to travel / orly airport & level airlines, paris to new york

I haven’t read much about my specific Level airline experience (booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, ticketed by Iberia, operated by Level). I hope someone else can benefit from it.

My Paris trip came about very casually when I was texting with a friend on how long we haven’t seen each other. I had plenty of vacation days and was forecasting some downtime. As a collector of points/miles, I had a lot of options to work with. I don’t travel as much as I used to so I have no status. The challenge was finding something that worked around the US Thanksgiving holiday when many others are also traveling, two months out. I used AA miles for the outbound flight. For the inbound flight, I wanted to return on the Saturday evening (not 6am!) or Sunday after Thanksgiving (peak travel time). While in the US, there is often not much of a difference if you book a roundtrip vs two one-ways, it’s not always the case when you’re crossing the Atlantic.

Level Airlines was the best option. They are a budget airline and owned by IAG (which owns British Airways, Iberia, etc.) The flight between Paris and New York was Saturday evening, and it operates out of Orly Airport and Newark Airport (technically not New York).

The plane only has two cabins. We paid for two premium economy seats for 74,000 Ultimate Rewards points in the Chase UR travel portal where points are worth 1.5 cents for Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders. You can transfer points within the same household which is useful for maximizing points earned from other Ultimate Rewards cards. The cost difference between booking premium economy vs economy was minimal (around $100) considering the almost 9 hour flight. If you want to book a seat or check a bag, it’s additional in economy. My coworker had booked a round-trip during their June 2019 sale, and I felt the price I paid was reasonable for a direct, one-way flight. As far as I know, you cannot earn any miles for Level flights, so it felt even better that we paid for the flights with points.

Where it got confusing – the flight was ticketed by Iberia and ‘operated by SUBSIDIARY/FRANCHISE’ and check-in with OpenSkies. I knew enough that the flight was operated by Level – which replaced OpenSkies as a brand in 2018.

Before the Flight

  • Seat assignments: I wasn’t sure if they were included in the price of the premium economy ticket. I don’t like getting seats at the airport and coincidentally this is the 2nd time a coworker happened to be on the same flight in the same small cabin, so I wanted to make sure we weren’t next to each other for the 9 hour flight.
    • Chase couldn’t figure out how to get seats.
    • Iberia refused to touch the reservation since it was booked by an OTA.
    • Level was so much more helpful over the phone. They gave me my Level record locator and reserved great seats for us for free. If they tell you that you can check-in 30 days out and pick seats or that you can reserve your seats online, make sure you can actually do it. Until they actually reserved the seats, they didn’t know that it was free. I also couldn’t access my itinerary on their website until they manually entered my contact information.
    • At some point I had tried pricing the flight out on Level’s site and the seat assignment option required a fee.

Orly Airport

  • Check-in: The online check-in process was seamless. Note that I was never able to view the seat map or change my seats online. I got my boarding passes for my iPhone wallet and got the paper version at the airport.
  • VAT Refund:
    • Orly airport has 4 terminals. Level is in Terminal 3. You can easily walk from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3.
    • Pictured above. The tax refund office is before security is in Terminal 2 and I walked right past it because the lights were so dim. The Pablo machine (for scanning tax refund forms for purchases made in France) did not work for me. Unsurprisingly, there is no queue since Orly doesn’t have many flights outside of the EU. The process was quick and one no longer has to mail in forms for the credit card refund!
  • Baggage:
    • Hand Baggage: On the website, economy is limited to 10kg, no weight stated for premium economy. They did not weigh or check the size of bags. (This has happened to me before with Air France until they heard I was ticketed by Delta.)
    • Checked Baggage: I couldn’t find anything online on whether my premium fare included checked baggage. Answer: Yes. The baggage allowance is 23kg per item and we were around 23.5kg. They didn’t charge us for the extra weight and my coworker had the same experience.
  • Shopping:
    • The biggest downside of Orly is that there is no luxury duty-free shopping, but the emptiness of the airport relative to CDG was so refreshing that I would definitely opt to fly out of here again!
    • Before security, there is Nespresso, Mariage Frères, Laduree, Maison Du Chocolat, and Paul, etc.
      • If you have a Nespresso machine, I highly recommend buying capsules in Europe as it is much cheaper and they are easy to carry. Many capsules are $0.70 in the US and 0.43 euros in France. On top of that, Nespresso France had 20% off capsules in celebration of Black Friday (a weeklong celebration in France).
    • After security, you have the standard cosmetics store, multi-brand store, Relay, and some food shops.

On the Plane

  • Priority Boarding: It was a mad house. I think premium economy boards the same time as those who purchased priority seats in economy. My flight was mostly Americans and they had no shame whatsoever cutting the queue with their entire family. The boarding process also started 15-20 minutes before the stated time.
  • Seat: We sat in the first row of premium economy. We had tons of legroom as seen above. I thought the seats were comfortable.
  • Food and Drinks: One hot meal and one hot snack. Alcohol is included. My expectations for airplane food are pretty low and I thought the food on the plane was not bad! Service was very friendly.
  • Priority Baggage: Does not exist.

Do I recommend Level for Orly to Paris? Yes

Do I recommend Level premium economy for Orly to Paris? Definitely if the price is good!

to travel / happy new year!

I’m currently ensconced in a comfortable, fluffy hotel bed in Amsterdam. I was so exhausted from trekking to Amsterdam via Delhi – Moscow – Paris that I passed out for 8 hours straight once I got to the hotel. I’m digesting a huge (since I missed dinner) hotel buffet breakfast before I hit up all of the museums.

The past week or so has been a whirlwind of eye-opening experiences. I really enjoyed the golden triangle, spending tons of time with NYC friends, meeting new friends, experiencing an Indian wedding extravaganza, and cannot wait to go back and learn more about India. We travelled in luxury but there were snippets of the India’s harsh reality – children trained to be hawkers at a young age, illiteracy, poverty, threat of terrorism, etc.

In typical Irene fashion, the trip had its fair share of bumps — I brought the wrong camera charger, found a generic replacement in Paris that I thought was defective, but thanks to some pre-falling asleep strokes of brilliance was able to make it work. I also barely made my outbound flight (thank you, flight delay), barely got to Paris Nord in time for my train to Amsterdam (no thanks to flight delays, but thank you, nice Aeroflot flight agent) but had enough time to find a pharmacie open on a Sunday* to stock up on more Dermaphil Indien lip balm, which is my new favorite.

Since I’ve been between computers, I haven’t had time to install Adobe Lightroom to process my pictures. All of the pictures below were taken with my Nikon D80 or iPhone and post-processed on my iPhone via applications: tadaa, Instagram, or Diptic (which had a massive update and is my collage app of choice).

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but do have a few that I’d work on regardless of the New Year that can be shared on the web:

    • Eat healthy. I really want a Vitamix blender, I can’t tell you how many veggies I throw out because they went bad.
    • Work out. I’ve fallen off this bandwagon.
    • Get to airports earlier. My previous just-in-time strategy is nail-biting stressful.
    • Make better shopping decisions. I love J.Crew’s style resolutions, particularly the edit closet and wear more black.
    • Purge / eBay. I’m glad that many items sold in my eBay store while I am away!
    • Read books. I read a ton of blogs and magazines.

(click to enlarge)

*I transited through Paris on a Sunday, which means that most shops are closed. The pharmacie I went to did not show up on any Google blog posts and I needed something closer than a 10-15 minute walk given I had substantial bags to lug. I found it the old fashioned way — I stuck my head outside of the station and looked for a green, lit “+” sign. So if you’re in the Paris Gare du Nord train station on a Sunday and need a pharmacy close by, head to the Pharmacie Centrale du Nord on 132 Rue La Fayette. They are open on Sundays from 10:00 – 20:00. The best exit point from the massive Gare du Nord station is the doors opposite of the Thalys tracks (~7,8,9). Head straight away from the train station.

to travel / en route to…

…Paris, New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, and Amsterdam!

Merry Christmas!

I didn’t expect to be traveling out of the country so soon after my extensive travels this summer, but a girlfriend is getting married in India so a bunch of us are heading there to celebrate New Year’s and her wedding together! I’ll be stopping in Paris and Amsterdam on my inbound and outbound. If anybody has any recommendations on these places, please drop a note!

Source: Paris (image, image), India (image, image, image), and Amsterdam (image, image)

to shop / irresistible paris and hong kong

I’ve been super lazy about consolidating my pictures. I don’t think I’ve touched Lightroom since a month ago? So, for my non-Instagramming friends, here is a snapshot of recent purchases.

Shu Uemura closed their US counters a few years ago. As much as I love shopping online, it just isn’t the same! I had a few hours to kill in HK and went a little crazy at the IFC mall. Enough to qualify for their VIP club, which comes with a facial and eyebrow shaping that expires in August. Grr. I love Shu’s concealers and am glad I got two point concealers — they aren’t sold in the US (yet?). Their packaging is cute but I think it’s smaller than the old old concealer that I got the last time I was in HK. I’m also in LOVE with the ultimate natural mascara (which was a push by the SA after she gasped at my eyelashes) because it holds a curl better than any other mascara I’ve tried. I used the basic mascara a long time ago and this is its successor. Reviews on MUA are very mixed.
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