changed our July 2017 itinerary with extended stays booked at Radisson Blu hotels in Riga and Berlin to extended stays in Amsterdam and Prague. Last year I had a 4-night stay in July booked at Radisson Blu Elizabete Hotel Riga in the heart of the historic city park district on a 4-for-2 rate for $65 per night. Radisson Rewards (Club Carlson at the time) ended 2-for-1 and 4-for 2 Europe rates in January 2017. Riga and Berlin were my last two bookings made in January 2017 before the reward option was discontinued. That is an opportunity sorely missed.
Radisson Blu Elizabete Hotel Riga priced at $183 per night for our 2018 trip.
All routes lead to Rome
Five Baltic nation airports were in play for flights to Rome, the departure airport for my Star Alliance flights back to California from Rome FCO to San Francisco SFO.
Tallinn, Estonia is the airport I originally planned to book tickets to fly to Rome.
Once I had dates in place for my Baltics itinerary, I found Tallinn to be the most expensive airport with the most inconvenient routings compared to itineraries I could build when flying from other airports in the Baltics.
If I flew from Riga, Latvia and skipped Tallinn, there was the option to fly Ukraine Airlines via Kiev to Rome FCO for $100 per ticket.
Wife – Isn’t Russia at war with Ukraine? And they shoot down airplanes.
Me – Ukraine is the width of Texas. The Malaysia Airlines plane in 2014 was shot down about 500 miles east of Kiev, over Hrabove, about 40 miles from the border of Russia.
Kelley has told me several times that Ukraine is a no-go zone for her travel, especially after I told her last January I booked 7 nights at InterContinental Kiev on IHG PointBreaks. I cancelled my April trip to Kiev a couple weeks ago.
Saving $200 on two tickets to Rome flying from Riga rather than Tallinn would be enough to cover the cost of two hotel nights in Rome. I have not been in Rome since I was 15 in 1975. My family lived near Mainz, Germany and we were camping near Pisa, Italy on summer vacation. My parents let me travel by train with my sister and her college boyfriend to Rome. Kelley has never been to Rome.
With respect for Kelley’s reluctance to transit through Ukraine, I looked for flights flying west from the Baltics.
Too much choice is not necessarily a good thingThe problem I had with our summer 2018 itinerary were the many low-cost potential airline routes I could travel with as much as one week to reach Rome from the Baltics, departing from any airport in Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia to Rome, Italy.
Itinerary 1: $184 each total ticket price for Riga to Rome via Frankfurt, Germany, where we could stay in a river view room at Marriott Heidelberg. I have a 2 night stay with breakfast certificate I won in auction for $52 for Marriott Heidelberg, one hour train ride from FRA. Riga – Copenhagen – Frankfurt $97 SAS; Stuttgart STR – Rome FCO $87 Eurowings.
Itinerary 2: $74 total Vilnius VNO – Rome CIA Ryanair nonstop.
Itinerary 3: $84 total Kaunas KUN – Copenhagen, Denmark CPH Ryanair $17; $20 train to Malmo, Sweden MMX – Krakow, Poland KRK Ryanair $12; Krakow – Rome Ciampino CIA Ryanair $55.
Itinerary 4: $122 total Riga – Stockholm NYO $18 Ryanair, overnight in Stockholm hotel, Stockholm ARN – Rome FCO $104 Norwegian.
Itinerary 5: $105 total Vilnius VNO – Nuremberg, Germany NUE $21 Ryanair; Nuremberg – Sibiu, Romania SBZ $44 Wizz Air; bus to Cluj-Napoca, Romania – Rome Ciampino CIA $40 Wizz Air.
This itinerary to Germany and Romania was my favored destinations, but low price dates for Vilnius to Germany did not align with low fare dates for Nuremberg to Romania for dates I wanted to fly.
Itinerary 6: $154 total Palanga, Lithuania PLQ – Gdansk, Poland GDN Norwegian $87 Gdansk – Naples, Italy NAP Ryanair $67. Train to Rome.
The challenge for me was the decision between my original plan to travel to Riga and Tallinn or reroute our itinerary via other cities and countries. There were many affordable options to travel across Europe.In an island pub off the west mainland of County Donegal, Ireland in the mid-90s, an aphorism spoken by the old islander publican at Paddy’s Bar in response to my observation that Irish pubs had only three or four beer types.
“Too much choice is not necessarily a good thing.”
Grabbing a great airfare deal can be a big travel budget saver. Getting from here to there is a maze of potential paths. Some trips are purposefully planned with easy-to-see direct paths that get you from place to place with a distinct purposeful.
Time constraints are commonly the most pressing demand of travel planning. Lack of time allows fewer options for distraction by attractions to muddle up the travel planning picture.
With time to travel, the itinerary choices expand. Too much choice for routes from the Baltics to Rome kept me occupied for many hours and days seeking the balance between cost, good hotel stay options and places I want to visit.
Riga and Tallinn did not make the final cut again for this summer’s trip. I wanted to experience Riga with Kelley, a city with a charming Old Town I enjoyed walking around in April 2017.
Tallinn, Estonia is a praise-worthy destination from people who visit. I frequently heard English-speaking tourists cite Tallinn as their favorite Baltic nation city during my 8 days in Lithuania and Latvia last year. Tallinn would have been a new city experience for the two of us.
For the third summer in a row we will travel through Poland, on our way to Rome. The best combination of good hotel reward stay value with low cost flights I found was traveling from Lithuania through Poland to Rome. We always seem to have enjoyable adventures when we are together in Poland.
$128 Total Ticket Price: Vilnius – Gdansk – Krakow – Rome CIA.
Rome will be a new place for us to share together and we will have three days for sightseeing in the city before we fly home to San Francisco.