Trip Report: 23 Hour Layovers in Athens, Dubrovnik, Zagreb

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I just flew an award that saw me fly four flights in four days between four countries. The award cost 15,000 United miles + $73.

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  • How much can you really do in 23 hours in a city?
  • How much time is eaten up traveling?
  • What are the costs of getting to and from the airport?
  • What happens with your bags?

United has a bit of a loophole that you can fly four segments within Europe for 15,000 miles if you are never on the ground for more than 23:59 between flights. In April, I booked myself this four-segment routing from Bucharest to Zurich, and I flew it this week.

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While I normally like to travel slowly–I had just spent three weeks in Bucharest and four in Belgrade–I also like to mix in this rapid travel from time to time. My theory is that I can do 1-3 awesome things in each place and gauge quickly and cheaply whether I’d like to come back for a longer future trip (Dubrovnik) or whether I’ve seen enough (Brussels.)

How Much Can You Really Do In 23 Hours?

Athens in 22:10

I had 22 hours in Athens. I arrived to my hostel just before 11 PM and went to the rooftop bar for a drink. The rooftop had an amazing view of the lit Acropolis, and I enjoyed meeting a few other solo travelers. The bartender sent me off in the direction of nightlife, but I got lost, and just enjoyed wandering around a bit. I got a good feeling for the atmosphere of Athens on a summer evening.

In the morning I set off on a 2.5 hour “free” (plus gratuity) walking tour of the variety that is now in pretty much every European city. It was an interesting overview of the historical sites, though we didn’t enter any. When the tour ended, I finally went into some sites: the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Acropolis Museum, the Acropolis (Parthenon), and the Ancient Agora.

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Then I had some awesome Indian takeaway for a very late lunch and headed to the airport.

I think Athens is a great place for a 23 hour layover. You can easily see many of the main historical sites, have some Greek food, and drink a little ouzo.

Dubrovnik in 20:05

I had 20 hours in Dubrovnik. I got to my hostel around 10 PM and headed into the Old Town, which is one of the most beautiful places on Earth for a stroll. Two years ago I had cliff jumped at sunset, so I wanted to cliff jump at sunrise. I went to the bar–I think it is just called Cold Drinks–that you have to pass through to get to the cliff jumping rocks. They said their gate wouldn’t open until 8 AM, so my sunrise cliff jump plans were shelved. I headed to bed and set my alarm for 10 AM.

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I jumped for three hours the next day, making friends with the other travelers and locals who were cycling through to test their nerve on the 6 to 14 meter cliffs.

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At around 1 PM, I went for lunch and then took a bus back to the airport.

Dubrovnik is perfect for me for a 23 hour layover. For others, it might not be as good of a fit, but you’ll definitely have enough time to wander the Old Town, walk its walls, take a Game of Thrones tour, have a night out, and maybe even cliff jump.

Zagreb in 19:05

I had 19 hours in Zagreb. I got to the hostel and showered for a Friday night out, which was my top priority. I met up with MileValue reader Max, and we spent the evening drinking pivo in front of a bar packed with locals overflowing onto the street in front.

It was a late night, and in the morning I headed straight back to the airport.

Zagreb is not really the best place for a 23 hour layover because there isn’t that one big thing you can check off in under a day like you could in, say, Paris or Amsterdam or Athens. But I enjoyed myself.

Travel Time and Cost

Including my Uber to the Bucharest airport, my flight to Athens, and the metro to my hostel in Athens, I was traveling for 4:50 on the first day. I paid $11 for the Uber and $16 for the roundtrip metro in Athens.

Including the metro to the airport, the flight to Dubrovnik, and a taxi to my hostel, I spent 4:15 minutes traveling the second day. I split a way-overpriced taxi to Dubrovnik–my share was $19–instead of using the $5 bus because it wasn’t leaving for another 40 minutes. I took the $5 bus back.

Including the bus to the airport, the flight to Zagreb, the bus to the city, and a 2 km walk to my hostel, I traveled 4:40 the third day. The bus in Zagreb is $4 each way.

Including the walk, bus to the airport, flight to Zurich, and train to my host’s house, I spent 4:15 traveling on the fourth day. The train was $7.

My travel time averaged about four and a half hours per day. My total airport transportation costs were $66 plus the $73 in taxes on my award.

What Happens with Your Bags?

I am traveling with one checked bag because I am carrying my tennis rackets around the world. I didn’t want to have to collect it and re-check it in every city because that would eat into my time. Luckily I didn’t have to.

At the Bucharest airport, I pro-actively asked the agent: “Can you check this bag all the way to Zurich?” She asked if I was sure I wanted it to go all the way there instead of getting it in Athens. I confirmed that I didn’t want to see the bag again until the end of the four flights, and I had packed in such a way that I didn’t need anything in the checked bag for the next few days.

She printed a baggage sticker with all four flights and affixed it to my bag.

She could only check me in for my first two segments (the ones within 24 hours), so I had to check in again in Dubrovnik to get boarding passes 3 and 4.

When I checked in in Dubrovnik, the agent asked where my checked bag was. I said that I hadn’t seen it since Bucharest and didn’t expect to see it until Zurich. She said it was not on the plane or in the system. She suggested I go to Lost Baggage. I said that I would deal with it in Zurich, since I didn’t consider it lost unless /until it failed to show up at the end of the trip.

In Zurich, the bag failed to show up, as I was anticipating based on my conversation in Dubrovnik. I went to the Swissport lost baggage center and filed a claim. They gave me a receipt for my claim, some forms to fill out if the bag were still lost in three days, and a free amenity kit.

A few hours later, I got a call that the bag was found, and it was delivered to me.

I recommend traveling without a checked bag on these itineraries. If you must have one, you can check it to the end or collect it at each stop. If you check it to the end, they may lose it, but you’ll probably get it eventually.

Bottom Line

I wouldn’t want to fly every day, but it’s fun for a few days. If you are planning a two week trip the Europe, why not spend five days in each of two cities and break that up with one of these four-segment awards? They are cheap, fun, and you can accomplish a lot in 23 hours minus travel time.

 


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12 COMMENTS

  1. Awesome. Personally, I know I’d want more time in each of those cities, despite having been to Dubrovnik and Zagreb a few too many times.

    Karlovačko or Ožujsko ? 🙂

  2. Great trip report to show what is possible with a single award! I have done a few of these too, but never with checked bags. That’s pretty new to me( Panama and Hong Kong are very easy too with great 24 hour connections)…

    I hope united will not kill this type of award for the foreseeable future.

  3. I love 23-hour layovers. They are most practical when flying as you did within and between countries that are hubs for Star Alliance carriers (if you are always having to backtrack to Vienna or Germany to get anywhere that does get to be a lot of airplanes and airports, if you can even get the seats booked).

    I definitely wouldn’t want to do it with a checked bag; I always seem to have bad luck with that. Glad you got your tennis rackets back OK.,

  4. I’ve done this type of itinerary on a few business trips, minus the tourist sites (add business meetings). No thanks – too much time spent en route to and inside airports, very little time left for anything else besides eating, sleeping, etc.

    Better strategy – add an extra day or two at the beginning of your trip, or on a single stopover.

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