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Old 02-10-07, 01:15 PM   #1
fillthecup
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How do you make travel arrangements?

Hya. I really really would like to visit my sister this summer in Switzerland, and take a month or so touring around in the process. Using various flight search engines, I can't seem to get it under $1000 (Chicago to Switzerland/Germany). I can't really afford this, unless I use credit, which may still be worth it.

Any tips for getting me and my bike across the pond? Anyone use travel agents?
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Old 02-10-07, 01:20 PM   #2
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Switzerland is quite expensive to fly into. If you are flexible try flying into Paris or one of the other high volume hubs and jump on a train. May or may not be worth the extra hassle.

Try www.kayak.com they have pretty good prices.
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Old 02-10-07, 02:35 PM   #3
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I have never used a travel agent to arrange my trips. I've talked with them, and discussed how much I'd be charged to go through them, but it always comes out to way more than I'd pay if I arrranged the trip myself. A friend of mine, however, uses them and swears by them (even though they did get him briefly stuck in Singapore without a visa a couple years ago).

The first place I check is Air Canada. We Canadians have a lot of "issues" with Air Canada, but I've found that for international flights they usually come through with some of the least expensive rates. From there, I'll check several US airlines like United, Northwest, and a few others. They are invariably several hundred dollars more than Air Canada. Then I check a few other airlines from other countries to see what they have to offer. I've also used Expedia.ca to do some price comparisons between airlines.

Often the place I want to fly into is expensive. In 2003 when I was getting ready to go to the Paris-Brest-Paris, a flight into Paris cost about $1700, but a flight into London's Heathrow was about $1000. I went with the $1000 flight, then took trains and a ferry to get to Paris. The trains and ferry cost me about $100 ... so I saved myself about $600, AND I got to see a part of England I hadn't seen before as well as France between Calais and Paris. So if the specific place you want to fly into is quite expensive, check a few other places in some of the countries around.

Once my flight is booked, I basically wing it from there.

You might find this site interesting as well:
http://www.ibike.org/encouragement/travel/bagregs.htm
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Old 02-10-07, 04:38 PM   #4
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Thanks for the quick responses. I'm worried about having multiple flight connections, insofar as my BIKE making it there or being damaged is concerned. But if I took a train or ferry I could retain more control over my possessions that way. I'll check into flights to Paris and see about taking a train into Switzerland.

What about flight connections? Do you make efforts/pay more to minimize them?
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Old 02-10-07, 04:51 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by fillthecup
What about flight connections? Do you make efforts/pay more to minimize them?

With Air Canada, from Winnipeg or Calgary I fly into either Toronto (not recommended) or Montreal (haven't tried it yet, but will this year) and then to London, Paris, or wherever. Toronto/Montreal is the only connection, and when you fly out of western Canada to Europe, you have to make that connection ... there is no option to pay more to avoid it.

On the way out, it is quite painless. I don't think we even see our checked luggage. On the way back it is more of a pain because our checked luggage has to go through customs and we have to accompany it.

I'm not sure how it is with other airlines.
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Old 02-10-07, 09:46 PM   #6
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Try searching on the websites of individual airlines, sometimes you can get a better fare that way. Are you flying midweek or on weekends? Have you searched for both midweek and weekend fares? While you're on the airline's website, find out what each airline's policy on carrying bicycles is. The US flag carriers charge stiff fees, some of the foreign carriers carry your bike for free. I've found British Airways and Lufthansa to be very bicycle friendly.

Do you have to travel in the summer, or can you travel in late spring? I've found that transatlantic fares go up pretty sharply after Memorial Day, and drop again in early September. You'll also find accommodation wherever you're touring to be cheaper and easier to come by before and after the peak summer season, and the various tourist attractions won't be quite as overrun with tourists. The weather can be iffy, though.

If you do the air/rail combination, be aware that long distance trains in Europe can have some pretty strict requirements for carrying bicycles.

If you're flying into Paris, there's a train station in Charles de Gaulle Airport, the Aerogare. Walk off the plan, grab your bags, take the elevator down a few floors, and you're on a TGV train to wherever you want to go in France (or Switzerland). Every American should ride a TGV train at least once, just to see how rail travel should be done. Frankfurt (Germany) Airport also has a train station in the airport, although I've never used it. Here's a good place to start researching train travel in Europe: http://www.seat61.com/.

I would definitely try to minimize the number of connections, and try to do the entire air journey with one airline. This will reduce the chances of your luggage getting lost, and make it easier to try and track your luggage if it does get lost.
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Old 02-10-07, 10:21 PM   #7
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I have often found that flying to Amsterdam is the least expensive way to get to Europe, at least from Toronto. I have used major airlines, including Air Canada, and also the charters, like Martinair.

I have found deals to London, but then there is the expense and hassle of getting from England to the rest of Europe. I once bought a ticket from a travel agent that included a one-way train ticket from London to Paris via the chunnel!

But normally, I find Amsterdam the best jump-off for European tours. For reasons I do not fully understand, travelling from Holland to other destinations in continental Europe is trivially easy. Hop on an overnight train and you are there! (And of course, Holland is a lekker biking destination in its own right.)

A couple of years ago I lucked into a surprisingly cheap flight from Toronto to Zurich! On the way back, I had to fly home from Milan with a stopover in Frankfurt, but it was a small price to pay.... especially since I was cycling from Zurich to Milan! So if it's Switzerland you want to get to, keep your eyes peeled for specials.
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Old 02-11-07, 09:16 AM   #8
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I second the suggestion of using www.kayak.com . It is a superb tool for finding the cheapest airfares available. The cheapest tickets to international destinations from the USA are frequently from sources other than the airlines themselves, and kayak will show these alternative sources (e.g. Orbitz, cheaptickets.com). However, from the USA, it has been consistently cheaper in recent years to fly to Frankfurt (FRA) than to Paris. Munich (MUC) is another possibility for you. Summer airfares between North American & Europe have remained extremely high in recent years, and it's possible you may not find anything cheaper than $1,000 in mid-summer. By the way, I've used the train connection at Frankfurt airport, and it is excellent, even though I otherwise hate that airport.

If you end up flying to Frankfurt or Munich, you can buy cheap train tickets to anywhere in Germany or Switzerland on the Deutsche Bahn (railroad) website, www.bahn.de . There are language links on the left side of their homepage. You need to buy your ticket online and in advance, and only a limited number of cheap seats are available. However, you can get a great bargain. (You can also get great deals on French trains via www.sncf.com, the French railroad website, but not to Zurich or most other places outside of France.) The German railroads seem to have a marketing arrangement with the Swiss railroads.
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Old 02-11-07, 10:33 PM   #9
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1. Use a site like kayak or orbitz to find the least expensive flights and routes.
2. Then check the resulting airlines website directly.
3. Check their bike policy
4. Book directly with the airline
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