Windland Finbag — The worst trip I’ve ever booked

Longtime readers (do such people even exist anymore?) will know that I’ve had Finland on my mind for a while. When I was in my early 20s, I got really into these mountain bike tires that were made in Finland and were perfect for the terrain in Southern California, and I’ve missed them ever since. Also, my first cell phone was made my Nokia, so that pretty much means that Finland is my rightful homeland. (Fun fact: the bike tires were made by a company called Nokian, which was originally part of the same company as Nokia, before the tire people split off from the telecom people. Do you think the tire people feel like they got the good end of that deal?)

I’ve written in the past about various Finland-related topics, mostly focusing on Finnair and my desire to fly with them / my frustration at how difficult it is to fly with them. But, in this topsy-turvy pandemic-addled world, even the most obstinate actors have the capacity to surprise you from time to time. To wit: in the middle of the worst transatlantic business class award availability drought in at least 5 years, Finnair announces a new route between Helsinki and Seattle, and then they open up multiple business class saver seats on every. single. flight. (Note: the link is no longer useful, since most of those seats are now gone, but I feel like I should still link back to the article that alerted me to that availability in the first place.)

Now, I’ve been pretty clear in the past that traveling somewhere just because you can is indeed a perfectly fine way to pick a destination to visit. This was a little different for me, though, because I’ve been interested in checking out Helsinki for a while. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but I just get the sense that it has an interesting vibe. (I guess will see if I’m right…) Plus, there’s that cool fortress on an island that I really want to see….

Image from UNESCO

I saw a link on Twitter to the article about how award seats were available on the SEA-HEL route at 5:03PM, and by 5:24, I had booked a round trip for myself in June. That’s by far the fastest turnaround for booking a trip that I’ve ever done, although it was certainly helped in this case by the fact that American Airlines (115k miles + $40 round trip) isn’t charging cancel fees on award tickets right now. Ultimately, it’s a pretty short trip — just five days, with only three full days to explore Helsinki. (I’m staying at the Hilton, which seems reasonably centrally located, and I still had enough Hilton points left over from past trips to book four nights there.)

It all sounds pretty good, right? A fairly low amount of miles spent for long haul business class (less than a one way “saver” award on Delta, even), a refundable fare, and a nice opportunity to visit a city I’ve wanted to see for a while. Well, almost as soon as I booked the trip, things started to sour. First of all, Finland introduced a new testing requirement, which means I’ll have to spend a couple hundred dollars on one of those stupid airport rapid covid tests in order to enter the country.

Second, I learned that Finland is letting establishments avoid capacity restrictions, as long as they verify that customers have an EU vaccine passport. Unfortunately, unlike a lot of other EU countries that have a similar requirement, Finland has no way for tourists from outside the EU to convert their vaccine certificates to an accepted format. While the CDC vaccination card will get an American into the country (for now…), once you’re there, you won’t be able to go to a bar, restaurant, museum, gym, sauna, library, zoo, or amusement park.

As soon as I read this, I figured I might as well cancel my trip, but in all honesty, I’ll probably still go. This isn’t necessarily a once in a lifetime trip (unless I catch covid while I’m there and then die from it), but it does seem like a fairly uncommon opportunity to get to Helsinki this cheaply and easily. Within a few days of me booking my trip, the majority of those award seats were gone — whether this means they were all booked, or that Finnair pulled a bunch of them because they didn’t intend to release so many saver seats is unclear. But, I’m not counting on finding availability on the west coast again any time soon, so I kind of want to take advantage of this opportunity.

Secondly, I’m not a very big museum person (insofar as I never go to museums), and I’m the opposite of a foodie. When I’m traveling by myself, the main reason I eat at restaurants is to kill time; otherwise I’m perfectly happy to eat grocery store food. And since I barely ever drink alcohol, the prohibition on bars isn’t the end of the world. So, for a trip this short, I think I can still have a pretty good time even with the vaccine card restrictions.

Finally, and this is probably the most important thing, who knows where the fuck the world will be with covid next summer. Maybe Finland will introduce a system to verify the vaccination status of non-EU tourists. Maybe there will be an omicron booster that you need to have before you can travel to the EU… or maybe the EU will completely shut its border to Americans once we hit 200 million cases… or maybe the omicron wave will subside and my trip will be nestled perfectly in the valley between omicron and the much more deadly omega variant. Maybe I’ll catch covid at the gym and die before my trip ever comes. So, might as well keep it on the books for now. Good thing there are no cancel fees!

One other thing about this trip is that it validates my strategy to not pull my foot off the gas regarding my mileage earning strategy during the pandemic, since in the last month, I’ve booked two longhaul trips without having to really think twice about whether I could spare the miles. If you include those Hilton points, I’ve spent over a million miles this year on various trips, and I have plenty more to cover future trips in 2023 and beyond. It sure is nice when your cup runneth over… now I just need to hope that I can actually take those trips, rather than the whole cycle that started when we canceled our trip to Paris in April 2020 repeating itself, thus justifying that low rumbling anxiety I have that covid trapped me in a time loop that I will never escape from.

Happy holidays!

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