Traveling is a lot of fun. Seeing new places, exploring different cultures, using McDonald’s bathrooms in cities all over the world - it’s all really awesome, and I would encourage people to travel as much as their schedule and budget allows.
The two things that a lot of people factor into their travel decisions are ease and cost. Is it a quick flight? If it’s a long flight, can I get a good deal? Questions like that often guide travel decisions. But now, Arsenal fans have a different question to ask - the club is playing Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan in two weeks, so the destination is set, and if you are actually determined to go, it’ll just be about the cost and mechanics of getting there and finding accommodation.
Unfortunately, I am neither rich nor in possession of vast amounts of free time, so I shall not be making the trip to Azerbaijan, as fun as it is to go see your favorite team win a trophy in person (Personally, I’m batting .500 in that, having been to the 2001 FA Cup Final and also having gone to the 2015 MLS Cup final).
But, just for fun, I decided to figure out how much it would cost me to spend a week (well, five days) in Baku around the Cup final, because I’d rather daydream about fun trips than work. And what I found is...it is expensive, but most of that expense is actually in getting to Baku. This was a bit of a surprise - I was expecting it to be super-expensive, but breaking down the actual details of it was very revealing.
This is the first big hurdle. Baku is a long, long way from Portland; 6470 air miles if you’re flying direct. But guess what? You can’t fly direct from Portland to Baku! Shocking, I know. Given that, there’s two options: the cheapest possible flight, or the flight with the least number of stops. Let’s look at both, via a search on kayak dot com:
As of this writing, it is possible to fly between Portland and Baku for $2023 roundtrip (coach). What does that flight look like?
PDX—->Reykjavik: 3,720 miles, 7h 30m
Reykjavik—->Munich: 1,670 miles, 3h 40m
Three hour layover in Munich
Munich—->Antalya, Turkey: 1,240 miles, 3h
SIXTEEN HOUR layover in Antalya!
Antalya—->Baku: 1,060 miles, 2h 50m
That PDX-Reykjavik flight leaves on Sunday night, and you’d get to Baku on Tuesday night. So yeah, that’s ugly. It’s cheap, but dang that’s a long journey.
It isn’t really possible to get from Portland to Baku in less than two stops. It is more expensive, of course, to do it this way, but fewer stops is better, so the $2700 fare, to me, would be worth it if I were going. The two main choices for a first stop seem to be either JFK or LAX; the PDX-LAX-Baku route is three hours longer than the PDX-JFK one, so through New York it is:
PDX—->JFK: 2,450 miles, 5h 20m
Six hour layover
JFK—->Istanbul: 5,000 miles, 9h 45m
ELEVEN HOUR layover!
Istanbul—->Baku: 1,100 miles, 2h 50m
This set of flights again leaves Sunday and arrives Tuesday, which gives only a single night’s sleep to recover from all that traveling. Where, you ask, should you get that sleep? Well, that’s the good news! Baku is a city of about two million people, and it’s a bit of a destination city for that part of the world, so there’s no shortage of hotels for surprisingly reasonable rates. A quick hotels dot com search shows me rooms ranging anywhere from $75 a night to about $350, so I’m going to not quite split the difference and book a room in the Grand Hotel for $143 a night. Going cheaper is tempting, but after all that flying I want at least a bit of comfort.
So far, we’re at about $3415 - $2700 for the flight and $715 (before taxes and fees) for the hotel, assuming a five night stay so I can check out Baku a bit in the days following the game. So now I will need a ticket to the game. I’m not flying for two-plus days to go soak in an “experience” by watching the game in a damn bar a few blocks from the stadium - I’m all in at this point and am going to chance the secondary market.
For purposes of this exercise, I am going to make the assumption that any ticket I buy on the secondary market is valid - in real life, this would be a huge roll of the dice, but this is just for fun, so I can be naive about it, and that’s really the only way to get a ticket at this point.
So going out to stubhub, I see...surprisingly not usurious ticket prices! It’s possible to get into the stadium and sit in the cheap seats at the very top for as little as $100, but again, I didn’t hypothetically fly for three damn days to sit at the very top. So I start looking at seats behind one of the goals - it isn’t clear from the map which end is for which set of fans, so I’m just picking one. And I still find those $100 tickets, so I grab one and am amazed at how not-expensive it is.
TOTAL SO FAR: $3515
Of course, now I have to find food and, just as importantly, drink. This is where the US dollar comes in handy - as of right now, $100 is worth ₼169.64 (the manat is the currency of Azerbaijan), so I can do pretty well there. And looking at a cost of living calculator, I find:
Cost of a mid-priced meal for one: ₼20 ($11.50)
Cost of a cheap meal for one: ₼10 ($5.75)
Cost of a pint of beer: ₼2-3 ($1.17-1.75)
So let’s call that $20 a day for food (one good meal and probably some snacks or small meals at other times) and, well, let’s say anywhere from $10-20 a day for beer and other grownup-style beverages. Let’s round all that up to $50/day just for ease, and that’s $200 (assuming a Tuesday night arrival and a Sunday morning departure, that’s Wed-Sat expenditures only).
TOTAL SO FAR: $3715
Now we get to the miscellaneous expenses. There are a ton of cool-looking museums in Baku, including the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, a museum and music hall; the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, which looks to be a pretty comprehensive look at the Azerbaijani people and culture; the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum, which is a museum showcasing the textile skill and history of the Azerbaijanis. Like a lot of cities, many of Baku’s museums are free, but those that have an admission cost look to be anywhere from ₼5-7 ($2.95-4.10). So let’s call this $15 total, because going to too many museums in a day is overwhelming and exhausting - three over three days sounds about right.
That’s about it, expense-wise, except for things like airport transfers and intra-city transit. The food/drink and cultural expenses might vary a bit, but it looks like if you want to go to Baku from Portland for the final, you’re going to drop about $4000 when it’s all said and done. If you have the time and money, it would be the trip of a lifetime, for sure, and that’s the one advantage of the Europa League - it’s cheaper than a trip to Madrid for the Champions League final would be.