What Will $166.40 and 60,000 Miles Get You?

ffWell the answer to that question is one I can answer for us. This is what happened. I searched for a frequent flier ticket with United Airlines online. Initially, I was going to do a round trip leaving from Budapest to arrive in Toronto, Canada and then leave from Quito, Ecuador to arrive in Budapest. This was complicated with the Star Alliance, so I did one-way tickets and reserved this itinerary.

October 31, 2015 leave Budapest at 6:25am – arrive Frankfurt, Germany 8:10am
Flight time 1 hour 45 minutes via Lufthansa flight LH1343 on an Airbus A320

Same day leave Frankfurt, Germany 10:30am – arrive Montreal, Canada 1:35pm
Flight time 8 hours 15 minutes via Air Canada flight AC875 on an Airbus A330-300

Same day leave Montreal, Canada 4:30pm – arrive Toronto, Canada 5:40pm
Flight time 1 hour 10 minutes via Air Canada Express Sky Regional flight AC7521 on a Bombardier Q400

Total Travel Time: 16 hours and 25 minutes

For both of us, I paid with 60,000 United miles and $166.40. Total!! Period!! Nothing more!!

For months and months after booking it, I had set up an alert on Hipmunk.com to track the prices from Budapest to Toronto, regardless of schedules. The least costly ticket was $1,189.00 per person. SCORE!!

Knowing I could not print out boarding passes until Friday morning, I worried something would go wrong with this. When I finally went to the United site for the boarding passes, there it was apparent I needed to be redirected to Lufthansa’s site. There, the system would not accept my booking code. After multiple attempts, with panic and trepidation, I called the Hungarian office. The woman there was kind and professional, supplying me with the Lufthansa booking code and explaining I was trying United’s which was not going to work. One would have though United would alert passengers to this, but no.

We were at the airport by 4:05am. It was bedlam. There were over a hundred people is a quasi-line that was causing people to enter at random spots knowingly or unknowingly and tempers flared like Fourth of July rockets’ red glare. We made it through effortlessly once our bags waved good-bye on the conveyor belt.

In Budapest, there was no time for the Diner’s Club lounge, but we did get to the one in Frankfurt after going through Passport Control three times (still not certain why) and security once again. The lounge is far away and tucked into a place one would never think of looking and no airport employee was ever given the location in his or her orientation. It was a Halloween treasure ‘hunt and seek’ expedition while encountering many tricks (wrong directions) and treats (food in the lounge).

The Air Canada flight crew gave us something to ponder. We hold Canadians in such high regard, yet not one of the flight crew cracked a smile. Efficiency was top-notch, but after multiple times of saying thank you for things they handed us, we never received one acknowledgement of our gratitude. All the service was robotic, facial expression and any sense of emotion hid well under masks of non-committal attitudes. Were these their Halloween masks?

In Montreal, we went through the express lane after using the express machine for validation of our USA status and reasons for traveling. We did have to collect our luggage here and recheck it for our last leg. Still, we had 20 minutes to spare for the last flight.

Our flight from Montreal to Toronto has seating for 76, but alas, there were only 12 passengers for two male flight attendants to hover over. They exhibited the Canadian friendliness we had anticipated. Our sense was this was not due to relief of having so little work, but genuine social skills. Bravo to them!

Arriving at the Billy Bishop Airport, a small airport on Toronto Island, we easily took a 90-second

First view of Toronto

First view of Toronto

ferry ride to the ‘mainland’. We could have walked via an underground tunnel linking the two areas, but the ferry was more fun. From here, we were able to get a free shuttle bus that dropped us off near Union Train Station. After a long walk of one block, we found the metro where five stops would take us to our home away from home.

We were a little taken aback that the metro cost Ron $2 and me $3 for one ride. However, it is one of the longest contiguous metros I have ever seen.

The condominium where we will be living is across a parking lot from the metro stop. Perfect location!!

After completing my Ed.D., the frustration of finding a teaching position where I was willing to live, led to Ron and I leaving the country. We intended to travel for a year before settling somewhere in MA or RI. We left the US without any credit card debt, no car payments and our house mortgage paid by renters. We had $10,000 in the bank to make our way through a year.