Introduction: Pulling Off A Very Special Surprise Trip

Filed Under: Air Serbia, Hotels

I’ve been together with Ford for a couple of years now, and figured it was about time to take it to the next step. Personally I’m not someone who places a lot of value on marriage, etc., aside from the legal rights it gives you. I know how I feel about Ford, and that doesn’t changed based on how we’re recognized by the government. Anyway, enough about that.

I decided it was time to plan a proposal trip, and I wanted to make it a total surprise. As many of you may remember, I took my dad on a surprise trip a few years back for his last “round” birthday, and it was one of the most fun and memorable trips of my life.

I wanted to do the same for a proposal trip, but I also realized it would be much tougher to pull off.

How the planning started

We had to be in New York for a family engagement a few weeks back. So we went there, and Ford thought that after that he’d go back home. From there the rest of the trip was a surprise. However, I’ll save that explanation for a separate installment, right after the St. Regis New York review (since that’s when he found out).

In planning this trip I decided that the two best destinations would be Montenegro and Paris. Why? Because there’s a stunning Aman hotel in Montenegro that we’ve both been dying to go to, and Paris is Ford’s favorite city in the world, and we’ve never been there together.

Like I said, Ford only knew we were going to New York, but had no clue beyond that.

Booking flights

As much as I like trying crazy routings, I know Ford also likes to get places as quickly as possible. Since our first stop was Tivat, Montenegro, the most practical way to get there was on Air Serbia through Belgrade. I reviewed Air Serbia from Belgrade to New York last year and had a fantastic experience, so I thought Ford would enjoy it as well.

I redeemed Etihad Guest miles for this ticket, as availability is wide open on Serbia, and booked the following, at the per person cost of 64,082 Etihad Guest miles, plus $62 in taxes and fees:

05/22 JU501 New York to Belgrade departing 2:40PM arriving 5:30AM (+1 day)

The catch is that Etihad Guest doesn’t let you mix cabins, so I had to book the ticket from Belgrade to Tivat separately, and ended up paying $75 per person for it. This was a short flight on a prop with no business class. Here’s the schedule for that:

05/23 JU180 Belgrade to Tivat departing 8:15AM arriving 9:20AM

Then after four days in Montenegro, it was time to fly to Paris. There are two airports near the Aman — Tivat and Podgorica — and for this segment a trip out of the latter airport worked better. So I booked the following in economy on Montenegro Airlines for $142 per person:

05/27 YM237 Podgorica to Paris departing 8:55AM arriving 11:35AM

Lastly we had to get back to the US, though I left this completely open ended. I ended up booking Lufthansa first class the night before we left using Aeroplan miles that I transferred over from American Express. The routing for that was as follows, and it cost 70,000 miles plus $355 in taxes and fees per person:

05/30 LH1031 Paris to Frankfurt departing 11:25AM arriving 12:40PM
05/30 LH450 Frankfurt to Los Angeles departing 2:05PM arriving 4:40PM

In the end, the entire routing looked as follows:

Booking hotels

Yes, this was a trip of splurges when it came to hotels. I’m someone who couldn’t give a rat’s rear about material things. I have about one outfit I wear and some travel gadgets, but that’s about it. I’d always rather spend money on great experiences. So from start to finish I wanted to try out some hotels I might not otherwise stay at. In the end I actually think I got some fairly reasonable deals.

To start off the trip I booked the St. Regis New York for our three night stay. Ford booked us through Luxury Privileges (this is the part of the trip he knew about), which got us the third night free, a $100 food & beverage credit, and free breakfast. As an SPG Platinum member I got suite upgrade as well. The normal nightly rate was about ~$1,000 including taxes and fees, so in the end I paid under $700 per night, which I’d say isn’t too terrible. That’s especially true since this was during a busy week where many mid-range hotels were going for $400 per night.

If we had redeemed points it would have cost 35,000 Starpoints per night. Since I value those at ~2.2 cents each, paying cash was the better “value.”

Next up was the Aman Sveti Stefan. I love Aman hotels, and find that they’re truly transformational. To me Amans aren’t about luxury in the same way people may view Four Seasons or Ritz-Carltons, for example. Instead what I love about Amans are how they almost all have unique locations and the most bespoke service imaginable.

The Aman Sveti Stefan is located on a private island that was a fishing village back in the 15th century. This has to be the most unique setting I’ve ever seen for a hotel. Wow, wow, wow.

Amans are known for their flawless service, and until now I’ve only stayed at Amans in Asia. So I was curious to see how the service compared in Eastern Europe.

The nightly rate for the Aman over our dates started at 770EUR, though I decided to book a premium room for 880EUR per night, for our four night stay. I would have used the Citi Prestige fourth night free benefit, but unfortunately this hotel requires a credit card authorization form, and hotels with that requirement are excluded from the fourth night free benefit. I learned that the hard way…. grrr.

Lastly for our three nights in Paris I wanted to see if I could get a room with a terrace overlooking the Eiffel Tower. I know that’s cheesy as could be, but since Ford loves Paris, I thought he’d appreciate it.

The Shangri-La Paris seems to have among the best Eiffel Tower views, and I used the Shangri-La Luxury Circle program to get a better deal. The normal price for the Eiffel Tower View Terrace Room I wanted was 1,600EUR per night. However, by booking through Luxury Circle I could get a third night free, a confirmed upgrade at the time of booking, a welcome amenity, and a property credit equal to 10% of the cost of one night.

So I booked one category below the Eiffel Tower Terrace Room — the Eiffel Tower View Room — which cost 1,400EUR. When you factor in the third night free, I ended up paying 930EUR per night, but we got free breakfast every morning, plus a 140EUR property credit.

I was thinking I’d be underwhelmed based on how much I was spending, since I generally don’t find splurging on city hotels to be as worthwhile as splurging on secluded resorts. But I was very impressed.

Bottom line

I think it goes without saying that this was the most special trip of my life. In the upcoming installments I’ll share all the details, including how the “surprise” went down.

While we stayed at some expensive hotels, I’d like to think we at least got a fairly good value in comparison to the retail cost. We used third night free perks at both the St. Regis and Shangri-La, which made the otherwise crazy rates a bit more reasonable.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

  1. Saw the instagram post by Ford some time ago, and thought you were planning to keep quiet about it on the blog’s end. But no, with this installment, we shall know all the details!

    A very big congratulations and best wishes to the exciting paths ahead for you and Ford!

  2. OK, taking Ford in The Residence trip would have been a great proposal, but I must admit this bears it. Congratulations on the perfect proposal, and the perfect guy!

    You will make all of us a virtual part of your wedding, right?

  3. Congrats guys!

    I surprised my wife with a trip to Germany when I proposed; it took a lot of planning and involvement of other folks to pull it off. Even booked a refundable “return” ticket when she thought she was just coming to see me for a couple days to keep up the surprise! Looking forward to the story.

  4. Congrats – but you might want to look at your map. PGD is punta gorda, Florida, not Podgorica, Montenegro. Your map looks like you flew from Punta Gorda to Paris, which I assume you didnt.

  5. +1 on the mistake about Podgorica. The airport code is TGD, since the city used to be called “Titograd” (Tito – City) back in the days of former Yugoslavia.

  6. Ha, well chosen man, Aman Sveti Stefan is probably my favorite Aman, what a great place to propose.

  7. Hey Ben,

    I think we actually got married in your room at the Shangri-la hotel.

    It really was an amazing room and a perfect terrace for a wedding.

    Congrats on your surprise!

  8. Happy for you. We LOVE Aman Sveti Stefan! Right now it’s the octopus season so I hope you had their delectable octopus dishes. I’m sure you know tennis star Djokovic got married in one of those small church on the island.

  9. Congratulations to you lovelies! I was very much hoping you’d share this. Can’t wait to read the rest.

  10. Congratulations! Really looking forward to the rest of this series… as long as Ford said yes, if he turned you down I don’t want to read any further.

  11. congrats Ben- I’ve been looking forward to this trip report. Happy for you guys! Of note, I’ve actually been able to book Amans that require credit card authorizations with Citi prestige… it does however require a little more work (i.e. contacting the hotel in advance).. it also ends up being a case of HUACA with Aspire as well… but it’s definitely worth it to save that money….


  12. You just dropped $9,000 on 10 nights of lodging. That’s more than I make in two months.

    I’m happy you found love but obviously you’re a little too successful for miles/points by now

  13. I like this blog as much for the travel aspect as I do for the sheer ridiculousness of what is available out there if one has enough money. 930EUR per night in Paris is more than my mortgage payment each month, so it’s hard for me see it as good value. I am nonetheless excited to read about your trip and hope you had a good time.

  14. Congrats! I didn´t understand if the entire trip was a surprise (from NYC) or just the destination.
    And I agree with another comment, you should have proposed in Lufhtansa First Class, having the Captain officiating, and have the wedding party at the FCT. 🙂

  15. Many congrats! Honestly, a proposal is special regardless of where you are or (usually) how it’s done, but it doesn’t hurt to be staying at extra nice hotels. My husband proposed at home after I ordered him to change his original dinner plans.

    In any case, now you have to think about how to top this for your honeymoon! Fun times.

  16. Ben, congratulations on getting engaged, I’m happy for you.
    I’m sorry I’ve been mean to you before

  17. Congrats guys and looking forward to the reports 🙂
    P.S. And of course he said “yes”!!!!! :-))))

  18. Congratulations you two! Can’t wait to hear all about it! I love Paris – used to live there, and it’s the perfect city to propose!

  19. Firstly, congratulations!
    I have to think, despite both of yours and Ford’s love for travel, wouldn’t it have been more romantic (and creative) to devise a way propose in a way that didn’t revolve around what essentially is your day job? That would have been truly unique!

  20. Congratulations!!! A couple of the comments make me laugh out loud. I’m glad someone (“n”) apologized for being mean in the past. Love can make bad turn into good!!

  21. This is fantastic. Congrats Ben. Totally agree with you on the material things vs. experiences debate.

  22. Wishing you a lifetime of happiness together! Congratulations and thanks for sharing. Good news is always welcome.

  23. Congrats to you both and a lovely story. I was taken aback when you said you’ve been with Ford for a few years now … can’t believe how fast that time has gone.

  24. Congratulations on your engagement. I wish you both all the joy and happiness in the world.

  25. @Phil sez: “…wouldn’t it have been more romantic (and creative) to devise a way [to] propose in a way that didn’t revolve around what essentially is your day job? That would have been truly unique!”

    No, it would not have been because @Lucky’s “day job” is a PASSION and not your conventional 8-to-5 day job that’s usually boring and a chore. Because travel is a PASSION for both @Lucky and @Ford, devising a way to propose that revolves around that PASSION, especially with the challenge of trying to make it a novel, memorable and perfect travel experience, made it, well, unique.

    Congrats, guys!

  26. Congratulations, Ben & Ford! I can’t wait to read more details of the trip.

    @aaron – “round” birthday is a birthday which ends in a 0, so 40, 50, 60 etc. I think Ben took his father on his round the world trip for his father’s 50th birthday.

  27. Congratulations, Ben!

    Your surprise trips have been some of your best work. Your dads surprise trip was hysterical reading through.

  28. Congrats. My partner and I got married at San Francisco City Hall in 2004. Wasn’t legal at the time. Still waiting to do it again. We have been together 26 years. I hope you and Ford can celebrate that anniversary some day.

    Can’t wait for the rest of the story!

  29. Wonderful. Best wishes! ❤️ watching your life unfold. Hubby and I have been together 38 years so love the you found your buddy for life. Safe travels forward ❤️

  30. congrats and all the best …

    whilst we’re in the subject of aman, i think you haven’t published your south east asia trip report where you went with ford and stayed at a few amans ?

    is that also coming?

  31. Congratulations to both of you . It all looks beautiful and romantic. If I propose to my other half in the ibis budget do you think he’ll say yes?

  32. Congrats! Love seeing everyone jumping in with best wishes to you both.

    Any chance we can get an installment from Ford on the whole trip? I’ve enjoyed reading the perspective of your co-pilots (your parents, Andrew, Matt, Matthew K) and I bet this one would be special as well.

  33. Congrats Ben! Look forward to your planning of the honeymoon. My suggestion is to go French Polynesia since you’ve never been and can finally review TN. My wife and I stayed at thalasso in bora bora and Hilton mores for ours. I know it’s pretty hard to get reward nights now but think it’d be worth the paid rates.

  34. Congrats to you both. Good thing you can turn you wedding proposal trip into a business expense because the nightly costs for those hotels is serious money. Looking forward to the future posts.

  35. Congrats bud.

    As much as I dislike your cc pumping. You seem like a solid guy otherwise and wish you both the best!

  36. I’m not anti-gay, but pls don’t marry. You could gave legal issues when flying through the middle East.

  37. CONGRATULATIONS. The most fun one I saw was at an Star trek convention were a guy proposed to his friend. Keep up the good story’s BIG fan of your blog!

  38. Belated congratulations to you both.

    If everyone you have so selflessly shown how to travel smarter could attend the ceremony, you would fill a stadium with well wishers.

  39. Being a reader for years now it really makes me happy to see how far you’ve come in your personal and professional life. Out of all the trip reports I’ve read and enjoyed of yours I’m most excited about this one as I feel like I’ve grown up beside you and now we get to come along with you as you take the next step in your life. I wish you and Ford all the best and think you two make an amazing couple. Best wishes to you both.

  40. Thank you for sharing with us. Sounds like an awesome trip. And congratulations to you and Ford.

    Peace out.

  41. @james – these hotels seem expensive, he has to turn his private moments into business to claim back on them. I mean look at this, he barely used any points for any of his hotels and yet he talks about them on his blog about points.

  42. Congrats Ben!!! Can’t wait to read more, sounds like such a thoughtful and amazing trip!

  43. Sincere congratulations. Ben, are you now able to admit that Paris is a wonderfully romantic city? I do hope that Ford has educated you in the delights of this amazing city. When should I expect the wedding invitation?

  44. Congratulations to you both!! Wishing you a lifetime of happiness together (and many more Aman experiences!)

  45. Congratulations, Ben. My partner and I decided to get married last week. We’re planning it now. All the best to you and Ford.

  46. First off, congrats! Secondly, can you provide some more details on the Citi 4th night free credit card authorization form conflict. Possibly worthy of a blog post? I think I might be running into the same sort of issue currently with a hotel in the Maldives, but I’m not positive.

  47. First comment on your site for me : Congratulations !!! Best wishes to both of you in your future life !!!

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