My sister began reciting all the rules over dinner, thankfully, I had a large glass of wine as my niece started to sound like a gremlin and not the adorable kid who went to see Frozen with me a few weeks ago, I didn’t know there would be rules for Paris & London:
- Keep her fed at all times even if she says she isn’t hungry ( I added “but don’t feed her after midnight”? no one got the joke!)
- She needs to sleep, make sure she gets good sleep (um, we are going to be in Europe, they eat late and stay up late!)
- Your idea of “walking” and an a kids’ idea of “walking” is vastly different (I admit my walking will never equal anyone’s idea of walking as I was trained to “watch the tram car” on the Wildwood Boardwalk – I am a Pro Walker and it wasn’t until this year that I realized it was an Olympic Sport – I could have been an Olympian!)
- She takes a long time in the shower to get ready (ok, so water good, unlike a gremlin).
- She will say she “hates you” a lot – don’t worry it’s fleeting (um, great, look forward to this one, I thought this was a gem directed at parents only, not aunts/uncles?)
So I had to stop them with all the rules. As the aunt, I usually get them for a small period of “good” time and return them when they hit the “bad” phase. I have dabbled with the in-between and usually end up with a glass of wine and chocolate soon after to soothe my nerves. I was beginning to rethink my “awesome surprise” and my face must have given me away as my sister said “She is going to love it, you will have a great time!”
My nieces have followed my travels for years and I’ve always bought them something handmade in the countries I visit to expose them to new cultures and hopefully make them want to travel when they grow up. One year I was picked as the family member who was most interesting for a school project (that was cool). But now, as they hit the tween and teenager phase, they no longer care about the trinkets (unless they are One Dimension boy band related). Now they are unfazed when I ask “where do you think Aunt Sue is going” and they reply “uh, we don’t know, you go everywhere”. These are the times I look at their baby/toddler photos and wonder what happened to the cuties, then I flashback to my sister and me growing up and realize that we all need to have wine at the ready if they are anything like we were.
Since my older niece was eight, she said she wants to visit Paris. Every year she replies “Paris” when I ask where do you want to go when you turn sixteen? This year, my niece added a few requests:
- Can we go to London too? (um, sure but One Direction and Harry Stiles are not walking the streets waiting for you sweetie)
- Can we fly Business Class? (oh boy, I may have created a monster! I nicely explain that Aunt Sue flies business class for work but she isn’t dumb, she knows I fly business class on vacation but how do you explain the miles/points game to her? I’m not rich, it only seems that way due to my miles)
- Do I have to wait until I am sixteen? I’m old enough now (hmmm, deal with a tween or wait until full fledged teenager? interesting quandry)
So I was holding out until sixteen for Paris & London until a few award options presented the possibility of going sooner, and then I found the unicorn. There were two seats left on an award ticket in business class from London to Philadelphia (only two left for all of June!). Why was I looking years ahead? Well, I was doing the whole “I won’t find anything and that will be the end of the conversation” but then I found the unicorn and thought maybe the universe was telling me to consider the trip (Dear Universe, send a Hot, Single Guy with a passport first rather than a tween with mood swings who might hate me!).
So as we’ve learned with my trip to Australia which started with a two night free hotel stay in Sydney (and the Universe’s sense of humor with all the rain), I activated my inner award ninja and started my search to use award miles/points for Paris & London.
British Airways Avios miles
As a benefit of my Chase British Airways credit card, I received a companion travel together ticket (eligible after yearly spend requirement) which is two tickets for the points of one ticket and can only be used on BA flights (no codeshares, no partners). So for 89k points (80k to London, 9k to Paris), I could get two business class (Aunt Sue is spoiled plus the ROI on a coach seat isn’t worth the points due to high fees) and pay the fuel surcharges (a yucky British Airways fee) and taxes. For comparison, the cost of an adult and child ticket in COACH on my British Airways summer itinerary was $5,600! I was stunned. It seems absurd to pay this much for airfare in COACH but many families do. This is clearly a great use of points for me. 89k points and taxes amounted to $2,400, less than the coach fares (.036 per mile or 3.6% ROI using the coach fare savings).
Sadly there is a large event in the city during our dates and hotel rates are double normal prices which is disappointing. As such, no award options are available so I will need to pay cash. The rooms are tiny, tiny and I found a few 3 star options. They are discounted advanced pre-pay rates I decided to stay at two hotels which will give us two different neighborhoods to explore. Five days in a tiny, tiny room as a solo traveler is claustrophobic so the hotel change should be good for us. I had considered a few cute AirBnB options but while I am ok with a 4th or 5th floor walk-up (to offset the wine and chocolate), it is not ideal for a child in my opinion despite the savings offered.
London has four Starwood (SPG) options from 12,000 – 20,000 per night. With the renewal of my Gold Status (all from credit card spend not travel), I chose the 25% discount on a points award. So choosing the 12,000 points per night hotel and combining the 5th night free promo as well as the award certificate, I am spending 36,000 points for 5 nights in London. The internet rate is 252 GBP (about $425/night) so I am saving over $2,100 by using points (.058 per point or 5.8% ROI) This is the reason I love, love, love the Starwood AMEX credit card. So the costs of the air, hotel & train are still much less than the cost of those coach tickets to leave me lots of spending money for food.
My first visit to both cities was more than twenty years ago and I’ve been back many times since then , so I look forward to the fun of seeing my favorite cities through my niece’s eyes (and Instagram photos). So am I the best aunt ever? or insane for traveling with a semi-gremlin tween looking for 1D and a wifi signal to post to Instagram (for which she has almost 500 followers to my 200!). I haven’t told her yet that we are going, I’m trying to figure out a good way to surprise her (any suggestions?). I would love a reaction like the kids who freak out on YouTube when they find out they are going to Disney World but am also prepared for the tween “I’m too cool to reaction like that” shrug. Fingers crossed it’s the former.
As we get closer to my summer adventure, I will post more about planning activities, however, if you have any kid friendly tips for either Paris and/or London, please let me know.