Archive for October, 2011
After several months of planning, it was finally time earlier this month for us to take our trip to Rome.
Our itinerary for the flight to Rome was not what I wanted, but it was the best I could get when using miles to pay for the flight. We’d leave Austin at 9:30 a.m., arriving at JFK at 2:10 p.m. That was okay. The problem was with the next part of the trip: our Rome flight wouldn’t leave until 8:50 p.m., giving us an almost 7 hour layover. That was not what I wanted, but it was the best I could do with the miles I had. (I used 30,000 miles for each of us to get from Austin to Rome. I would have had better scheduling options if I had paid 60,000 miles for each of us, but I did not have enough miles in my account to cover that. )
A friend picked us up at the house at 6:30 a.m. to take us to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Thankfully rush hour traffic did not delay us very much and we arrived at the airport at 7:15. We entered the terminal and went to the American Airlines First Class check-in line. (We were flying coach, but one of the benefits of Platinum status is the ability to use the First Class line which should be much shorter than the regular coach line.)
AA had two agents checking in passengers on the First Class line which should have been enough, but it wasn’t on this day. One of the agents was helping a family with their reservations. The passengers could not speak English very well; the agent was helping them when we got on line, and was still helping them when we finished our check-in 20 minutes later.
We cleared security and went to the Admirals Club. My membership had expired and I wanted to renew it for another year. American had sent me an email offering me the chance to renew; if I did they would give me two luggage tags. I managed to pass on that offer. Instead, I wanted to renew on this date at the club for a couple of reasons. First, the club gets credit for each member who renews at the club instead of online. The AAngels at the Austin club have been so nice to me that I wanted to return the favor by helping them get credit for my renewal.
Second, since I had earned Platinum status, they would reduce the renewal fee by $100. I thought that was a good deal, but the AAngel told me even more. American Airlines has long been the Official Airline of Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, October is National Breast Cancer awareness month. Since I was renewing in October, American would reduce my fee by another $25 and donate $25 to the Komen foundation. So, I got the extra discount and money went to a good cause. Well done.
We soon boarded our nonstop flight to JFK in New York. We were on a 737-800, one of the newer planes in the fleet. The 737s are replacing the MD-80s and there are a variety of good reasons for them to do that. But there is one thing I will miss about the MD-80; the left side of the plane has only two seats; my wife and I could have a row to ourselves. The 737 is three-across on both sides of the plane, so a row of our own probably won’t happen.
However, one of the benefits that American offers its elite passengers is the chance to have a row for themselves. I reserved the window and aisle seats for us with the hope that the middle seat would not be taken. AA tries to keep those middle seats open as long as possible as a benefit to its elite members. Sure enough it worked this time, the middle seat remained open and we had the row to ourselves.
We had a smooth flight to JFK. One of the things I find interesting about a flight from Texas to the New York City area is the route. Instead of flying a direct route to New York, we go east to Atlanta, then turn north following the eastern seaboard to the New York area.
We arrived in New York on time, and began our long wait for the Rome flight. We went to the Admirals Club for lunch. The dining area offers a great view of American’s operations at JFK.
We finished our meal but still had a very long wait for our connecting flight. We read from our Kindles. We checked email. We watched TV. Eventually we got bored and left the club to wander through the terminal. One good thing about a long delay at JFK is that there are a lot of shops to visit. We visited most of them, then found another Admirals Club! So, we went into that one; it was smaller than the first club we had visited, but it was in a different part of the terminal and provided a different view.
Eventually it was time to board our flight for Rome. Our pane was a 767; I had reserved seats next to the window where they are only two-across and we’d have the row to ourselves.
The next several hours were, in a word, uneventful; we had a meal, we watched a movie, and we slept for a few hours. Sometimes the best flight is one where nothing out of the ordinary happens — that was the story of this flight. If you are at 38,000 feet over the North Atlantic, dull and boring is good.
We were able to sleep for a few hours, then woke up to a view of the Alps and a Continental Breakfast served by the flight attendants. Not long after that we began our descent into Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport. We landed two minutes early, not bad for an 8 hour 5 minute flight!
We got off the plane, enjoying the chance to stretch our legs and walk. We took the train across the airport to the arrivals terminal, where our first goal was to get our luggage. That was easier said than done. There were several luggage carousels, every one of them was very crowded, and we had no idea which one was ours. After stopping at five carousels we finally found ours, got our luggage, and moved on to the Customs and Immigration inspection. At least we thought we would do that.
With passports in hand we followed the signs to the “Non-EU resident” line, walked through door, and into the main terminal. That was it. No one looked at our passports, no one asked where we would be staying. No security check of any kind. We passed through one more door and were in the arrivals hall.
Our hotel offered a shuttle bus but we’d have to wait four hours for the next one. After our long wait at JFK that was the last thing we wanted to do! I had visited FlyerTalk to see what those travelers had to say about getting from the airport to their Rome hotel. Most of them wrote about the bus and subway service that went downtown — maybe a good idea for some, but our hotel was not in the downtown area. Several people suggested using a limousine service; that sounded like a much better idea to me.
I made a reservation with Rome Shuttle Limousine and could not be happier with the service they gave us. When we entered the terminal our driver was waiting for us, holding up a sign with our name on it. He took us to the limo, a very nice Audi sedan, and drove us to our hotel, the Sheraton Roma Hotel & Conference Center located 11 miles away. The cost was only 40 Euro.
I would have preferred to stay at a centrally located hotel in the downtown area but did not have enough Starwood points to do this. I could get five nights at the Sheraton Roma for 28,000 points. One night at the Westin Excelsior downtown was 20-25 thousand points. With my limited total, Sheraton Roma was our only choice.
We checked into the hotel and were in our room a mere 65 minutes after our plane landed. Our long anticipated Rome vacation had begun!
Where did we go? What did we do? I’ll cover that in future posts.
Hard to believe, but this is the story of my final mileage run of 2011.
I had several goals for the year; one of them was to requalify for Platinum Status with American Airlines. To do this I would need to earn at least 50,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) for the year. As of the middle of September I had 46,489 miles and needed only 3,511 to reach my target. I would exceed that with this mileage run.
My itinerary was fairly straight-forward. Austin to Chicago to Seattle to Chicago to Austin. I’d leave Austin early in the morning, getting back shortly before midnight. I’d spend the whole day in the air or at an airport — no time to go into town.
The day started easily enough, my first flight was at 8:30 which gave me time, by mileage run standards, to sleep in. For so many of my trips I’ve had to get to the airport at 5 a.m. for a 6 a.m. departure; on this day I would not need to get there until shortly before 7:30.
I arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International, cleared security, relaxed for a while in the Admirals Club, then boarded my flight to Chicago. Normally, I like to sit in the exit row since it gives me extra legroom, but I didn’t do that on this flight. I had a short 40-minute layover at O’Hare and wanted to get off the plane as quickly as I could, so I reserved a seat near the front of the coach section in aisle 9. It wasn’t as roomy as I’d like but I knew I’d be able to get off the plane several minutes earlier once we landed at O’Hare.
We left Austin on time and it was a delightfully uneventful flight; no turbulence, the pilot never had to turn on the seat belt sign — it was one of the smoothest flights I have had in a long time. We landed at O’Hare on time and I quickly made my way through the terminal for my next flight — no time for me to stop at the Admirals Club today!
Boarding had already begun when I got to my gate. I got on the plane and took my seat near the front, again in aisle 9. I had a short layover in Seattle and wanted to be able to get off the plane as soon as possible. We departed and once again I had an uneventful flight, at least it seemed that way until we began our descent to SeaTac. We were supposed to land at 2:10 p.m. Almost an hour before that the pilot told us to prepare for landing. He explained that we had found a strong tailwind and would land 40 minutes ahead of schedule.
That was great news, I was glad to hear it, I’d have more time on the ground in Seattle. And then I realized that might not be such a good deal.
Good news: We arrived in Seattle 40 minutes early due to a strong tailwind.
Bad news: We’d need to fly back to Chicago, into what would now be a very strong headwind. I might miss the connection to my Austin flight.
Once we landed I had enough time to visit the food court, where I watched some of the flight operations. The food court at SeaTac is one of the best places I know to watch aircraft land and take off.
After a few moment I started to walk to the gate, stopping at the bagel shop whee I got a bagel and cup of coffee to go, and then walked to the plane. I planned on eating the food before we left, but no such luck. As I got to the gate I heard the gate agent announce that they wanted to load the plane as soon as possible and depart early due to the wind conditions. So, I boarded the plane; we departed almost 15 minutes early.
I have to say the flight to Chicago was one of the most enjoyable I have had in a long time. I was back in aisle 9, sitting on the aisle, the middle seat was empty, and a man had the window seat. Once we took off and I finished my food he and I started talking and never stopped talking for the entire flight. We had some things in common (we both had served in the military and had stories to share); he was fascinated by the concept of doing mileage runs, and I was fascinated by his job with security at Tiffany Jewelers. We had a great time together and Scott, if you are reading this, thanks for the great conversation!
We landed in Chicago 15 minutes late. I had planned to eat at the food court but there was not enough time so I stopped at McDonald’s, grabbed a shake and made my way to the gate where they had already started the boarding process. I made my way to my seat on the exit row. Although my reservation was for an aisle seat there was no one else in the row so I moved over to the window and got some shots of our take off and Chicago at night.
The plane landed in Austin shortly before midnight, I was home by 12:30 a.m.
It was a good weekend. I passed the 50,000 EQM mark on the flight from Seattle to Chicago, so while I earned the 25% Gold bonus on my miles for the first two flights, I got the Platinum double mile bonus for the two flights coming home.
I flew 5,388 miles. How far is that? If I had flown from New York to Los Angeles and back to New York that would only be 4,950 miles, so, I spent a lot of time in the air. I earned 8,757 miles, that gives me 105,000 miles in my account. My ticket cost $281, I paid 3.2 cents per mile. That’s more than I would normally pay, but it was worth it to reach Platinum status which will give me double miles on all flights until February 2013. In addition, when we fly to Rome we will have access to the Flagship Lounge at JFK, and the other OneWorld lounges (British Airways) at Rome for our trip back home.
It was a good weekend. Now that I have hit my goals for 2011, it makes no sense for me to spend any more money on mileage runs for this year. I’ll spend that money instead on 2012 flights to help me earn status for that year. I look forward to doing mileage runs again next year!