Reviews Trips

The planning: A 10 day buddy trip to Athens, Istanbul, and Brussels with a side of Emirates A380 First and 777-300ER Game Changer First Class.

two men sitting in chairs on an airplane

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My buddy Dave has been my best friend for 25 years, and prior to the pandemic, we’d gone on yearly international buddy trips. In 2010, while in India for a friend’s wedding, we started a tradition of kissing the Wonders of the World, or at least exceptional pieces of human history.  It all began with the Taj Mahal, and almost 13 years later, we’ve managed to tick off a lot of them: Petra, Great Pyramid of Giza, Great Wall of China, Christ the Redeemer, as well as Angkor Wat. While Hagia Sophia and the Parthenon aren’t officially part of the 7 wonders of the world, we had really wanted to visit them.

two men kissing each other

The Itinerary:

We knew we wanted to see the Acropolis, Hagia Sophia, and Blue Mosque. The rest was up in the air.

When I started putting together the itinerary, a little voice in the back of my head thought it could be a great opportunity to experience another “Wonder of the World”  Emirates new First Class on the 777-300ER from Dubai into Europe.

Istanbul isn’t too far away from Dubai, and as I began to research, I found that there was a ton of award space on the A380 into Dubai.  You see Dave had never been on an A380, nor had he stepped foot onto an Emirates plane. What if we flew from Istanbul to Brussels via Dubai and bookend Emirates A380 with the Game Changer first class into Brussels.

Ultimately this was the itinerary

  • Depart Atlanta ( my home city )
  • 3 nights in Athens
  • 3 nights in Istanbul
  • 1 night transiting in Dubai
  • 1 night in Brussels
  • Depart Brussels
    • Dave via plane
    • Zach via train to London

I had originally planned this trip to start in Istanbul. In early December, Turkish released 2 tickets from Atlanta to Istanbul on the 787-9 and we booked them for just 45k Turkish miles ( Citi Thank You, Capital One Miles, Bilt Rewards ). Dave booked a ticket to meet me in Atlanta and the starting point was set.

two men sitting in a chair

However, as I began to tinker with the trip and uncovered the A380 award space from Istanbul to Dubai. I kept thinking that the connecting flight from Istanbul to Athens would open up and we could just call in and change it.

We’d pay a small fee, but the award rate would stay the same.

Unfortunately, roughly a week before departure, it hadn’t opened up, and we decided that instead of flying into Turkey, having a very long layover, and possibly having to go through immigration, ( it’s possible they would have just checked us through with two separate bookings, but you never know with Turkish phone reps ), we decided to book a different combo of flights.

Lufthansa had award space on the A340 and I knew it would be very inferior to the Turkish 789 we had booked, but it would get us into Athens by 2pm and we’d have an afternoon to hang out. While the flight wasn’t anything to write home about, we had an amazing time in Athens that afternoon and I’m glad we started the trip off this way.

two men sitting in an airplane holding wine glasses

We even managed to hit two of the top bars in the world: The Clumsies and Baba Au Rum which were just 10 minutes from the hotel.

The Flights

I will go into how I found award space and booked all of the flights below as I wade through the reviews, but this is what we booked, paid, and flew.

  • Lufthansa Business Class A340-300 Atlanta to Frankfurt
    • Booked with 63k Avianca Lifemiles + $50
    • Dave booked with 70k Aeroplan miles
  • Lufthansa Business Class A320neo Frankfurt to Athens
    • Part of the same booking above
  • Turkish Business Class 787-9 Athens to Istanbul
    • Booked with 11,300 Turkish Miles
  • Emirates First Class A380 Istanbul to Dubai
    • 72k Emirates Skywards and + $400 in taxes in fees
  • Emirates First Class 777-300ER Dubai to Brussels
    • 85k Emirates Skywards + $400 in taxes and fees
      • This was booked a few days prior to deval and would now cost 102k Skywards
    • 126k Emirates Skywards + $400 in taxes and fees
      • This was my ticket ( I booked a business class ticket, post deval at 87k then upgraded with 39k ).
  • United Polaris Business Class Brussels to Chicago
    • 81k Singapore Krisflyer ( Dave had miles that were due to expire and didn’t forsee using them prior to their new extension ).

Needless to say…this was by far the most insane experience ever.

a man sitting on a couch with a computer behind him

The Hotels

I would undoubtedly stay at every single one of the hotels we booked on this trip again. I must say, the Grande Bretagne really left an impression on both of us though. Truly a gem.

a fire in a fireplace overlooking a city
View from the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens, Greece

Trains

  • Eurostar Standard Premier from Brussels to London
    • $216

a train with seats and a woman standing in the background

Overall

I’m going to review the flights, hotels, trains with how I went about booking and routing in each of the separate posts, but I’m also going to include some exceptional dining experiences we had along the way, a couple of tour companies that we liked, and how I executed the Emirates upgrade.

I’m hoping to have everything reviewed and published over the next month!

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

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