Shopping on an award miles budget


or when the moon and the stars align…or something like that…

by Janice Nigro

My phone dinged. Just in those few moments before sleep when you are supposed to have your best ideas that you will never remember. I ignored it. I didn’t want to suffer the consequences of a poorly worded response when I was half asleep.

But I lost to curiosity and picked up the phone, breaking the spell with the blue light from the screen. I thought I knew who it would be. But it wasn’t. The message was from Germany. “My dearest Janice, we still hope that you can eventually make it to my party.”

The brief message, yet so heartfelt, left me unable to fall into a deep sleep for the rest of the night. Yes, no. I hadn’t said no to this invitation because I didn’t want to say no.

Winter had been complicated. It was a reason, a poor one I have to admit, to put my decision off. In part, I was thinking this friend has so many wonderful people in her life that it wouldn’t make any difference if I was not there.

I was wrong. The thing I didn’t think about was how much it would mean to her if I did go.

When the time got closer to a reasonable waking hour, still about 4 AM, I couldn’t help myself and began to look at air fares to Munich, Germany. It was two weeks before I needed to be there. My usual route, Lufthansa direct to Munich from LAX, cost over 2,000 USD on the first leg; I didn’t bother to look at the return.

Reasonable fares were available on all the usual websites, if I was willing to fly through Dublin or wow, even Istanbul. I couldn’t comprehend a route with a stopover in Istanbul to reach Munich.

I was conscious enough to begin to think logically. I am more than willing to take cheap flights that send me around the world through unexpected stopovers, but I’m always thinking there is only one connecting flight out to my desired destination leaving no alternatives if something happens. The last thing I wanted to do was be stuck even for 24 hours on a short overseas trip somewhere other than Munich.

I needed to at least reach the continent.

Then I remembered them. My last remaining KLM award miles. It was a lot of work to get those miles, and still they didn’t amount to much.

I logged into my account. 79,000 miles to be exact.

I typed in my dates. The number that came up for the first leg surprised me: 30,000. THIS is possible I thought. I was now sitting straight up in my bed.

I clicked on the return flight: 25,000. I had enough miles.

Nothing really should have been stopping me. I’m a digital nomad without too many responsibilities (not even plants), but I had one glitch. My conscience.

So who else do you call to get permission? Your mother. Mine knows how to live a good life. In no time, she just said “go.” That’s it, “just go.”

I went back to my computer screen and clicked “book the flight.” Waiting, waiting and then…a big red error sign appeared. I frantically tried again. Spinning, spinning and then again, error in vivid red letters.

It was too early to call Flying Blue. I distracted myself with a shower and breakfast. As soon as it was time, I called, navigated the call center directives, and was amazingly linked fairly quickly to a human being. “Madam the first leg is no longer available.”

I couldn’t quite understand how the website could so cruelly mislead me. The agent had to repeat his answer a couple of times until he found a solution. A flight with their co-partner Air France, that would take me through Charles de Gaulle in Paris rather than Amsterdam.

“No problem for me.” I said.

“52,000 miles,” he said.

A momentary dip in my excitement until I heard that the return flight was still within my award miles budget.

“Yes,” he said, “25,000. That’s a total of 77,000. Shall I book it for you?”

“Yes!” All that indecision. Fate must surely have been at play, waiting for the moment when I would finally realize that the award miles were to be used for this trip and only this trip.

15:30 was my official flight time (it was a European run airlines). I “ubered” over to the airport, and the adventure began then. My driver was an enthusiastic talkative Filipino man who told me how a customer’s luggage once fell out the back of his car. In LA. Not on a freeway he assured me. He had to stop and get out to recover the baggage.

His story made me consider the real value of a taxi cab ride over Uber.

At check-in in Tom Bradley at LAX, the line was long, and security was worse. At that time of the day, at least two A380s are preparing for take-off among several other international flights. A conservative estimate would be at least 1,000 passengers passing through security within a two hour interval.

The TSA line is a super maze. It’s nearly impossible to see where the security lanes are going. You go in without knowing where you will come out. The agents somehow manage it, communicating via walkie talkie where to unhook the dividers to start new lanes. I still can’t see how they do this. I start to think it’s a psychological experiment, and anyone who cracks will be immediately removed from their flight. I had arrived at the airport two and half hours early, but I had barely 15 minutes to wander around the terminal before boarding.

I was flying Air France, so I was on the afternoon ride to Paris on the A380. I love this plane. It’s a hulking piece of metal, and yet it took only 40 seconds to lift off.

I watched as we first flew west gaining altitude and moving away from the coastline on a sunny day. I thought about leaving this comfortable 70 degree weather for below freezing temperatures.

The idea of winter weather didn’t bother me, except when I considered the possibility for flight delays. Leaving from LAX was fine. I arrived in Paris on time, but my incoming flight for my trip to Munich did not. The origin of the flight was Montpellier, a town in the south of France on the Mediterranean. All of Europe was experiencing a freakish blast of Arctic cold and snow, which created total chaos in towns where they never have it.

In the meantime, Charles de Gaulle at least had a La Maison du Chocolat. I was there peering in the cases for only a few moments when the shop attendant handed me a pistachio macaron with a thick layer of hazelnut chocolate inside.

I could suddenly handle anything. Even seven more hours of delays in the airport.

After so much time, your only worry is that you will be asleep in the airport somewhere, maybe even at the gate, when the final call for boarding your flight is announced.

Delays were continuously updated throughout the day. At one point, the arrivals/departure board stated “doors closed.” I completely panicked as I had been religiously updating myself at 10 minute intervals. But they just didn’t know when the flight was coming.

Passengers were restless.

Instead of a flight, Air France handed us vouchers to use in the airport. 11 euros. An odd number, but I went directly to La Maison du Chocolat with mine. Sandwiches as it was typed on the voucher I was hoping would translate into chocolate or maybe one or two macarons (it’s a sandwich). It did not. A girl has to ask…

My flight eventually took off, and I arrived safely in Munich after a long day of travel to big warm hugs from my friends.

I learned a long time ago that you can get upset about travel delays, but it doesn’t really help anything. The only way to avoid travel interruptions is to not travel at all. Anyway, I was in Paris. In Paris, you always have options…and oh yes, pistachio macarons and chocolat.

©Janice Marie Nigro/



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