121pilot, a commercial airline pilot in the United States who has offered his insights and analysis on a number of topics on Live and Let’s Fly recently traveled with his brother and father on a very special trip to Scotland. He asked me if I would be interested in a trip report and I quickly said yes. Over the next week, you’ll read about his trip planning, flights, and time on the ground in Scotland. Today, he focuses on the waiting game for Lufthansa First Class award space using miles.
Part 1: Booking The Trip And Telling Dad
About a year ago after going on vacation in Scotland with his family, my brother texted me saying that we needed to take Dad there. All three of us enjoy good Scotch Whiskey so it would be an awesome father and son trip to head to Scotland and visit distilleries. We felt too, it was a trip we needed to do now. Dad is in his 70’s and still in amazing shape, but if we waited for that perfect moment in life, well, it might not happen. Plus we’ve all heard stories of older parents who were fine one day and in serious trouble the next.
When we started planning the trip, I knew that I wanted the flight over to be something special. The initial plan was for all of us to meet in London and train up to Glasgow or fly there direct. I knew that I was going to be much better off having professional help booking an award flight. I contacted Award Expert and after checking, Matthew personally confirmed that there was nothing worth booking so far in advance using frequent flyer miles. He also confirmed Lufthansa First Class would be our goal, explaining the space from the West Coast typically does not open until around 48 hours prior to travel.
Ultimately, our plan became to fly to Edinburgh, rent a car, and drive to Kennacraig, where we would take the ferry to Islay. We’d spend two days touring distilleries then take the ferry back to the mainland and drive to Oban. Our one night in Oban would be followed by a scenic drive to Elgin via the A9 through Cairngorms National Park. After two days in Elgin visiting distilleries in the Speyside region, we’d go up to Inverness to spend the night. The next morning we’d take the train to London in preparation for flying home the next day.
My folks live in Los Angeles and I live on the East Coast, so looking at flight schedules it became apparent I wanted to be on the earlier of two Lufthansa departures from LAX to FRA and then connect to Edinburgh. By flying into Edinburgh a day before my brother arrived in the UK, we could still meet him when he arrived in Glasgow. This would give us a five-hour layover in Frankfurt which meant a nice long stop in the First Class Terminal.
Dad, meanwhile, had no clue how we were getting to Scotland. Knowing that things might not go to plan (Matthew assured me we had good backup options if they didn’t), I didn’t want to start hyping First Class only to have it fall through. Plus, I wanted to see the look on his face when I surprised him.
When I contacted Matthew to book this trip, it was my full intention to pay the going rate for his services. In the spirit of transparency, you should know that he handled my trip planning and booking gratis. Having Matthew handle the trip was one of the best decisions I made. All I had to do was sit back and relax knowing that he had it covered. Of course, I watched loads myself and tried not to drive Matthew crazy by asking him for updates. This trip meant a lot to me, and I was thrilled with the service Matthew provided. I know I’m writing this on his blog, but if you need help booking an award trip, Matthew and Award Expert are a great way to go. I simply could not have been more pleased with his level of service.
[Editor’s Note – 121pilot had already written several articles on the 737MAX and the least I could do was not charge my research and booking fee for his flights. This trip report series was an unsolicited treat. -Matthew]
The Waiting Game
Sure enough, two days before departure, space opened at first from Houston (IAH). We booked this as a place holder using United MileagePlus miles. I booked coach tickets from LAX to IAH because we couldn’t get United to book it as one itinerary (no saver award space). The early nonstop flight from LAX still looked good, and we were expecting it to open later in the day. Then availability dropped from four open seats to two, which meant that if it opened it would not do so until 24 hours before departure or less. Later that day the late flight from LAX opened, and Matthew moved us over to that. This was an improvement over Houston, but it left no time for the First Class Terminal, so needless to say I really wanted the early flight. Fortunately for us, the early flight went back to four seats for sale, so I was keeping my fingers crossed.
The day before departure I caught a flight to LA. When I landed, Matthew told me that SFO-FRA had opened which would give us the long layover I wanted. However, he still expected the early flight to open from LAX so his recommendation was to hold fast and wait, since at this point every time we switched flights it was now going to cost us $250 in change fees. (I don’t have status with United). So at 2:59P.M. the day before departure, I followed Matthew’s advice to stand pat. Thirty nine minutes later as I was in the car with my Dad on my way to his house, Matthew texted me that space had opened, and he was making the change. To say I was excited was a major understatement. It was all I could do not to shout and pump my fist in the air.
I downloaded the Lufthansa app and checked us in for the flight the next day. Initially we had seats 2K and 3K, but seeing 1A was open, I moved myself to that figuring that it would be easier to turn and chat with my dad if he was across from me instead of in front of me.
Now as I have mentioned, my dad had no clue how we were getting to Scotland or what our itinerary was going to be when we got there. He had let slip to my Mom that he was hoping we might take JetBlue Mint to the East Coast and then fly Coach across the pond.
Arriving at LAX, (after spending 40+ mins just trying to get from the 105 into the airport) we walked upstairs into the Bradley Terminal and over to where Lufthansa is located. I gestured to the array of check-in desks and asked him which one he thought we might be flying.
“Swiss?” he asked.
“Nope,” I replied.
“Eva? Air China?” (Can you tell my Dad isn’t an airline geek?)
“No Dad,” I said, “It’s Lufthansa. See the check in lines for Coach, Business, and First. Which one do you think we are going to?”
His face lit up, “Business?”
“No Dad, we are going to First. We’re flying First Class on Lufthansa!”
I’m so glad I had my phone out and was able to video his reaction because that video and the associated memory are something I will treasure for the rest of my life. “Oh wow…wow” was all he could say. He’d been excited at the thought of flying in Business, but when I told him we’d be in First he was just overwhelmed. My dad had flown in Business a couple of times on United back in the days of the recliner seats, and he’s been in Mint on JetBlue as well. However, he’s never in his life flown International First Class.
Stay tuned for the next installment: two first timers in the Polaris Lounge and in one of the world’s best first class products.