I leave for Finland tomorrow and was originally scheduled to go to Tel Aviv on the 28th, a flight that I had to cancel. The problem was that my flight to my new home in Mongolia left from TLV and for my points sympathizers, it was a longhaul aboard Turkish airlines via Istanbul to Seoul.
Panic did not set in, not even for a moment, as I strategized the best way to salvage my vacation, preserve the funds in my wallet, and add another country to the Country Count List. But where to go in Europe? The land is so big, the choices are so infinite. Like Hakim, I let fate decide. Actually, I let the Star Alliance Routing Map decide. My flight to Mongolia goes from Istanbul to Seoul to Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, an extended route that I purposefully chose to enjoy more business class flights and lounges. Something that other point obsessed individuals can relate to.
The issue was that I could not add more than one leg to get to Istanbul per United one way rules (somebody please let me know if that is legit).
Scouring the routing map, I saw a direct flight from Riga, Latvia to Istanbul.
Sure, I’m in. I contacted United and couldn’t believe that I had to call and hang up multiple times before receiving an exemption for a change fee waiver due to the situation in Israel. To put it into perspective, if United changes your flight by even five minutes, they will not assses a change fee because they deviated from the original itinerary. This was not the case on these calls. One agent had the audacity to say that United could not extend the exclusion past today because they did not know when the conflict would be over. He then added that, “United values the safety of its passengers,” before transferring me to a no one.
In the end, I was able to add the flight, avoid the change fee, and was refunded $15 in taxes!
This brought me to the next issue. After figuring out where Riga was on a map, I needed to figure out a place to stay. Simple enough. I took my Club Carlson points that were going to be used in Tel Aviv and booked the Radisson Blu Elizabete Hotel which goes for $260 a night. For those of you who do not think Radisson’s are luxurious, I will slowly but slowly add posts on the Hotel Reviews from Radisson’s I’ve stayed at all around the world.
And where would I stay for one night in Istanbul? My favorite hotel brand, the Park Hyatt using Gold Passport points.
Now, for the last problem, how to get from Scandinavia to Latvia. I left this for last because of the proximity. This seemed to have been a mistake because the flights from Sweden or Finland to Latvia were well over $200 for an hour long flight. I went back to the well one more time and found an interesting flight from Stockholm to Riga via Copenhagen and Warsaw flying Business in SAS and LOT Airlines for $63 and 30,000 points. The points are a bit on the steep side but I do get to review two more airlines for my Flight Reviews page and, for me, United miles are pretty useless post their devaluation in 2013.
So there you have it. Vacation saved, country added, all for the price tag of $48!