Booked: A Week in London

It's been a restful couple of months since I returned from my epic round-the-world adventure, and like any self-proclaimed travel addict, I've been getting kinda antsy. So when a week in late September opened up in my schedule, I figured it was time to put some of my points to good use and make another pilgrimage to what I can confidently say is my favourite city in the world: London, England.

I had first visited London back in 2006 as a young boy and was instantly captivated. Another equally enjoyable visit in 2012 followed, which inspired me to take on a year-long study abroad program at University College London a few years back. 

Living in London is of course a different experience altogether from visiting as a tourist, and the year I spent there remains some of the best memories I've ever made. Since then, I've returned a couple of times, and each time the magic of one of the world's great cities has been as palpable as ever.

London-Westminster.jpg

Speaking to other travellers, I sometimes find that London isn't everyone's cup of tea. Many people are initially surprised and bemused by why London is a place I love and long for. 

And indeed, I do find it a little more difficult than usual to capture in words what it is I love about London, but it's a task I certainly hope to tackle in a future post. I'll definitely also be writing about the best travel tips and pointers on things you should do in London, both in terms of the obvious stuff and some of my own "hidden favourites" as someone who's lived there for a little while.

Of course, the trip wouldn't be complete, and I wouldn't be living up to the Prince of Travel moniker if it weren't for some dazzlingly luxurious experiences booked with points, which I'm sure you're all dying to hear about. But before we get to that...


The Outbound

I'll just come out and say it: Instead of redeeming points, I dropped $350 on a WestJet flight from Toronto to London Gatwick.

To any Miles & Points fanatic, that sentence may well sound like sharp, unkempt fingernails on a chalkboard. Why on earth would I do that??

Well, the reality is that travelling with points requires a fair bit of flexibility, and when you don't have that flexibility it can be a lot more challenging. In my case, I wanted to get to London as quickly as possible so I could maximize my time on the ground, and none of the "usual suspects" when it came to redeeming Aeroplan miles for business class were playing nice:

  • Brussels Airlines and Swiss had no award availability from any of their North American gateways
  • Turkish Airlines had a few flights out of Chicago or Atlanta, but would require way too much travel time
  • I even considered redeeming for Air Canada business class out of a Super Elite friend's Aeroplan account (thus incurring no fuel surcharges), but there was no availability there either

At the end of the day, WestJet was offering $350 fares from Toronto to Gatwick, which was a pretty solid deal for a one-way transatlantic direct flight (a lot of the time, international one-way flights are priced at a huge premium compared to round-trip).

Now, anyone who's flown business class can attest to the sinking feeling of crawling back into Seat 56H in the rear of the plane. While I wouldn't be enjoying the comforts of a lie-flat seat, nor would I have any lounge access (since WestJet doesn't belong to an alliance, and I had cancelled my American Express Platinum Card recently), I decided to go ahead and suck it up in economy class anyway. 

I can usually sleep pretty well even in an economy seat, so overall the "suffering" (I say that in jest, of course) wouldn't be anything a flat white from Caffè Nero in the morning can't fix.

And of course, flying 8+ hours in economy class meant that I had to make up for this somehow on the way back...


The Return

There's one airline experience that is sought after by points collectors, luxury travel enthusiasts, and aviation geeks alike, above anything else. And that's Lufthansa First Class.

 Been looking forward to this Porsche ride since I collected my first Aeroplan mile...

Been looking forward to this Porsche ride since I collected my first Aeroplan mile...

Known for its plush and private seats, incredible onboard service, and the one-of-a-kind Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt complete with a private ride to your plane, Lufthansa First Class is one of the best ways to fly. It's so coveted and exclusive, in fact, that Lufthansa only makes its first class award seats available for partner bookings at most 14 days before departure.

As someone who falls into all three categories described above, you can imagine my anticipation as the T-14 for my date of travel was approaching. Right on T-14, like clockwork, a seat was made available on the Frankfurt–Boston evening departure, and I booked it for 70,000 Aeroplan miles plus $431 in taxes and fuel surcharges.

 The spectacular First Class Terminal in Frankfurt: an airport lounge in its very own building

The spectacular First Class Terminal in Frankfurt: an airport lounge in its very own building

Now for those of you who are looking to book Lufthansa First as well, it seems to me that Boston is one of the most readily available routes for award booking, at least on the East Coast. 

The only caveat is that the evening departure is operated by an Airbus A330 – aviation geeks who take themselves more seriously than I do might turn their nose up at that, since it's no A380 or Boeing 747-8. Nevertheless, it was the only route that fit my needs this time, so the world's largest aircraft and the "Queen of the Skies" will just have to wait for next time!

My overall route for the return portion involves a brief layover in Zurich as well, to grab dinner and catch up with a friend who recently moved to Switzerland. Of course, I also scheduled this layover in the hopes of visiting the Swiss First Class Lounge in Zurich, which according to the Swiss official website is accessible to same-day Lufthansa First passengers.

Remember when I visited the Swiss Senator Lounge and saw the First Class section of the terrace, which was so close yet so far away? Well, the day has finally come to knock this lounge off my list.

 The stunning Swiss First Class Lounge includes premium à la carte dining, an outdoor terrace, and two in-lounge hotel rooms

The stunning Swiss First Class Lounge includes premium à la carte dining, an outdoor terrace, and two in-lounge hotel rooms

Meanwhile, there was no availability to get me home from Boston to Toronto, so I just booked an Aeroplan Market Fare reward for an additional 12,850 miles.

On the whole, I think the return portion of my journey more than makes up for a rather run-of-the-mill outbound segment, and it goes without saying that I'm really, really looking forward to this one. Between the luxuries of the Swiss First Class Lounge, the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, and the Lufthansa First Class flight itself, I think I'm on course to be gaining a good chunk of weight, not to mention potentially a bad hangover!

In terms of accommodations, I'll be fortunate enough to be staying with friends for pretty much the whole trip. I might shell out for a transit hotel at Zurich Airport if I really feel like maximizing my time in the Swiss First Lounge, but that's up in the air for now.

The overall route for the trip looks as follows (grouped by individual days of travel):

  • Toronto to London (Gatwick) on WestJet, departing 8:50pm and arriving 9:04am the next day, economy class
  • London (Heathrow) to Zurich on British Airways, departing 4:55pm and arriving 7:45pm, economy class
  • Zurich to Frankfurt on Swiss, departing 12:10pm and arriving 1:55pm, business class
  • Frankfurt to Boston on Lufthansa, departing 6:10pm and arriving 8:30pm, first class
  • Boston to Toronto on Air Canada, departing 6am and arriving 7:45am, economy class
London-Trip-Route-Map

My overall out-of-pocket cost for the trip was as follows:

  • WestJet flight YYZ–LGW: $350
  • Taxes and fees for British Airways Avios booking LHR–ZRH: $27.50
  • Taxes, fees, and fuel surcharge for Aeroplan first class booking ZRH–FRA–BOS: $431
  • Taxes and fees for Aeroplan Market Fare booking BOS–YYZ: $7
  • Total: $815.50


Conclusion

London is my favourite city, and getting to spend time there is something I'm always grateful for. I look forward to revisiting my old stomping grounds, catching a football match, and just getting lost in the city for hours on end. Of course, I'm also beyond excited to be finally earning my stripes as a travel blogger and experiencing Lufthansa First Class for the first time, and you can look forward to the usual in-depth review on all aspects of the premium travel experience.