Spain & Portugal Vacations
Picking up a car at Lisbon airport, we traveled to the Alentejo (2 nights), then crossed into western Spain to visit Extremadura (3 nights) and Salamanca (2 nights). Returning to Portugal, we briefly revisited the upper Douro Valley (1 night), then based ourselves in Viseu (3 nights) to visit Coimbra and the Serra de Estrela. Dropping the car at the airport, we spent 3 relaxed days in Lisbon, then flew to frenetic Barcelona (3 nights) before returning home.
Now read on...
We are an older Canadian couple, aged 62 and 71, who love travel and visit Europe twice a year on average. (I actually booked two additional week-long trips this year – February and May – to London, on family business. But that’s another story.)
The genesis of our trip was as follows: Winter-haters, we generally take a Spring trip in western Europe after our winter in Savannah GA, to take advantage of low season fares, the wide-open availability of hotels and vacation rentals – and to avoid the last ugly traces of an Ottawa winter.
After we returned from an autumn trip to Puglia and Provence on November 5, 2014, we were anxious to get south to our winter refuge in Savannah. We left for Georgia by car on November 28. And how glad we were to be away from our home city of Ottawa, Ontario for those months! Like much of the Northeast USA, Eastern Canada experienced its worst winter in recent memory.
We had left Canada with no idea where we’d end up on our Spring jaunt – we normally wait until the New Year to see what seat sales or other travel deals may be announced. We just knew we wanted to avoid winter at all costs!
In January, while we were still down south, Air France announced a surprise five-day sale on business-class flights from Montreal to certain European cities. For members of their Flying Blue plan, return business class fares were reduced by 50%, from 65, 000 points to 32, 500 points.
Since a return economy-class flight costs 25, 000 points, this was a real bargain – at least, for those able to comply with the offer’s rather strict criteria: Immediate booking for a Spring departure from Montreal airport to a limited number of destinations.
Fortunately, the criteria suited us and we had almost the full number of points required for the trip. I did a quick search on Air France’s website to determine which destination offered the best connections and which destination offered the greatest saving over the normal business-class ticket price. It turned out that Lisbon gave the most bang for the buck: a return business-class fare normally costs about $4200 Canadian.
Taxes and purchasing points to top-up our existing Flying Blue balance cost a few hundred dollars per ticket. We were able to book “open jaws” tickets with this offer and elected to fly to Lisbon but to return from Barcelona – a far more convenient set of flights, with an 11 AM departure rather than the Lisbon flight’s 6 AM departure.