KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic — We had been collecting frequent-flier points for years. My husband, Keith, and I thought that, yes, of course, we would use them. We would fly around the world. Business class. Maybe next year.
Queen Latifah shoved us out of our fantasy and onto the planes.
It happened after we watched "Last Holiday" one more time. In it, Queen Latifah portrays a shy New Orleans department store clerk with a crush on fellow employee LL Cool J. Her dreams are confined to a scrapbook of "Possibilities." But when her character is told she has three weeks to live, she cashes in her savings and leaps into the good life from a scrapbook page: the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, surrounded by snow-covered Alps.
"I want to spend New Year's Eve at the Grandhotel Pupp," Keith said.
We called to book for Dec. 30 and 31, shrugging when the reservationist said apologetically, "Hotel not in mountains."
Keith said, "Let's keep our trip going."
So we each cashed in 260,000 Continental Airlines points (mostly miles but some credit card points) and paid $223.16 apiece in taxes for two airline tickets that the reservations agent said would have cost $12,000. Each.
Thus began our journey: eight flights, 24 time zones, 26 days. We went from New Orleans to Frankfurt, Germany (by way of Washington Dulles); to Bangkok, Thailand; to Singapore; to Tokyo; to Honolulu; to Houston and home to New Orleans.
Yes, our ultimate trip was realized, but were we nuts?
We left on Christmas. Our holiday lunch at the airport was a hot dog, smoked sausage and two bottles of water, for $19.
"This may be better in concept than in reality," Keith said.
Planning the trip
Continental merged with United in 2012, so we used United's around-the-world desk, which is staffed with agents skilled at assembling complicated trips. You get six stops free if you're using points. All flights are required to go in the same direction — no zigzags — on United and other Star Alliance member airlines.
Flexibility mattered because free seats weren't available for all the flights we wanted when we booked in June. But more seats opened in the fall, and some opened as late as two weeks before the trip.
We reserved hotels in advance, pre-paying to get discounts whenever possible, and decided not to push ourselves. Time-zone changes can be a killer. After overnight flights, we napped on arrival days. We hired a guide online for two days in Bangkok, the only major city on our trip I had never visited, but in other places, we went wherever we wanted on a whim.
And we set out for …
New Orleans to Frankfurt
United, 16 hours, 2 minutes flying time from New Orleans by way of Dulles
We rented a car to drive to Dresden, Germany, and Karlovy Vary, instead of Prague, which we had visited twice.
Why Dresden? The city was devastated in 1945 by Allied bombs in retaliation for the German bombing of Coventry, England, and after World War II it was part of East Germany. In recent years, much has been restored in this jewel of a city.