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15 days in London, Windsor, Amsterdam and South Florida trip report overview

a structure with purple lights on it
Amsterdam Light Festival – Arches-Textures: Portam Civitatis – artist Peter Snijder (Belgium)

‘Next time book KLM nonstop Amsterdam to SFO’ is Kelley’s request.

Our trip shutdown clock was two days more than planned after completing 13 wonderful days of travel from San Jose to London to Windsor to Amsterdam, then back to London for our British Airways flight to Fort Lauderdale and onward flights home to California.

Waking up Monday in the Hyatt Place Fort Lauderdale Airport and Cruise Port on Day 15 of our 13-day planned trip was the unplanned and sometimes unavoidable hiccup in travel. For Kelley, two of the three times she has ever spent time in a Florida hotel were due to missed flight connections.

Flying American Airlines $536 San Jose SJC – London LGW basic economy tickets

Getting a $536 ticket San Jose to London for Christmas vacation seemed like a big score at the time I purchased our airline tickets in October 2018, even with two domestic stops each way set into the itinerary.

Kelley finally managed to condense her cosmetics to two zip-lock bags for carry-on only travel. One checked bag would have increased the ticket cost for London to $716 round trip.

A late arriving British Airways flight from London Gatwick and an extended passport control and secondary agricultural inspection check on my bags at Fort Lauderdale FLL blew through our 95-minutes transit time to make our flight connection to Dallas on Saturday afternoon. Getting out of South Florida on the final weekend of the New Year holiday break was too great a challenge for these two passengers with no elite status flying basic economy cheap holiday season fares. American Airlines found no available flights for 48 hours to rebook us on for our return to California on Monday.

I did not spend too much time sitting at FLL analyzing our hotel choices in Fort Lauderdale/Miami to find the best deal for a two night stay. We could have gone to the InterContinental Miami with our free IHG Rewards Club MasterCard annual night, stayed in a Miami Beach hotel on points, booked any Best Western hotel on 10,000 points reward nights or stayed at a resort hotel around Fort Lauderdale.

Kelley was quite happy with the Hyatt Place FLL Airport/Cruise Port for two nights (review to come) as she spent Sunday working hard on lesson plans for a substitute teacher in her classroom. I took consolation in the fact that we got over $450 in redemption value for our 16,000 World of Hyatt points.

Our rebooked American Airlines flight from Miami to Dallas on Monday was oversold with dozens of passengers waiting on standby and a $700 offer to fly to Dallas two hours later.

Why is it most of the voluntary denied boarding (VDB) opportunities come when I am traveling with Kelley? She does not like travel uncertainty and I generally do not apply for VDB changes when we travel together, whereas, my thoughts sitting at the gate in Miami Airport were about how $1,400 in flight credit could cover our summer flights cost to Europe or Australia. California to Australia has been priced around $700 round trip with American Airlines over the past month for June 2019 flights.

I will write a detailed report on our British Airways flight and solicit opinions on whether their role in our two day delay in Florida seems substantial enough to warrant a EU 261 compensation claim.

London, Windsor and Amsterdam for the holidays

London and Windsor for the Christmas holidays and Amsterdam for New Year’s were a blast. But three nights in airport hotels at LGW and FLL after leaving Amsterdam Friday was a long hotel slog home.

The real focus of this article is a trip overview for the series of articles I will write in coming days about aspects of London/Windsor and Amsterdam including reviews of the four hotels we stayed and transportation options.


London Airport Transportation – National Express bus London Gatwick – Victoria Coach Station

£51 total = £25 per person + £1.00 online booking fee. This was peak pricing for National Express coach tickets given no other cheaper transportation option to get to central London on Christmas Day when virtually all public transportation is shuttered.

London Hotel – Comfort Inn London Buckingham Palace Road (12,000 Choice Privileges points).

Planned Loyalty Traveler articles:

  • Arriving to a London airport on Christmas Day? Plan on National Express coach travel.
  • Pay in advance for Christmas Day pub dinner in London or go ethnic locally.
  • Pimlico area of London guide for tourists

Windsor – Boxing Day (Dec 26-30)

Hanging out several days in Windsor, England is a trip decision I made after visiting the town for one day in October 2018 with a one night stay at Clarion Collection Harte & Garter hotel.

I purchased our airline tickets in October 2018 for Christmas travel to London about two weeks before visiting the town of Windsor and the Harte & Garter hotel on my way home from Romania. I was impressed enough with the Choice hotel and the towns of Windsor and Eton to figure it would be a nice place to visit with Kelley at Christmas as an alternative destination to London.

a view of a castle from a window
Clarion Collection Harte & Garter Hotel Windsor Room 402 window view

Even better than a hotel room directly across the street from Windsor Castle for 16,000 points in October was Choice Privileges seasonal rate at 8,000 weekday/10,000 points weekend for the Harte & Garter in December 2018 made our four nights in a ‘castle view king bed room’ a real deal at 36,000 points.

I paid about $180 to buy 36,000 Choice Privileges points in April 2018 during the Daily Getaways sales. The lowest room rate for the ‘Executive Room with Castle View room’ was $184 per night at the time I booked.

a woman holding a dog
Charley cuddling with Kelley at Watermans Arms, Eton.

Kelley is an anglophile with a particular interest in British royal family history. The opportunity to visit Windsor Castle for the first time and drink plenty in quaint pubs around Windsor and Eton was a wonderful experience for us.

London to Windsor Transportation on December 26-Boxing Day:

  • Underground London Victoria Station to London Heathrow Terminal 5 (£3.10 Oyster off-peak)
  • Thames Valley public bus #8/#9 LHR T5 to Windsor Parish Church (£6.00 one way)

Planned Loyalty Traveler articles:

  • Windsor and Eton pubs and restaurants
  • Windsor Castle tour
  • The Long Walk
  • Clarion Collection Harte & Garter Hotel
  • London Heathrow to Windsor transportation
  • London Heathrow to Luton Airport by National Express coach
  • Easyjet one carry on bag warning

Amsterdam for New Year’s Eve

We have been to Amsterdam for New Year’s Eve a couple of times before, but it had been nearly 15 years since our last NYE eye candy experience. Amsterdam is a do-it-yourself fireworks extravaganza on New Year’s Eve. Our panoramic view executive room at Ramada Apollo Amsterdam for 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night was a fantastic viewing platform for New Year’s Eve. We personally had no desire to be outside on the streets during the city’s annual explosive madness and enjoyed the spectacle from the safety of our hotel.

The Amsterdam Light Festival is an annual seasonal event in its 5th year with artistic light arrangements displayed around city canals.

a structure with blue lights
Amsterdam Light Festival – Arches-Textures: Portam Civitatis – artist Peter Snijder (Belgium)

Amsterdam appeals to me as one of the most livable cities I have visited. Unlike Windsor, where we relied on restaurants for food due to a lack of markets in the town center, Amsterdam is loaded with supermarkets, generally within a 5 to 10 minute walk from any city hotel. The density of urban residences in Amsterdam belies the fact that most any hotel is within close proximity to transportation, markets, restaurants, bars and parks. The city is designed for residential living making it relatively easy for tourists too.


Windsor Parish Church to London Heathrow Terminal 5 – Thames Valley Bus #9  (£6.00 each one way)

London Heathrow Central Coach Station T2/3 to Luton Airport (£28 each one way + £2 seat reservation). I was mad at myself for not booking National Express two days earlier when ticket prices were only £17 each one way. The bus tickets were at peak pricing and I was even more annoyed to have paid £2 each for seat reservations to find only 5 people on board the 60 passenger bus to Luton. We had to sit separately in different parts of a fully loaded bus for the Gatwick to London bus trip on Christmas Day.

Easyjet London Luton – Amsterdam $93 one way each ticket + $23 Kelley one checked bag + $64 for my one checked bag fiasco.

Turns out I had never flown Easyjet before and did not realize they have a strict one carry-on bag only policy. Most budget airlines like Ryanair and Wizz allow a carry-on and small personal item for a small fee. I felt like an ‘eejit’ having to whip out my credit card and pay £50 for my small backpack at the gate.

Lesson learned. I added a checked bag to my Easyjet Amsterdam-London Gatwick reservation the following week before arriving at the airport. That cost 23.39 EUR ($27) and was only slightly more than the 21.00 EUR for Kelley’s checked bag at time of booking in November.

EasyJet Amsterdam to London Gatwick was only $66 each ticket with checked bag included.

Amsterdam Trams and Metro

Ramada Apollo Amsterdam offers complimentary shuttle from AMS to the hotel, but charges 7.50 EUR for shuttle from hotel to airport.

We purchased one 48-hour GVB transportation pass for our 5 days in Amsterdam for use on the evening of Dec 30 to evening of January 1 for 12.50 EUR each. Two one hour tickets on January 2 for 3.20 EUR each allowed us to travel by tram and metro from Ramada Apollo Amsterdam on the west side of the city to Holiday Inn Express City Hall on the east side of the city by tram and Metro.

We primarily walked Amsterdam for five days. The walk from HIX Amsterdam City Hall to Centraal Station takes about 15 minutes.

Amsterdam Centraal to Schiphol Airport train 5.20 EUR per ticket.

Amsterdam Hotels

Ramada Apollo Amsterdam for 3 nights at 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night.

a bed in a room with a city view
Ramada Apollo Amsterdam executive king panoramic view

Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam City Hall for 2 nights at 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night. Note: IHG Reward nights increased to 35,000 points per night sometime after I booked my stay in October 2018.

I loved this hotel location and I am disappointed to see it nearly double in reward price. I was hoping to plan more 20K reward nights for 2019.

a city with a river
HIX Amsterdam City Hall room view 5001

Planned Loyalty Traveler Amsterdam articles:

  • Ramada Apollo Amsterdam for New Year’s Eve
  • Holiday Inn Express City Hall hotel review
  • Amsterdam Light Festival
  • Amsterdam neighborhood walks
  • Holiday Inn London Gatwick




  • Flying Machine January 9, 2019

    You don’t have Global Entry or even Mobile Entry?? Why the Agriculture inspection??

    Sounds to me you’re leaving something out

  • Jason January 9, 2019

    Thanks for your very detailed report Ric. I’m planning a trip to Europe in December and what you shared is very useful. Windsor is now on our radar thanks to you.

    “‘Next time book KLM nonstop Amsterdam to SFO’ is Kelley’s request.”
    I totally agree. In fact, I would rather pay for and fly BA economy class RT SFO-LHR than fly Business Class (using miles) or a cheaper fare with stops. Life is too short and valuable to deal with the stress of multiple stops and flights. All compounded with the risk of missing a connecting flight or my luggage. I want to enjoy my trips so I try to always fly direct if at all possible. I will settle for a higher cost and or lower class of flying to get a direct flight to Europe.

  • Ric Garrido January 10, 2019

    @Flying Machine – I have Global Entry. Went through regular line with my non Global Entry wife so she would not be left alone for the tight flight connection.

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