Following up on hidden europe’s great post on budget air routes to the Baltic and the Balkans of two weeks ago, I thought I’d take a look at a very exciting aspect of the Air Baltic route map, namely, its inclusion of a range of former Soviet capital cities.
Caucasus and Central Asian destinations
For those well-traveled across much of Europe, the countries of the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) at the far southeastern corner of Europe and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are obvious next stops.
They’re on the edge or just beyond Europe, and they require relatively short transportation times from Central Europe. Unfortunately for budget travelers, they’re also, for the most part, poorly served by airlines and traditionally quite expensive to visit from much of Europe.
Air Baltic’s routes
Thankfully, Air Baltic makes these routes more manageable for budget travelers. The airline links a healthy list of capital cities across the former Soviet Union: Vilnius, Tallinn, Moscow, Minsk, Chisinau, Kiev, Baku, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Almaty (granted, no longer the capital of Kazakhstan, but by far the country’s biggest city), Bishkek, Tashkent and Dushanbe, all from its main base in Riga.
A connecting flight through Riga to one of these capital cities is also more often than not a cost-effective way to travel—not to mention an excuse to linger in the gorgeous Latvian capital for a few hours. (If you decide to travel via Riga to parts east and south and happen to have a longer layover on your hands, be sure to check out the EuroCheapo Riga guide.)
Flight fare comparison
I compared fares by researching flights from London to various ex-Soviet capitals, leaving July 17 and returning July 24, 2010. I searched for Air Baltic fares on AirBaltic.com and other carriers on Kayak.
In every case but one—London-Baku, which benefits from a direct link on Azerbaijani Airlines—Air Baltic offered a better deal.
London-Chisinau: €400 (or $496) on Air Baltic via Riga, versus $506 on Austrian via Vienna, a modest $10 differential.
London-Minsk: €369 (or $457) on Air Baltic via Riga, versus $513 on Aeroflot via Moscow, a rather better savings of $56.
London-Tbilisi: €427 (or $528) on Air Baltic via Riga, versus $584 on a complicated BMI/Austrian Airlines itinerary, a difference of $56 that also avoids all sorts of potential hassles by sticking to a single airline.
London-Yerevan: €465 (or $576) on Air Baltic via Riga, versus $666 on Austrian through Vienna, a $90 difference.
London-Tashkent: €573 (or $710) on Air Baltic via Riga, versus $715 on Aeroflot via Moscow, a tiny difference of $5.
London-Almaty: €587 (or $727) on Air Baltic via Riga, versus $760 on Air Astana direct, a savings of $33, possibly offset by the value of a direct flight.
Get going now, before everyone’s talking about the new EuroCheapo guide to Tbilisi.*
*This is wishful thinking on the author’s part.