This summer we went on vacation to the United States, partly in the Northeast, partly in the Midwest. Nothing original at first sight, except that things shouldn’t have happened exactly like that in the first place, and that the itinerary we’re about to present to you is partly the fruit of chance, partly the result of a smart tinkering.
It just goes to show that, with a little resourcefulness, a slightly improvised solo plan can turn into a very enjoyable vacation with friends.
The genesis of the trip
Initially, things were pretty straightforward: I’d go on vacation to Vietnam in September, and Olivier would spend a relaxing family vacation on the East Coast in August, after an eventful year involving a move to Boston and a change of job.
So I meticulously organize my Asian getaway while he plans a peaceful roadtrip that also gives him a chance to give his Golden Retriever some fresh air.
But I’ve got a bug up my sleeve: if I find great fares, I can’t manage to impossible to make the whole trip in a booking class that allows me to earn enough points to retain my Diamond status with SAS or else at a prohibitive price. So I’ll be going in a class that credits 150%, and returning at 100%…., so there’s a lot missing.
Il faut donc que je m’organise un autre voyage entre temps avec un certain nombre de contraintes : bien sur cumuler assez de points mais également faire “simple et rapide” et pour cela il n’y a rien de mieux comme destination long courrier que les USA même si ces derniers temps j’ai (sans regret aucun) largement délaissé cette destination que j’aimais tant quand j’étais plus jeune. Asia is nice, but for a quick mileage run it’s a bit far… There’s also the question of budget, as this trip was not originally planned. So, of course, it will be in business class to earn lots of points, but not at any price.
And, another constraint, I impose myself to travel on SAS. Firstly, because I was attracted by Olivier’s review of a long-haul flight with them, and I’m desperate to test this product. Then, somewhat opportunistically, because when you are Gold or Diamond on their loyalty program you get a 25% miles bonus on both award and status points when you fly SAS ! I don’t think there’s a single program that proposes this! So if I travel on SAS, a trip to the USA is enough for me, otherwise I’ll certainly have to go all the way to Asia, which doesn’t suit me at all! But when you don’t take vacations for 8 months, there are flights missing with 3 months to go before the end of the requalification period.
And since I fell in love with this city twenty years ago, I decided to go to Chicago for an extended weekend around August 15 (which is a public holiday in France), allowing me to use up a minimum number of vacation days.
It was at this point that Olivier, who has lived in Chicago and loves the city, saw this trip appear in our Tripit account, and decided to join me with his wife, as it was just at the end of their trip in the Northeast. And what started out as a mileage run for me became an extended weekend with friends.
So here’s how two solo itineraries end up merging, and what’s going to give you a series of articles that’s a bit convoluted, given that one part of the trip is common, the other in parallel, but we’ll try to tell you all about it chronologically.
While the choice of flights between Boston and Chicago were a no-brainer on the Olivier side (American Airlines), there was a bit more work to do on my side.
As you know, ticket prices have risen dramatically in recent years, and if I needed to collect a substantial volume of miles I wouldn’t do it at any price. But my options were limited: the 25% bonus I have on SAS allows me to earn enough by going to the USA, whereas otherwise I’d certainly have to consider Asia.
Gothenburg will also be reached from Paris via SAS. As attractive as their long-haul business product is, the SAS Plus, which is a premium economy aircraft because there is no real business class at SAS in medium-haul, is rather frugal to say the least. But the call of the 25% is too strong…
For the record, this entire trip will earn me 27,000 points at SAS (Gold status is 45,000 and Diamond 90,000), which will save me a long and expensive trip to Asia, and will give me a points/euro ratio never seen before.
The only downside is that the outbound flight to Chicago will be a wet lease operated by Hifly. But at this point I’m not going to be picky, as I have no other options with such good conditions.
And here’s what the whole thing looks like…
As far as I’m concerned, I’ll choose the W Lakeshore Chicago mainly for budgetary reasons: I’m going to be spending a lot of nights in hotels over the next few weeks and I prefer to smooth things out, especially as this trip wasn’t planned at the outset, so I didn’t want to put too much effort into hotels. In the end, I’ll pay for it with my points.
As for hotels in Gothenburg, I wanted to find some that I hadn’t yet discovered, but I found the prices horrendously high (even though Sweden is expensive in general). So goodbye to the Riverton, which I thought was a nice touch. In the end, I’ll try the Avalon, which I don’t know, on the outward journey as it looks rather nice, and I’ll return to the Scandic Rubinen on the return. I had stayed there last winter under somewhat complicated conditions (luggage delivered the next day, a beautiful balcony but covered in snow) and I wanted to see it again under more favorable circumstances.
As for Olivier, who has a more advanced knowledge of hotels in Chicago, he will hesitate for a long time between the Ritz Carlton Chicago, which he already knows, and the newly opened St Regis. He chose the latter for its novelty appeal and because it offered a higher probability of upgrading.
Because of the way the trip has been “put together” and the constraints of the agenda and organization, some meals will be shared and others not.
Among the highlights in Chicago, Olivier and his wife will be dining at The Signature Room, which offers a breathtaking view of the city from the 95th floor of the John Hancok Center while I’m still in the air. We’ll also be dining together at Miru, the restaurant at the St Regis where he was staying…a restaurant you’ll be hearing a lot about soon.
We’ll also be dining together at the Purple Pig, with its convivial Parisian bistro style.
In Chicago, I’ll try a Peruvian (Cabra), while the duo will stick to the French (Obelix).
In Gothenburg I’ll continue my discovery of local gourmet restaurants with a dinner at Carbon and another at Project, where I’ll finally dine after 3 or 4 aborted attempts and last-minute cancellations for various reasons.
Chicago is renowned for its architecture, and is more a city to be discovered and appreciated by strolling the streets. So, apart from a beautiful Van Gogh exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, we won’t be planning anything other than a cruise on the river and lake to discover the city’s architecture.
For the rest, we’re content to wander and admire, and of course, stop off at the Willis Tower (formerly Sear).
I also intended to take advantage of my time in Gothenburg to finally produce a visitor’s guide to this city, where I often visit but never take the time to document my visits.
All this gives us the following itinerary and as many articles to come