Listener Jeff asks if it’s better for a first-time river cruiser to book their own air independently or book your air with the river cruise company when traveling from the United States to Europe.
Ralph Grizzle: Hi, I’m Ralph Grizzle. Welcome to episode number 1 of the Ask River Cruise Advisor Podcast. I’m here to answer your questions about river cruising. Today, we have a great question from Jeff.
Jeff: Hello. Thank you for an excellent website. I’ve been spending a lot of time on it researching a cruise coming up to Switzerland, Germany, France and Amsterdam. I wonder if you could tell me if it’s better generally for a first time river cruiser to do the independent booking of your airfare from the United States, or to let the cruise company take care of that? Once again, thanks for a great website.
Ralph: Hey, thanks so much for your question and your comment, Jeff. Do you book your own air, or let the cruise company handle it? Well, there are times when it makes a lot of sense to let the cruise company handle it. That’s when they have special offers where the air is included free or at a reduced rate. Now, you’ll find free air, 2-for-1 business class, nearly every river cruise company is going to have some sort of offer. You want to check that out first.
Now, also, you want to consider your transfers. It’s not a big expense. When you book your air with the cruise line, then your transfers between the ship and the airport are going to be included. That’s not always the case if you book your on air independently. Now, some companies do include transfers no matter how you book your air, but not all do. Just be aware of that.
What I like about booking my own air is control. I can choose my preferred carrier, my seats, my itinerary. I do mine a little bit differently. For the past 7 or 8 years, I’ve flown back and forth across the Atlantic a few dozen times. Each time, I’ve done so in business class. Now, I wouldn’t like paying the $5,000, $10,000 for a business class ticket between north America and Europe. I don’t mind paying what I pay. That’s typically $1,000 or less from my gateway city, which is Asheville, North Carolina for a business class ticket between North America and Europe.
That’s pretty remarkable when you think about that I fly from Asheville, I’ll connect through some city in the US, like Chicago or New York, or Charlotte, or Atlanta. I’ll come to some gateway destination in Europe. Then, I’ll end up where I am right now. I’m reporting from Visby, Sweden. I just came here a week ago using this strategy, paid $1,000 for the ticket. I went from Asheville to Charlotte, to London, to Stockholm, to Visby for a ticket that cost me less than $1,000.
How do I do this? Well, I buy miles. Now, there are a lot of ways to get miles. You can fly a lot and accumulate miles, or you can take a special credit card offers where they make an offer like if you sign up and spend $2,500, they’ll give you 50,000 miles. I buy my miles straight out from the airlines. Now, you can go to most airline websites. You can find a section where you can buy miles. Don’t do that, because they’re far too expensive. You have to wait until the miles go on sale, and with certain carriers. Like, United, for example, I will occasionally buy miles if there’s 100% offer. It’s not that great of a deal in my opinion. Alaska Airlines has some pretty good deals. You can buy those miles when they’re on sale.
My preferred program is Lifemiles. Now, it’s a frequent flyer program with Avianca Airlines. I’ve never flown Avianca, but I have a lot of miles in their Lifemiles Program that you can find at lifemiles.com. I buy miles from Avianca or Lifemiles when they have a 100% bonus. In other words, I’m paying half price. It’s about $15 per 1,000 miles. I use those miles to book flights on Star Alliance carriers, such as Lufthansa, United and SAS. Star Alliance is just a network of air carriers that have grouped together for certain benefits.
The cost of a business class ticket using Lifemiles on a Star Alliance carrier, business class ticket from North America to Europe, or from Europe back to North America is 63,000 miles. It’s a little less than $1,000 each way when the small transaction fees are added in. I use this all the time. What I like about it, is there’s a fast check-in when you get to the airport. You can get priority security screening. You get a comfortable seat with a flatbed, pretty good food. There’s no luggage fees. You get the lounge. Also, you can, if you decide not to go on your trip, you can redeposit the miles even up to the last minutes. It’s just a lot of flexibility with these. At the cost of $1,000 each way, it’s pretty darn close to what an economy class ticket is going to cost you with luggage fees and everything else.
I’ll be writing a lot more about this on River Cruise Advisor. That’s strategies of how to get from North America and Europe for your river cruise. Thanks so much for your question, Jeff. I hope it helps. If you have a question that you’d like to ask, go to rivercruiseadvisor.com/askRCA. Thanks for listening.