Monday, November 04, 2013

master of the flight

I do not like making plans. 

Inevitably, plans suck the fun out of almost everything.  Especially, travel.  Too much planning and there is no sense of spontaneity in what should be the epitome of surprise.

But there are times I cannot avoid the dreaded planning syndrome.  My cruise to northern France and Spain -- I mentioned it yesterday --is an example.

When I was in Washington earlier this year (pulling for patti), my friends Ken and Patti asked me if I would be interested in joining them on a river cruise in France.  Ken, an avid student of the Second World War, has long wanted to visit Normandy.  A river cruise would tie a visit to the beaches with a stay in Paris.  A perfect combination.

For various reasons, we abandoned the river cruise in favor of an 11-day cruise with Celebrity out of Harwich --  stopping in La Havre, La Rochelle, Bilbao, and Vigo.  Paris, the beaches of Normandy, and
Santiago de Compostela will undoubtedly be on the agenda.

But it is far too early to start thinking about that.  Remember?  No planning.

What is not too early to do is book airline reservations.  I have spent several international flights lasting in excess of 10 hours during the past two years. Always in coach.  And, even though I survived the experience, each flight was something to endure.  Like a presidential speech.  Any president.

My Alaska frequent flyer account has accumulated quite a few miles with my  trips to and from Nevada, Oregon, and Melaque.  Enough miles that I could indulge myself with either business or first class tickets on my flights to and from London.

Here is the rub.  Premium seats on international flights are limited.  Severely limited.  They are like goods at Costco.  If you do not buy them when you see them, there may be no tomorrow.

Alaska posts its flights 331 days in the future.  That means I have had to do something that has never even entered my mind.  Buy airline tickets almost a year before I shoehorn myself into my airline seat.

And I have done that.  With some success.  I managed to book a non-stop first class ticket on British Airways from Mexico City to London and a non-stop return ticket to Seattle with Ken and Patti in business class.  All for free.

Well, what passes for free in the world of frequent flyer miles currency.  There are always those pesky fees, taxes, and surcharges.

I am convinced that the Thénardiers are now working for British Airways.  You know the lyrics from Les Mis
Charge 'em for the lice, extra for the mice
Two percent for looking in the mirror twice
Here a little slice, there a little cut
Three percent for sleeping with the window shut
At least, I didn't have to worry about lice and mice.  But the extra charges for the Mexico City - London leg were:
$39.41 Taxes *

$12.50 Booking Fee
$310.00 Fuel Surcharge

That last one must be for looking in the mirror twice.  But, let's face it, $361.91 (plus 70,000 frequent flyer miles) is far more affordable than the $10,000 or more that it would cost me if I had plopped my Visa on the counter.

For whatever reason, the flight back to Seattle had additional fees of $611.50 -- and no explanation of services.  Not that it matters.  I am willing to bet that the difference in almost three Franklins has to do with the fact that the aircraft will set wheel in the United States of Taxation.

But there is more.  For reasons that are not germane to this essay, I had to pay an additional booking fee of $100.

And then the financial coup de grâce.  When I tried to book my business class seat online, British Airways helpfully informed me that I could book a seat for free -- as long as I chose it within the 24 hours before the flight.  But, if I wanted to choose a seat before the only remaining one is the seat that is banged every time the bathroom door is opened, it would cost me
£80, thank you very much.

In US Dollars, that is about $130 -- for the honor of picking a seat.

But I paid it.  After all, I only have to pay for myself.  Ken and Patti have two bills to pay.

If I have added it correctly, my "free" ticket will cost me $1,173.41.  I will not give a second thought to those long-lost dollars as I nestle into my cozy, little suite on Victor Hugo Air.

And this may be why I do not bother with plans.


* -- All of the above amounts (with the exception of the sneering reference to British Pounds) are in US Dollars -- not Mexican Pesos.

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