Arriving in Paris

Bonjour from Paris!

Christmas vacation is here! That means we get to spend ten days in Paris and three in Geneva!

Before the vacation could begin though, we had to get to Paris. Fresh off of practically 24 hour travel days getting to/from Malaysia, I was so relieved that this time we would only have to deal with one direct flight Abu Dhabi to Paris. Utilizing our American Airlines points, Tony was able to secure Business Class seats for the 7.5 hour flight.

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Frequent Flier

When booking an Etihad flight with American Airlines points, you don’t get to choose your seats and so while we ended up with two seats next to each other, the third seat was four rows up and on the opposite aisle. Up in row 8, Tony got to relax, sip champagne and watch movies while back in row 12 with Matteo, it took me 4 hours to get through a 1.5 hour long movie, and I ended up logging about 1,000 steps according to my Withings watch with only 2 steps between my seat and Matteo’s.

I kid, I kid. Honestly, Matteo was great on the flight, but he was busy; wanting/needing snacks, distractions, the iPad, his headphones, his batman toys, activity pack, stickers, all at different times and then back out again once I had put them all away. Oh well, he still does GREAT flying and for that we are so grateful.

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Matteo outside the beautiful Notre Dame

We arrived in Paris at around 2 pm local time. Getting through passport control and collecting our bags was a piece of cake. My favorite part of flying business class with Etihad is their chauffeur service — a ride to/from the airport. By the time we left the airport in Paris, we were beginning to hit rush hour. It ended up taking almost 2 hours to get to our Airbnb apartment in the Opera district but we just got to sit back and relax.

The Airbnb we’re staying at is a first floor, 2 bedroom apartment with a kitchenette and tiny bathroom. We’ve been very pleased with the location. The only negative is that the washer/dryer isn’t working — which is a bummer as when packing as lightly as possible, we factored in being able to do laundry at the 2 Airbnbs we’re staying at on the front and back end of the trip. For what it’s worth, Matteo’s doing his part to lessen the dirty laundry pile by insisting on wearing the same superhero shirt for the last three days.

Each day, we choose a “big” attraction to see in the morning (when Matteo’s at his best) and then “secondary” sightseeing for the afternoon. So far we’ve been able to visit the Sacre-Coeur, Notre Dame, and we’ve taken a river cruise down the Seine as well as vintage shopping, visiting the Lego store, shopping at Galeries Lafayette, and browsing the shelves at the beautiful book store Shakespeare & Company.

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View of Paris from the Sacre-Coeur

The food we’ve sampled so far in Paris has been wonderful! One of the ways we save money when traveling is by only eating two meals a day (a late breakfast or early lunch + dinner) and thanks to the Airbnb, we’ve been able to grocery shop in order to avoid eating out every meal, but what we have had, we’ve enjoyed. Of note was a beautiful breakfast/brunch near the Sacre-Couer at a restaurant called Hardware Society. YUM. We’ve also indulged a bit in street food — there’s a crepe stand about a block away from our Airbnb. We also walked through the Christmas market at the Champs Elysees, and each sampled a treat along the way (Tony ordered mini pancakes with fresh strawberries, I had a beignet).

We are really enjoying our time in Paris so far. The good thing about being here for 10 days is knowing that we can take our time — our days don’t have to be packed from morning to night in order to see it all. And that slower pace is nice for Matteo too, who definitely needs a break now and then in order to stay happy as we travel (that, and a stready diet of Goldfish crackers and McDonald’s chicken nuggets).

Tomorrow we check out of the Airbnb and in to the Park Hyatt. It will be fun to get to see another Paris neighborhood and we know from experience that the Park Hyatt amenities will be second to none. I’ll be looking forward to sharing more of our trip over the coming week.

Au revoir!

p.s. Thank you to Tony’s high school French teacher, wherever you are. He retained enough knoweldge from his two years of French to do quite nicely ordering food and asking simple questions. I am so impressed!

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Maximizing AA Award Travel

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The Holiday season represents one the busiest and craziest travel seasons of the year as people around the world look to visit family or go on holiday during school and work breaks.  Attempting to book award travel over the holiday season can prove very challenging especially the longer you wait to book, as award seat availability is usually very limited with such high demand for airline travel.  The three of us booked a trip to Europe this holiday season back in September and I was happy to find economy availability for three of us so close to Christmas especially to and from popular European Christmas destinations.  Our only real option back in September leaving from Abu Dhabi was to fly in to Vienna and out of Munich on Air Berlin economy with our American Airlines miles.  We booked two separate one-way award reservations with American Airlines miles as Air Berlin is partner in the Oneworld Alliance.

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Current AA Partner Award Chart
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AA Partner Award Chart from March 22, 2016 on (Devalued) 

Last month American Airlines announced a devaluation for their award chart which is effective as of March 22, 2016.  In short, this means that most routes (but not all) booked after this date will require more miles effectively making AA miles worth less money than they were on March 21.  With this upcoming devaluation in mind, many in the miles and points game are looking to maximize their stash of AA miles prior to March 22.  One of the “sweet spots” in the Onewold award chart is a relatively low 30K business class redemption for one-way travel between the Middle East and Europe as these flights are typically 6-9 hours each way.  Economy class is 20K miles, so for an extra 10K miles you can stretch out in lie flat business class cabins if you know where to book and which  partners have these cabins.  Consider that after the devaluation in March the same business class flight will cost 42.5K miles and you can see why many are scrambling to book these routes prior to March 22.

One great aspect of using American Airlines miles is that they allow free award changes as long as your departure and arrival airport remains the same.  This means that your dates can change and even your airline can change if you are able to find a better flight or airline that better meets your needs.  Last week I started to poke around British Airways and American Airlines websites attempting to find routes that were better suited for our travel over break.  I was hoping to find some business class space now that the devaluation was coming so that we could take advantage of the current redemption options to Europe from the Middle East.

Our return flight home originally was scheduled via Air Berlin in economy from Munich to Abu Dhabi with a 9 hour layover in Dusseldorf on New Years Eve.  I was hoping to cut down on the layover in between flights and get us home sooner.  I managed to find a Qatar Airways flight (also oneworld alliance) which flew the same route with a two hour stopover in Doha rather than 9 hours in Dusseldorf.  This meant a shorter flight instead of heading north to Dusseldorf and also a much better layover.  All in all this would reduce our travel time by close to 9 hours  so I called up American Airlines to request the change.  The change worked out great and it actually led to a refund of about $30 since the taxes on award flights were cheaper through Qatar than in Germany.   We were now booked on a better product (by most accounts Qatar is a superior product to Air Berlin) for the same mileage with no other change fees.

A few days later I was looking at other options (again hoping to find a business class option) and came across a direct flight from Munich to Abu Dhabi in business class on Etihad Airways.  Etihad is not technically a Oneworld alliance member, but does have an agreement as a codeshare partner with American. As a result you can book Etihad flights with American miles.  Etihad is the national airline of the UAE and consequently they are based out of Abu Dhabi; this is great for us since Etihad is amongst the top rated airlines in the world and they are known for their lavish products, lounges, and outstanding service in the industry not to mention the Etihad terminal is a mere 5 km from our apartment.  We have flown Etihad 4 times over the past year (all in economy) and are always impressed with the experience.  I was able to find their “Guest Seat” award space in business class on the Etihad website and I called up American to change the reservation again (same airports), but American Airlines was not able to see the award space on Etihad (I called a second time to make sure it wasn’t just an inexperienced CS Rep but to not avail).

After a bit of research online I discovered that this was believed to be a problem in American Airline’s IT system in the U.S. office and that the work around was to call the Australian or UK office.  I found the number, dialed AA Australia and was fortunate to talk to a wonderful CS Rep who saw the space on Etihad.  In the end I booked the three of us home direct to Abu Dhabi from Munich in Etihad business class for a total of 90K (30K per person) American miles.  This allows us a direct 6 hour flight to Abu Dhabi and comes with a top notch business class cabin and seat to boot, since this is an overnight flight with a 9:45 PM departure we will hopefully all sleep on the lie-flat business class seats and wake up close to the UAE.

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Etihad Pearl Business Class on their A340-600 

This trip represents great value to our family and being able to change dates and airlines makes it much easier to lock in a good award and then look for better options.  We are hoping to book one more trip using our American miles before their devaluation in March.

It is important to note that you can book the trip prior to March 22 for future travel, even if the travel is after this deadline, the booking date is what matters. This trip will most likely be to Europe next Christmas and my stagey will be to book prior to March 22 and lock in the low (current) business class redemption rates.  We can then tinker with the exact dates and flights later when we want to secure our detailed travel plans.  This again will allow us to maximize the value of our American miles before the devaluation while still allowing us to change the details of the trip (except origin and destination).

Turn Hotel Nights Into Miles

Right now Rocketmiles is offering a bonus promotion through American Airlines Advantage program where you could earn up to 5,000 American Airlines miles on your first booking through Rocketmiles.  Rocketmiles is an hotel booking service that allows you to choose from dozens of Frequent Flier programs and credit your account anywhere between 1,000 – 5,000 miles per night.

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Rocketmiles is free to join and if you use our referral link to join we will get 1,000 bonus miles and you will get 1,000 bonus miles on your first stay.  If you couple this with the current American Airline bonus offer you could earn up to 6,000 miles on 1 stay.  Not all hotels qualify for bonus miles, but its a free program to use and a great way to build airline miles on stays that you already have to make anyhow.  We just signed up for this promotion and have decided to use it for a 1 night stay in Phoenix this March.

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Once you sign up for an account you will be able to refer your own friends and family as well and earn a bonus on anyone who signs up and books a stay after using your initial referral link.  Good luck and happy booking!