Louvre in Paris

Planning an Award trip to Paris & London with my niece – Best Aunt or Insane Aunt?

Posted on Posted in Airlines, Europe, Hotels, Loyalty Points

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!”

Love the view from the wing when flying
Love the view from the wing when flying

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.

Big Ben and London Eye
Classic London – Big Ben and the London Eye

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:

  1. Can we go to London too?  (um, sure but One Direction and Harry Stiles are not walking the streets waiting for you sweetie)
  2. 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)
  3. 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).

British Airways lounge at T5 Heathrow
BA Lounge – Heathrow

Paris Hotels

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.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

London Hotel

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.

London Tower Bridge at Sunset
London Tower Bridge at Sunset

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.

I Heart Paris



10 thoughts on “Planning an Award trip to Paris & London with my niece – Best Aunt or Insane Aunt?

  1. It will probably be a sort of Dickensonian experience—with apologies to “A Tale of Two Cities”. It will be “the best of times and the worst of times”—potentially all in the same day. My experience with teenagers is that they are a lot like toddlers during the Terrible Twos—completely charming—until they lose it. You are used to walking til you drop, see lots of places travel. Your niece’s tolerance and interest level will be less. She will want to sleep more than you do. Teens that age actually do need quite a bit of sleep. If you feel secure leaving her in the hotel room, let her sleep and go for a walk yourself or find a cafe with decent wifi. The rooms will probably be too small for you to be trying to actually do something when she wants to sleep. If she’s a shopper, there are , of course options for that in London—and Paris, mais oui. I would have to research that because I’m not a shopper. (That’s the part where I would get cranky). Have her pick out a show or play she wants to see in London. Dungeons. They like dungeons, so the Tower of London is a must visit. If she’s not a reader, think of some movies she can rent to watch that will at least give her a sense of the history of both places. Les Miserables, Elizabeth, there must be one about Henry the VII, etc. If she has never flown Business Class, that might be her favorite part of the trip.We’ll look forward to your blog post. Have a great time.

    1. Suzanne – she is the shopper and foodie, I am neither. I love the Tower of London, sadly was unable this late to get tickets to the key ceremony which would have been fun. Once I tell her we are going, I’m going to see what her wish list looks like and see what we can decide on –

  2. Oh my. It will either be a shocking experience or a wonderful one, or maybe a little bit of both.

    I have been traveling with my now-teenager since she was a baby, so things might be slightly different, but tweens and teens still share the whole moody and suddenly-morose-for-no-apparent-reason thing, so hopefully I will be able to contribute something.

    As far as your sister’s recommendations go:
    1. Yes on a reasonable bedtime – without being obsessive. Europeans have kids too, and they do not keep them up all hours. My daughter is half-Swiss, but I grew up in Italy, where kids get a pass on early bedtime when they are on vacation (and whenever the mood strikes), so I am totally on board with catching a show at the Apollo and such; that said, do not keep her up late unless it is absolutely worth it – i.e. a show or special event or something; or you will have an especially moody, annoying tween in your hands the following day.

    2. Yes on the “keep her fed” bit, but watch out for junk food and too many snacks (see possibility of moody nightmare above). Luckily you can find decent food pretty much anywhere in London, so you can have regular meals and snacks without it slowing you down much or at all. Just hit a Pret or M&S Food for lunch and keep going.

    3. On the “hate” thing, I don’t know, this might just be me, but I find that absolutely unacceptable and would nip it in the bud if she starts with you. “Hate” is a strong word and it better not pass your lips directed to someone who takes care of you and loves you. You don’t like what’s going on, make your objections known, don’t just go for a cheap shot. She wants to travel like a big girl, she’s got to behave like one. JMO

    On the above comment:
    I don’t think you sister would appreciate you living her alone at the hotel while you go to a café to browse the internet and check your e-mail. I know I wouldn’t. Instead consider investing in some good noise-blocking headphones so she can watch TV or nap while you do your thing on the laptop.

    I wrote a post on traveling with kids a while ago, and most of the tips apply no matter the age, so maybe check it out: http://www.theunlikelyhousewife.com/2013/06/family-travel-tips/

    Have an amazing time with your niece!! You are definitely a cool aunt 😉

    1. Elisa – thank you for the advice and the link to your post – definitely helpful. As for the comment above, I agree that I wouldn’t leave the hotel either – it will give me time to relax for a change with possibly a pain au chocolate 🙂

  3. Great post about the fears and excitement about introducing your nieces to travelling! My biggest recommendation for your upcoming adventure is to let her know about the trip, and involve her in the planning of it…that can be half the fun of the holiday. Spend a weekend with her before the vacation, watch movies together about the places you will see, go through guide books and let her make some of the decisions about the day to day itinerary. I’m really looking forward to following your adventure!

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