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Finding a Miles Flight to Paris — and Changing It at the Last Minute

When my daughter and I hatched our plan to meet in Paris in five weeks’ time, the first thing I did (after checking that my passport hadn’t expired) was log onto American Airlines to see if any reasonable award flights were available.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of coach flights available for 22,500 to 30,000 miles each way. There were some caveats, though:

  • American Airlines doesn’t have direct flights — on their own planes or through partners — from SFO to Paris. You have to make a connection somewhere.
  • If you choose a flight on partner British Airways, you’ll have to pay a hefty fuel surcharge, like $250 each way.
  • The lower the cost of the flight (in miles), the longer the duration of the full trip is likely to be.

In actually had a range of choices for how to get there and back through different cities. One of the nice things about booking with miles through AA is that you can put flights on hold for five days before committing and paying for them. This is great because it gives you time to shop around for a better deal, and also because you can put a flight on hold if you don’t have quite enough miles, and then do something quick like online shopping to get a few more miles.

Initially, I put this outbound flight on hold:

  • SFO-NYC-CDG, with a five-hour layover in NYC.

Of course, I didn’t love that 5-hour layover, but the main reason I decided not to ticket that flight was that, once we planned Nutmeg’s Eurostar trip from London, we realized that I’d be arriving in Paris the same day she did. I was concerned that I’d waste one of our three days together being exhausted and jet lagged. The same flight wasn’t available a day earlier, at least not for the right price. So I decided to switch to a BA flight for a day earlier, which cost a similar amount of miles, and pay the dreaded $250 fuel surcharge.

The itinerary I eventually booked and paid for:

  • Outbound Leg 1: Leaving SFO 3/13 at 9:45 p.m., arriving LHR 3/14 at 3:15 p.m.
  • Outbound Leg 2: Leaving LHR 3/14 at 5:20 p.m., arriving CDG at 7:45 p.m.
  • Inbound Leg 1: Leaving CDG 3/21 at 11:20 a.m., arriving PHL on 3/21 2:22 p.m.
  • Inbound Leg 2: Leaving PHL 3/21 6:28 p.m., arrving SFO 9:40 p.m.

For a day or two, I considered an alternate plan: Fly direct from SFO-LHR, stay in a hotel in London overnight, and take the Eurostar with Nutmeg to Paris. This would have been a good idea if Nutmeg had been nervous about taking the Eurostar on her own, but she assured me she’d be fine doing it by herself. I eventully decided this would be silly, since I’d still have to pay a fuel surcharge (only about $30 smaller), plus the cost of the hotel, and the Eurostar ticket (about $100). (At this point I’d already arranged a free place to stay in Paris.) So I scrapped that idea.

A Better Opportunity Pops Up

Another thing that’s great about booking with miles on AA: No change fees. So if a better deal on a flight comes along, even the same week of your flight, you can change with no penalty. This is exactly what ended up happening. I checked the SFO-CDG flights every week or so, and exactly one week before my scheduled departure, I noticed this AA itinerary for 22,500 miles:

  • Leaving SFO 3/13 at 9 a.m., arriving DFW at 2:26 p.m.
  • Leaving DFW 3/13 5:59 p.m., arriving CDG 3/14 at 9:15 a.m.
Me on the 9 a.m. flight to DFW. Yes I was as tired as I looked!

Because it was AA, not BA, there was no fuel surcharge. Besides the $250 savings, I liked that the layover was in the US instad of in England. Having a layover in a third country can be a pain because you’ll have to get your bags and go through security again. In fact, the two-hour layover in my original schedule was cutting it cloes to get that done. Finally, the new itinerary would get me nearly a whole extra day in Paris, and would allow me to arrive at my lodging in the daytime, instead of keeping my host waiting for me at night while I made my way from CDG to central Paris. The only drawback was that it’s harder (to me at least) to adjust to a new time zone when you arrive in the morning, because you have to stay awake for a whole long day before you can collapse gratefully into bed.

I was a little nervous to monkey with a ticketed flight so close to my departure, but I decided to go for it. I had some extra miles in my account, so I was able to purchase the new flight before canceling the old one, which gave me some peace of mind — especially since AA has been slow about reinstating miles for me, and often needs me to call and inquire about when I’ll be getting my miles back. It took longer for the $250 to be refunded on my credit card, but eventually it was.

Relieved that it all worked as I’d hoped, I turned my attention to packing for my trip! Next time, I’ll give you a report on that SFO-DFW-CDG flight.

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