We’re on our way back from 6 nights in France split between Provence and Paris. Although most of our prior trips to Europe have been in the summer I’m glad we visited in April. Perhaps we lucked out with hardly a cloud in the sky our entire visit, temperatures warm enough to swim in a heated swimming pool in Provence, and outstanding weather in Paris.
I thought I’d share how we got there/where we stayed in case you’re interested in visiting France some time soon. We live in the Boston area so this is going to have an east coast bias, but hopefully the redemption angles are useful to those in the US looking to visit Europe.
Outbound Flights: Delta One Business Class
80,000 Delta SkyMiles per-person one-way (70,000 when saver level is available the whole way)
The dominant alliance from Boston to France is SkyTeam, and Delta and AirFrance both offer BOS-CDG flights. I wanted to spend some time in the South of France and noticed that Delta had a JFK-Nice flight with saver lever award availability for 4 in Business Class for 70,000 Delta miles one-way. Adding the BOS-JFK leg added 10,000 miles for a total of 80,000 miles per person, which I thought was a reasonable bump for a BOS-JFK flight in domestic First.
One nice thing about flying Delta Business Class is that you can visit the Delta SkyClub even on domestic legs. Although my wife and I both carry AmEx Platinum cards which give us SkyClub access they charge a steep per-visit fee for guests – even if they’re family members. That being the case it’s been a while since we’ve been to a Delta lounge. The lounge definitely didn’t have many kids so maybe their family-unfriendly policies are working as intended. But I did appreciate that the SkyClub rep offered to route us BOS-CDG-NCE instead of going through JFK due to our tight connection.
Although I appreciated avoiding JFK (which involves a terminal change and therefore a 2nd security check) I wasn’t thrilled about the connecting leg being the next day. That said we took the change since it ensured we’d get there the next day and only an hour later than originally scheduled.
I thought Delta One Business Class was terrific. The cabin seats were comfortably spaced out. The food was good. The wine list was terrific – probably the best all around wine list I’ve seen on an airplane – well curated. Amenities are heavily co-branded: Westin bedding, Tumi amenity kits, Alessi wine glasses. And perhaps most importantly the bed was very comfortable. Fully flat and I was able to get a few hours sleep with ease.
Upon arrival at CDG I was disappointed to discover our second leg was in Economy. If you’ve flown “business class” within Europe before you know it’s nothing more than a seat at the front of the plane, a space between you and your seatmate, and perhaps some better food. But we also weren’t able to access the lounge (and the terminal was crowded), and we were seated in an exit row with our kids (which forced a negotiation in French to find nearby seats). Delta responded promptly and generously to my requests for compensation for this “indignation” (not really an indignation) so it wasn’t that big of a deal.
I earned the Delta miles for this flight through signup bonuses and spend on AmEx Membership Rewards and AmEx Delta cards. If you can find saver level space on Delta in both directions, and are up for jumping through a few hoops to complete the transaction, you might also consider booking with Virgin Atlantic or Korean miles.
With fair saver level award availability and an excellent Business Class product, I’ll look forward to flying Delta to Europe again. Definitely better than Air France in my experience.
Provence Lodging: Hameau des Baux
Cash (2x min spend towards Chase Sapphire Preferred signup bonus)
The reason I wanted to go to Provence was because I’ve enjoyed Tuscany so much on previous trips and wanted to explore some place similar yet different. Provence was exactly this. After booking our flights into Nice I was tempted to audible and go with points-based lodging options from chain hotels in the Cote d’Azure. But I really wanted to do Provence more than the French Riviera for this trip. I’ve discovered a lot of terrific hotels through Ciao Bambino (like this one in Tuscany and this one on Lake Garda) and ended up booking Hameau des Baux in Provence.
It was terrific. It’s amazing how hard it is to find these upscale boutique hotels off the beaten trail with accommodations for families. Believe me, I’ve looked. I even tried to book this property with Citi ThankYou points and/or 4th night free with Citi Prestige but they couldn’t seem to find the place. I was happy to book through Ciao Bambino since they found it for me.
Paris Lodging: Marriott Champs-Elysees
45,000 Marriott points per night (or 15,000 SPG points) + 80 euros for an upgrade to a family room for 4
The Marriott/SPG merger has fused a couple of loyalty programs together in ways their creators likely didn’t intend, and surely won’t last.
For example, just for carrying the AmEx Platinum card you get SPG Gold status. That status is matched to Marriott Gold status which includes complimentary breakfast at Marriott hotels (not all of them, it depends on the brand). At this property breakfast costs 44 euros per person. The breakfast benefit is only supposed to include 2 people but they kindly extended it to include our kids for a daily benefit of 44 euros per adult plus 28 euros per child, a 144 euro per day benefit. Quite nice.
Upon check-in they acknowledged my Gold status and enumerated what benefits that included (it’s amazing how inconsistent Hyatt is at this in my experience). They sent a bottle of Champagne for us and chocolate for the kids. They accommodated our request for an early check-in and late-checkout. Very nice. I’m going for Marriott/SPG Platinum based on experiences like this.
I looked into Hilton and Hyatt redemptions in Paris and although we enjoyed the Park Hyatt Vendome as a couple last time we visited other options didn’t seem as well suited to families. Even the suites at Paris Hyatt properties accommodate a maximum of only 3 people. And even if I was willing to book 2 rooms, it was unclear whether that would guarantee an adjoining room. But the Marriott had none of these restrictions.
On the 2nd night of our stay a terrorist shot and killed a police officer just a couple of doors down from the Marriott on the Champs-Elysees. We were away from the hotel (visiting Disneyland Paris) when the incident occurred but the avenue and a block around it were closed for several hours. We chose to stop short of the area and stumbled upon a tremendously hospitable restaurant that warmly greeted us to their white table-cloth restaurant even though we weren’t dressed for the occassion.
The Marriott Champs-Elysees is a well run-hotel, especially from a security perspective. After dinner we called and they guided us back to the hotel. At moments like this, kibitzing about L’Occitane toiletries, Nespresso machines, and Evian water go out the window. The place seemed like a proxy for the US Embassy that night. I’m thankful for keeping us safe and I’d gladly stay here again.
Marriott points can be earned by signing up for Chase Marriott credit cards, AmEx SPG credit cards (SPG points transfer 1:3 to Marriott), and Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to Marriott 1:1 (though there are better uses for Ultimate Rewards).
Return Flights: SWISS Business Class
55,000 Aeroplan miles + $115 USD per person one-way
Using Aeroplan miles to fly SWISS Business Class for a family of four has been a great redemption for me a couple of times now. The first time I flew them I was less than impressed. The food was truly gross and the flight attendants were surly.
However this trip was much more pleasant on all fronts. Quite nice actually. They still run their “old” Business Class on the AirBus A330-300s on the Zurich Boston route evidently but I’ll take it.
If there had been saver level award availability on direct flights on Delta or Air France I would have gone for that over SWISS. But since there wasn’t, SWISS was a nice fall back. I was also monitoring Lufthansa First space in the 2 weeks leading up to our return travel date but I couldn’t shake 4 seats loose on that route, even by splitting up the cabins we were sitting in. Lufthansa really doesn’t like to release more than 2 saver level award seats in First in my experience. And since their flights from Munich to Boston don’t have a First cabin anymore and they’re only running one flight a day from Frankfurt to Boston that leaves only 8 precious First Class seats per day on Lufthansa to Boston. It’s a shame because it’s a great experience and I’d gladly pay the current saver level tariffs if award availability were there.
I booked these flights back in July of 2016 when they had awards space available for four. I was glad to get it on the return flight because the day we traveled was a popular one for Americans visiting Paris as estimated by the people we chatted with while visiting.
Aeroplan is a 1:1 transfer partner of AmEx Membership Rewards and has a co-branded credit card issued by TD Bank. And since they don’t charge fuel surcharges on SWISS it makes for a very good way to get to and from Europe. Alternatively, you can book with 70,000 United miles and United is a 1:1 transfer partner from Chase Ultimate Rewards.
France is such a beautiful and resilient country. Our visit to Provence and Paris was tremendously enjoyable for the whole family.
Between Delta’s good award availability, favorable Star Alliance options, tons of terrific hotels to choose from, fanastic food, and something for everyone – it’s a country I’ll look forward to visiting again and again.
Check out my Instagram (@RobertDwyer) for more photos from this trip.
What are some of the best ways to get to and around Europe lately?