A five-month stay in Provence beckons. That is nice and all, but first—how to get there? More importantly, how to get there while minimizing costs? The village we will call home is about an hour’s drive from Avignon, so the specific problem becomes: how to get from Boston, not where we live, but point of departure, to Avignon. Transatlantic flight + Paris-Avignon flight + rental car was one obvious option. It was also a quickly rejected option since Paris-Avignon flights seemed nonexistent. Based on tips from our sons and their wives we settled on Flight + TGV + car rental.
Then came the searching. The ideal would have been a Boston-Paris nonstop. There seem to be very few of those. We found only one on Air France. Much though we like to fly Air France, the price for a roundtrip with our length of stay was never really competitive. Taking more advice from our children about websites to search, and finding some of our own, we began weeks of seeking. Sidestep, Mobissimo and FlyCheapAbroad ended up being our favorite search sites, with Mobissimo emerging as the most helpful for our particular itinerary. It led us to the bluntly named CheapOair which gave us the best price we found. It was for a USAIR flight through Philadelphia. USAIR is an airline we use a lot because it is a main carrier at our home airport in Albany New York, so we are familiar with it. Familiarity might not always breed contempt, but, let’s face it, airline service in general has greatly deteriorated. Also, Philadelphia is a great airport, for delays, that is. Making connections in Philadelphia is high on our avoidance list. The cost, though, even with the baggage fees, tipped the scales, and we hope things will turn out passably(a plane whose seats are not frayed, one with personal video monitors that work, and food that is at least edible). One extra hurdle associated with booking through CheapOair was the need to call for seat selection. This involved lengthy, about 45 minute, hold time and the necessity of a second call since the first operator had not assigned us the window/aisle seat requested on one flight. It is best to have a seat map of the plane handy in order to verify that the seats being suggested are indeed what was requested. USAIR does provide seating charts for its flights. SeatGuru.com is also very helpful for those who know the plane being used on a particular flight.
One advantage of arriving at Charles De Gaulle airport is that TGV, high-speed train, connections can be made right there. For the best prices on French railroads, it is best to use the SNCF (national railroad corporation) site. TGV tickets at discounted prices are known as PREM’s fares. As far as we could tell, these are only available via the French site. Identifying ourselves as US residents regularly looped us back to a site called RailEurope.com. This site does not seem to offer the deeply discounted tickets. So, for those who read French, or have a friend who does, staying on the SNCF site will save money. Since the tickets can be charged and can be printed out at home, using the French site brings no disadvantages other than that pesky one of being available only in French.
For car rentals, we checked the web sites of the usual suspects: Hertz, Avis, Europcar. Eventually, we settled on an American source, AutoEurope. For a two-day rental (we only need the car to get to the village, otherwise we will be experimenting with a mostly car-free, if not carefree, life) the cost seemed high by US standards, but the costs were consistently high at all the rental companies.
So, our trip is set.
Cheapo-Air for USAir tickets, Boston-Philadelphia-Paris
SNCF, PREM’s fare gotten via the French site for TGV tickets, first class (good for sleeping after a lengthy flight), one way, from Charles de Gaulle airport to Avignon’s TGV station.
Auto-Europe for a two-day rental, pick-up/drop-off at Avignon’s TGV station.
Then will come the problem, after unpacking and returning the rental car, of local bus transportation between Avignon to the village which will be our home. But that is a matter for another post.