Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday 3/9/12: Flying to Paris

American flight 118:  Los Angeles to New York (JFK)
American flight 44: JFK to Paris (CDG)

In Los Angeles

Caught 5 am hotel shuttle to LAX.  When we told a woman traveling in the shuttle with us who was in LA on business that we were on our way to Paris, she acted like she just heard that her grandchild had been born, like it was some kind of a miracle, and there was finally some good in the world.
LAX security process was terrible.  First, we were standing in the security line and then were directed by staff to another line about 300 feet away, which turned out to be considerably longer than the line we were originally in.   Next, apparently the boarding passes I had emailed to Nancy to print the night before while she was in the hotel’s business center were mobile boarding passes and were not valid when printed on paper.  So she had to download the pass while we were trying to pass through security but her connection was poor, so it took us about 30 minutes to get through security.

Once we got through security, everything was fine.  The AA/Citibank credit card I had recently acquired gave us two passes to the Admirals’ Club.  When we arrived at the Admiral’s club check-in desk, I asked the clerk if we could re-use the cards at our layover and she said we could, and returned them without filling the cards out.  Inside the Admirals’ Club, everything is quiet and there are free snacks (nothing interesting, some apples, party snack mix, and grocery-grade mini muffins), and coffee and tea service, but more importantly there were lots of places to sit and dock my computer, with wifi, so I was able to wrap up my work for the time being.  We sat there until boarding.

Flight 118

LAX-JFK flight (AA 118) was full, or nearly so, but not oversold.  Skipped the pay-per-chew meal.  Our plan was to keep awake on the first flight, and then take our sleeping pill on the second flight so we could sleep, since we would be arriving in Paris at 6:30 a.m.  This plan largely worked.

At Kennedy Airport

At JFK, we were hungry and thirsty and stopped in the priority club again, but the clerk told us we should go to the Admirals’ club (A.C.) in the International section after she started filling out our cards (rendering them useless beyond that day).  By the time we huffed over to the international A.C., it was already time to board.  Doh!  Had we skipped the A.C. in JFK altogether, we could have used the passes on the return flight.

Since they were admitting several standbys, I waited at the counter about 10 minutes until I had the chance to ask if they were asking for volunteers for denied boarding,  Nancy rolled her eyes, perhaps appropriately, since they weren’t. We boarded having grabbed a handful of pretzels at the Admirals' Club and wishing we had sprung for snacks and more reading material when we had the chance.

Flight 44

Coach in American Airlines was surprisingly not bad.  I was prepared for the worst but I found the service to be warm and sufficient - we are pretty do-it-yourself kinds of people - and the food on international was perfectly edible.  They still serve 2 meals included with the price of admission, and they still offer complimentary wine and beer on international flights (not liquor) so I enjoyed a “Champanito” as I first heard a mini-champagne bottle called when flying to Ecuador in 1997, and since then has been my personal tradition on outbound international flights.  This and the meds, combined with 3 hours sleep the previous night, enabled both of us to sleep about 4-5 hours on the flight, which for me is pretty good.

Flight arrived slightly ahead of schedule.  We waited at least ½ hour for our luggage, but immigration had no wait at all, and as far as I could tell there were no customs inspectors there whatsoever.  We were told to walk to catch the train but when we walked all the way to the station, about 1/2 mile, we were stopped, apparently because someone left an abandoned luggage item at the train station, so we were told to walk around the other way, which we didn’t understand how to do and didn’t want to shlep our luggage another mile around the airport.  We decided to take a cab instead.  While we were in the taxi line, an unlicensed cabbie offered to take us to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in the 19th Arrondissement - about as close to the airport as you can be while within Paris proper - for the bargain basement fare of 80 euros.  We passed, and took a regular metered cab.  The fare ended up being 37 euros.  Should have done that in the first place because trains (and the added bonus of shlepping luggage up and down stairs, etc.) would have cost at least 24 euros for the two of us anyway.

The Finagle

The tickets were made possible by the 75k bonus AA citicard (a different one) I ordered last year.  (The 75k offer no longer exists but there are other good offers that still do.)  AA offers round-trip mile Saaver coach seats in the off-season for 40,000 miles plus $98 taxes each.  (For comparison, a summer peak non-capacity-constrained frequent flier ticket may cost 120,000 miles.)  After the tickets were booked and paid for, I later realized an even better finagle – a way to bundle it with a one-way ticket to Hawaii at a later date – but it was too late to change without incurring significant fees that would have offset the upside, and in any case that is a story for another day.


  1. we are going to paris for a honeymoon next year. i'm curious about the stopover comment. how does that work?

    1. If you are using AA miles and live somewhat near a city with a nonstop flight to Europe, you can bundle a separate domestic one-way ticket onto it. Flights to Europe or South America from North America also include Hawaii as part of North America.

      For example, if you are going to fly from Chicago to Paris next March for 20,000 miles, you could instead fly Maui to Chicago in December, then Chicago to Paris in March, on the same ticket, for 20,000 miles, as long as you are flying a nonstop from Chicago to somewhere in Europe. Your ticket technically would be Maui to Paris, with a 3 month stopover in Chicago.

      Then you could do the same thing on the return ticket.

      For the first Hawaii trip, you will still need to figure out how to get from Chicago to Maui in December.

      After that, theoretically you could alternate between going to Hawaii and Europe every 6 months or so, although you would probably need to make reservations for each leg at different times.

      This only works when bundling a flight outside north America, i.e. to South America, Europe, Asia, etc, and the long-term stopover (i.e. trip home) has to be the flight from which you are flying out of North America. I believe you can also mix and match airlines, using AA, Alaska, Hawaiian, Air Berlin, British Airways, Iberia (you may want to avoid the last two due to their high fuel surcharges), and some others.

      This is something of a loophole, so there are obviously a lot of hoops to jump through, but it is technically allowed if the seats are available. As more people find out about it I wouldn't be surprised if the loophole is closed.

      Finding availability takes a lot of leg work. You can do it yourself as explained if you carefully read all of the steps on the MMS 10-part series on using AA points or you can hire an expert such as MileValue (see links on the right column), who also has spoken to a lot of the minute details of the rules on his blog. If any pieces of the puzzle involve non-AA or Alaska airlines you will need to book by phone for a $25/ticket surcharge.


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