How I got bored and burned 130,000 Aeroplan points for a weekend in Switzerland
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I live in a place I love — Washington, D.C. The city is awesome, but there’s something about getting on an airplane and going somewhere else — especially when that airplane has four engines and a lie-flat seat. I’ve been bitten by the travel bug and I am not very good at sitting still. I get bored.
As a result of that boredom, I decided to take a last-minute trip. I had two rules: I couldn’t spend more than a night away from home and I couldn’t miss any work.
I had spent the entirety of my sophomore year of college saving points for a big trip to the Maldives, which was put on hold during the pandemic. As a result, I ended up with about 130,000 Air Canada Aeroplan points. I had totally forgotten about those miles until a few weeks ago when checking for an Air Canada award for another trip. It was the perfect opportunity to burn some points and cure my boredom.
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Planning the trip
Before this trip to Switzerland, I wasn’t comfortable traveling overseas yet. After all, I hadn’t been outside the country since December 2019. After watching fellow TPGers Andrew Kunesh and Stella Shon travel overseas in June and July, I began to feel more comfortable with the idea. I spent the weekend mulling it all over and on Monday, during swim practice, I planned out the trip in my head.
The problem with planning trips during swim practice is I can’t check award availability until I’m done. Luckily, award availability to Europe is ample at the moment.
So, where did I want to go? Europe — and I knew I wanted to fly on a Boeing 747. The problem I ran into was coming home. I wanted to maximize my time in Europe, so I searched the Star Alliance hubs for the latest possible departures from Europe back to the U.S.
Frankfurt, Germany used to be my go-to with multiple United Airlines flights at 4 p.m. However, after searching the flight-tracking app Flightradar 24, it seemed Swiss Air had the latest departures from Zurich. There were a few later departures to London, but they were not operated by Star Alliance partners and I would have had to eat an expensive fuel surcharge when paying with my miles.
While I had hoped to visit Italy before tourism took off again, I had never been to Switzerland aside from an airport layover.
I now had a destination. The only thing left was to make the bookings.
Booking the flights was relatively easy, thanks to great award availability to Europe. I took advantage of American Express’ transfer partners and sent 7,500 Membership Rewards points to British Airways for a morning flight from D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA) to Chicago O’Hare (ORD). I chose an early morning departure so I could get to O’Hare by 9 a.m. ET. That way, I could work from the United Club the entire day instead of having to take a day off.
Next up was my biggest redemption of the trip. I used 70,000 of those saved-up Air Canada Aeroplan points for the Chicago (ORD)-Frankfurt (FRA) and Frankfurt (FRA)-Zurich (ZRH) legs. I was especially excited as I got to nab a seat on the upper deck of Lufthansa’s 747-8i.
I had the option to spend an extra 30,000 Aeroplan points and book Lufthansa first class, but decided I couldn’t justify it with Lufthansa’s first-class terminal at Frankfurt still closed. The Frankfurt-to-Zurich leg was on an Airbus A220, so it would have also been a mixed-class ticket had I chosen to fly first class.
Coming home from Europe was a little bit more challenging. I considered two options to get home from Zurich after 4 p.m. Sadly, the Zurich to Newark flight would have left me with no connection back to Washington, D.C., so I ended up booking the Swiss flight from Zurich to Boston upfront for 60,000 points.
The only flight without award availability was the last flight of the trip, from Boston Logan (BOS) to D.C. I could have waited until the next morning but just decided to take advantage of the American Express Travel portal and book a flight for 15,000 points.
That’s double what a transfer partner such as British Airways Avios would have cost me, but getting a good night’s sleep in my own bed meant more than 7,500 points, not to mention the cost of a hotel room.
The way there
I won’t be giving an in-depth review of any of the flights, but I think a summary is still important. We started off the trip with an uneventful flight to Chicago on an American Airlines Airbus A320. We were served only drinks and a Biscoff cookie, which was adequate for economy given the 7 a.m. departure.
We were treated to the famous Potomac River departure, which always makes for a nice photo opportunity of my home. We arrived on time with no delays or cancellations. I had been worried about the cancellation of the flight, given the staff shortages within American Airlines at the moment.
I wasn’t sure exactly how getting into the United Club would work since I wasn’t eligible for a boarding pass when I checked in online with Lufthansa. Luckily, I just showed the agent my check-in confirmation and I was allowed into the lounge.
After eight hours of work, I climbed up the stairs to the 747’s upper deck to my seat for the next eight hours. We were treated to some amazing views of both sunrise and sunset, not to mention the privacy of the upper deck of the 747 offers an experience similar to a private jet.
The meal service was excellent and comparable to what I had experienced pre-pandemic. While the seating arrangements were in a 2-2 layout on the upper deck, the seat next to me was empty, so I reaped the benefits of aisle access from the window seat.
I had about two hours in Frankfurt, so I visited the Lufthansa Senator Lounge before moving on to my departure gate. The flight from Frankfurt to Zurich was my shortest hop at only 30 minutes. I was impressed that they still managed to serve a small snack and drinks.
After arriving in Zurich, I went through customs. I had gone through current entry requirements for Europe multiple times, so I knew I wasn’t missing anything. However, when I got up to the border official, they had me pull up my flights home.
I wasn’t quite sure how the actual stay in Switzerland would go now that the country is reopened, but I’m a flexible person, so I pretty much winged it. Given that I only booked my tickets four and a half days before departure, I did not have much time to plan my trip.
I have made many friends over the years on social media, so I reached out to my friend Martin (@MartinSkyLife on Instagram) to let him know I was finally coming to visit. He helped me plan the trip and ended up extending an invitation to spend the night on his couch. I gratefully accepted as it meant I did not have to worry about a hotel or rental car.
We decided after arriving that I had to stretch my legs after the journey and go for a hike. We made our way to the Fronalpstock ridge hike. Martin and I are both photographers, so he knew I would have extra appreciation for the scenic hike.
If you only have 24 hours in Switzerland (which I did), I recommend doing this. I won’t do any more writing to try to convince you, though — I’ll let the photos speak for me.
We did get a little rained on going down. But that’s the full experience, right? The camera is weather-sealed, so we didn’t mind. It was quite refreshing, in fact.
A question I get asked quite often is, “How do you deal with the jet lag?” Being 21, I feel like this is something my body is capable of doing but I know realistically it’s easier for some than others. I would love to share a game-changing travel hack, but I just make myself as tired as possible before going to sleep the first night.
I then only take a short 30-minute or hour-long nap to try and catch up on sleep if need be. I have refined this so that I am tired enough to sleep without being too exhausted to enjoy the time I have. That being said, I can also still sleep through the night with no problem.
The next day I woke up and got ready to go home. At the time of writing, the United States still requires a COVID-19 test for re-entry. I chose to do this with eMed, so I did not have to worry about finding a test in Switzerland. It was $170 for an eight-pack of tests. My test was proctored online and within 30 minutes, I had tested negative and the results were uploaded to my phone for reentry.
We arrived back at my friend’s apartment after hiking and dinner and I’m unsure if I will ever sleep that well again in my life. We then spent the next day at a winery. I will admit I cannot reveal the location. It was well off the beaten path, a little secret that my friends kindly asked me not to reveal.
After that, we made a stop at the airport for some photos and ice cream, and it was already time to head home.
The way home
After a seamless recheck of my documents at the business-class check-in, I went to find the Swiss Senator business-class lounge, which unfortunately was full with a queue extending out the door. They have not reopened the international terminal lounge, but it wasn’t a big deal, as my flight was boarding shortly.
The Swiss business-class cabin on the Airbus A330 is laid out in a staggered and alternating 1-2-1 2-2-1 configuration. While selecting a single-seat is 160 Swiss francs (about $174), you can select it for free starting 24 hours before your flight.
I spent a break at the top of my hike doing just this and snagged a throne. It was well worth having the extra space to myself as well as aisle access. The service was wonderful and the food was amazing. I spent most of my flight dining or sleeping.
I will be the first to admit I made a mistake on this one. I booked a 35-minute connection that was cut to 10 minutes after my flight from Zurich was slightly delayed.
The flight crew was kind enough to let me deplane first. I breezed through U.S. Customs and Border Protection, thanks to Mobile Passport, and made my connection. It was 17 minutes from seat to seat on an international connection. That has to be a record, right?
What a weekend. While even my family questioned why I chose to book business class for such a short trip, it was well worth the lounge access, privacy and lie-flat seat. What’s amazing is that this adventure was paid for by my The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, which has a welcome offer of 120,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $15,000 in the first three months of card membership.
My 130,000 miles is no small chunk of change, but I enjoyed every second of it. I got to experience the upper deck of the Boeing 747 in Lufthansa business class, enjoy some hiking in the Alps, and catch up on sleep on the way home. I call that a successful weekend.
Featured photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy.
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