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Paris Trip Report, Part 4: Getting Home

I will wrap up the formal part of this trip report with a quick overview of our travels home.

We took the RER from the nearby Noisy-le-Grand stop to CDG airport. This was a bit of a haul (it took just over an hour for that train ride), but It was about €100 cheaper than an airport van would’ve been (the savings would have been more substantial for fewer people—we had to buy 5 train tickets).

When we arrived at CDG, there was not any real time to spend at the Admiral’s Club, so we just headed for the gate to await boarding.

We boarded AA 41 and a Boeing 767-300 bound for ORD. This was a 9.5 hour flight that went much better than you would imagine in main cabin. None of the 5 of us had any real strain, and the flight didn’t seem any longer than a couple of hours. We had reasonable neighbors and a skilled flight crew that helped that along, for sure. We touched down at ORD just before 3PM central, breezed through customs, rechecked our bags and headed to the Admiral’s Club to catch up on world happenings and get a bite to eat.

I’ve reviewed the ORD Admiral’s Club before, so I won’t get into it again here, but I do want to reiterate how great the Eames Chairs are! At about 7PM, we boarded AA 1972 and an MD-83 en route to RDU and home. That flight was… well, I’m not sure. I slept the 1.5 hours away, so I’m sure it was great. We touched down at RDU, picked the car up from Park-and-Ride 4 and headed home to see our 3-year-old and give the grandparents a much-deserved tag out!

I will conclude this series with the next post. That post will be primarily geared toward what YOU should do when you take a family vacation to Paris… and tips to get the most out of it!


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Paris Trip Report, Part 2: Miami to Paris

We left the Crowne Plaza Miami International Airport later in the afternoon and headed to MIA for our 7:40pm flight to MAD in time to catch a quick bite at the Admiral’s Club. The MIA Admiral’s Club is pretty nice with a kids’ play area, an interesting design with several rounded corridors and lots of artwork on display.

After relaxing for a little while, we boarded an Airbus A340-300 for IB 6118, which departed around 8pm bound for MAD and got some sleep during the 8.5-hour flight. Upon arrival at MAD, we picked up our bags and headed through passport control where the kids got their first stamps. It was a pretty big moment for them and, honestly, for me, too! Our layover was only about two hours, so we made our way to our gate to see how much time we would have before boarding. When we got to the gate, it was ominously empty and we were greeted by an agent who said “Paris? Allons-y!” So, needless to say, there wasn’t much exploring time. However, I did snap a couple of shots of the airport.

We trotted down the jet way and boarded an Airbus A321 for IB 3406 and a 1.5-hour flight bound for ORY. For this segment, four of us were in main cabin and my wife was in business class. Needless to say, she had a better food experience! Main cabin had snacks for sale and a soft-drink service whereas she had 3 courses of actual food and wine. Of course, her ticket was 60,000 miles and the rest of the tickets were only 40,000 each, so for 20,000 miles it had better have been some pretty good food since that was the only business segment she got! Incidentally, booking her in business class was the only way to get availability—this flight only had 4 award seats in coach despite calling at least weekly for a few months to check (I also checked the other segments to see if we could get her into business more often, but there was also no availability there… ever).

So, after a crazy RDU-DCA-MIA (overnight)-MAD-ORY routing, we were finally in Paris! We hopped into an Iberia shuttle and headed to our home for the next 9 days—the Holiday Inn Paris Marne La Vallee. I will pick up the next installment with an overview of the hotel and some insights into getting around town. The fourth entry will cover our trip home and the series will conclude with some tips about vacationing in Paris with your family—what to see, what to avoid, and how to save some Euros!

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Paris Trip Report, Part 1: Miami

As I’ve mentioned before, in order to get 5 award seats for my family’s vacation to Paris, I had to get a little… creative with the routing. The biggest piece of that creative routing involved an overnight stay in Miami, so that seems like a good first entry to the trip report series.

My wife, my two older daughters, my mother and I set out for RDU on the early afternoon of 5 April for our 2:50pm flight on AA 4400. We had main cabin seats on an Embraer ERJ 135 for this 44-minute flight from RDU to DCA. Once at DCA, we headed to the Admiral’s Club to get a bite to eat while we waited on our 8:35pm flight to MIA. This was my kids’ first trip to an airport lounge (they have flown a lot but almost always RDU->MCO which is a nonstop flight). Given their reactions to the lounge, I was pretty excited about getting them to Paris!

The Admiral’s Club lounge at DCA is a pretty standard lounge. Free Wi-Fi, complementary snacks, sodas, beer and wine. I did notice that this club also had complementary house liquors and you could get mixed drinks with them (my mother had a margarita).


We boarded AA 1261 heading for Miami which left just a little behind schedule, but the flight was pleasant enough. Upon arrival in Miami, we headed for our hotel, the Crowne Plaza Miami International Airport. When we checked in, I was pleased to note that they had upgraded my room and were providing free Wi-Fi and 1 free breakfast per room as a benefit of my Priority Club Platinum status. I was staying on points, and Priority Club doesn’t normally provided elite benefits on award nights, so this was a great bonus for me. Here are some photos from the hotel. In one of them, you can definitely see why it’s an “airport hotel.” I should note that even though we were clearly in the flight path, I didn’t get any air traffic noise from inside my room. They must have some crazy insulation!

I was hoping that, since our next flight to MAD wasn’t until later the next evening, we would have a chance to head over to South Beach for a little while. Alas, by the time we got rolling, the shuttles wouldn’t have worked out and I didn’t want to rent a car for just a couple of hours. So, instead, we played in the great pool at the hotel and enjoyed some warm weather before heading to Paris.

The Crowne Plaza was a great place to stay, and I think that if I end up overnighting in MIA during another trip that I will definitely choose to stay here. The price was reasonable (and not just because I was on a PointBreak that made the rooms 5,000 points per night!). The rooms were nice, the staff was pleasant and the breakfast was tasty.

After we wiled away the day, we headed over to MIA to board our flight to MAD—which is where I’ll pick up on the next installment.

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Trip Report: Palm Springs, CA – Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa: Part 1, Getting There

I visited Palm Springs, CA in late February 2012 on a business trip to attend the Association of Test Publishers Innovations in Testing conference. My week-long trip included four flights on American Airlines, visits to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), and Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) along with their Admiral’s Club lounges, and a stay at the Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa.

I started my day with my travel-day routine of checking to see if there were any changes to my flight itinerary. Fortunately, I do this before I leave the house because I found that my flight had been delayed 45 minutes–that bit of extra early-morning sleep time was precious! After a 30-minute drive to RDU, and a light wait at the security line, I headed to the RDU Admiral’s Club for a quick snack to use as my breakfast substitute. I reviewed the RDU Admiral’s Club in an earlier post, so I’m only going to mention that it was the same experience as usual this time around.

I boarded AA 1041 which left at 8:36am en route to DFW where it arrived just less than 3 hours later. The flight was uneventful and was spent reading the first several chapters of The Hidden Europe by Francis Tapon. (Incidentally, this book is a great read and I plan on featuring a review in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for that.) Once in DFW, I headed to the Admiral’s Club for a bite of lunch (where I have to say, I had a great mushroom/Swiss burger). This lounge was large and well furnished with plenty of semi-private spaces and comfortable seating–in addition to shower facilities, free WiFi–even with no lounge membership (I use my American Express Platinum for lounge access), and a pleasant staff.

DFW Admiral's Club Chairs

DFW Exercise Facilities

After my stay in DFW, I boarded AA 1767 bound for PSP. This was another uneventful flight (the best you can ask for in coach) that also clocked in at just under 3 hours. PSP is quite possibly the most pleasant airport I’ve ever frequented. Being in a desert environment, they are able to have much of the airport design be open-air. There were plants and grassy spaces everywhere, benches to sit upon and even a little playground for the kids. It was absolutely beautiful.

PSP Entrance

PSP Playground

PSP Gate Access

Sonny Bono Concourse

A 30-minute cab ride later, I checked in at the Westin.

Westin Entrance

I will follow this post with 2 more as I get them written. Stay Tuned.

Part 2, Staying There
Upcoming: Part 3, Getting Back

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Complimentary Beer & Wine? Thanks AA!

American Airlines has announced that, as of 1 February, they are providing complimentary beer and wine to customers in the main cabin on board international flights from the US to Europe and Asia as well as select flights from the US to Latin America. From their fine print:

Complimentary Beer and Wine Service is available in international main cabins onboard international flights between the U.S. and Europe, the U.S. and Asia and select flights between the U.S. and Latin America, including: Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil (CNF); Brasilia, Distrito Federal, Brazil (BSB); Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE); Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (GIG); Sao Paulo, Brazil (GRU); Santiago, Chile (SCL); Montevideo, Uruguay (MVD); Salvador, Bahia, Brazil (SSA); and Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil (REC). Beer and wine offerings will vary by flight.

As they are today, all nonalcoholic beverages will remain as complimentary offerings in all classes of service and all beverages will remain as complimentary offerings in First and Business Class.

This is a very welcome benefit for those of us with families who typically fly main cabin. While I’m not one to drink much on a flight, it’s nice to have the option for some wine with dinner. The biggest drawback is that there will be 347% more people who end up hammered on flights if the flight attendants are not closely monitoring intake.

So, there you have it, I’ll certainly be taking advantage of this on an upcoming Europe flight where, I suspect, it will be necessary.

And yes, the pun was completely intended 🙂

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Quick/Free OneWorld Ruby Status… Probably.

I just read an interesting post over at View from the Wing about Kingfisher Airlines offering free Silver status if you enter the first 6 digits of a qualifying MasterCard. Why in the world is this useful? Well, come 10 February, Kingfisher will be a part of the oneworld alliance (along with American Airlines, British Airways and others). That Silver status with Kingfisher should carry over to Ruby status with oneworld which grants you some Gold benefits with American Airlines (for example). Those benefits include priority boarding, a free checked bag and access to preferred seats among a few others. Not bad for a couple of minutes signing up for a frequent flyer program.

Here is the direct link to the Silver status page (HT to Andy in the comments from the VftW article).


PS. You’ll also get 750 Kingfisher miles for signing up. Just be sure to answer the questions marked with a crown while filling out the form.

*** UPDATE – 14 Feb 12 ***

According to Kingfisher’s website, their association with oneworld has been put on hold while the airline “strengthens its financial position.” Kingfisher is also in trouble for not paying their payroll taxes. So, I’m betting that they’ll not be joining oneworld any time soon and that this backdoor to Ruby status isn’t going to work out… Just sayin’.


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Trip Report: Las Vegas, NV

Viva Las Vegas!

Well, it has happened. I turned 40 yesterday (15 December). To celebrate, I went with 7 other guys to Las Vegas–one of whom also turned 40 last month, so it was a kind of dual birthday bash. I know what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas (or, as I saw on a T-shirt, “What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook and YouTube forever!”), but here is a trip report anyways :).

I met a friend at RDU airport for an 8:15am departure on AA1645 out of Gate C17. While in RDU, we hung for a quick bite at the American Airlines Admiral’s Club.

RDU Terminal 2
RDU Terminal 2
Gate C17 = Ale House?
Gate C17 = Ale House?
RDU Admiral's Club Entrance
RDU Admiral’s Club Entrance
RDU Admiral's Club Entrance
RDU Admiral’s Club Interior

The flight departed roughly on time (8:26am) and we had an uneventful flight from RDU to ORD aboard a McDonnell Douglas MD-83. We had a bit of a layover in Chicago (about 2 hours), so we hung in the (very large) Admiral’s Club there which was all decked out for Christmas. Incidentally, as a Protip: in the very back of that lounge are 3 Eames chairs of the stationary variety. Very nice to kick back in!

ORD Admiral's Club
ORD Admiral’s Club
Eames Chairs
Eames Chairs

We left ORD en route for LAS on AA1775 on board the same type of aircraft, and in the same seats (consistency is a Good Thing(tm)). This flight left about 15 minutes late which I still consider to be on time. Just over 3 hours later, we landed at LAS and hopped into a car headed to The Palazzo where we had 3 Bella Suites for the group. The Palazzo is a very nice hotel which has the added benefit of being a Priority Club property where I have Platinum status (this, btw, afforded me absolutely zero benefits at the hotel–only the 50% points bonus).

Sleeping Space
Sleeping Space
Living Space
Living Space
Window View 1
Window View 1
Window View 2
Window View 2
Night View
Night View

The service at the hotel was very attentive (as you would expect at a fairly high-end property in Las Vegas that houses a nice casino. The first night there, we ate at Picasso located at Bellagio. This restaurant is known for the Pablo Picasso artwork adorning the walls. There are about $30MM worth in the facility. That certainly makes an interesting backdrop to a fantastic dinner. I didn’t snap any food photos, but I do have the menu which I can add to the post with an update. After dinner, we hit the casinos–basically for the next 3 days. Most of our play time was at Palazzo and Treasure Island–the latter because it was right across the street and had some lower-stakes tables still open as the nights wore on. We did hit Caesar’s Palace for one afternoon as well. In addition to the casinos, we also hit up the sportsbook at Caesar’s and spent Sunday morning at Lagasse Stadium where the jambalaya and chicken wings were unbeatable.

The last night there, we checked out Blue Man Group at the Venetian. This show was a lot better than I thought it would be–and I thought it would be good. A fantastic way to spend 90 minutes being entertained.

We crashed out pretty hard on Sunday night and got up Monday morning to head to the aiport. When we arrived at our gate at LAS, I asked about an Admiral’s Club (or any other 3rd-party lounge that would take Priority Pass) and was informed, much to my surprise, that the only lounge in the aiport was a United lounge. This was a bummer, but not too terrible since I only had an hour or so to kill once I got through the terrible experience that is security at LAS. Protip: security takes about 45 minutes at LAS–plan accordingly.

We hopped aboard another MD-83 for flight AA348 to ORD and started our return trip (incidentally, we had the same seats again–3rd time :)). This flight left about 10 minutes late, but arrived about 15 minutes early as we had a nice tailwind. Unfortunately, all this did for me was make my 3-hour layover in ORD 15 minutes longer. Oh well, thank goodness for those Eames chairs! After the layover, we climbed aboard a smaller Embraer ERJ-145 for flight AA4241 which again took off on-time (that’s 4-for-4 if you’re keeping tabs) and arrived about 15 minutes early for my ride home.

If you’re interested, here is a link to a PhotoBucket album with some more pictures from the trip.


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