Now that you know how we chose our flights, I'll do a short comparison of flying United with a layover versus direct with KLM in the next section.
The Good: We saved 1570 euros. That's almost our cost of living for 1 month.
The Bad: Unless a sale is involved, I really believe you get what you pay for. I had in a way, mentally prepared myself for essentially everything going to shit - a preemptive Type-A strategy to avoid a traveling melt down. Nothing terrible happened but this experience was a little stressful (and much more stressful than any experience with KLM), starting with our reservation. We checked in online maybe 4 hours after we had the option (our mistake for not jumping on that immediately). Not only were JP and I not seated together but there was no seat for JP! We called the airline and they assured us it would be OK once we got there. We arrived at Schipol 3.5 hours early but ended up needing to run through the terminal because United expedited the check-in of at least 100 people behind us (ie, 100 people cut in front of us - I didn't count though, maybe I'm exaggerating). Luckily we reached the gate in time for boarding, there was a seat for JP AND we were magically seated together in the back of the plane (so cozy).
The Expected: On KLM, the flights seem to be well staffed. The attendants are beyond friendly, polite and don't appear very rushed. Call me crazy but the flight attendants seem to really like their jobs and working with the public. The food on average is pretty decent. The wine and whiskey flows. It feels like kindergarten because every hour it's snack time. On United, the attendants seemed overworked. The food is just bad (a meal/snack is included on the international flight, and available for purchase on the domestic).
The Unexpected: The layover was actually a great opportunity to stretch my legs and broke up the travel time. Coming into the States (via Dulles), we had about an hour - this included going through customs AND getting our luggage AND going through security again AND getting a snack. This mean that when we arrived at LAX we did not have to brave that huge customs/boarder patrol line. Taking that into account, our travel time was probably only 2 hours longer than flying direct which is something to take into account. Another bonus is there were no major delays or lost luggage.
The Conclusion: If money is not a factor, fly business class and scold yourself for taking the time to read this blog post. If money is a factor, but you can spare a few hundred euro - I think the KLM experience is worth it. However, if you're in peak season, or don't mind the hassle and basic accommodations, flying United with a connecting flight is a very reasonable (and cost effective) option. In our situation, saving nearly 1600 euros was absolutely worth it.
What are your travel secrets?