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Budget airline Germanwings’ Blind Booking offer is a neat marketing trick. For a low fare, the airline sells a ticket from one of six German airports to a destination revealed only after payment is received.
Travelers can choose to launch their journeys from one of six airports: Berlin, Cologne/Bonn, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Hannover and Stuttgart.
The airline has divided their mystery destinations into several categories. Cologne/Bonn offers seven summer season categories, all but one of them priced at €33 per leg: Culture, Gay-friendly, Metropolis, Nature, Trekking and Hiking, Party and Shopping. The seventh category, Sun and Beach, is priced at €49.99 per leg. Hamburg and Stuttgart offer four destination categories, Dusseldorf three and Berlin and Hannover one apiece.
My mission was to yield to chance and to watch my pennies. Though quite pleasant to fly, Germanwings is a low-cost airline. Pinching pennies on a low-cost carrier means not paying extra for either a seat assignment or checked luggage. On the ground I prioritized supermarket meals and booked the very cheapest accommodation I could find.
I chose Dusseldorf for two reasons. One, it was easy and relatively inexpensive to reach from London, my home base. Secondly, the Dusseldorf “party” gathering of destinations appealed to me more than any other. The grouping included Leipzig, Dresden, Warsaw and Katowice, as well as Stockholm and Barcelona, cities where I have friends. (From the outset I found this category to be confusing. This group of cities didn’t really strike me to be particularly or relatively festive places. Marketing is hard!)
I made my booking after dinner one evening. A receipt flashed on my screen and I discovered that I was destined for Milan Malpensa. Milan was one of two cities on the list I had hoped wouldn’t come up. I like Milan fine but had visited fairly recently. So my first reaction was disappointment. Here’s lesson one, perhaps the most obvious of all though worth repeating: Blind Booking is not an ideal holiday solution for anyone with a very fixed idea about where they want to travel.
That said, there are ways to game Blind Booking. For €5, customers can exclude a destination from the group list. Customers can also examine existing timetables to maximize their likelihood of flying to a particular destination.
Beyond these hacks, Blind Booking is about yielding to chance. Because the booking period extends to 45 days prior to departure, Blind Booking doesn’t have to be a fly-by-night endeavor. With over six weeks of lead time, there are plenty of opportunities to plan ahead.
I booked a two-night jaunt. Because my departing flight left too early to make it from London to Dusseldorf with a comfortable cushion for transfer time, I had to fly in the previous evening. And because my return flight from Milan to Dusseldorf arrived around 11 PM, I had to find a hotel in Dusseldorf for a night at the end of the jaunt.
These two additional details provided the second lesson of Blind Booking, equally as obvious as the first lesson, but worth articulating nonetheless: This cheap roundtrip ticket is essentially a clearance item. In exchange for €66, customers have to organize themselves around the itinerary on offer. My guess is that departures and returns in the early morning and late night hours are particularly common Blind Booking slots. Flexibility is key.
I aimed for the mountains: Two nights in Lugano, followed by a scenic rail journey from Locarno to Domodossola.
I flew into Milan Malpensa, had a quick (and necessary) espresso at an airport café and took the Malpensa Express to Milano Centrale. Here I had about 15 minutes to buy my ticket on to Lugano, which was a snap.
Though EuroCheapo I booked two nights at Ristorante le bucce de Gandria, a small restaurant with several guestrooms in Gandria, a village on the edge of Lugano. My room was CHF130 ($145) for two nights, which around these parts is quite cheap. After arriving I made a beeline to the nearest gas station/convenience shop where I bought the holy grail of a simple supermarket dinner: salami, cheese, anchovies, yogurt, nuts and water. The damage: CHF20 ($22).
My two days were about reacquainting myself with Lugano, a city I’d last visited when I was 19. Supermarket lunches, long walks along the lake, two delightful swims, a pleasurable dinner on the balcony at Locanda Gandriese restaurant in Gandria, enjoyed with a local Ticinese wine and capped with a shot of house-made limoncello, wanders through Lugano’s hillside shopping streets, and a visit to the Museo Cantonale d’Arte, the cantonal art museum of Ticino.
On my third day I took the train to Locarno. Outside, Alpine vistas; inside, boisterous children set free on a field trip. In Locarno I caught a scenic train back into Italy, to regional hub Domodossola. This town, at the confluence of two rivers, features some noteworthy late medieval architecture and an attractive central square, Piazza del Mercato. Its stone and timber houses, arcades, and mountain peaks give Domodossola a rustic charm. I enjoyed risotto and steak for €13 at a quiet restaurant well off the central square and wandered for some time.
From Domodossola I caught a direct bus to Milan Malpensa for €15. This bus, which relies on government subsidy, runs on a demand-only basis and must be reserved in advance.
Germanwings’ Blind Booking is a little bit gimmicky but quite fun. It’s a good option for travelers with a broad interest in a great number of destinations; anyone with something very specific in mind should give it a pass. Anyone considering a Blind Booking break should take a look at their schedule and weigh the pros (surprise, cost) and cons (schedule, rigidity).
Note: Germanwings did not support this journey in any way.