Why Smartwings sucks. And how consumers are getting fleeced by the airlines.

why smartwings sucks

Announcing our next destination: Croatia.

We’ll be flying Bangkok – Prague in late March, staying a week in Prague, and from there flying down to Split, Croatia. But this post isn’t about Croatia. It’s about how consumers in 2015 are getting fleeced by the airlines.

 

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Our latest experience:

On January 15th I booked our flights Prague – Split on Smartwings, a Prague-based budget airline. It was a good deal, $250 for both of us for the 1 ½ hour flight.

Once confirmed, I went and booked our accommodations in both Prague and Split. I was happy; our travel plans were booked, confirmed and paid for for the next 2 months.

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Then I received this email on February 6.

Dear customers,
we regret to inform, that due to the operational reasons we were forced to cancel the flight  QS1082 on 03th April 2015.
You can change your reservation free of charge to any other available SmartWings flight on this route or claim a full refund for the unused part of your ticket.
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I wasn’t happy about it but wrote them back right away. This is how the conversation went (I’ve excluded names)
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Me:
Hello, Can we have it changed for the day after (April 4)
Thank you,
Frank
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The reply came a few minutes later:
I am so sorry, but we don´t have this flight on 4th April.
Thank you for understanding.
Kind regards
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Me:
Hello, Would you have it on April 2? I’m trying to find an alternative close to the original date of April 3…
Thank you,
Frank
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Reply:
I am so sorry, we don´t have 2nd April.
Thank you for understanding.
Kind regards
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Me:
What is the closest date that you have to April 3?
Thank you,
Frank
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Reply:
I can offer 29th April. It is the closest date.
Kind regards
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WTF!? 

 

Me:
No, that is really not good. It sounds like the airline has just decided to change the schedule for the whole month of April.
I would like to have a refund on my credit card please for the payments that I made for myself and my wife.
Frank
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Reply:
Your reservation was canceled. Whole amount, will be sent to the account, which was used for purchase within several business days.
Thank you for understanding.
Kind regards

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I wasn’t happy. I was locked into two apartments rentals and stuck having to reserve a flight on a fixed date (April 3rd). I went online and saw that replacements flights would come out to about $450 each. That’s $900 between the two of us. It’s also $650 more than we had booked with Smartwings. Is booking a flight not a contract? How is it that I, as the consumer, will incur all cost and inconvenience caused by the carrier deciding to cancel the contract? I started getting upset. That’s when I decided I’d do one of these ‘You Suck” posts. But before that I would put them on notice and give them a chance to explain.
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Me (this is still on February 6th):
Hello, I am trying to understand how it is possible that an airline can change it’s schedule by so much. I can understand if a flight is cancelled and that I would need to change my date by a day or two. But how is it possible that I book and confirm a flight for April 3 – and then be told that the flight is cancelled and that the next available flight is April 29?
I am a full-time traveller and I am losing money because I am now locked into apartment reservations that I booked after reserving with your airline. I am also a travel blogger and will be writing a strongly worded piece about this experience with smartwings. I would like to extend to you this opportunity to explain how such a change in scheduling could happen. I’ve never seen anything like this with any other airline. Best Regards

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As fully expected, I got no reply.
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What happens when it’s the other way around? When you, the customer, have to either change or cancel a flight? It depends on the airline, but most will charge around $200 for a change to a domestic flight and $300 for an international flight. For cancellations, unless you’ve bought more expensive tickets with flexible options, you won’t get any of your money back. I looked at the Smartwings confirmation again and it says it right there: “no refund“. It also says “a change in flight date not allowed“. I looked around on the internet to see what other airlines are doing and it’s the same thing. I found this on Ryanair: “All Ryanair flights are changeable but cannot be cancelled. Customers don’t need  to notify us if they are unable to travel“. So don’t even bother calling them to tell them you can’t make your flight, cause they really don’t give a sh*t. That’s basically what they are saying.
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So changes and cancellations can be done by the airlines at no cost to them but you, as the customer, will pay through the nose for the same benefit.
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A couple of interesting links. This one by Forbes on why airlines around the world are making record profits. It’s called Ancillary revenue and covers everything that you the customer is charged extra of the ‘airfare’: fees on baggage, preferred seating, wifi, food, gasoline surcharges, fees for cancelling and changing flights, charges on redemption of frequent flier points, upselling insurance, hotels and car rentals. Airlines purposely make the whole experience of flying unpleasant so you pay for the extras – read this great post by The New Yorker entitled “Why Airlines Make you Suffer“.

This post by the Wall Street Journal examines why Airlines reschedule and who gets stuck with the bill. Who pays if the dates change, if you have pre-booked accommodation or car rental, or if they cancel a flight and you have to re-book a flight with a competitor closer to the date of the flight (generally rates go up the closer you get to the intended date of departure). It’s you, the consumer who pays. As a guy they quote says “”It’s not fair that you don’t get what you paid for. They should have to fly the schedule they sold.” I’ll repeat what I wrote further up the page - Is booking a flight not a contract? How is it that I, as the consumer, will incur all cost and inconvenience caused by the carrier deciding to cancel the contract?  Airlines actually make money by rescheduling flights and making the consumer have to pay the extra costs associated with that.

 

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I bit the bullet and booked Prague – Split through Lufthansa. Cost $970 between the two of us. Far more than the $250 I had paid with Smartwings.
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I also did a bit of research on rights and compensation due to passengers when an airline cancels a flight.
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Flight cancellation in Europe

If a flight is cancelled the passenger has the right to:

- reimbursement of the cost of the ticket within seven days or re-routing to their final destination
- care (refreshments, meals, hotel accommodation, transport between the airport and place of accommodation, two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails).

compensation totalling:

- 250 € for flights up to 1.500 km
- 400 € for flights between 1.500 km and 3.500 and intra-Community flights of more than 1.500 km,
- 600 € for flights of more then 3.500 km
If the carrier offered you an alternative flight with a similar schedule, the compensation may be reduced by 50%.

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You won’t receive compensation if:

- The cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances for example due to bad weather,
- You were informed 2 weeks before the scheduled flight date, or
- You were offered an alternative for the same route with a similar schedule to the original one.

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Sources:
European Commission
Air Passenger Rights

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Flight cancellation in the USA

If a flight is cancelled the passenger has the right to:

- reimbursement of the cost of the ticket or re-routing to their final destination
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Any other care or compensation depends on the individual airline. They are not required to provide you with a hotel room, meal vouchers or even free phone calls (although some US airlines will provide overnight accommodation if the delay was within the airline’s control, such as a mechanical issue). They will not give compensation and they are not obligated to book you on another airline.

Sources:
USA government
USA Today

I’ll save you the reading – there are basically no federal requirements in the US. Regulations are skewed in favor of the airlines and you the consumer really have no recourse.

 

So you’re better off having your flight cancelled by a European Airline. In our case we could have received compensation if we had been informed of the cancellation less than 2 weeks before the flight. As specified above, airlines can cancel a flight, without penalty, at least 2 weeks in advance. Which honestly does very little to help most passengers. Are most consumers going to wait until 2 weeks before a flight day to make all the other bookings and arrangements required when travelling? 

 

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What most likely happened in our case is that Smartwings looked at their bookings and realized that the numbers were low in early April. They made a business decision and decided to change their schedule in favour of higher-demand destinations. They didn’t break any rules, they did what is allowed them within the rules of the European Commission. That doesn’t mean that they don’t suck though. Advertising a product or service and then taking it off the table is, by most definitions (in other businesses), false or misleading advertising. It is similar in my opinion to when you want to book a tour with a tour company where they tell you, for example, ‘if we don’t have at least 10 people we will have to re-schedule for another day”. The difference is that the tour company is being upfront and honest about it. Smartwings was not.

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Congratulations Smartwings. You get my official ‘You Suck” seal of disapproval.

photo credit at top of page: airplane-pictures.net 

 

Related: Why US Airways also sucks.

 

Would love to hear all your Airline stories. Who else sucks?

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Comments

  1. Hi Frank,
    I feel your pain. What a crappy situation, especially because your full time traveler dollars are even more precious!
    We have not personally had a bad airline story, but we did change our dates one time and paid royally! Much learned over that one.
    You’ve made a good argument, but alas the airline cares little.
    Conrad chatted one time with a fellow traveler at a gate, and the man told him that Canadian Airlines never cancels a flight and he has been the only person on flights before. Wow! While we would hope an airlines philosophy is, “the profits even out,” Smartwings doesn’t subscribe to that! I’ll not fly them, based on your story.
    Wishing safe and happy travels,
    Josie
    Josie recently posted…5 Distilled Travel Tidbits for February, 2015My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank you for the comment Josie. You are right – I’ve never, ever had a Canadian airline ever cancel. Even through snow, slush, whatever…and that’s whether it be Air Canada, Air Transat, or a few of the other sun charters we’ve taken in the past. Might have had a few delays but never a cancellation.
      I dread any American airline and if possible will always avoid flying one…if anything just because of the headaches transferring though any airport in the states.The only one I’ve had consistent success has been with Continental through Newark. They cancelled once but it was one of those Montreal blizzards..
      Thanks for your story and nice words,
      Frank

  2. Who else sucks? Hah hah! They all do!!!! Fortunately the one time it happened to me with Ryanair. It was in my favor. For some reason, l had overlapped our Barcelona and l think Budapest trips (we came back on Friday,and had scheduled our departure for Barcelona Thursday). I just did nothing,and just figured we’d suck it up when it came time and pay the change fee. Boy, was l glad to receive a Ryanair email saying the Thursday flight was cancelled. The closest day would be Saturday , or we could get a full refund. Yeah…out trip was 2 days shorter, but l got lucky. Sorry you got shafted :-(. I have never even heard of Smartwings, more like Suckwings!!! Oh, l am also one of those people that procastinate and book stays at the last minute, not smart, but l can’t help it..
    Kemkem recently posted…Paella done right in Seville!My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Sometimes you just get lucky! That’s a good story. Has to even out sometimes, right? I’ve sometimes gotten lucky when actually on the plane – I remember once flying Air France and getting stuck on the aisle seat of 747. Stewardess came up to me and asked me if I’d like to move. Ended up on the top deck with a row all to myself. I thought it was the lap of luxury and I still remember it today, I think I was 18 at the time (hmm, that’s 30 years ago).
      I don’t think anyone, in any business, cares about customer loyalty anymore. But I’ll always remember that Air France moment…

  3. A real bummer , Frank ! But it seems things just continue to generally deteriorate for the client – and its always the client who has to grin and bare it – and pay the price. Several years ago there was a real advantage to travel on the ‘low cost’ airlines, in Europe at least. Easyjet, Ryan, etc – were a lot cheaper, no seat selection, baggage or other fees etc. But over the years , with their ever rising ‘fees’ – fast boarding, seat selection, baggage charges – even hefty bus fares to get to some of the rather isolated, regional airports they use) the price difference has narrowed considerably with the scheduled airlines, at least on major intra-hub routes . At the same time many of the scheduled airlines – to meet the competition , have become a lot more competitive – especially if you are not, or can’t book months ahead.

    If you are travelling between major hubs, its often better to take a scheduled airline – they are often v competitive with the low cost guys – and at times even cheaper – plus have a lot more flight options , and if something goes wrong – its generally far easier to reschedule or get back funds. The low-cost airlines are discovering they can’t really make much unless they charge for all the extras . EG :- Until quite recently on Easyjet you sat anywhere you liked, as on a bus. Great stuff. Now they charge you for seat selection. If you do not choose to use and pay for this option – (and there are two or more of you travelling) they – and their computer – will ensure that each of you are in a separate seat spread around the airplane – and (strangeley enough…) always in the middle seat ! ‘Punishment’ for not paying them anything….

    Its a lot harder to be fussy travelling between regional centres (like Prague – Split) as there are probably no competitive, or alternative, options. But I have found that often with the low costs, and despite all their promotions and ‘come-ons’, its better to book later, rather than earlier. In this case this may have made all the difference. Sure, the ticket may have cost a few bucks more, by booking later, but at least the flight should be a lot more ‘certain’ closer to the departure date…. But then, maybe not … !!! In fact the customer is invariably wrong – and if he’s right, he still has to pay (something) for the priviledge of being right… ie: you can’t win ! But Good Luck anyway.
    Cheers
    .

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for the insights Tony.
      I found it strange how complicated it seems flying to Split from Prague. Croatia very popular among Czechs but the only direct flight seems to be Smartwings and only ‘in season’. All the other options more expensive and with some strange connections. The best we could find was Lufthansa through Munich.
      We even considered train, Spanky thought it would be an adventure. I looked into it and it came out to about 26 hours and 5 train connections…maybe too much of an adventure. Split a little outside the main train/planeroutes for sure.
      We’ll have to get back to Montreal through Croatia and already wondering how we’ll get back…maybe we’ll overland it to somewhere where we can get a direct flight with Air Transat. That’s one charter airline that we’ve had luck with; coming to Europe we saved $800 between the 2 of us. So some of the charter airlines ok, just depends. And here in Thailand both Air Asia and Nok Air excellent – although Air Asia really cut into us for baggage fees the last time, something I got away with in the past. Yet Nok didn’t charge us anything for the same baggage.
      And yes, looked into Easyjet and would have had to fly to Gatwik. Just wasn’t worth it in the end…That’s terrible that they would intentionally separate you and stick you in a middle seat.

  4. Nice writing. Enjoyable read. We had a similar situation with Spirit Air that ended up costing us over $900. I noticed that airlines ordering many of the new planes are also cutting down again the amount of room for each seat. Pretty soon we are going to be flying with our knees under our chins and having to use a shoe horn to get into the seat.
    Michael and Graciela recently posted…The Moment to Leave Bogotá ArrivedMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Ha! You made me laugh.
      I saw a Spirit Air plane once in Costa Rica but know nothing about it except for some bad reviews I read. So another one to add to the “You Suck” list?
      Totally agree with everything you say…I’ve got long legs and always feel cramped. But what really gets me are the people who bring their seats back all the way and you and up staring at the top of their heads the whole flight. I hate that. Sometimes I feel like smacking them with the inflight magazine or dropping coffee on their damn heads. The airlines make us hate humanity :)

  5. Hi Frank,

    Here in Canada, I’ve never had a bad airline experience. But we flew American Airlines once, through Chicago’s O’Hare….. oh my gosh, what. a. nightmare. Long story.

    I’m so sorry you had this experience .. you feel so helpless, ripped off, and angry when something like this happens and there is nothing you can do about it except tell everyone you know not to fly these guys.

    Best wishes to both of you,
    Carol

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Carol. Yes, someone else pointed that out about our Canadian airlines. Never stopped to think about it but its made me realize how lucky we are in Canada.
      Exactly about the last line. It seems to be the only thing we consumers can do…

  6. I feel for you. Most annoying thing ever!!! I had a pretty annoying experience recently on American Airlines. Better than what you describe but missed a connecting flight in both directions because of ‘delays’. Ended up sleeping in Dallas…etc etc etc. I was going from SF to Mexico City. Dallas was not on the itinerary! AA paid for a room at a nearby motel. All in all it wasn’t too bad but then the same issues came up on the way back to SF. Apparently AA is known for this kinda stuff but it seems other airlines aren’t far behind. So, frustrating. Sorry y’all had to slog through that stuff. Do you know about Conde Nast Traveler magazine Ombudsman? They go to bat for travelers with ‘issues’ – hotels, airlines, etc. It couldn’t hurt to ask them for ‘support’ right?

    Good luck – I hope this gets sorted out soon and that your future travels are problem free!

  7. Hello Frank,

    I have read about your bad experience with Smartwings, I’m sorry about that. Unfortunately many companies in Europe use that bad practice to reschedule their flights according to selling result, especially in low season period. As you find out by yourself you can’t get any compensation if they informed you about cancellation more than two weeks in advance. Other way they would be obligated to give you compensation as you mention in article, according to Regulation EC 261/2004 you would get 250€/person.

    Recently I have managed to get from Ryanair 200€ compensation for one day delay even the reason for delay was the strike. Of course they try to avoid compensation referring to extraordinary circumstances, because the strike is out of their control. However as the court have already decide in one case before regarding the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull there is no such category as “super-extraordinary circumstances”, even in case of extraordinary circumstances air carriers continued to have an obligation of care towards passengers. But in my case Ryanair didn’t notice me about cancellation more than two weeks before scheduled flight, unfortunately this in not your case.

    However, I live in Croatia and would like to tell you that you can find far more cheaper ticket than one from Lufthansa that mention $970 between the two of you. Are you talking about one way fare or return ticket? US or Canadian dollars? Do you have lot of baggage or cabin bag will be enough?

    For example, if you need just one way ticket and have only cabin baggage you can use Vueling (Spain low-cost airline) on April 3rd via Rome for 204€ for two, but in that case you will need to spend night on Rome airport. Or maybe you could find some Ryanair flight to Zadar via Brussels or London. Zadar is just 150 km from Split, bus price shouldn’t be more than 15€. Also town Zadar is more than worth to visit, you could easy spend a day or two there. With Ryanair you could reach it from 12 European destinations already from 19,99€.

    Lufthansa 970$ are load of money for such short trip. I hope that you will find some more appropriate price and have good time in Croatia. :)
    Tripologia recently posted…Brazil, Alitaliom iz Trsta u Rio de Janerio ili Sao Paulo već za 474€My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank you very much for your response, very helpful!
      Yes, I should specify about flights: one way,2 people, $970 CAD (including $50 flight insurance) – ie USD 775, Euro 680.
      I saw cheaper flights including Vueling and Norwegian Airlines, but they have long stops and, after my experience with Smartwings I wanted to go with a reputable airline. I don’t know Vueling but have seen some very bad reviews on Norwegian. So I decided to suck it up and pay a bit more, plus the connection is good: 45 minutes between flights in Munich.

      I’m surprised by all the horrible flight connections I’ve seen to Croatia. Your example is one, but I’ve seen others as well that require 10 hours…Prague – Split is only 90 minutes flight. I’m surprised that Czech Airlines doesn’t have direct flights, Croatia seems a popular destination with Czechs. Thank you for pointing out Ryanair, they didn’t come up on search results. Worth going to their website in the future.

      We have a ‘budget’ alternative in Canada called Air Transat and they change their schedules according to the seasonal demand. Caribbean in the winter, Europe in the Summer. But their schedule is fixed, no changing it around at the last minute. I believe that if it is scheduled, that it should be followed. It’s what I bought, and it angers me that an airline can just change the schedule to their liking with no consequences. That leaves customers like me really stuck…and that 2 week rule really doesn’t help anyone.

      Great comment, thank you very much.
      Frank (bbqboy)

      • Yes, connections from Czech to Croatia are horrible, especially in low season. There is direct Czech Airlines flights to Split but unfortunately only during the summer. I’m sorry but Lufthansa flight is just to expensive, I have to suggest you one more solution, you could fly with Germanwings on 4th April there is a flight with just 4 hour layover in Hamburg, total cost 244€ for two.

        Croatia is a popular destination for Czechs that is true, but they mostly arrive here with cars. Czech is not far from here.

        I don’t know what booking engine you use, you can find Ryanair flights through all booking engines that use Amadeus, for example Skyscanner etc. Or go directly to their website.

        I know for Air Transat, they have some very good deals from Europe to Canada occasionally. I totally agree, if airline schedule flight and sell tickets they totally should keep their promise. Unfortunately they sometimes use bad practice to reschedule flights and without any consequences to them except in bad comments such as your one.

        I hope that you will spend some great time in Croatia after all. Are you going to visit just Split or something else? Enjoy.
        Tripologia recently posted…Brazil, Alitaliom iz Trsta u Rio de Janerio ili Sao Paulo već za 474€My Profile

        • Frank (bbqboy) says:

          You really know your stuff! I really appreciate all the information.
          I will keep the flight as is this time – I like your suggestion for April 4 but that would mean I would have to book an extra night in Prague. The current connection is a good one and I will just suck it up this time…
          But I am already thinking about when we leave in mid-June and have to go back to Canada. I see Easyjet has flights Dubrovnik – Rome for about 30 Euro each (one way). And from there Air Transat has a flight Rome – Montreal for about $305 CAD. Sounds too good to be true :)

          Our plan is to stay in Split for 5 weeks until mid-May. I’ve got an apartment reserved with Airbnb. We would probably add on a month somewhere else, I was thinking Dubrovnik, until mid-June. Any ideas or recommendations?

  8. Wow, two months in Croatia! In that case you have plenty of time to visit much places here.

    Well, you are arriving in Split, first explore it surrounding. Definitely you should go to visit some island, for example Hvar or Korčula, maybe even Vis. There are ferries to all islands but you can also use hydro plane, it’s new service started last year, check prices here: http://www.ec-air.eu/en/

    You will have enough time to visit some cities near Split, such as Šibenik and Zadar. Don’t miss Trogir in any case. If you like nature you should go to see Krka National Park, also Plitvice National Park it’s not so close to Split but it is possible to visit in one day. However I suggest you at least two days. You can even go to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar is beautiful town with old bridge, maybe you can even go to Sarajevo for few days.

    Dubrovnik is must see on every list, but I think one month in Dubrovnik is too much, especially considering that Dubrovnik is the most expensive town in country. When in Dubrovnik you can go to visit Montenegro, Kotor is beautiful town.

    You didn’t mention northern coast. Maybe you should consider to visit peninsula Istria. That is place where I live, so it’s the most beautiful part of country. :) It’s not so close to Split but you can spare few days or weeks to this part of Croatia. Here you can visit Rovinj, one of most beautiful old cities in Croatia, also there is Poreč with major landmark, 6th century Euphrasian Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And of course Pula with Arena, best preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world.

    For connection between south and north of country you can check Croatia Airlines and Trade Air, you can find cheap plane tickets for just 25-40€. Trade Air is very cool, they fly with small planes over the coast so you can enjoy in beautiful view. Here are the links:
    http://www.trade-air.com/
    http://www.croatiaairlines.com/?langid=en

    Yes, it’s possible to fly in Rome for very small amount of money. Easyjet flight from Dubrovnik as you mention is just one solution, but also they fly from Split to Rome. Second low-cost option is Vueling that I mention before, they have direct summer connections from Dubrovnik, Split and Pula to Rome.

    Maybe this look like to much for you but don’t worry, we are small country and you have full two months. You can see much here for that period, especially if you rent a car.

    I hope this will helpful to you. Welcome to Croatia and enjoy!
    Tripologia recently posted…FlyDubai sjajna akcija, iz Zagreba, Beograda ili Sarajeva u Dubai 198€, Nepal 298€, Maldive 398€ ili Šri Lanku 398€My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank you so much for all of your help and advice, you are kind. You have confirmed a lot of the places that we want to visit, so I feel good about our plans. If ever we make it to Istria we will invite you out for a drink!
      Thank you again,
      Frank (bbqboy)

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