A number of The Higher Flyer Consulting obligations had me jetting off from the East Coast to London on a Friday, taking the train to France on a Saturday, and then returning home on a Sunday. A weekend like that, in theory, sounds absolutely brutal… And, well, sitting down at my day job desk that Monday morning was a struggle. The trip was well worth it though, and thankfully, premium accommodations all the way through to the end made it all the better.

The trip started with a shuttle from Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) to Newark Liberty (EWR), and after being held up by an unexpected 45 minute delay and a long holding pattern on arrival, I had to sprint from gate to gate in order to make the connection. Luckily, there was another (minor) hold up, and most passengers were still waiting to get on when I showed up; crisis averted! It’s at this point in the trip where reviews begin, starting with the hop across the pond in one of United’s old products: the Diamond seat from a pre-merger Continental plane.

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The B/E Aerospace Diamond seat that United uses on its old Continental planes

I’m not usually a big fan of redeeming miles for short jaunts like this one, but when looking at the airfare’s cash rate, it was clear that paying 60,000 MileagePlus miles was a significantly better value.

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$5,858 for a United Polaris class ticket

That’s good for a respectable 11.72 cents per mile (based on a valuation of 1.5 cents per MileagePlus point). While United doesn’t usually make for glamorous higher flying, it was a fabulously fast flight, and the Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow really came in clutch. It was nice being able to rinse off the grime that comes with being on an airplane, especially before meeting clients.

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The United Arrivals Lounge, LHR Terminal 2

From there, I decided to spend my one night on the road in Lille, France, a city that’s practically in Belgium and has a charming old town. I stayed at the lone hotel associated with the five main families: L’Hermitage Gantois, which is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The hotel, which occupies what used to be a centuries-old hospital, was nearly at capacity Saturday night. Rates were correspondingly high at €264 per night, or around $330 USD. At least I earned some points and got serious bang for my buck, with a complimentary suite upgrade (that was selling for more than €500 at the time of check in) and a continental breakfast included.

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An excellent bed at the L’Hermitage Gantois, in Lille, France

The following morning, I took another train from Lille to Paris, and from there, it would be out of Charles DeGaulle to fly back to North America. There are a number of options — those low cost carriers springing up around Europe sure look interesting — but Air France’s new business class was too good to turn down. There was saver award availability close to departure, and I’d be a fool to pass that up on a trip like this. For 62,500 Flying Blue miles, I could sip some champagne in the renowned Business Salon before boarding, enjoy a tasty French meal in flight, and then sleep the rest of the way back… and that’s exactly what happened!

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Lots of champagne to be had here!
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Nice, comfortable, and private

It was another solid value too on the return, especially when comparing the cash price to the amount of points spent.

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$5,288 for an Air France business class ticket

By my valuations (of 1.2 cents per Flying Blue point), that’s a return of approximately 8.46 cents per mile, which is pretty decent by itself. Air France has one of the premier business class offerings in the industry, so it was far from a disappointing investment either. It certainly beats what WOW Air offers, cheap as it may be…

For what it’s worth, a leg on an LCC would have cost about $550, including bags and premium seat selection (when you’re 6’3″ like me, you gotta spring for the exit row!). The cash equivalent cost of the Air France ticket was roughly $740 based on my valuations. The difference in quality is far greater than a mere $190 premium.

One of the caveats to my booking: Air France award availability existed only between Paris and Toronto. The detour was definitely worth the inherent trouble of an added connection though, and my final routing (minus the legs on the train) looked like this…

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From Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) to London-Heathrow (LHR), via Newark Liberty (EWR), an overnight in Lille, France, and then from Paris Charles DeGaulle (CDG) to Washington National (DCA), via Toronto Pearson (YYZ). Click for more information.

…which cost…

  • 60,000 United MileagePlus miles to fly BWI-EWR-LHR
  • 62,500 Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles to fly CDG-YYZ
  • ~$330 (€264) per night at L’Hermitage Gantois Hotel

…And finally, this trip report will include five reviews:

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