"Flug ins Blaue" - Mystery flight with Germanwings

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Mattg

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I don't know about you, but I've always wanted to one day just rock up at an airport and say "Surprise me! Put me on the next flight to anywhere!"

That's always been a dream of mine, but never anything more... until now. Well, almost. Let me explain.

I recently discovered the Germanwings "mystery flight" deal. Germanwings, the low-cost carrier for Lufthansa, offers these "blind booking" flights for a set price of €33 (< AUD$50) each way, or €66 return, regardless of where you end up.

This sounded like a great deal, and I didn't have anything planned for the next few days... so I decided to give it a try!

But were there any catches?

To make a long story short: Yes, but make of them what you will.

Catch#1: You don't get to choose the destination. You won't know exactly where you're going until after you've paid, and guess what - there are no refunds if you're unhappy.

I went onto the Germanwings website, selected the mystery flight option and entered the dates I wanted. You do get to pick your dates, but...

Catch #2: You can't select a time of day. So, for example, if you wanted to have a weekend away, and selected to fly out on Saturday and return on Sunday, you might get a Saturday morning/Sunday evening combination, or you could get a late flight on Saturday night, returning first thing Sunday morning. Which basically defeats the purpose of going.

With my dates selected (flying out the next day and returning 3 days later) I was presented with a list of possible destinations and asked if there was anywhere on that list I really didn't want to go. Gee, this is great, I thought. On the list of possible destinations ex Berlin were:

Zagreb
Vienna
Milan
Nuremberg
Rijeka
Memmingen/Allgäu
Ibiza
Rome
Malaga
Catania (Sicily)
Cologne/Bonn
Verona
Split
Nice
Pula
Helsinki
Klagenfurt
Dubrovnik
Birmingham
Bologna
Paris

There are some really cool places on that list! I was hoping for somewhere in Italy or Spain, but I would have been happy with almost any of those. One place I wasn't too keen on though was Memmingen. No problem, I could exclude it... But,

Catch #3: There is a €5 fee per destination to do that. Screw that, I thought - if I ended up in somewhere like Memmingen (aka. the middle of nowhere) then so be it!

So with my dates locked in and no destinations excluded, I was ready to book.

Catch #4: As with most low-cost carriers, if you want anything other than a seat, e.g. luggage or even the privelege of choosing your own seat, you would have to pay extra. The luggage add-on wasn't cheap either at €14.99 per bag (up to 23kg), per flight. So you're basically looking at €30 for the return trip. Adding a 32kg bag would be a whopping €64.99 per flight. Lufthansa Miles & More points were included, however. Not that I have an account with them, so that's pretty useless to me.

I added absolutely nothing, so the final price should have been €66, right? Well, not quite.

Catch #5: There is a €9.90 credit card surcharge, except when paying by direct debit... which I was not eligible to do. I guess Catch #5 was also a Catch 22... I think this is the same with all Germanwings bookings, but seriously, that's ridiculous! The surcharge was 15% in this case.

Thankfully there were only 5 catches that I could see so far. And you know what? I could live with them, begrudgingly or otherwise. So I paid the €75.90 (around $110 Aussie dollars) and eagerly awaited my itinerary to find out where I would actually be spending the next 3 days...

In German, "Flug ins Blaue" (the title of this thread) means "flight into the unknown". And that's exactly what this was going to be. I love a good adventure! :cool:

To be continued...
 

Bolthead

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I haven't flown on them for a while however I love Germanwings. Holding my breathe for the next installment.
 
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Mattg

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The itinerary arrived in my inbox and I found at that I would be flying to... Cologne-Bonn Airport in Germany. That wasn't my first choice (I would have preferred somewhere I hadn't been to before) but I was still happy. At least it wasn't Memmingen. (Ok I'm sorry, I'll stop bagging out Memmingen from now on!)

I spent the afternoon planning what I would do there for three days and booking trains, hostels etc. I decided that because I've already been to Cologne, this time I would stay in the other city which the airport services, Bonn. After 2 nights in Bonn, I will catch a train to Luxembourg, where I will spend the afternoon, and stay overnight in the nearby German city of Trier. I've heard Trier is very nice but other than that I know nothing about it so far. On Wednesday morning I'll catch the train to Cologne before heading back to the airport later that afternoon.

The flight to Cologne-Bonn was on Sunday evening. Late in the afternoon I caught the TXL bus, which was once again completely full, out to Tegel Airport - which was also completely full. It's quite clear in my opinion that Tegel is now operating well above its intended capacity and should have been closed several years ago. Having seen the new, much nicer and much bigger Brandenburg Airport earlier in the week, I think most people would agree that the sooner it opens, the better.


Outbound flight: 4U21 Berlin (Tegel) - Cologne/Bonn
Airbus A319 | D-AGWF
Departure time: 19:50 (Actual 19:45)
Arrival time: 21:00 (Actual 20:45)

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My first ever flight with Germanwings was quite possibly the most uneventful flight I've ever taken. (And I've flown between CBR and SYD regularly.)

The plane seemed fairly new and clean. The first 3 rows were "Best" seats, which I guess is Germanwings' version of business class. They are basically just economy seats with a blocked (not physically, as in nobody is allocated it) middle seat. Snacks and drinks are also included with "Best". I don't really understand why you would bother, as it would be cheaper to pay for 2 seats and buy snacks onboard. Then again, I don't think I'll ever really understand the point of many business class offerings on European short-haul flights.

Despite being on a deep discount fare, I was allocated a window seat towards the front of the plane in one of the rows which had extra legroom (I think this was the first 8 or 10 rows). With that in mind the legroom was quite good - better than I expected from a low cost carrier - but I'm not sure I'd want to sit in that seat for too many hours. It was the thinnest airline seat I've ever seen.

We pushed back a little early and took off towards the west. After leaving Berlin there wasn't much to see with all the clouds in the way, and not much to do with the lack of any in-flight entertainment. The flight attendants went around and gave everyone flying on the more expensive fares a snack, before quickly going around to the rest to ask if they wanted to buy something, which I didn't. With 1 passenger in Best, and the rest of the plane around 50% full, they didn't have to work too hard. The flight attendants seemed professional but I barely interacted with them.

50 minutes later we had already arrived in Cologne-Bonn Airport, ahead of schedule.

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As I said, this was probably the most uneventful flight I've ever taken. It wasn't anything special, but I have nothing to complain about. It was a true no-frills experience for me but they got me there safely and punctually. I did miss having things like lounge access and a complimentary snack on the plane (like I would have got on airberlin), but for €33 what more could I want?
 

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I was quite surprised to discover that there is no S-Bahn service between CGN and Bonn Hbf, like there is to Köln Hbf, but there was a direct bus. The SB60 bus took 40 minutes and cost €7.80.

Completing the trip to my first hostel with the Stadtbahn, I arrived at a place called BaseCamp. I don't normally talk about where I'm staying but I think this place deserves a special mention. The hostel is based inside and around a giant warehouse full of caravans, old cars, buses and even old train carriages. Inside the giant shed it almost feels like a caravan park in the United States.

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My room at this hostel is one of the sleeper compartments inside an old night train carriage. If you've ever been on an overnight train in Europe and slept in a 6 bed couchette, that's exactly what my room is. Obviously it's not the most comfortable room ever, but how's that for originality?!

The train carriage:
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And my room (photo taken at night, sorry about the darkness):
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There are even functional toilets at the ends of the carriage:
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Mattg

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I'm a big fan of walking tours and generally default to looking for a good walking tour when visiting a city for the first time. Unfortunately there don't appear to be any (publicly available guided tours, anyway) in Bonn, so I sort of made up my own this morning.

From my hostel I set out along the Museumsmeile towards the city. I had planned to visit the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (House of the history of [West] Germany) which for a museum looked very interesting, but little did I know, it's Monday and all the museums are closed...

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Das Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

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The Museum König (King's museum)

As I got closer to the city centre I strolled through the lovely Hofgarten and university.

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In the heart of the city I wandered through the historic, beautiful old town.

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Bonn's first claim to fame seems to be that it is the birthplace of Beethoven. At his birth house you can now find a museum and gift shop.

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Mattg

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After spending a few hours enjoying the atmosphere of the old town I headed towards the Rhein River and walked back along the waterfront towards the business/government district.

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In stark contrast to the beautiful historic buildings in the old town, this area is full of large, modern buildings, including a few skyscrapers. Bonn's second claim to fame is that it was the capital of West Germany and the German government sat here up until 1999. I had a look at the old parliament building, followed by the United Nations, Deutsche Welle and Deutsche Post buildings. This part of town actually reminded me a bit of Canberra, unfortunately - lots of government buildings but not that much to do.

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I noticed this statue of Konrad Adenauer - does anyone else find it a bit weird?

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In half a day I think I've seen just about all that Bonn has to offer. Of course, if I wasn't Monday I could have gone to a few museums but never mind. If you want to visit Bonn as a tourist, I would say that one day is probably enough, although it is a nice, relaxed city.

Tomorrow morning I'll head to Luxembourg.
 

boomy

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I like the concept of Germanwings mystery flight. Sounds like good fun when you have a few days off and nothing planned.
 

Bolthead

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Trier, is a lovely old town with some nice churches. It can be busy on the weekend and parking can be difficult. (Although I don't think that will bother you) Trier is the oldest city in Germany. You will enjoy Trier.
 

Inver

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Thanks for taking the time to write the TR.
I do miss the days when Qantas offerred mystery flights.
 

Mattg

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Thanks for taking the time to write the TR.
I do miss the days when Qantas offerred mystery flights.

Qantas used to offer them?! That would have been so much fun!

It would be great if they decided to start offering them again, although I think it would be likely with JQ (or even TT, but as far as I'm concerned every flight with TT is a mystery flight...)
 

eric2011

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The mystery flights were a fun way to spend a day. They also used to sell mystery nights. 1 or 2 night packages which was the return flight plus either 1 or 2 nights in a reasonable hotel. I did a number of those


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Remember the Kath and Kim episode where they had a mystery flight to …. Shepparton from memory but there was a strike so they ended up at the airport (and QP) for the weekend. Very funny and every time I hear of mystery flights I think of this.
 

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On Tuesday morning I left Bonn for Luxembourg. With Deutsche Bahn the trip cost €34 each way, which was actually €1 more than the Germanwings flight.

We got some lovely views of the German countryside along the way.

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I only spent one afternoon in Luxembourg but it was an afternoon well spent! I did a bike tour of the city which took in the old town, the city centre, the new business/government district and everything in between. Luxembourg City was a lot bigger than I was expecting - I think that for some reason I was expecting it to be a bit like Liechtenstein, but of course I now know better.

Some photos from the bike tour:
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Looking down onto the old town (Grund)

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The Luxembourg Philharmonie

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In the city centre

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Part of the city near the railway station

Just like Bonn, there was a clear contrast between the old and new parts of town. But I think I liked Luxembourg just a little bit more. It was all so beautiful. And the people were really friendly too.

One observation I had about Luxembourg was that it seemed quite confused in terms of language. Some signs were in French, others in German, Luxembourgish and English. I stopped at Subway (the sandwich shop) after I arrived and I think this pretty much summed up Luxembourg. I walked into the shop and the lady said "bonjour". I replied "Guten Tag" and asked if she spoke English or German when I noticed the menu was all in French. She said she spoke English, so I ordered my sandwich in English. While making my sandwich she spoke to her colleague in Luxembourgish. My receipt was in English, but the signs around the store ("Put your rubbish in the bin", "thanks for visiting, have a nice day" etc.) were all in German. Confused? So was I.

On the tour the guide pointed out a building in the old town which is actually the headquarters of Amazon. Apparently they do business in Luxembourg to avoid certain taxes.
 

Mattg

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After the tour I took a train to Trier, where I stayed overnight. Trier, which I have learnt is Germany's oldest city, was a very nice place and like Luxembourg I'd be happy to return. The old part of town was beautiful and there were some very impressive old Roman buildings. Being a Tuesday evening, there weren't too many tourists either, which was nice.

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Mattg

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On Wednesday I had to make my way back to CGN Airport for a mid-afternoon flight back to Berlin. I caught the train to Cologne, with a stopover in Koblenz. Unlike the connection in Koblenz the previous day (which was less than one minute due to the late arrival of the inbound train - surprising for Deutsche Bahn, I know - and resulted in me sprinting to the next platform to make the train just as the doors were closing) I had half an hour to spare. I decided to take a quick walk around town and made it as far as the palace.

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Based on my half hour there, I think Koblenz looked like a nice place with quite a bit to offer.

In Cologne I had allowed about an hour for lunch and a quick stroll. My last visit had left me with the impression that Cologne was just another boring industrial city, but I'll admit that my perception changed on Wednesday. I don't know if it was the nice weather, the crowds of happy tourists, or the bridge full of lovelocks, but Cologne felt like quite a charming, romantic city this time. I didn't really get that feeling last time. Maybe it was because the other time I had just come from Munich, the most charming city in Germany (and arguably Europe?).

The architecture and sheer size of the Dom right next to Köln Hbf continues to amaze me. If you only visit one church in Germany, see this one. It's so big, you can't even get the whole church in one photo.

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Mattg

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Return flight: 4U10 Cologne/Bonn - Berlin (Tegel)
Airbus A319 | D-AGWL
Departure time 15:55
Arrival time 17:05

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I really like CGN as an airport - it's actually a very nice airport with modern facilities and not overcrowded like Tegel.

My return flight with Germanwings was more or less the same as the outbound leg. The flight was on-time and uneventful. All 3 flight attendants were quite young; even the purser looked like he was in his 20s. They were more fun though than the crew on the other flight, smiling and actually talking to passengers.

We got some great views of Berlin on the approach to Tegel Airport.

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The flight was on time. I arrived back safely. And I paid €33. I really cannot complain! Although Germanwings is a low cost carrier, it seems they do actually care about customer service and I would probably not put them in the same basket as the likes of Ryanair. Sure, you have to pay extra for everything, but at least they treat their customers with respect.
 

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The verdict: Would I book a mystery flight again? Absolutely!

Next time however, I would do a bit more research and try to narrow down the possible destinations to ones which I really wanted to go to. Like most things, I've discovered a few tricks. For example, I discovered that Germanwings only flies to some of the destinations on that list once or twice a week. So, if I booked a flight on a different day, there would be no chance of going there. Alternatively, if I booked on the days they did fly there, the chances might be quite good. They also only have blind booking seats available on certain (empty) flights, a bit like how Qantas (as an example) only have limited award seats, so you are unlikely to be put onto a full flight. You also get access to the seat map before payment (as they want you to pay extra to choose a seat)... make of that what you like. And failing that, you can always pay the €5 to exclude a destination. ;)

I'll more than likely book another "Flug ins Blaue" sometime in the next few months. :)
 

dmitri

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You'll take too much "mystery" out if you play the days they fly to places you want to go to. Looks like a good way to spend a few days though.
 

Mattg

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You'll take too much "mystery" out if you play the days they fly to places you want to go to. Looks like a good way to spend a few days though.

Yeah, perhaps you're right. But based on the schedule, I think there's an 80% chance I would end up back in Cologne otherwise. They fly between Cologne and Berlin many times daily, whereas some destinations are only once a week. The only other daily flight from TXL is to Rome, but that's only once per day, not 7x daily like CGN is. Maybe I should just pay the €5 to exclude Cologne next time and then the rest can remain a mystery. ;)
 

JessicaTam

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A delightful adventure. Thanks for sharing it.

Something else to add to my list of things to do when in Germany next!
 
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