Bonjour! On Friday, Natalie and I flew to Europe on those $1 (plus tax) American Airlines fares I wrote so frequently about back in February. If you don’t get my Deals newsletter, you can sign up for free here. Originally, we were supposed to fly LAX-JFK-LHR-CPH but when American changed one of the flight times, which it seems they often do when you book so far in advance, it allowed an agent to put us on the nonstop to London. Score! BTW: Here’s more about what to expect when an airline change works in your favor.
We really had no idea what we were going to do in Europe but the price was so low, we just had to buy the tickets and figured we’d make our plans later. When I went to book hotels in Copenhagen a couple months later, everything was crazy expensive. Then we were invited to go on a Uniworld river cruise in France, which was departing from Avignon on the Sunday after we landed. Natalie loves France and after much cajoling, we finally talked her mom, who sadly lost the travel bug and her treasured travel companion when Natalie’s father passed away in 2009, into joining us.
Since it didn’t make sense for us to go all the way to Copenhagen, we decided to book Natalie’s mom on a ticket from Toronto to London and for us just to get off in LHR (we didn’t check bags) and spend Saturday night in England.
Los Angeles to London on American
I was really hoping that my American Airlines upgrade would clear since who wants to fly coach for 10 hours? I admit that I now have a fear of flying long-haul coach, so much so that I coined a term for it: Econophobia. If you have it too, please, leave a comment at the bottom of this page. Unfortunately, our upgrade didn’t clear but the silver lining was that I saved $750 & 50,000 miles, which is what the upgrade would have cost. It sounds expensive but compared to the $9,618 one-way ticket leading up to the flight, it’s a bargain.
After the flight, I was so thankful that the upgraded hadn’t cleared because American flies new 777-300s on this route and they are sweet. Coach class is configured 3-4-3 but Main Cabin Extra is in a 3-3-3 configuration. Since I have elite status with American (AAdvantage Platinum), I was able to get the emergency exit row (seats 16 B&C) free. These seats probably have more legroom than First Class.
FYI: American’s 777-300 has 220 standard economy class seats with 31 inches of pitch and 17 inches width. There are 30 Main Cabin Extra seats with36 inches of pitch and 18 inches width.
Obviously, it wasn’t a flatbed like in Business Class but we were fairly comfortable and they offer two meal servicea. An hour after takeoff, they served dinner (choice of chicken and mashed potatoes or tortellini) and 90 minutes before landing, a blueberry muffin top, yogurt and dried fruit. On top of that, the plane had Altitude WiFi powered by T-Mobile, which was super fast and reasonably priced at $12 for a two-hour pass, $17 for a four-hour pass and $19 for the whole flight.
Tip: When flying American Airlines out of Terminal 4 at LAX, go to the Kogi taco truck for some Korean tacos next to gate 46.
FYI: There was no immigration line at T3 and the agent couldn’t have been friendlier!
10 Crazy Things I saw on My Last International Flight
This flight motivated me to write a separate post about 10 of the crazy things I saw on this international flight. I bet you have your own experiences to add to this list so please share!
Mr & Mrs Smith
Our plans really came together after Natalie and I met with the owners of Mr. and Mrs. Smith for drinks one day in Santa Monica. Although Mr & Mrs Smith isn’t owned by Brad and Angelina, their founders are arguably just as cool … in a totally different way, of course! James and Tamara Lohan are a British couple who started out writing guidebooks about boutique hotels in 2003. Since then, their website has grown into a digital travel company that specializes in bespoke travel. It’s hugely popular in the U.K. and now, they are looking to grow their brand in the United States.
Mr & Mrs Smith are very selective about the hotels you can book through them. They not only have to be luxurious, but hip as well. Nothing stuffy. They are all independently vetted and they don’t have any big chains like Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton included in their roster. They invited us to check out their services so we could see firsthand why travelers should book with them and we weren’t disappointed. They have a best price guarantee, their booking agents are available 24/7 and their clients always get free extras on arrival. They also have a very interesting, free rewards program called the BlackSmith travel club; premium memberships cost money but come with cash-back options.
It turns out that I’ve already stayed at one of their hotels – the QT in Sydney. I loved it so I knew they weren’t going to steer us wrong. After all, I only have one chance not to mess up with my mother-in-law, right? It would be her first vacation to Europe in many years and I wanted everything to be perfect.
They suggested we stay at the Ham Yard in London, which has 91 individually designed rooms and suites designed by Kit Kemp in her award-winning modern British style. It’s in Soho, alongside 24 apartments, 13 independent stores and a restaurant and bar with outdoor dining. There is a drawing room and library, spa and gym, theater, private event rooms and a 1950s style bowling alley. The hotel didn’t disappoint and my mother-in-law was particularly fond of the Frette linens, deep soaking bath tub and the lovely box of chocolates that was sent up to the room since we’d booked via Mr & Mrs Smith. My only disappointment was that we only spent 20 hours there and we didn’t discover the bowling alley until the morning so I didn’t have time to impress my mother-in-law with my bowling skills … although that might’ve been a good thing!
London Heathrow to Hotel
To get from London’s Heathrow into the city, I usually take Heathrow Express, the tube or a combination of the two and then walk with my bag to my hotel; here’s my tip on how to get to and from the city from London’s airports. But I couldn’t do that to my mother-in-law or myself since she travels with a bag heavier than me and I would be the one carrying it. So I ordered a car through a dependable service that I tested out a couple of years ago. GroundLink, located in 5,000 cities in 110 countries is super easy to use and is around the same price as taking one of London’s black cabbies. It cost $110 to have a driver waiting for us outside of baggage claim even though we were almost an hour early and be driven in a plush Mercedes. Here’s more on their service.
My favorite thing to do in London is to go to the theatre. Fortunately, it’s Natalie and her mom’s favorite thing to do, too. Fortunately, I was able to find fifth row seats at Miss Saigon online; I haven’t seen this show in about 20 years. I found the best price (£135 ($211 USD) on delfontmackintosh.co.uk and by choosing an aisle (Seats: E33 – E34; F34), I saved a lot of money. The website indicated that there was some obstruction during the show but it was negligible. Also, the Prince Edward Theatre doesn’t have a middle aisle so it’s just one huge row of 34 seats and I don’t like feeling trapped, nor do I mind standing up for people going in and out. Plus, at intermission, you get a headstart to the loo, which could mean not missing the second act if you’re a woman. Ha! Those lines get long and quickly. FYI: Miss Saigon contains some scenes and language which may not be suitable for younger audience members. Their website suggests kids 12 years and above but I would say 16.
Eva Noblezada and Jon Jon Briones were amazing and received a standing ovation from most of the crowd. After the applause, Jon Jon unexpectedly ask the audience to take their seats again, for a special request. He then asked everyone for donations to help support a fellow actor with pancreatic cancer. She needs treatment and he explained that the UK doesn’t allow the procedure so they have to send her out of the country and that it will cost £140,000. They had cast members carrying huge buckets by the main exits (not the side ones so I had to go back). I thought it was remarkable they did this and hope they reach their goal.
Uber to Heathrow
On the way back to Heathrow, I would have taken the tube to avoid traffic but since it was Sunday morning, I was promised by the concierge that driving wouldn’t take more than 40 minutes. He was right and instead of taking Groundlink, I tried Uber X. We had a female driver who showed up within the estimated five minutes the price was exactly what the app quoted £37 = $58 USD and it was a smooth, clean and comfortable ride. What I love about Uber X besides the price is that most of the drivers are really nice and that they have chargers for phones. But Uber X can’t pick up at LHR so that’s why I recommend Groundlink if you want to go by car.
London to Marseilles
We were back at Heathrow 21 hours after landing. We flew British Airways to Marseilles and can you believe it cost more for our 90-minute London to Marseilles flight ($369.90) than the 10-hour flight from Los Angeles to London? Usually, BA flies out of the plush Terminal 5 but this flight goes out of T3 so be sure to doublecheck your boarding pass before getting to the airport. Otherwise, it’s a hassle to go from T5 to T3. Speaking of hassles, if you don’t want to get stuck and risk missing your flight at Heathrow security read my tip on speedier security at London Heathrow.
You have to love British Airways. The pilots turned the seatbelt off within five minutes and turned it back on just 10 minutes before landing. In America, the pilots probably would have kept it on for 40 minutes and turned it back on 30 minutes prior to landing. Also, they offer free newspapers to all passengers (pick them up in the jetway), the flight attendants were super friendly, even offering all the kids on the plane their very own BA kids coloring book and they served a free tasty ham sandwich and a treat on a short flight. You could argue that’s why it cost $369 per person. The one thing I did not like was that the agents made me check my bag when I went to the counter to help my mother-in-law check hers. This was even after it fit in their small sizer. FYI: British Airways has new carry-on rules, which begin this week. Here’s the information you need to know.
Sailing the Rhone with Uniworld
I’m now writing to you from my cabin on Uniworld’s SS Catherine while sailing on the Rhone River. I should have a full report for you next week but if you can’t wait, you can read these 20 reasons to go on a European river cruise with Uniworld, which I wrote back in May after my amazing Danube trip with my dad.