Friday, December 4, 2015

Day 14: The Journey Back Home


Thursday, Dec 3rd

After we watched Don Giovanni, and after having a very late night dinner over at Kogo, we grabbed a cab and made our way back to our hotel for one last time. We got back around 11:30pm. We packed our luggage. 

Our luggage: Before and After
Printing our boarding passes at the hotel lobby
On our way to London, we had two carry-on luggage, and one checked luggage. As I mentioned the other day, we ended up getting another luggage (similar in size with our checked luggage). Over the past two weeks, we’ve bought little souvenirs here and there, especially chocolates from Europe, when you factor in all the new weight, this required another luggage. But not to worry, the new luggage should not cost us a pretty penny when we get to the airport. We're allowed to check in one luggage per person at no extra cost. 

I asked the hotel for a 3:00 am wake-up call. We went to bed around 1:30am, and for some reason, the 1.5 hours of sleep seemed long. We got up, and got ready for our 4am pick-up. We were downstairs by 3:45am. Our airport private car service driver arrived 5 minutes earlier and we made our way to Vaclav Havel Airport before 4am.

Our driver, bless his heart, kept us awake. We could’ve really used that time to close our eyes during this 25 minute drive to the airport. But, he talked to us, and thanked us for coming to Prague, and to please tell our friends to come and visit Prague. He’s British, and moved to Prague 24 years ago. He married a Czech woman and both have decided to make Prague their home. After driving for 25 minutes, we made it to the airport before 4:30am.

First thing’s first, Global Tax Free Refund
Our flight out of Prague was scheduled to leave at 6:50am. So why did we need to be there early? Based on our two previous trips to Europe (Nov/Dec ’07 and earlier this year, Mar/Apr ’15), we learned to get a refund on taxable items we purchased during our vacation. The refund is NOT for every single item, but to be specific, higher end items such as the jacket I purchased in London at Mark & Spencer's, and the bags and purses that Nancy purchased at Louis Vuitton in Prague. Depending on the amount of purchase, the refund could be as high as 19% return.

I was not looking at the camera lens, AGAIN!!!
During our trip to Paris and Rome in 2007, it took us forever to take care of this at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport. The process seemed convoluted and since it was our first time, it seemed time consuming. However, we did get our refund within a week or two. Last Spring’s trip, when we flew back to the US out of Milan’s Malpensa Airport, the process seemed easier. We just never know when we get to the airport especially since it was our first time to fly out of Prague’s Vaclav Havel. 


We learned that Global Tax Free office opens at 6am. Ouch! Our flight was scheduled at 6:50am. There was only one Global Tax Free refund booth, and it was located in the main public terminal before you enter security to get to your gate. The question was, “do we both wait for Global Tax Free to open at 6am, or do we go in through security and hang out at the airport lounge while waiting for the booth open?” We went with the 2nd option. 

Nancy and I went through security and checked in at the airport lounge by 5am. Thanks to the Priority Pass provided to us by our American Express Platinum Card. The lounge access was free. My access card arrived just days before our trip. It gives us free access to numerous airport lounges. Nancy’s card got delayed. But it wasn’t a problem. We planned on paying for Nancy’s lounge access (around $50 USD, but that would’ve been reimbursed by American Express back to our account). However, lady at the lounge told us that I could bring in a guest, so Nancy’s access was also free. Thanks, Amex Platinum!!! 





 We found a place to rest at the lounge. I sat on this red chair, and I looked like one of the coaches from The Voice. “I want you!” We FaceTime’d with our kids (this was around 8pm Calif time). We simply couldn’t wait to see all of them. 


FaceTime'ing with Evan
In the meantime, while waited, we availed of the food available (sandwiches, vegetables, espresso, cappuccino, sparkling water, boiled eggs). Everything was at no extra cost. There was even a shower if we needed it, but not today. 

Nancy decided to head back to the main terminal around 5:30am. Since the transactions were all under her name, she needed to be the one to show her documents at Global Tax Free booth. I had to endure and suffer at the airport lounge. It was difficult but I got through it. HA!!

I knew we’d be tight with time. Our boarding time was at 6:20am. I made my way down from the lounge. I went towards security so I could wait for Nancy. She was done with her transaction by 6:05am, the issue now was the longer security line. She finally got out by 6:30am, and we brisk-walked to gate C9 to board our plane. She was able to file the refund for the purses/bags since they were of higher refund value. She didn't have time do another transaction on my jacket, not a problem.

Leaving Prague for Frankfurt, Germany
I learned that there were no direct flights via Lufthansa out of Prague. We flew on a 1-hour flight to Frankfurt. It went smoothly. We both slept during the ride and literally woke up when the plane touched down. We had 2 hours to kill at Frankfurt, a much bigger airport. Our Priority Pass Airport lounge access could’ve gotten us in for free at Frankfurt’s Luxx Lounge, but, it would’ve been a 20-25 minute trek to get to our gate. We opted to just stay in the Z terminal, closer to our gate. The airport offered free Wi-Fi so that kept us entertained before we boarded at 9:30am.

Waiting to board our plane at Frankfurt International Airport

Lufthansa’s Airbus A380
Last Tuesday night,  I was also able to check us in online. I was surprised that Lufthansa allowed me to check in more than 36 hours before our flight. Well the good news, on this flight, I was able to move us to the upper deck of Lufthansa's A380 plane. Why?

- seats recline completely, with no fuss to change the position during meals
- the window seat has more space towards the huge window, which amplifies the space 


And that's exactly what we experienced. All that extra space especially helpful with such a long flight from Europe back to the US soil. Their catch phrase for the Airbus A380 - more space, more peace, more room. 



Nancy walked up the spiral staircase to the Upper Deck
The Upper Deck, we sat on the side, 2 seats in that row
We had close to 12 hours of flight from Frankfurt back to LA. While Wi-Fi was available, I decided to continue sleeping for the 1st 2-3 hours of the flight. By the time, I woke up, they started serving our lunch. We had the Turkey breast lunch with carrots. It was a wonderful lunch. I decided to write my blog entry during the rest of the flight, and took in a couple of movies and a couple of shows on my monitor. The crew kept us well-fed and hydrated. With an hour left in our flight, we were served dinner - Shrimp scampi and mushroom pasta. Again, very delicious considering it was food served in the plane. I would fly Lufthansa again. They were very efficient, not a bad experience.




Flying over the Inland Empire, Southern California
Back in the USA
The plane arrived at LAX close to 2pm. For the first time, we used our Global Entry pass. To those not familiar with the pass, US Citizens have to apply for this card and get approved. The perk? Upon arrival, you go to a Global Entry kiosk, as opposed to lining up with the rest of travelers to go through immigration. That's a timesaver right there. Also, after you claim your baggage, there is a line for Global Entry cardholders as well as you exit the airport, another benefit that lets you expeditiously get your way out of the airport quickly. Thankfully, this Global Entry came to us at NO EXTRA COST. Because we were American Express Platinum Cardholders, we didn't have to pay for the fees. Actually, we paid for the fees and then Amex reimbursed the fees that we paid a day or two after the charges appeared on our statement. So, there! Thank you, American Express.






That was our Day 14, our travel back to the US. I will conclude my blog with one more entry - the takeaways. I typically end my travel blog with my takeaways, my overall experience, what I will not forget. Thanks again for following.
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