I recently completed my trip to Europe in Air France La Première, one I looked forward to for several months. The primary purpose of this trip was, well, to enjoy the La Première experience. With a limited amount of time to take off at work, so I designed this as a long weekend trip. But, I did make some time to check out Barcelona while I was at it.
This trip also included a few lounges and a boutique hotel stay in Barcelona. The European short-haul segments also included a taste of Joon, Air France’s “airline for milennials”. I currently plan the following installments:
- Introduction: A VIP La Première Experience to Barcelona (this post)
- Qantas First Class Lounge, Los Angeles
- Air France La Première B777-300, Los Angeles to Paris
- The La Première Ground Experience and Lounge, Paris
- Amenity Kit Review: Air France La Première
- Joon Business Class, Paris-Barcelona-Paris
- Hotel Granados 83, Barcelona
- Making the Most of One Day in Barcelona
- Sala VIP Pau Casals Barcelona, A Priority Pass Lounge
- Air France La Première A380, Paris to New York JFK
- Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, New York LaGuardia
I plan to skip around a bit and complete my La Première reviews first. Yeah, I know I’m behind already. But I promise it’ll be worth the wait 🙂
The Flight Plan
This crazy trip idea came about thanks to a nice fare sale last July. Basically, for about the price of business class, you could fly in First to several destinations in Spain. I did find a few other options, like Helsinki. However, most of those would disqualify me from the La Première lounge, since onward travel would occur on a partner airline. Anyway, Spain in late April seemed like a lovely option, so I settled on Barcelona.
Of course, getting the fare to work required some creativity. Air France offers La Première out of Houston, but did not offer the discounted fare. Most of the “cheap” fares required flying via the West Coast or New York. I preferred not to do both legs from New York. That’s because NY – Europe flights are just too short to savor the full experience, in my opinion. So I decided to do the eastbound leg out of Los Angeles instead.
My flights to Los Angeles and back to Dallas were standard coach flights on American. There’s not much to say about those, so I won’t address them in this series. American got me to LA and back home to Dallas on-time, which is all I really asked for.
My original flights ended up looking like this:
- 4/20 AA 2425, Depart Dallas-Ft Worth (DFW) 12:10, Arrive Los Angeles (LAX) 13:35
- 4/20 AF 69, Depart LAX 18:00, Arrive Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) 13:50 (+1)
- 4/21 AF 1048, Depart CDG 16:55, Arrive Barcelona (BCN) 18:35
- 4/23 AF 1149, Depart BCN 10:05, Arrive CDG 12:05
- 4/23 AF 6, Depart CDG 13:35, Arrive New York JFK (JFK) 16:00
- 4/23 AA 2263, Depart New York LaGuardia (LGA) 19:55, Arrive DFW 23:03
I did have to navigate a few changes after booking. When I originally booked this ticket, I selected the 777 eastbound and the A380 westbound. Might as well compare both products, after all. (Spoiler alert: the 777 blows away the A380 in this regard.) Also, to better test the ground experience, I wanted a longer layover one way, and a short one the other. A couple of months later, though, Air France changed the flight from Los Angeles to an A380. And cut my layover to less than 2 1/2 hours. I managed to sweet talk them into letting me change to an overnight in Paris on the 22nd. At least then I could sample the entire suite of ground services in Paris.
But a few weeks before departure, a disruption ironically got me a better option. The infamous Air France strike was scheduled to affect flights on the 23rd. Air France allowed free changes within some limits. One option was to simply move my trip back to the next week. And by doing so, I could switch my LA – Paris flight back to a 777, and restore my layover to 4 hours! So, I moved everything back 6 days, and substituted a 17:55 departure from Paris to Barcelona.
The Hotel Plan
I only needed two nights in a hotel in Barcelona. I strongly considered the W Barcelona, a fantastic points redemption value at 20,000 Starpoints per night. The sail-shaped hotel is one of Barcelona’s best-known landmarks, and cash rates averaged north of $500 a night. However, the W is also kind of out there location wise. Good for the beach, but a little far from the city center (better than 2 miles to Plaça Catalunya).
I ended up going with a boutique option in the Eixample nieghborhood, Hotel Granados 83. The 4-star property won’t blow you away, but the price of €156 per night was reasonable, the location good for walking around Barcelona, and it included a welcome amenity of a bottle of Spanish wine on arrival. Eixample is a quieter area full of little tapas bars and restaurants, though also fairly close to popular areas like the Avinguda Diagonal, Plaça Catalunya, and La Sagrada Familia.
I had the entire day Saturday for sightseeing, and lucked out with some gorgeous weather. I’ll have a post with more details about my day later. I started my (slightly jet lagged) morning with a walk to La Sagrada Familia. I didn’t do my homework, and didn’t realize you had to book tours weeks in advance. But the exterior alone is stunning.
Later in the day, the perfect weather sent me in search of the hills to take in the views of the city. Like this one from the Jardins del Turo del Putxet.
And of course, I did plenty of eating. Lucky for me, I found a decent tapas bar down the block from the hotel and partook in some patatas bravas.
Why the **** Did Your Flush All That Money, Anyway???
Full disclosure, which I talked about back in July when I planned this trip. Though the tickets were deeply discounted, this was hardly a cheap getaway. The ticket itself ran about $3,800. Using a big stash of old cash back points brought the actual outlay down to about $2,000. So why would I do this, and then write about it for a points and miles blog? Simply put, Air France La Première is one of the most elusive products out there. Only elite members of Flying Blue can redeem points for it, and even then, it costs you 200,000 miles one way. Yes, I could points transfer, but frankly, the spending required to build that balance times two or three would far exceed the cash outlay. And take years in the process. And find a way to obtain Flying Blue elite status in a market devoid of SkyTeam options.
So, I decided to splurge and enjoy the long weekend in style. Everyone deserves to treat themselves with something frivolous once in a while, right?
As an aside, for the miles and points angle, if you can find a fare in the $3k range, this actually isn’t a bad use of the “pay with points” feature on the Amex Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve. Bear in mind that 100,000 points can buy down the fare by an additional $1,500. Not a terrible use of a sign-up bonus or two if you can’t think of what to do with it.
With lots of things going on in the real world, and a road trip coming up in a couple of weeks, this report will take some time to put together. As mentioned, I’ll start off with my reviews of the flights themselves. Thanks for reading!