Posts Tagged tips

Paris Trip Report, Part 5: Tips for Vacationing in Paris I


I learned a few things about vacationing in Paris while I was there with my family. Some of them were things I could adapt to on the fly, others were things that it would have been much more helpful to know going in. The purpose of this segment is to impart my “lessons learned” in order to help you get the most out of your stay in Paris.

Background

As quick background, I went with my wife, our 2 oldest daughters (ages 13 and 10) and my mother. As such, this was a family vacation. My mother was able to watch the kids for us whenever we asked, so there were opportunities to get out alone for my wife and me as well. But, for the most part, this advice will be geared toward a group of people, likely first-timers to Paris, who are interested in seeing the tourist sites and having a nice vacation.

When to Go

My wife is a teacher and my kids are in year-round school. As such, it’s a little tricky to find times when everyone is free to do something together. To make it even trickier, we needed to go on American Airlines, off-peak. It became so tricky, in fact, that the only times we could find that matched up were in August and over winter break. From what I understand, August in Paris is completely dead. many of the (boutique) shops are closed, hours can be shortened, and the city is notably absent of Parisians. Winter was too far away (we were booking in October/November of 2011 and looking at 2012). As a result, we didn’t really find a time where we were all free. We settled on option 2—find a time when my wife is free and never mind the kids, so the kids had to miss a week of school (I know, they were crushed).

Long story around booking cut short, we found flights and headed to Paris in April over my wife’s spring break. As a quick tip, I’m not sure that April was the best choice. The weather was a little drizzly about half of the days, though that could have been coincidence (it was nice on a few of the days). However, the crowds were overwhelming. Lines were Disney-long everywhere (the Museum Pass doesn’t let you bypass as much as it implies), and honestly, the tour groups were quite rude. Many of them physically pushing their way through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in some locations. I’m talking about putting hands on you and pushing you out of their way, literally.

In retrospect, maybe the “dead” time of August (which may not be so dead) would have been better. August is pretty much a “head-to-beach” time for much of western Europe, so the crowds would be lessened. Again, though, if you’re after the boutique experience, be careful as many shops will be closed.

Figuring out Where to Stay

I got lots of advice on this topic. Several people recommended renting an apartment near the downtown area in lieu of staying in a hotel. This would have saved on our need for a second room, and for many would have saved some hotel breakfast costs and given a more authentic feel to the vacation. In our situation (staying mostly on points), it was much cheaper to get a hotel than rent the apartment. Apartments of a size we needed were going for about 2 250€, whereas the hotel was around 500€ after points for two rooms/8 nights. So, if I go again, I’ll probably do the hotel thing again. The apartment, though, would work better if points were not involved.

I also got lots of advice on where we should physically stay. Pretty much everyone asked me, “Which arrondissement are you staying in?” I think that this question is a bit of a moot point unless you’re going to spend a lot of time wandering around right where you’re staying. For me, it was more about “how close are you to a train, and how long is the ride to most of the places you want to see?” As such, we chose a hotel that was on the east of the city, but immediately adjacent to (no streets to cross), an RER stop, had a nearby fruit stand, and commercial center (mall) with a grocery store. The RER connects to the Paris Métro using the same tickets, and our hotel was about 15 minutes from the Gare de Châtelet–Les Halles from which you can get just about wherever you want to go in about 10 minutes. As such, we were within about 25 minutes of anywhere we wanted to be (as opposed to within 15 minutes or so if we would’ve stayed downtown).

How to Get Around

This is an easy section. Public Transportation. Renting a car in Paris is a complete waste of time. Very few residents own cars, but the streets are nonetheless crowded and there is almost no parking. You are already going to be spending enough time waiting in lines, don’t add time looking for a parking spot to that! There are three main modes of public transportation (well, really 2), The RER, the Métro, and the RATP Busses. The RER and the Métro are pretty tightly coupled and can get you pretty much everywhere. We only did the bus once, and it was just to ride route 69 for a while (see the next post).

There are a few options when buying tickets:

  1. Single-route tickets
  2. Paris Visite tickets
  3. Mobilis tickets

I’m not really going to discuss single-route tickets, as they’re pretty obvious. And, at least for us, the only real value they brought was getting us to the airport at the end of the vacation for much less than a shuttle would have cost.

There is a lot of advertising and hubbub about the Paris Viste tickets. These tickets are valid for 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive days in zones 1-3 or 1-5. They are priced separately for adults and children and, though I saw no evidence of this, advertise discounts at some sites. For some people, this may be the best choice. We actually bought these twice (for 3 days each, all 5 zones) on the belief that it would be best for us.

The Mobilis tickets are valid for a single day of travel within selected zones (1 and 2, 1 to 3, 1 to 4, 1 to 5). We bought these tickets for our last two days after we realized that it was a bit cheaper for our travel patterns. Mobilis tickets price separately for adults, young adults, and children. These tickets don’t claim to offer any discounts, but will get you around on the trains and busses just as well as the Paris Visite.

As a case study, we had 3 adults, 1 13-year-old and 1 10-year-old. The 3-day Paris Visite tickets priced for 43,65€ x 4 + 21,80€ = 152,75€, or 50,92€ per day for our group to travel in all 5 zones. In our case, though, we really only needed travel in zones 1-4 (except for 1 trip to Versailles). The Mobilis tickets for travel in zones 1-4 price as follows: 10,55€ x 3 + <something less for the young adult> + <something even less for the child>. Our total Mobilis ticket purchase price was something that amounted to just under the Paris Viste pricing (I can’t find the ticketing information on the Internet). This was primarily due to the discounts for the kids, so YMMV.

Another option, which you would have to investigate, is picking up Navigo cards valid for the week you’re there (or for the month that you’re there if you’re there for a while). These are RFID-based and can be cheaper since they’re longer-term. Also, they will let you through some of the turnstiles that are restricted to only Navigo users (there are always 1-2 of them).

The last option, and this is very tongue-in-cheek, is to do what everyone else in Paris seems to do, and hop the turnstiles. Angry smile

What to See and How to See It

This report has gotten sufficiently long to warrant being broken into two parts on its own. As such, I will follow-up with the What to See and How to See It section in another post.

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Rewards Network Dining Options


While getting everything ready for the US Airways Grand Slam later this year (yes, I know, I start preparations early!), I noticed that I was about 1,750 HHonors points short of what was required for a hotel transfer hit last year. I’ve been checking in via TopGuest to a nearby Hampton Inn in an attempt to close that gap, but I got an email today from HHonors reminding me that they participate in the Rewards Network dining plan. Since I’ve not signed up for HHonors dining before, I am eligible for a 1,000 point bonus for completing a single dine of $25 in the next 30-days. Easy peasy. Hopefully, that will push me over the top for my Grand Slam hit!

After signing up, I started looking at the other Rewards Network dining option. They include:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Best Buy RewardZone
  • Delta Skymiles
  • eScrip
  • Good Dining
  • HHonors
  • American Express iDine
  • United Mileage Plus
  • Priority Club Rewards
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • uPromise
  • US Airways Dividend Miles

I already belonged to AA, DL, MP and US (and now I belong to HH), but there were some other interesting partners on that list. In particular, Best Buy and AmEx. The AmEx partnership is a little different. Instead of earning rewards points, it earns statement credits. There are 3 tiers of earning: 5%, 10% and 15% back. You get 5% back right out of the gate. After spending $250, you start getting 10% back and after spending $750, you start getting 15% back. This is a pretty rocking deal—probably better than the 5 AA miles I get for each dollar I spend dining now (though I’d have to build up to that tier). The Best Buy partnership is interesting because of their New Member bonus. If you complete a $25 dine within 30 days of joining, you get 500 RZ points (enough for a $10 gift certificate). That’s 40% of the money you spent dining back in the form of a BB gift certificate. Not too shabby!

Hopefully you’ll find some interesting partnerships for your dining dollars, too!

Now, back to figuring out how to get La Quinta points…

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Loyalty Plan Tracking Spreadsheet


Since my interview posted on Million Mile Secrets, I’ve had several requests to share my spreadsheet for managing my loyalty plans. I’ve attached it to this blog post for you to try. If you like it, great. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Loyalty Plans Template

Enjoy!

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Adventures in Retention with Citi AAdvantage AmEx


I called Citi a couple of days ago (roughly 304 days after getting my 75,000 AAdvantage mile AmEx, Visa and Business Visa. My intention was to close the AmEx. Well, more precisely, my intention was to have them convince me to not close it. My call went something like this (summarized):

Me: I’d like to close my account.
Citi: Why is that?
Me: Well, I’m a points & miles guy, and I’ve found another card that earns me 1.25 AA miles per dollar instead of just 1 mile per dollar.
Them: Well, I’ll tell you what, if you keep your card, we’ll either let you earn 2 miles per dollar for the next 90 days, or give you 3,000 miles if spend $500 in the next 3 cycles.
Me: Really? 2 per dollar for 90 days, that’s great. I’ve got about $40k to spend in the next 6 weeks or so.
Them: Um, there’s a cap of 5,000 miles on that 2 per dollar deal.
Me: Okay, I’ll take the 3,000 miles then. Oh, BTW, that $85 annual fee is coming up in June. Is there anything you can do about that?
Them: Not on this call. You’ll have to call back when it’s a little closer to see if there’s something that can be done.
Me: Okay, thanks. Talk to you next month.

It takes about 48 hours for the retention bonus to register, so tomorrow I will spend $500 (my statement closes in a few days) on it. Hopefully that will post with my April statement. If so, I will call them to see if they can waive the annual fee. If they can’t, I’ll close it.

Disclaimer: :When I called to close the Business Visa last month, they just said, “Okay. It’s been fun.” So, YMMV, but it was an easy 3,000 miles in my case. I’ll try the same with the Visa next week and let you know how it goes.

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20% Miles Bonus on Citi AA Visa … And Why I’m Not Taking AAdvantage


Note: I don’t receive any referral credits or bonuses from the links in this post.

I received an email yesterday just after lunch from Citi informing me of a promotion wherein you get an extra 0.2 miles per dollar spent on their Visa card (registration required). This seems to be a targeted promotion (there was an invitation code in the email). The main paragraph from the email says:

Click the “Enroll Now”** button to accept this offer and earn an additional 0.2 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on eligible purchases until 4/30/12. That’s 20% more AAdvantage® miles on what you buy.** Get packing!

Now, I (of course) immediately signed up for this promotion because there’s no penalty for doing so and maybe I’ll be tempted with that card at some point (e.g. it’s the card associated with my SkyMiles Dining account in case I use that). However, I’m not diverting any spend there for two reasons:

  1. I just got my Chase Sapphire Preferred in the mail yesterday and need to meet the  minimum spend (which I’m likely to do today anyhow).
  2. There are still better options for earning AAdvantage miles.

Regarding reason #2 above, if what you’re after is earning AAdvantage miles, and you have the Starwood American Express card, then that’s the card you should be targeting with your spend. It earns an extra 5,000 AAdvantage miles for every 20,000 Starpoints that you transfer. Doing the math .. .let’s see … carry the 1 … multiply by pi … and that works out to 1.25 miles per dollar spent. The last I checked 1.25 > 1.20, so it’s still a better deal to use that Starwood AmEx.

Now, if you don’t have a Starwood AmEx and you are focusing on AAdvantage miles, then by all means, divert your spending to the Citi AA Visa card. However, by now most of you probably have that card and if you don’t, then you should get it. In fact, you should ask me to refer you so that I get some points out of it, too 🙂

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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).

Enjoy!

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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