An Unexpected Chance to Experience American Airlines’ 777-300ER Business Class

Planning one’s dream vacation can be, well, a bit of a nightmare. Spend enough energy putting together what you think is a fantastic order of flights, hotels and activities and you’ll begin to genuinely wonder why travel agents regularly do this sort of thing for other people, let alone themselves. And if you’re a fastidious planner who likes to get their ducks in a row well ahead of your anticipated departure date, it’s not uncommon to find yourself startled by schedule changes and other assorted hiccups that can leave you pulling your hair out.

Luckily, I’m already bald.

This week, American Airlines quietly decided to push back the 2016 start date of its seasonal Philadelphia – Athens service to May 15. I found this out via the dreaded AA itinerary change autodialer which, after checking to make sure I was actually on the phone, connected me straight to an agent so she could break the bad news and try to find us alternate flights around the same time.

After searching for almost ten minutes for an alternate itinerary, she finally was able to find two business class awards that she could book for us. And she didn’t put me on hold, so I could hear her looking up pretty much every routing between Los Angeles and Athens at her disposal. The good news was that we would have seats on AA’s direct flight from LAX-LHR on their flagship international plane, the 777-300ER. The bad news was that there was no way we’d be able to avoid the dreaded British Airways fuel surcharges if we still wanted to go to Athens. The new itinerary would bump the taxes & fees from a mere $11.20 to $199. The worse news was that we’d be arriving at 3 a.m. on a Saturday instead of 9 a.m. on a Friday.

As a consolation prize, the new itinerary was a mixed-carrier award and the original one was entirely on AA metal, so they had to redeposit my original redemption (without charging the redeposit fee, since their schedule change had caused this to occur). As a result, I actually ended up spending less miles for the flight than I originally had because I got the full 10,000 mile redemption rebate benefit from the Citi Advantage MasterCard on the “new” booking.

So basically I spent $200 for a seat on a nicer plane (with a 7-hr layover in London) and 10,000 miles back. Was it worth it? Well, that depends on how you look at it…

From a money perspective, those new flights priced out at $3991 per person on aa.com today, meaning that each mile I redeemed was worth about 8.5 cents when you subtract the BA fees. That’s a solid win, considering I turned in about 190k miles at the end of 2015 for 2 business awards on JAL to Osaka at a redemption value of just over 5 cents/mile.

From a time perspective, it’s a bit of a fight between of pros & cons. The actual in-air flight time on the new itinerary is less: About 10.5h for LAX-LHR and 3.5h for LHR-ATH versus 5.5h for LAX-PHL & 10h for PHL-ATH. However, there’s now that aforementioned 7-hour layover in London versus a 90-minute layover in Philly. Additionally, the Original itinerary left Los Angeles at 6 a.m. and the new itinerary departs at 8 p.m. The end result is that our time in Greece is shortened by almost an entire day, and we arrive in the dead of night (or the wee hours of the morning, depending on how you look at it).

One could look at this more as a chance to add an extra “destination” to our European vacation versus losing a day in Athens. If customs & immigration isn’t a total nightmare, a 7-hour layover at Heathrow can easily afford you enough time to get out of the airport and enjoy a visit to nearby Windsor Castle or even a quick run around central London if you feel like spending £36 per person (or £54 per couple) for a round-trip ticket on the Heathrow Express. Personally, I’d rather drop that cash on a nice bottle of whisky at the duty free shop. And of course we’d also have the option of getting a shower and a snack at the BA departure lounge before takeoff.

So I plucked up that new itinerary and looked on the bright side. Yes, I lost a day in Athens, but I ended up gaining a side trip in London. And, as it turns out, a whole extra day in Paris at the end of our trip because the universe threw me a bone and offered up a better itinerary for our return flight home! Here’s what we had originally:

CDG-JFK

Two stops, 18.5h including layovers

And here’s the new routing, which magically became available today:

CDG-ord

One stop, 16h including layover

I mean, which flights would you choose, especially when you take into account the equipment you’d be flying on? The 757 is AA’s oldest bird flying their international routes. The 767-300 is certainly preferable for spending 8+ hours in, even if it does mean your inflight entertainment is on a tablet instead of the seatback in front of you. All told, it’s a minuscule price to pay for an extra day in the City of Light and a shorter flight, don’t you think?

So when the scheduling monster rears its ugly head and everything goes pear-shaped, remember to relax. Take a deep breath and let the universe do its thing. It usually has a reason, and it’s all part of the adventure.

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