The story so far:
Note: The topic of this post is usually the kind of thing I would ramble on about over at Cruising Altitude, and help people with at Altitude Consulting, but since it’s pretty integral to how we ended up in Europe this summer, we’ll include it here too. Thanks for reading!
So, here’s the thing about award tickets- they can be hard to find, especially in first and business classes. Everyone agrees on this point. Another thing about them is that availability changes over time. Another another thing is that when you have elite status with your chosen airline, there’s a surprising amount of flexibility to shift things around up until the time you start your trip.
Let me put this in context….
When planning an international trip using miles and points, the hardest thing to do is to ‘cross the ocean’ – meaning the flight that takes you to whatever other continent you’re trying to go to. In our case, the general destination was ‘Europe.’ Since Finnair had availability, that ended up meaning Helsinki (which I was thrilled about, honestly).
However, our home airport is LAX, and there wasn’t any real available routing that would get us from there to JFK where the Finnair flight would pick up, even though on one award you can fly up to 3 segments. I initially just booked the JFK-HEL and back, and then laid in wait to see what better I could do.
Eventually, I sussed out a couple of tickets I could add on from Chicago to Newark (admittedly not JFK, but close enough that American would consider it a ‘connection’) and added that on. LAX to Chicago happened to be much cheaper than LAX to JFK, easier to upgrade, and we didn’t mind the chance to kick off the trip in the Windy City anyway. I still wasn’t happy with the specter of the Newark to JFK hassle, but I let it be for awhile.
After a few months of periodically checking in to see if by any miracle two award seats in the right class got ‘released’ by American’s all mysterious and powerful revenue management program direct from Chicago to JFK (there was one flight that would work, so I wasn’t too hopeful) I finally saw the next best thing, which was a pair of seats going Chicago, to Boston, and then on into JFK. The first flight had two in First, and the second I’d have to downgrade myself to economy to let CAR and Baby Flyer take the one remaining premium seat.
So in short, our options were to trade the bus, train and bus, or expensive Uber for one more flight and a layover in Boston. It only took a few minutes of consideration before calling up to make the change. Two factors played heavily here- if we flew the two flights, we could check our bags all the way through to Helsinki since it was all one award, and it meant we could actually leave the car seat at home entirely. We didn’t really anticipate getting in any cars in Europe, and this across town taxi ride in NYC was the only time we were sure we’d need it.
A very helpful agent got our award switched over in just a few minutes- the flexibility and the service are great perks of keeping my Oneworld/American status. As an Executive Platinum, I could also stand by for the upgrade on that second flight in case a seat cleared up.
Our day started early out of ORD, but since it was the start of the adventure everyone was in a good mood. We got there in time for a few minutes and breakfast at the Admiral’s Club. Since we were flying internationally with Oneworld status, we got a couple free premium drink vouchers. These can be used for the full bar menu, or also the bottled juices and smoothies. We didn’t use them all, so we left one behind to ‘pay it forward’ to some other traveler later in the day.
The flight went quickly, and Baby Flyer dozed for most of it. Once in Boston, we headed again to the Admiral’s club (more drink coupons, more paying it forward), and then tried to go to the new British Airways lounge in the international terminal. I won’t go on here at length about the rules since I’ve already done so over at Cruising Altitude, but in short clear rules need to be set out for this place. When we were there, according to the website, it was open. When we got there it was indeed open, but apparently only for Japan Airlines customers. This however, wasn’t stated anywhere, and caused us to loose about 40 minutes our layover hiking over and back.
Putting that behind us, we ended up enjoying the rest of our Boston time at the Club taking turns showering, and watching Baby Flyer in the kids’ room. A good time was had by all, and soon it was time to head out to JFK!
When I’d switched to this flight, I’d then checked in on the tickets online and got a nice extra surprise- AA is currently running one of their 321-T planes on the short hop between Boston and JFK, and so we’d unsuspectingly landed great seats on American’s nicest domestic plane. Even my “economy” seat put me into what was actually business class, and so we both had lie flats with plenty of room. Baby Flyer in particular was impressed, and pretty pleased with herself and I’m pretty sure CAR wouldn’t have minded a longer flight to finish her movie in comfort.
We touched down on time into JFK, and headed out once again to the Admiral’s Club. This time, however, we had access to the International Flagship Lounge for a few hours before our Helsinki flight, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
And that, will be a good start for the next chapter.
Up Next: Part 3- This is the way we board the plane, (board the plane)