Booked: Spain 2021
With the chance that I'll be able to make my New Years trip to Japan, Thailand, and South Korea dwindling every day, and with a missed flight to Yellowknife, I had the urge to visit somewhere new.
I've been to almost every country in Western Europe, with Spain being a glaring omission.
I will spend ten days visiting Barcelona, Madrid, and day trips to surrounding Spanish cities in November and December.
Planning: The Route
As with many of my trips, I booked this last minute. Initially thinking of visiting Hawaii, I decided against this due to the high cost of Covid testing, restrictions, and hotel pricing. Testing and the restrictions have both since changed, but I digress.
The EU has very friendly entry requirements for vaccinated travelers coming from certain countries, Canada being one of them. No pre-arrival test is required, only proof of vaccination and sometimes a signed attestation.
Spain is no exception to the EU's travel restrictions and only requires a form filled out 48 hours before arrival.
To complicate matters, I needed round-trip business class seats for two people. Luckily, Lufthansa offers plenty of business seats on their Munich and Frankfurt routes ex-Canada. I was able to snag two seats on their A350 nonstop service to Munich.
Sure, Lufthansa has a very outdated business class hard product, but I have always been impressed with their soft product. Lufthansa is my second most flown airline, and I'm eager to fly them again. Vancouver to Munich nonstop will be my longest flight ever flown, edging out my frequent nonstops to Frankfurt by a mere 140 miles.
This trip will also allow me to try out Air Dolomiti, Lufthansa's Italian subsidiary and new partner to the Aeroplan program. The flight from Munich to Barcelona is a Lufthansa route, however, it is being operated by Air Dolomiti as a wetlease arrangement.
The journey is constructed as an open jaw, consisting of two one-way flights. I fly into Barcelona and out of Madrid.
The return trip is a conglomeration of confusion and a long day traveling. Even though Air Canada's shift to dynamic pricing is generally seen as a negative, some excellent deals can be found on low-demand routes.
I constructed an itinerary transiting through Frankfurt, Montreal, and Toronto to Vancouver, exclusively Air Canada business and one Lufthansa economy class, priced out to 52 thousand points each, well under the published range. At 22 hours, this might be a record for the longest trans-Atlantic trip, but for someone who loves flying as much as I do, I cannot be more excited.
Barcelona: November 25 - 30
Barcelona is the capital of the Catalan province, with its own language and long-running history campaigning for independence. Barcelona has more character due to this unique feature which the residents are very proud of. Beaches are packed in the summer, and distinct architecture attracts plentiful tourists from all over the world.
I expect Barcelona to be similar to Montreal - a unique area with protected language and passionate people campaigning for independence.
When I think of Barcelona hotels, one comes to mind: W Barcelona. As a Category 8 Marriott property, it commands the highest points per night. I'm a massive W brand fan, but paying Category 8 prices is difficult to do.
As I will visit shoulder season, cash rates were more manageable, at around $450/night. Points were off the table this time around, and I elected to pay cash, taking advantage of American Express' Marriott offers, providing a respectable $150 cashback. While the W is famous for its pool parties, I'm not holding my breath due to gathering restrictions and the weather.
Even though the W is one of my bucket list items, it is far enough away from the city's center to be a little annoying. The final two nights will have me visit Le Meridien Barcelona, right in the heart of the city on La Rambla.
La Rambla is a tree line pedestrian street, central to all tourist destinations in Barcelona.
Madrid: November 30 - December 5
Madrid will be my home base for the last five days of the trip. It's Spain's capital, home to the government and the royal family. It has a more traditional Spanish feel compared to Barcelona, and they speak Castilian Spanish.
The city is known for its museums, palaces, and parks and an excellent home base for day trips to surrounding smaller Spanish towns.
I put in a lot of thought in the best way from Barcelona to Madrid. Flights are cheap, sometimes running around $30 one way on Iberia or Vueling. Interestingly, Air Europa, a Spanish low-cost holiday destination airline, runs a 787 twice daily, with lie-flat seats in the business.
Another option is the train, Renfe. Spain has an extensive high-speed rail network, second only to China. Trains also benefit from running much more frequently, and the stations are only a short walk from the hotel in Barcelona and accommodation in Madrid. No airport security needed here!
It's become second nature for me to check the business class prices over the economy, as sometimes the difference is minimal. The same is with trains - I was surprised to see first-class options being a small amount more than a full-flex economy class. With that, we booked onto Renfe's high-speed commuter train between Barcelona and Madrid in first class. The journey will take just over two and half hours, and I'm eager to get on my first high-speed train after my French TGV journey didn't pan out in March 2020.
Treating Madrid more as a "base" and hotel prices being a little too high, I have selected an Airbnb in the Centro neighbourhood, only two blocks from Plaza Mayor. Airbnbs are a great way to "live more like a local" away from the standard hotel experience. I was sure to book through the British Airways online store for approximately 3 Avios per dollar.
Madrid is central and offers more opportunities for day trips compared to Barcelona. I will spend a day in the UNESCO-listed heritage sites in Segovia, visiting the Roman aqueducts and another day in Avila.
Segovia was an Iberian settlement from about 700 BCE until it was captured about 80 BCE by the Romans. Its main attraction is a Roman aqueduct and commands an extensive list of history, including important battles.
Avila is a distinctive city in Spain, encircled by medieval walls and home to more history and remains of the Romans.
This will be a trip to remember. The traveling will be a fun aspect, consisting of a fun plane routing, stay in the W Barcelona, and first-class travel on high-speed trains. What's more, we will be exploring a new culture and day trips to some of Spain's most exciting cities.