Siberian Shuffle – A Crazy Winter Trip Around Eurasia

This is the introduction of our ‘Siberian Shuffle’ trip report, in which we will travel in the midst of winter to Norway, Russia (Siberia) and Azerbaijan in business class on Aeroflot, Air France, Azerbaijan Airlines, KLM and TAROM.

Sometimes you already know right at the moment when you book your tickets that your upcoming trip will be an epic one. This holiday is a prime example of such an epic holiday which I will not soon forget. Some might perhaps even say that you need to be a wee bit crazy booking it!

On this trip, I will visit Siberia in the middle of winter, explore the Norwegian cities of Oslo, Stavanger and Bergen, see Paris, and travel all the way to the to the booming city of Baku on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan – and that all on a single flight ticket. And all in business class that is, featuring flights on Air France, KLM, Tarom, Azerbaijan Airlines and Aeroflot!

Unique flight deal

The internet can be a great source of information and flight ticket deals. This ticket, which I came across on Flyertalk, was one of them: an Air France business class ticket from Norway to destinations throughout Europe for 650 EUR return.

“But wait!”, you are surely saying now. That is not really a deal at all, paying 650 EUR to fly in short-haul business class to a destination not more than three hours away? Where all you get is an improved meal, some champagne, and the same seat as in economy class with just the middle seat blocked?

Normally I would absolutely agree with that and not bother with such a deal, if it weren’t for the fact that Air France made some errors in the ticket rules of this fare. To be precise, someone working for the airliner forgot to limit the fare rules and restrictions on this ticket, allowing you to book side trips as add-on to your simple Norway to somewhere in Europe return ticket.

Simply put: it made trips possible to such far-flung places as Morocco, Israel and even Siberia – on both outbound and inbound flights of the ticket!

Example

If for example you would look at a simple 650 EUR return ticket Bergen-Amsterdam-Paris-Barcelona, you could manually add a destination in between for free if you know how to book a multi-segment ticket.

For example, you could add Moscow as a destination on the outbound, and Istanbul on your return, thus flying Bergen-Amsterdam-Paris-Moscow-Paris-Barcelona-Paris-Istanbul-Paris-Amsterdam-Bergen on one ticket.

Searching for the perfect itinerary

The catch of the ticket ‘deal’ (well, actually more of an Air France filing error) was that such a construction only worked from certain airports.

As a start, you had to commence the journey at one of the regional Norwegian airports served by a KLM flight to Amsterdam (Alesund, Bergen, Kristiansand, Sandefjord Torp, Stavanger or Trondheim). To indeed get the ticket for the low price of 650 EUR and not the normal price of 2000+ EUR you also had to finish your trip at one of these airports.

I opted for Stavanger as my starting point and Bergen as finishing point. As the ‘main’ destination of the return ticket I chose my home base of Bucharest as I wanted to break up the journey in two not wanting to be away for weeks in a row.

The fun part came with choosing the side trips as here you could get creative. As I wrote before, flying Stavanger to Bucharest (via Amsterdam and Paris) and back again to Norway would hardly be a special deal for 650 EUR in business class as that is basically the normal market price.

The catch here is that when you hit Paris on both the inbound and outbound journey of the ticket, you can add a side trip to about any destination in what Air France considers as their “Greater Europe” region. Destinations as far as Marrakech in Morocco, Tel Aviv in Israel and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan worked!

Siberia and Azerbaijan

After some days deliberating what would be the most fun and the best value for money, I finally settled on an itinerary. On the outbound journey from Stavanger to Bucharest, I decided to make a little side trip from Paris to Irkutsk, Russia (with Aeroflot via Moscow).

On the return journey from Bucharest to Bergen, I decided to make the side trip from Paris to Baku in Azerbaijan on AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines as both the Aeroflot and the AZAL flights could be booked as an Air France codeshare without bumping up the price.

My final route would be: Stavanger-Amsterdam-Paris-Moscow-Irkutsk-Moscow-Paris-Bucharest; Bucharest-Paris-Baku-Paris-Amsterdam-Bergen. That makes 12 flights in business class, all for 650 EUR! And enough miles to go from nothing to instant gold status with Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue frequent flyer programme. Talk about a sweet deal!

As this complicated ticket was next to impossible to book on the Air France website, I had to use the website of Delta Airlines instead to book it, as it can often more easily deal with tickets that include flights on fellow Sky Team alliance carriers.

On a map, the flights on my ticket look like this:

siberian shuffle flight map
Twelve flights in business class for just 650 EUR, talk about a great deal! ©Great Circle Mapper

Booking positioning flights

Being based in Bucharest, it meant that I still needed to somehow get to Stavanger to start my Siberian business class adventure. Fortunately, I managed to find a great positioning flight to Norway, as my favourite low-cost airline Wizzair had a 10 EUR fares on the Bucharet to Oslo Sandefjord Torp (TRF) route just on the day I needed it.

On arrival in Sandefjord, I would head straight to Oslo for a full day in Norway’s capital. I would then hop on an overnight train to Stavanger, where I would spend another full day and night before embarking on the epic trip to Siberia.

On the return, I would stay in Bergen for two nights and then head back to Oslo by train on two of Norway’s most beautiful train routes through spectacular mountain landscapes. From Oslo’s main Gardermoen airport, I found a decently priced 130 EUR ticket back to Bucharest (SAS to Brussels, TAROM onwards to Bucharest, with plenty of time in between the two flights in case of delays).

With the positioning and return flights added, the final route map looks like this:

siberian shuffle final itinerary
The final itinerary for my crazy winter trip to Norway, Siberia and Azerbaijan. ©Great Circle Mapper

Highlights

In this ‘Siberian Shuffle’ trip report, you can expect the following highlights:

– A lot of business class flight reviews, including those on Aeroflot, Air France and Azerbaijan Airlines
– Exploring Norway’s old towns and fjords
– Seeing Moscow’s Red Square and Kremlin
– Walking on the frozen waters of Lake Baikal at -30 degrees Celsius
– Visiting Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, where new oil wealth goes hand-in-hand with history
– A trip into the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains
– Riding the rails on overnight trains in Norway and Azerbaijan

baikal sunset
The gorgeous sunset on my last day at Lake Baikal. ©Paliparan
flam railway norway
Great mountain scenery on the Flam Railway in Norway. ©Paliparan
kis church caucasus azerbaijan
The ancient 12th Century church in the village of Kiş in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, Azerbaijan.
moscow kremlin
The Kremlin, Moscow. ©Paliparan
irkutsk city view
A cold winter day in the Siberian city of Irkutsk. ©Paliparan
baku skyline view
The Azerbaijani capital of Baku is a captivating mix between modern and old. ©Paliparan
champagne lanson aeroflot
Drinking a glass of champagne on my Aeroflot flight from Irkutsk to Moscow. ©Paliparan

Trip report index

This trip report consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: Wizz Air economy class from Bucharest to Oslo Sandefjord Torp (Airbus A321)
2. A day in the Norwegian capital of Oslo
3. Review: Norwegian Railways night train from Oslo to Stavanger in a private sleeper
4. Review: Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Stavanger
5. A day in the city of Stavanger, Norway
6. Review: Stavanger Airport North Sea Lounge
7. Review: KLM Cityhopper business class Stavanger to Amsterdam (Embraer RJ-175)
8. Celebrating carnival in the Netherlands
9. Review: KLM Crown Lounge (Schengen) Amsterdam Airport
10. Review: Air France business class Amsterdam to Paris (Airbus A319)
11. Review: ‘Salon Paris’ business class lounge Paris CDG Terminal 2C
12. Review: Aeroflot business class Paris to Moscow (Airbus A320)
13. Review: Aeroflot domestic business class lounge Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport
14. Review: Aeroflot business class Moscow to Irkutsk (Boeing 737-800)
15. Review: Matreshka Hotel, Irkutsk
16. Exploring the Siberian city of Irkutsk
17. Review: Mayak Hotel, Listvyanka (Lake Baikal)
18. A Winter Trip to the Frozen Wonderland of Lake Baikal
19. Review: Ibis Irkutsk Center Hotel
20. Review: Domestic business class lounge Irkutsk Airport
21. Review: Aeroflot business class Irkutsk to Moscow (Boeing 737-800)
22. Review: Pushkin Hotel, Moscow
23. A 24-hour stopover in the Russian capital of Moscow
24. Review: ‘Moscow’ and ‘Jazz’ business class lounges Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport
25. Review: Aeroflot business class Moscow to Paris (Airbus A320)
26. Review: TAROM business class Paris to Bucharest (Airbus A318)
27. Review: TAROM business class lounge Bucharest Otopeni Airport
27. Review: Air France business class Bucharest to Paris (Airbus A320)
28. A short stopover in Paris
29. Review: ‘Sheltair’ business class lounge Paris CDG Terminal 2D
30. Review: Azerbaijan Airlines business class Paris to Baku (Airbus A320)
31. Review: Old City Hotel & Apartments, Baku
32. Baku: a captivating mix between old and new
33. Review: Azerbaijan Railways night train from Baku to Sheki in a private sleeper
34. Sheki and the Caucasus foothills
35. Visiting Azerbaijan’s second-biggest city of Ganja
36. Review: Shah Palace Hotel, Baku
37. Review: Azerbaijan Airlines business class lounge Baku Airport
38. Review: Azerbaijan Airlines business class Baku to Paris (Airbus A320)
39. Review: Air France business class lounge Paris CDG Terminal 2F
40. Review: KLM business class Paris to Amsterdam (Boeing 737-800)
41. Review: KLM business class Amsterdam to Bergen (Boeing 737-800)
42. Review: First Marin Hotel, Bergen
43. Visiting the Norwegian city of Bergen
44. The Bergen Railway from Bergen to Oslo
45. The scenic Flam Railway from Myrdal to Flam
46. Review: Saga Hotel Oslo Central
47. Review: SAS economy class Oslo to Brussels (Boeing 737-600)
48. Review: Diamond Lounge (non-Schengen) Brussels Airport
49. Review: TAROM economy class Brussels to Bucharest (Boeing 737-800)

Koen

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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