An update on my American Airlines Executive Platinum fast-track challenge sees me at 19,221 EQM after 17 days and three of six transatlantic flights completed. Today is a rest day as a steady rain pours down in Harstad, Norway, where I have hunkered down north of the Arctic Circle at Clarion Collection Hotel Arcticus for the weekend.
Clarion Collection Hotel Arcticus view, Harstad, Norway
The return flights on my $373 round trip Bergen to San Francisco ticket began with a nonstop British Airways flight SFO-LHR on a Boeing 747-400 aircraft. The seatback inflight entertainment system was an improvement over the American Airlines 767-300 Chicago to London flight two weeks ago with old overhead monitors keeping the cabin bright for the overnight flight and making it difficult to sleep since I forgot to pack my eyeshade.
The nice aspect about making my second trip to Europe in two weeks was I remembered to pack my eyeshades for the flight, Goretex rain pants, long sleeve shirts and sweaters. My trip to Brno, Czech Republic caught me off guard as temperatures dropped from mid 90s the week before my trip to upper 50s during my stay. The weather went back to mid 70s and even upper 80s this past week. My time in Brno was the coldest weather of the month.
British Airways SFO International Lounge
My new AAdvantage Platinum status meant I had the benefit of accessing the SFO British Airways international lounge prior to the flight. My boarding pass did not show my elite status with a designator for Oneworld Sapphire or AA Platinum. I arrived at the TSA security line to see hundreds of people and nobody at the TSA Precheck line. I have Global Entry, but my boarding pass was not marked with TSA Precheck.
I returned to the British Airways counter to see if I could get these designators on my boarding pass. She checked my AAdvantage status and returned with a new boarding pass showing Oneworld Sapphire. No movement on the TSA Precheck. She replied my Global Entry status did not apply to international carrier flights.
Back in the cattle crawl among the hundreds and nearly an hour to get through TSA screening.
I attempted to get into the Cathay Pacific lounge since I figured they would have better food. I was not allowed inside. They are remodeling for an expansion and said their new lounge grand opening will be in October. I attended their initial SFO international lounge grand opening for media a few years back.
Inside the British Airways lounge I grabbed a Heineken, some food and settled into a corner of the lounge where there were no other people. After the 4pm flight boarded, only two other people were in the lounge. I went to the bathroom and returned to find a couple with a toddler had settled in across from my seat. I picked up my things and moved to another part of the lounge, as the father apologized if they were forcing me out. ‘No problem’, I replied, ‘It is a big lounge.’ But it wasn’t big enough to get away from the whiny toddler who managed to cover the ground space of the entire lounge over the next 90 minutes rather than remain in the back room.
Boarding the British Airways plane directly from the lounge was a cool feature.
British Airways 747-400, my coldest flight in years
I prefer flying in a cool plane than a hot plane. When it is cold, there are blankets to wrap up in. When it is hot the flight becomes insufferable for me. Thankfully, I wore a sweater with a collar onto the aircraft. My seat had a cold air current hitting me right down the back of my neck.
I changed my seat at online check-in the day before to take an aisle seat rather than the window seat I originally booked. My American Airlines flight the week before from London LHR to Dallas DFW placed me next to a woman who never got up during the 9.5 hour flight. I asked her to let me out once, when it became apparent to me she was glued to her seat. With 30,000 more flight miles scheduled in September, I want the ability to move at my pleasure and stretch during long-haul flights in economy class.
The 747-400 is an old aircraft too. Two young German women seated in the two middle seats of the 3-4-3 configured aircraft seemed shocked to learn there were no power ports to keep their iPhones charged during the flight. After flying British Airways last September from LAX on the A-380 double deck aircraft with fantastic IFE selections, the limited music and video on the 747-400 was a disappointment.
Dinner was served soon after takeoff and I had fallen asleep before they cleared the tray. What a relief to wake up and find I had slept five hours straight and there were only four hours remaining. Having my eyeshades really made a difference in sleep comfort. I listened to Joy Division on the IFE selections and drifted off into the sounds of Ian Curtis’s melancholic lyrics. With two hours left before landing I turned on a documentary about songbirds filmed in several locations in Britain. That set a better vibe for landing in London.
This itinerary was planned for an overnight layover in London with arrival at 1:00pm and my flight to Bergen, Norway at 7:55am in the morning. The pilot upon landing stated the rain storm had just arrived at LHR and we could expect hours of rain as it was forecast to a big storm.
Passport control at LHR was horrendous. Nearly an hour in line waiting to reach the passport control desk. Since I had my Bergen boarding pass in hand, I figured I would hit the British Airways lounge and have a free beer or two and some food before going into London. I arrived at the lounge at 2:15pm. It closed at 2:00pm.
Onward to the Underground trains, where I loaded my Oyster card with 10 GBP credit. I reached Victoria Station around 3:30pm and by a miracle exited the station to find on was on the correct side of the building for walking to Belgrave Road to the Comfort Inn Westminster.
The hotel and my rain walk around Battersea Power Station beside the River Thames are covered in this post:
Battered by rain in Battersea London – Sep 16, 2015.
Normally I sleep soundly for six to seven hours at a stretch. The travel this month has disrupted my sleep patterns in a significant way. I have only slept six hours at a time on two or three occasions in the past three weeks. I am living and sleeping on a 24 hour clock with naps of two to five hours and it messes with my activities and awareness. I covered my French toast with pepper the other day when I meant to pour cinnamon.
Leaving for London Heathrow before breakfast at the Comfort Inn Westminster meant I received more added value from my new AAdvantage Platinum status. There was a good breakfast spread at the British Airways Terraces lounge in Terminal 5.
My new AAdvantage Platinum status earned with 12,000 EQM after the first round trip from California to Scandinavia this month has had added tangible value. As Oneworld Sapphire with lounge privileges on international flights, between beer and food at SFO and breakfast at LHR in the British Airways airport lounges, my added value estimate is about $20 in extra benefits from elite status.
Last week I studied the Duty Free prices in Bergen Airport and figured I could pick up cheap beer for my weekend in Harstad, Norway. The beer allowance with no other alcohol or cigarette purchase is 6.5 L. I picked up six liters of beer as two six packs of French Kronenbourg 1664 (49 NOK $6.00 each) and one six pack of Bergen Hansa beer 55 NOK ($6.75 USD). At checkout I realized I still had to go through domestic security and I wondered if I could transport the beer?
No problem as long as the purchase is bagged and sealed at the Duty Free shop with the receipt inside.
Carrying 18 cans of beer was a heavy load to tote through Bergen Airport, Oslo Airport and through Harstad. Worth it for the savings on alcohol prices in Norway.
One beer at a restaurant bar averages 69 NOK ($8.50 USD) in Norway. The store price is around 31 NOK per beer ($3.80 USD). Hotel Arcticus here in Harstad charges 550 NOK ($68 USD) for a bottle of wine at dinner.
Diners Club Value
I booked an SAS Scandinavian Airlines award ticket Bergen BGO – Harstad/Narvik EVE for 10,000 points round trip. I earned those points through a Diners Club points transfer last year. My award ticket cost was $43 for a published ticket price of $405.68. One of the best values I have received from Diners Club points.
My Diners Club card also got me into airport lounges at Copenhagen and London on my first trip to Europe completed last week.
Another ten days and I should pass 30,000 EQM after my flights home to California and back again next week for the third trip to Europe. Paris and Clermont Ferrand, France, Geneva and Copenhagen are my remaining destinations.
AAdvantage Elite Added Value
So far my AAdvantage elite status has earned 7,731 additional elite bonus miles in the past ten days as a Gold and Platinum member. I’ll give those miles a value of 1.5 cents per mile for $116 added value and I gave lounge access a $20 added value. I am assigning value to elite benefits to determine a cost/benefit ratio for the money I am spending to earn AAdvantage Executive Platinum.