Trip Review: London, Paris and Points Between
Part 1: MCO to LHR & Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill
Part 2: The Power of Uber
Part 3: Riding Brittany Ferries Across the Channel
Part 4: Hyatt Paris Vendôme and American CDG-MCO
We’re back! After 10 days traveling through the south of England and then making our way to the Normandy region of France on our way to Paris, I can’t wait to share some of the details about the trip that led to PointsAway’s founding.
Of course, the early highlight and initial objective of the trip was the opportunity to watch the Jaguars play the 49ers at Wembley Stadium in London. Though the team unsurprisingly lost, it was still an experience I won’t soon forget, and the first game I’ve been fortunate enough to watch the Jaguars play outside of EverBank Field in Jacksonville. You can read all about the football side of the trip and my time in London in this series of dispatches for SBnation.
Today, I want to share some thoughts on our flight to London and our stay at the Hyatt Regency Churchill in London!
JetBlue – MCO to JFK
Standard Seating • $101.40 Cash Fare
As you may know from our series on how we planned this trip, award availability out of Orlando was dry when we booked our flight to London and back from Paris on American. While we were able to book our award all the way to Orlando on the way home, we had to find our way to New York City in order to begin our trip. That meant purchasing a cheap JetBlue fare from MCO to JFK.
When first booking this flight, I called JetBlue to ask how our bags would be handled given the necessary transfer to American at JFK. I was told that so long as we told the baggage attendant of the transfer when checking in for the flight and provided both our ticket on JetBlue and on American, it would be possible for our bags to be transferred. Still a bit worried about this, I’d opted for a slightly earlier flight to JFK in case we had to recheck our bags.
I’m glad I did.
When we arrived at MCO, the baggage attendant informed us our baggage would not automatically transfer, and that we would need to retrieve our luggage and recheck it with American after arriving in New York.
They explained that since the flight code-shares with American, if the flights had been booked as one continuous itinerary – such as on a cash fare, or if an award including the first flight had been available – the bags could transfer. Because the flights were booked separately, continuing service was not possible. Knowing we’d have plenty of time to overcome this obstacle, we found this mildly irritating but not a major concern.
Touching down at JFK, we were able to quickly retrieve our bags and begin making our way to the American terminal, which was quite a distance away from JetBlue’s well-appointed Terminal 5. The American terminal was almost eerily quiet once we’d finally made our way there by way of innumerable people movers and the AirTrain that travels between terminals. We were able to very easily check in our bags, and the security line was a breeze compared to the hordes overflowing the TSA post in Orlando. With plenty of time left to kill, we grabbed dinner in the terminal before boarding our American flight.
American – JFK to LHR
Off-Peak Saver Economy • 20,000 AA Miles + $41 Taxes/Fees
I purposely booked us on an older 777-200 flight even though a flight on a brand-new 777-300ER was also available. As nice as the new 300ERs are in Business Class, with lie-flat seats and American’s full line of upgrades, we were flying in the main cabin.
Seating is actually a bit tighter in Coach on the newer planes, as AA packs in a few more passengers and makes some room for the upgraded Upper Class seating, so the older equipment was a more comfortable choice for us.
This was also true thanks to booking seats in a unique row. As the plane tapers near the back, the 2-5-2 seating arrangement used on both 777 models compacts. The back few rows reduce seating to just 4 in the middle row. On our 777-200, for example, Row 41 is the first row with just 4 middle seats.
Given that there were four of us, this made good sense on paper. The reality was both better and slightly worse than expected. Because the row in front of us had 5 seats, we ended up with an excess of staggered legroom space, with each of our seats roughly situated between 2 of the seats in front of us. We were easily able to deposit a bit of carry-on luggage below the seats farthest left and right while maintaining good foot space.
However, this configuration meant AA opted to forgo seat-back monitors for entertainment and folding tray tables for meals, relying instead on armrest-based stowaway monitors and tables like those found in Upper Classes on the flight. This meant armrests were fixed in place and were about double the width of those found at other seats. Overall, I’d recommend jockeying for this row if traveling as a party of four despite the shortcomings, as the capacious leg room easily outweighed the minor hassle of the wide, fixed armrests.
Dinner service was offered on the flight, but I passed on this, preferring to try to get some sleep as quickly as possible, knowing how short the 6 hour 50 minute flight would seem after jumping ahead five time zones. As it turned out, strong winds in our direction would push us rapidly along throughout the night, leading to quite a bit of turbulence but an arrival 40 minutes ahead of schedule. I was served a hot croissant with strawberry jelly in the final hour before the flight landed. I’m not sure if it tasted good because I was so hungry or because it was actually not too terrible, but I can’t complain.
After we landed, I realized how little additional value I would have received from dropping the [highlight class=“highlight_yellow”]50,000 miles that would have been necessary to fly in Business Class as compared to the mere [highlight class=“highlight_yellow”]20,000 miles required for this Off-Peak Saver Economy flight. Sure, the extra space would have been alright, but the better food held no appeal for me on this particular trip and the aging product in the 777-200 lacked the modernized amenities found on the 777-300ER. I would consider an Upper Class JFK->LHR flight in the future, but only on American’s newest equipment.
Customs in the UK was a breeze, taking only about 15 minutes to pass through. I quickly found a SIM card vending machine and opted for the package offered by UK carrier Three, which included unlimited data for £20. The plan also came with a few hours’ worth of voice and a few hundred texts, but these were basically irrelevant, while the data service proved absolutely essential, and with good availability if somewhat lacking speed, throughout the trip. To anyone else who uses their smartphone as much as I do, I can’t recommend this option highly enough.
Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill
3 Nights, 2 Rooms • 4 Free Night Certificates + 44,000 Ultimate Rewards Points
Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill is an exceptional property perfectly located within a stone’s throw from Westminster and Parliament and just two blocks from the Marble Arch Underground station.
Prior to the trip, I’d helped my family begin Diamond Status trials with Hyatt so that we would be able to enjoy the very best treatment throughout our stay here and in Paris. Thanks to the early arrival of the flight, we arrived very early at the hotel – around 10AM, I believe – and unsurprisingly there weren’t any rooms yet ready. Our check-in attendant offered us an upgrade for each of our rooms, but because these rooms would be unavailable until later in the afternoon, we opted for standard rooms that would be ready earlier, eager to shower and change as soon as possible. After a few hours playing tourist and filming this segment for the local ABC and NBC affiliates in Jacksonville, our rooms were ready.
Diamond Status means a nice welcome amenity at most Hyatt properties, and the Churchill was no exception. A modest bottle of wine and nice display of fresh fruit awaited us in each of our rooms. The rooms were very nice, but not anything particularly remarkable compared to most nicer Hyatt properties.
It seemed that the hotel’s exceptional geographical placement and attentive service were its defining features, not the spaciousness or lavishness of its rooms. In retrospect, I wish we’d been a bit more patient for nicer rooms since they were offered, but we asked for first available and did receive our room keys well before noon. Beggars can’t be choosers!
The other great benefit of Diamond Status was access to the Regency Club on the seventh floor. Each morning, a delicious breakfast buffet was offered free of charge including a variety of breads and fruits, smoked salmon and various sliced meats, cereals, freshly squeezed juices, outstanding scrambled eggs and much more.
Breakfast was served on fine dishes and well-presented hot tea service added a uniquely English flair making each breakfast an occasion. Individual-size jellies and jams were available at each table, and a variety of newspapers from around the world were available for guests.
Just as importantly, the Club was well-stocked with bottled waters – both fizzy and flat – and glass bottle Coca-Colas. Bottled Carlsberg, Heineken and Budweiser were also available freely throughout the day. Snacks were offered each afternoon and evening, but we never made it back to the Hyatt during the appointed hours for these during our stay. We raided their refrigerator for waters and soft drinks regularly, taking them with us as we explored the city each day.
We were welcomed to enjoy breakfast in the Club on the morning of our check-in, even before our rooms had been prepared, which meant one more free meal than I had anticipated! The Club’s restroom included a variety of amenities, including travel-size toothbrushes and toothpaste, which were was a welcome surprise on our first morning prior to gaining access to our room.
Being able to write and work a bit from the Club each night was a very nice change of pace from the room, especially given the free beverages available. Service in the Club couldn’t have been nicer, ready to share any advice readily and just as attentive at mealtime as waitstaff at a well-run restaurant would be.
Finding similar breakfast service in the nearby area would have run at least £20 per person. I’d have to value our breakfasts alone at at least $500 over our stay, though in reality we’d have been likely to turn to Pret A Manger or Starbucks most mornings rather than enjoy such a nice breakfast. The Regency Club did an excellent job at setting a positive tone to each morning of our stay and allowed us to eat enough to comfortably skip lunch most days.
The Churchill is home to The Montagu, a restaurant that holds a membership with the UK Tea Council. I’d planned an Afternoon Tea at The Montagu for my mother months prior to complete the London experience, but pushed our reservation to Sunday around 12:30PM from Saturday mid-afternoon in order to minimize interruptions in our sightseeing.
I didn’t realize at the time that tea service was only offered after 3PM and that only a Champagne Brunch Buffet was available at noontime on Sunday. While I was willing to eat the cost difference, the per person charge of £60 plus service charges proved too high for the rest of the family to swallow. This was the only real low-light of my time at The Churchill and it’s certainly difficult to blame the hotel for my mistake.
A few other notes: The Churchill’s bar area was a stylish, retro environment designed after the tastes and sensibilities of Churchill himself.
The hotel’s first floor included a boutique called Monocle that sold various apparel and accessories.
A delightful artist’s rendering of the Queen smiling with eyes closed hanging above the check-in desk lent the ground floor a sense of levity.
The hotel’s diverse array of clients meant that a remarkable variety of TV channels were available to explore during our few minutes of downtime before bed each night.
Alternating between cartoons from Qatar, news in English from Tokyo and a soccer match in Dubai didn’t lose its novelty.
Next time, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite travel-related services: Uber!