Helsinki & Moscow bound!
August 25, 2013
With expiring Hyatt suite upgrade certificates from signing up for the Chase Hyatt credit card while I was a Hyatt Platinum status member, I needed to book something fast! Each suite upgrade cert is good for a week. Basically, you book a paid room at the lowest category and it is upgraded to a suite (depending on availability). FYI – you can’t book a room using the Hyatt prepaid certificates and then use a suite upgrade cert. I trolled travel forums for that lil’ tid bit.
My Asian side kicked in and buffet eating rules applied – I had to get the best value for my money! After an exhaustive search for last minute availability, I settled on the Park Hyatt Moscow. A suite there cost $1,600 per night while a basic room rate was $380 per night. For 4 nights, I was basically getting $4,880 for free! Sweeeet! <–get it? See what I did there?…
There was just one problem…I am loyal to AA and the Oneworld Alliance for my flying – mostly because of my executive platinum status on AA. I don’t fly enough to justify maintaining status on 2 different airlines/alliances. So, I tend to focus on just my current one which is American Airlines. But, AA doesn’t fly to Moscow…what’s a girl to do? Well, as a loyal One Mile at a Time reader, my mind was blown with this article. I totally forgot that airlines have seasonal routes! AA flies from Chicago to Helsinki and Finnair (a Oneworld partner) flies from Helsinki to Moscow. Perfect. I would get over 12K in elite miles for the roundtrip AND I could use 2 of my remaining SWU’s to upgrade to business class for the trip. Bonus – I was able to book roundtrip business class tix for the flights between Helsinki to Moscow with Aadvantage miles.
The total cost for flights and hotel = $1,200 (roundtrip LAX-ORD-HEL) + 2 SWU + 40,000 Aadvantage Miles + $1,000 Park Hyatt ($2,000 w/tax and split with my sister) = $2,200 Cash.
Since neither my sister nor I spoke Russian, we needed a guide. I’m sure we could have stumbled through it. But I prefer my vacations to be stress free. So, I combed through Tripadvisor and after I sent out a request to over 7 of the top tour guides/companies listed, I chose Tour of Moscow. The total cost for our guide was $921 (including tix to the Kremlin). It was well worth it!
A final hurdle was the need to book airport transfers in Moscow. Helsinki was pretty easy as an English speaking country with fair taxi drivers and decent fares to the city. Unfortunately, Moscow taxi drivers had a bit of a shady rep…combine that with the notorious Russian traffic (although, I didn’t find it as bad as LA gets during rush hour…or any hour) and I didn’t want to imagine what the fare might look like. While Tour of Moscow would’ve arranged for transport for us, it was the one area where they were much more expensive than other airport transfer options. So, I searched the Tripadvisor forums and found a thread on Go-to-Ru. While booking them was not without their challenges, it ultimately worked out in the end (more to come on that later!). With airport parking, our total transfer ended up at 2,900 RUB roundtrip or roughly $47/each way.
Our total cost per person including gratuity to our guide was about $2,200 (hotel + airfare) + $500 (guide) + $150 (airport transfers for Helsinki and Moscow) = $2,850. Including another $650 for incidentals and meals, our final total was $3,500 per person for a luxury trip booked last minute.