A Last Minute Bargain To Budapest Part 1: Straight Outta London

Introduction and Planning

I needed to get away. Working a shift pattern of insanity with only myself to blame, my boss had convinced me to claim back the extra time I’d been working. She’d pencilled me in a nice four day weekend but I knew that if I spent it at home, it was only a matter of time before five minutes checking my email turned into a day and that one politely answered call would mean half an hour on the phone. Then it hit me; sat on my daily commute home to Kent I gazed out the window and the sun was setting a glorious summer red. I knew there must be more out there in this wonderful world, so I fired up my laptop in search of inspiration. Where might my Avios take me? Surely they had something better in mind for me than scrubbing someone’s toilet… *

*That view may not have been the same as my employers!

As usual Anne-So was not convinced by my plan as we were booked to visit her family in France just two weeks after that sunset illuminated my mind to the possibility of a proper holiday. The football season was over and my sister-in-law was due to give birth at any moment so I was convinced we’d either experience the rush and excitement surrounding the birth of a new born baby or end up watching paint dry for a week. I suggested that I’d probably end up continuing to work as it would be more productive than watching the paint. This argument was even more pathetic and poorly received than “Screw the money, let’s just go away!”

The weekend came along and I was making some progress at least, Anne-So had given me a list of places she’d consider visiting over that long weekend. Whilst she went off to work I had appointed myself the job of firing up BA.com and creating one of my infamous holiday spreadsheets. After cross referencing my list against reward flight availability I messaged my friend S who back then seemed to visit a new country every month with, “Budapest, Dublin, Madrid, Lisbon, Munich, Warsaw or Brussels?” With a lightning fast reply, she came back to me with Budapest or maybe Brussels.

My next job was to scour the net for cheap accommodation and Dublin was immediately ruled out. I then drew down further into the detail and the available flight times to Brussels were pretty awful to get the most out a long weekend, so Budapest was the clear winner! Using a decade of sales experience, I successfully unleashed my dangerously persuasive sympathy close and at around 01:00 Monday morning our trip was booked for 55,000 Avios and £100 of cold, hard cash.

I spent the next two days checking Chowhound for dining recommendations and then my entire commute on the morning of our trip reading the Lonely Planet Budapest guide. I asked S for some last minute tips and another colleague also called S who’d also been to Budapest if he had any recommendations. This was the point when it kicked in and I think the only polite way to say it is that most people don’t document their travel with the same level of detail that I do… I know I’ve definitely scared a few friends, family and colleagues over the years with my holiday OCD but honestly I just can’t help myself! If one day S and S ever read this tale, the travel card was a great idea and if we’d had a few more days it would have been amazing to visit one of Budapest’s famous hot spring baths and a few of the ruin pubs.

Departure

At long last the point of departure was fast approaching, though no amount of staring at my suitcase and looking out the window would make it go any faster.

Thankfully the crowds thinned out as I headed west, leaving only world weary travellers and a few locals in my tube car… Struggling to stay awake and knowing Anne-So had won the race to the airport I spent the above ground part of my journey chatting to colleagues and closing off last minute odds and ends whilst everyone kept telling me to stop working, which was probably just a polite way of saying leave me alone.

However, as soon as the tube pulled into Heathrow I turned off my work phone mid conversation, holiday time had finally arrived!

After stupidly trying to use the lift and getting crowded out by tourists entering from the wrong side, I ended up on the escalators.

There was just one more escalator up following that purple paradise and on reaching its summit I’d finally escaped from the maze of tunnels and out into the summer evening light. I crossed the courtyard and tried not to inhale the nicotine filled air, as for many this was either their first or last opportunity to light up.

I entered Zone G to find Anne-So waiting impatiently for me.

As was often the case the Club desks looked to be moving slowly and the phrase more money, more problems came to mind. So waiving our privilege, we sensibly checked in at a free economy desk instead. Disappointingly our bored looking check in agent that evening was decidedly non-plussed that we were flying with British Airways. She made no mention of the lounge, fast track and worst of all we did not even get priority tags to remind the baggage handlers to interfere with our luggage and ensure it was the last to be loaded on to the reclaim belts at the other end. The horror!

We exited the check in zone via the escalator and made our way to security.

Fast Track would have been fast that night but Anne-So ruined it with a stray bottle of water hidden deep in her backpack.

British Airways Galleries Club
Access For oneworld First Class, Business Class and Emerald or Sapphire Status

We headed to the lounge and found a comfortable spot next to some rather drunk Emirates passengers who were allowed to use the BA lounge back then whilst their own airline was refurbishing its facilities.

The lady in the couple started to juggle some fruit and the both of them were rocking through the drinks at lightning speed.
We both picked up some food from the buffet as we were not feeling 100% confident in what BA had in store for us on board.
The chicken curry and beef chilli made for a tasty topping to my jacket potato and I enjoyed a fruity glass of 2011 Chinon to the wash it down.

Flight: BA870 London to Budapest
Depart: LHR 20:55
Arrive: BUD 23:30
Seats: 3D and 3F (Club Europe – Business Class)
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200 Reg Unknown

We boarded our flight that night from Gate 9 which was handily close to the lounge. It initially looked like we might be a little late boarding but in the end it was fine as we happily blazed right through the priority line just as boarding was about to start.

It was a longish walk down the jet bridge and we enjoyed the typical high quality BA welcome that was sadly absent earlier when we checked in for our flight.
Alongside increasingly dense seating arrangements on shorthaul aircraft and going to watch the football there are at least a few times in my life where I’m thankful for having fairly short legs.

We settled into Row 3 on this Airbus A320-200 aircraft and enjoyed the usual plane-spotting opportunities during our taxi and take off past Terminal 5. That evening we saw the regular Terminal 3 gate mates we’d become familiar with: The four engined whale of an Emirates A380 and the smaller Virgin Atlantic A330-200 or was it a 777-200? As we moved on to the taxi way I saw the rarer sight of an El-Al 777-200, an SAS A320-200 and finally as we were about to take off a mirror image of our own aircraft, a BA A320-200.

We were soon up and away, flying into a beautiful sunset over Heathrow with heavenly pinkish red clouds that would not have been out of place in the art work of Turner or even an Italian Master.

Is there any better start to an overdue long weekend?

Our aircraft then continued upwards through the snowy, white peaks of cotton wool clouds.

Hot towels soon followed the extinguishing of the seat belt signs and not long after that we were treated to our first drinks run of the flight.

I chose a refreshing G & T which back when we took this flight disappointingly consisted of regular Gordon’s Gin and basic Schweppes Tonic Water, thankfully both offerings have improved significantly over the last five years.

Anne-So went with a classic BA Bloody Mary.
Our drinks were accompanied by the familiar bag of Out of Africa salted nuts.

There’s nothing like a good strong drink to get one in the holiday spirit and by this time I’d had enough Club Europe sectors under my belt to avoid the novelty of the highly acidic Heidsieck & Co Monopole Blue Top Champagne! Another drink offering that in my opinion has improved over the last few years.

Dinner was served and I opted for the chicken.
Anne-So opted for a rather nicely presented prawn salad.
The food did the job for dinner mark two and a red wine induced haze followed by the time the cheese kicked in.

We found the dessert tasted best with the oat cake dipped in to it and an increasingly improving BA brewed coffee tried to sober me up as we headed over some city, somewhere over Central Europe with it’s lights shining out in the otherwise pitch black sky.

Shortly after sipping the last of our coffee ten minutes to landing was called. We touched down smoothly and the passengers in front of us were having quite the conversation, one I felt was definitely not fit to be shared here, let alone on an aircraft. We disembarked and made it through passport control in about a minute. There was a short wait for our baggage, proving once and for all priority tags mean absolutely nothing!

We then exited the terminal into the mild Hungarian night to take a Főtaxi to our hotel for the night. Főtaxi reads an awful lot like Faux Taxi in French which translates as Fake Taxi in English and though it may not be funny to you in made our just sober selves laugh quite a bit. Thankfully our ride was true and even though our driver was friendly we were probably not the best company as by then it was after midnight local time.

A Last Minute Bargain To Budapest

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