Trip Report: Madrid 2013

I went to Madrid February 1-4, 2013.

Booking Madrid

The ticket was only $281 R/T in economy thanks to an awesome deal described in this post from The Points Guy. I was actually in the middle of putting together The Points Game guide, so this was a real opportunity to put some of the things I’d learned from the blogs into practice.

The currency conversion came to $281

The currency conversion came to $281

I bought the ticket for a number of reasons:

  • As a Silver Medallion on Delta, I was entitled to a 25% RDM bonus
  • The itinerary was JFK-FCO-MAD-FCO-JFK – over 10K MQMs and nearly 13K RDMs
  • The end result was 2 cents/mile – a screaming deal

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 7.28.18 PM


Multiply this times two

Multiply this times two – I credited the flights to Delta’s SkyMiles program


I paid for the ticket with a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card (my Amex Platinum Card) since I had a credit with them after bitching for a solid week in September.

And I’d always wanted to visit Spain. You can’t beat a $281 R/T ticket that comes with ~13K RDMs. It would also be my first chance to utilize my Global Entry (coming back to JFK) that I got through the Amex Platinum Card.


February 1st finally rolled around. I left around 2pm after grabbing a few travel-sized toiletries from the drugstore on the corner.

I made sure to pack a blazer with inner pockets that buttoned and left my wallet at home. I’d heard crazy stories about the agressive pickpocketing in Madrid, and there was no way I was going to let it happen to me. I wore a blazer the entire time and covered it over with a light jacket. My credit cards, ID, and passport were snug against me every second I was out. I actually didn’t see anyone that looked suspicious the entire time, which is good. I always walk fast and straight ahead, even if I don’t know where I’m going. Best to avoid looking like a target. I did see a LOT of gypsies, though.

Anyway, after I got to the airport, check-in was extremely smooth at with the Alitalia agent, which was good because I expected it to be a shitshow. There was also a tiny, tiny part of me that thought the ticket might’ve been voided or, I dunno, messed with since it was originally canceled by Alitalia, then reinstated later. But nope, I got into line and was through security in about 15 minutes.

Then, I headed up to the JAL Business Lounge in Terminal One using Priority Pass Select. It was the first time I’d used it, and the girl at the desk was very gracious. She let me borrow a pen and showed me to the business center, as I had a couple of things I needed to fax that day. Afterward, I headed over to the lounge area and poured myself a stiff whiskey and coke. I flipped open my computer and researched Madrid a little more. I wanted to read about Chueca, the gay neighborhood where I’d be staying.

I actually stayed in this room, booked through Airbnb. Seriously, click that link and look at it. It was cute!

Google Maps told me I was in the prime center of the gayborhood. I really looked forward to seeing what the gay culture was like in Madrid.

I sat in the lounge for about 90 minutes and had a few snackies and a couple of V8s… and maybe another whiskey and coke. 😉 Soon after, I went to the gate and boarded.

 To Rome

My ride to Rome

My ride to Rome

I sat in seat 11J, which was an Economy Comfort (or Alitalia equivalent) seat. I have no idea how I ended up with that seat, but I’m glad I did. It was spacious and there was only one other person in the row next to me. Perf.

The ride to Rome was smooth. I watched a couple of movies on the on-board entertainment system, listened to some music, slept, read, and generally zoned out. It felt good to give my mind a break, even though I’d been to Hawaii only a week prior. We landed in Rome the next morning. It was a very mild and beautiful day at FCO, about 46 degrees (Farenheit, obvi).

Alitalia planes at FCO

Alitalia planes at FCO

Since I had a three-hour layover there, I decided to explore the Priority Pass lounge options. This was after having to take a bus to the terminal. They’re big into not using gates at FCO, FYI.

I was really unimpressed with the Rome airport, in general. I expected something more… cosmopolitan, I guess. Urbane? Better food. Better design. It was kind of a shithole, to be honest.

The first lounge I went into, The Avia Lounge, was completely empty. It was tiiiiny, and there were hardly any food or beverage options. The only reason I stayed was because the attendant let me borrow an American plug converter, so I figured I should recharge my phone and computer while the gettin’ was good. After I got a full charge, I went to the other lounge, The I Mosiaci, which was a lot bigger and nicer. They had the usual newspapers and bar area, big flight monitor screens, and lots of open seating. They also had a table full of little sandwiches, pastries, and fruit. I had a few snacks as well as a Peroni. When in Rome, right? Sorry, I had to.

How I look after flying in economy to Europe

How I look after flying in economy to Europe

The flight to Madrid was pretty packed. I was so out of it that I slept the entire time. I think I bit my lip while I was asleep, because when I woke up again, it was all swollen. Then we landed.

In Madrid

The Madrid airport was NICE. Very sleek and modern. I didn’t have much time to look around because my Airbnb host was expecting me, but I definitely liked the feel of it. I had the subway directions printed out, so I checked them as I bought a subway pass from a machine that included a return back to MAD (it’s a little bit more – a departure tax they called it).

The subways in Madrid were well-signed and intuitive. Nothing like the maze of stinky tubes I deal with in New York all the time. In fact, even with two transfers, I was in Chueca inside of 45 minutes. Easy. That would never, ever happen in New York. I loved the way the doors opened only when someone pressed the button. Way to save the air conditioning from blowing out! In fact, there were many little things in Madrid that were just so practical that they initially struck me as ingenius.

Like the way they bring the credit card machine to the table when you’re ready to pay. My god, why don’t they have that in the States? They put bread directly on the table though, which I found a little odd, but hey, whatevz.

Bread on the table in Madrid

Bread on the table in Madrid

My Airbnb host was wonderful. He showed me all around the neighborhood and took me to buy a plug converter thingy. I stupidly left mine in New York even though I have like four of them by now. When will I learn?


Chueca was charming. The streets were narrow, people hung their laundry over large courtyards in the center of their buildings, and there were a lot of cute Spanish boys everywhere. I had a drink or three at a few of the bars. Even though I was alone, I felt completely comfortable.

Laundry in Madrid

Laundry in Madrid

What I loved most of all was visiting the two big art museums, the Prado and the Reina Sofia. My god. I saw Goya’s Black Paintings, Picasso’s Guernica, Renoirs, sculptures, a beautiful piece by Francis Bacon, and so. much. amazing. art. Being alone in a room full of Serra sculptures was powerful, and an experience I will always cherish. Both museums were huge, wonderfully designed, and had amazing energy. I only left because after four hours in each, I was STARVING.

Alone with Serras at the Reina Sofia in Madrid

Alone with Serras at the Reina Sofia in Madrid

The Prado Museum in Madrid

The Prado Museum in Madrid

Dramz (at the Prado)

Dramz (at the Prado)

Madrid is a beautiful city. So many amazing buildings and small touches to the infrastructure that make it feel like a sophisticated place.

Near the Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol

Near the Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol

At Plaza Mayor in Madrid

Selfie at Plaza Mayor in Madrid

Outside the Prado Museum

Outside the Prado Museum

Street performer in Madrid dressed as the Mad Hatter

Street performer in Madrid dressed as the Mad Hatter

I had a blast in Madrid (and earned a lot of MQMs!). I spent the weekend eating, walking around, exploring the little shops in Chueca, and hanging out in the boisterous bars. Four days was a good amount of time, although I could’ve easily stayed a few more.

Last day in Cheuca

Last day in Cheuca 🙁

Getting back to MAD was a cinch. I used my Priority Pass Select to go into the Sala Puerta de Alcala in Terminal 2 to head back to Rome. It was lovely, truly. Set above the rest of the terminal and surrounded with floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

Doesn't do it justice

Doesn’t do it justice

I loaded up on yogurt, bottled water, and beer for my remaining flights. A few hours later, I was in Rome again. This time I went to the Le Anfore lounge after having a piece of terrible pizza. Seriously Rome airport, what gives?

The Le Anfore was comparable to the I Mosaici in that in was spacious and comfortable. I was beyond exhausted for some reason, and nodded off a bit in my chair. I tried to write a little, but nothing came out. I had a few snacks and a Peroni, but soon after had to board the flight back to JFK.

Regular ol’ economy, this one. I sat next to a cute old lady. We talked a bit, but she didn’t speak much English, so we smiled and decided to stop trying. I watched Thelma and Louise, which I hadn’t seen in years. What a great movie that is. Really. I felt so bad at the end when they drove off the cliff. *sigh*

After that, I fell asleep and woke up before breakfast. Shortly after that, I was back in New York.

Notes about the service:

  • All the flight attendants were male. ALL OF THEM. I tried to find a girl FA, but couldn’t. The guys were brusque and sort of robotic about the meal services, and not remarkably customer-focused
  • The meals were fine, nothing special. At least we got them. They gave us dinner and breakfast, and free wine. Thank god because I’m grumpy when I get hungry
  • The seats were actually pretty comfortable, considering it was economy

Bottom line

All-in-all, a wonderful trip. But I will never fly Alitalia again for the rest of my life. It was bitterly cold when I got back to New York, and then we had Winter Storm Nemo. I’m glad I saw Spain. Visiting Madrid made me excited to visit Barcelona, which I’ll do next month as part of my Barcelon-Paris-Amsterdam trip. Can’t wait to see another Spanish city and compare the experiences.

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Memphis, traveling, and working toward financial independence.

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