Confessions of a mileage junkie in London

Written by admin on May 28, 2009 – 5:38 pm -

I’m a travel junkie. When I see a plane, I want to be on it. All of these “you can’t beat these fares” ads are nirvana.

When a $500+ fare to London from Washington, DC popped up on my computer screen, it was booked as if I were possessed. In addition, it was on United. I’m going to make 1K this year, come hell or high water.

United has made mileage runs easier since travelers are being awarded double qualifying miles until June 15th if registered for the promotion.

London is a wonderful city of which I never get enough. Plus there was a must-see exhibit closing that Saturday afternoon. Off I went on Friday morning flight at 10 a.m. and scheduled my return to IAD Sunday morning. This was going to be a snap. And it almost was.

It was the first time I’d taken a daytime transatlantic flight. Would it limit jet lag? Would I feel human? In essence, this was a bit of an endurance test. And thanks to a friend, I’d snared a ticket for the exhibition.

So far, so good. Because  I was arriving after 9 p.m. London time, it made sense to stay at an airport hotel. I cashed in points and opted for the concierge floor so I could enjoy all of its conveniences.

I read the hotel’s website: Shuttle service to and from the hotel, priority check in, a club lounge that remains open 24 hours a day, promising coffee, tea, soft drinks and something to stave off starvation, free breakfast, free cocktails and complimentary hors d’oeuvres each evening. And free high-speed Internet or WiFi was included, which is a must in my life or I go into a quasi- catatonic state.

This made perfect sense. I’d take the Heathrow Express from the airport to Central London’s Paddington Station. It takes only 15 minutes and is a pleasure. It’s not cheap but neither is sitting in a cab that’s stalled in traffic. It was more convenient to sleep at an airport hotel than worrying about coming and going after and before my flights.

Where did I go wrong?

How did I know that it would be nearly an hour before the shuttle would appear and there’d be £4 fee. The hotel’s lobby was overrun with people and skip the “preferential” service. I went to the lounge that looked as if it had been trashed. I managed to grab a piece of fruit but had to steal a napkin off of a room service cart that was sitting in the hallway and was still there the next morning when I left.

No problem – I’d plug in my computer and do some work. Why didn’t I understand that free computer time was exclusively confined to the lounge and I’d have to pay £15 for 24 hours if I wanted to connect.

Not to worry. By now I was both hungry and thirsty and headed to the bar. I was greeted with a room filled with people, most of whom had tattoos and were chugging beer. It was 11:02 p.m. The kitchen just closed but I was welcome to peanuts, which was fine with me. The patrons looked as if they were Rolling Thunder bikers. (I knew they weren’t since I’d left them in Washington where they’d rallied for the Memorial Day weekend.) There was no question though that this group was having a jolly old time.

OK – to bed. The room was stuffy. I was certain the air-conditioning had been off. After switching on the air conditioning, I turned to the television. I carefully followed all of the instructions. CNN was my station of choice and, carefully following instructions on the channel card, I clicked on station number 10. What I saw certainly didn’t resemble anything I’d ever seen on the Cable News Network since it was the hardest of hard-core porn. After trying the channel again, I was greeted by the same performance.

Not giving in – remember my internal clock was five hours earlier – I called the desk and a very helpful young woman informed me that I’d obviously clicked on a pay-for adult program. She’d send an engineer up with a new remote and he’d program the television so I could watch the news.

By now I was wearing the hotel’s terry cloth robe. Mohammed knocked on the door and seemed confident he could tune in the news. He was greeted by the same show and said with more than a smidgen of embarrassment that the hotel no longer featured CNN and he’d better tell the manager.

So all shouldn’t be lost, I asked him to regulate the air-conditioning. This was not Mohammed’s night since he was forced to admit that I should leave the window open — and it hardly opened — since the AC hadn’t been turned on for the season.

The yogurt at breakfast was just fine as was the espresso. Off I went to London, perused the exhibit and walked in Hyde Park. It was a stunningly beautiful day. I was back at the hotel in time for cocktails, which consisted of wine, beer and appetizers that more than missed the mark. The assembled group mumbled that the chef clearly was off-duty.

Back to the airport — the shuttle only stops at terminal one, where United operates. I hit the lounge so I could catch up on some emails and do some research. I’m always amazed what a pleasure Red Carpet lounges are overseas compared to those in the U.S. Free food, all-you-can-drink liquor plus lots of space.

Seven hours later, I was back in Washington after having had an adventure. Would I do it again? Of course. And since the flight was full, I suspect a lot of people were making mileage runs and would rack up approximately 9,000 miles.

Next trip, I think I’ll pass on staying at that specific hotel even though it received positive reviews on Trip Advisor. Plus I hope there will be CNN where I reserve.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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