American Airlines British Airways holiday airfare London London Gatwick LGW

AA free bet seat roulette San Jose to London Gatwick

a tree in front of a building
St. Gabriel’s Warwick Square Pimlico (1851-53) City of Westminster, London.

Christmas 2018 in London came about via a $536 American Airlines basic economy ticket purchase in mid-October when prices dropped to $536 round trip for San Jose SJC to London Gatwick LGW. That was quite a deal for Christmas season travel.

American Airlines Basic Economy ticket means no free checked bag or free seat selection and boarding in the last group. The ticket price was $180 more to upgrade to Main Cabin Economy with one free checked bag, free seat selection at time of booking and general boarding.

My last few flights on British Airways were nonstop San Jose SJC to London Heathrow on a 787-900. One major issue with these cheap tickets to Europe is the low at Christmas trip fare required a two-stop itinerary both ways in the USA. The outbound flights were San Jose SJC to Los Angeles LAX to Las Vegas LAS to London Gatwick LGW.

American Airlines Free Bet Seat Roulette

Airfare USA to Europe is generally cheaper now than anytime since 9/11. The major difference between then and now is a relatively recent development when the major USA airlines went revenue based for frequent flyer miles earning and elite status. The days are gone when a $500 ticket from California to Europe earned 25,000 redeemable frequent flyer miles and put me 1/8 of the way to top elite frequent flyer status like AAdvantage Platinum Executive or United Mileage Plus 1K at 100,000 EQM. On the plus side, there is no longer incentive to frivolously fly around the globe for no other purpose than to pad my EQM balance for status. The planet’s atmosphere appreciates my change in flying pattern.

Other recent changes add to the differences for flights in 2018 compared to as recently as three years ago. The cheapest fares do not allow seat selection at time of boarding or a free checked bag. Many low cost carriers do not even provide meals or any drink besides water and maybe coffee and tea.

a screenshot of a computer
AA Basic Economy restrictions

Traveling carry on bags only and taking food on the plane are easy solutions to cheap fare limitations. British Airways still provides free meals and drinks for transatlantic flights in basic economy.

The riskiest part of the Basic Economy ticket is playing ‘free bet seat roulette’ when you don’t find out where you are seated until online check-in available 24 hours before flight time.

I came up a winner on all three flights this time. I think I have had a winning seat (window or aisle) about 75% to 80% of the time in the two dozen or so flights I have made in the past year playing free bet seat roulette.

a screenshot of a computer screen
SJC-LAX 12 A-B seats free at check-in saved $72.
a screenshot of a computer
LAX-LAS aisle seats 16C-D free at check-in saved $38.

Sitting in a middle seat for a one hour flight is not a big deal to me. I hardly ever pay for seat selection for intra-Europe flights, especially when traveling with Kelley since that generally means a middle seat for any 3 seat row section if we want to sit together.

The main issue is avoiding a middle seat for a transatlantic flight. Still, I generally play free bet seat roulette and win on transatlantic flights too. There was the time in 2014 when I was pinned to my middle seat for 12 hours for FRA-SFO by a Romanian strongman, although even the aisle seat would not have helped that time since he was so large that his shoulders crossed over into my seat space.

British Airways Las Vegas to London Gatwick on 777-200 aircraft

It was apparent to me as we sat at an airport bar in Las Vegas drinking Stella Artois and checked out the gate for our British Airways flight to Gatwick that the plane would be nowhere near full. We had been assigned A-B seats in a row in the upper 20s on the B777-200 3-3-3 seating in World Traveller economy class.

As we prepped our seat spaces for the long-haul flight I noticed that virtually every couple in the cabin were seated in window and middle seats with nobody in most of the aisle seats and the entire middle section of the aircraft virtually empty. Once the words ‘Boarding Complete’ were spoken I hopped over to the empty middle row section across from Kelley and we both had three seats to ourselves for the flight to London. I call that occurrence of being seated alone in an entire row section ‘economy class poverty jet setter’s first class’.

Despite the great seating arrangement, the flight on the BA 772 was our worst transatlantic flight we recall ever having on British Airways. Generally flight attendants attentiveness is a standout feature with BA. On this flight there was a meal service about one hour into the flight with only one pass through for drinks accompanying the meal. I waited for coffee that never came after the meal. And the next time we saw the flight attendants was about 45 minutes before landing when they quickly passed out a breakfast wrap and yogurt, then even more quickly came to clear the trays away about ten minutes later.

The 777-200 aircraft was in poor condition. Announcements were almost incomprehensible with the static crackling of the sound system. I ripped out my earbuds every time I realized there going to be an announcement to save myself from the sonic assault.

Kelley assumed her IFE system or earbuds were broken with the static only ceasing when you actually had a movie or music playing.

Highlights of the flight for me was seeing the movie Leave No Trace, one of the best films I saw in 2018 and listening to The National Live in Brussels.

a screen shot of a television
Leave No Trace

In the end, we arrived in London Gatwick, caught a National Express bus from Gatwick to Victoria Coach Station 30 minutes after clearing passport control and fell asleep in our hotel bed at Comfort Inn Buckingham Palace Road about 26 hours after starting our journey in California. Christmas Day is tough for transportation in London with no train or Underground service.

The BA economy class flight for a Christmas Day arrival in London Gatwick will soon be forgotten, except as memorialized in this post.

Walking around Pimlico on Christmas evening and Boxing Day will be the primary remembrance of this trip to London.

a tree in front of a building
St. Gabriel’s Warwick Square Pimlico (1851-53) City of Westminster, London.




1 Comment

  • Jimmy December 27, 2018

    I appreciate you writing about “free seat roulette” experiences. It’s very helpful.

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