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Anatomy of an Award: Booking this Trip

AA First Class: Los Angeles to Tampa

BA Business Class: Tampa to London (LGW)

A Day in London: Gatwick to London to Heathrow to Paris

A few weeks ago, as part of my Anatomy of an Award series, I wrote about booking the award I’m flying right now: Los Angles to Paris with a stopover in Tampa. In this post, I’ll talk about my domestic first class trip from LAX to Dallas to Tampa.

I traveled to the airport in my usual way, a limo from the casino. It’s a nice perk of being a poker player and beats paying for parking or a taxi or begging a friend to wake up early.

I had been uncharacteristically unprepared for the trip, having stayed up until 2 AM to pack and not having secured any guidebooks for the trip, so I hadn’t checked in. Since I didn’t have any checked bags or any fancy requests, I checked in at a kiosk and received my two boarding passes, both for seat 3F, the first row window on the right side of the plane. I prefer window seats if I think I will want to nap at all and aisle seats otherwise.

Security was shockingly painless, especially for LAX. I used the priority access line since I was flying first class, but even the regular line was empty. Having arrived at the airport 1:30 before my flight, I was through security with 1:15 left until takeoff.

American flies out of Terminal 4 at LAX, which has three lounges, a Qantas lounge, an Admirals Club, and an AA Flagship Lounge inside the Admirals Club. With my American Express Platinum card, I got free access to the Admirals Club, so I headed there. I have rarely used lounges in the past because I often fly direct, and I show up at the airport as late as I can, but this one was disappointing.

It had its strengths: one wall that was all windows with views across to the international terminal’s interesting planes; a bar with free mid-shelf liquor, beer, and wine; and a children’s playroom. But its weaknesses were glaring: despite its large size, it was very full, and the snack selection was fruit or mini-muffins. If you can get in for free, why not go have a beer, but the price of a day pass–$50– is ludicrous.

With thirty minutes until my flight, I walked to my gate and onto the plane as first class was called. The three hour flight to Tampa left on time. After takeoff, the flight attendants served warm nuts and beverages, then took lunch orders. This is when my seatmate struck up a conversation with me, turning to tell me as soon as she finished ordering the salmon that she regretted it. We made a few Airplane jokes.

She was traveling to Spain via Dallas in business class on American planes the whole way. She told me that she had booked the award by calling up AA. There had been no low level award space for the outbound or return, so she shelled out 200,000 miles for an angled seat! I really wanted to tell her about my award booking service, but I didn’t want her trip to start off on a sour note by being told she had gotten a bad deal, so I just let my tank top do the advertising for me.

I had the chicken quesadilla, which I thought was tasty, but this is coming from a guy who eats 90% of his meals (happily) at casinos, Denny’s, Chick-Fil-A, Subway, and KFC.

My connection in Dallas was 40 minutes, which was perfect. After taking the SkyLink train to my next gate, I arrived just as first class was being boarded. And I had a productive 10 minute transit, conferring with my parents what dates they wanted to book their upcoming intra-South America award flights for. More on booking those in a later Anatomy of an Award post.

The two hours to Tampa was uneventful. I ate some delicious cheese tortellini and hot nuts. Tampa itself is a really fun place to visit. If you’re my age, you feel like you’re reliving the plot of the Seinfeld episode when Kramer decides to move in with Jerry’s parents at Del Boca Vista and rules the shuffle board court and dance floor. I was certainly the quickest on the tennis courts.

I spent five days in Tampa, taking advantage of AA’s free stopover at the North American international gateway city. The domestic portion of this award really reminded me how much I enjoy domestic first class. Sure the seats only have eight extra inches of leg room and four extra inches of width, but those inches are right along the margin of comfort for me. And the other benefits like free checked bags, expedited security, and the avoidance of buying overpriced junk food at the airport are nice too. How nice?

Certainly not nice enough that I would buy a first class ticket. Nor are they nice enough that I would book a first class domestic award for 50,000 miles. (I buy my domestic tickets with cash or use Southwest points or Avios.) But they are nice enough that I really enjoy the domestic first portion of international premium awards, especially if the domestic first portion is a free oneway!