spreadsheets and suitcases

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Quinceañera Trip Report Part 1: HNL to JFK

on December 8, 2016

Me upon hearing/seeing the name “JFK airport”…


This is because, despite it being only 20 miles away from where I grew up in NJ, it can take over 2 hours and nearly $30 in tolls to get there.  Plus, the most direct driving route takes you through midtown Manhattan, so you need nerves of steel, a healthy rage-vocabulary, and catlike reflexes as well.

Here’s what I knew in advance: the party was going to be the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I would stay at a hotel because a bunch of relatives were coming from all over and I didn’t want to inconvenience anybody by taking up all the space at Hotel Mami/Papi with my people and a fluffy dress.  I would need a car to go back and forth to the hotel, to arrive early at the party, etc.The first thing I did (and I would love to go back in time and pat myself on the back for it), was to secure a car rental on CostcoTravel.  I went there because it’s a toss-up between Costco Travel and the Ultimate Rewards site from Chase as far as the best rates.  In this case, Costco Travel won, by a lot.  So I booked through them, with a rate I was pretty pleased with, given that we would be picking up the car in NY, but dropping it off in NJ- an action which often triggers a surcharge.  Not this time, yay.

When planning the flights, I used my usual trick of entering “NYC” as the arrival airport instead of just “EWR-Newark”- remember, that expands the search to include EWR, LGA- LaGuardia, and JFK-Kennedy.  Though 99% of the time I will choose to land at EWR, I like to know what is available as far as award flights and alternate scheduling at the other airports for reference.  And, since I knew that I would need to rent a car, it made sense to expand the airport options somewhat.  It just so happened that I wanted to use Alaska Airlines miles for these one-way flights, and JFK awards were available, while EWR awards were sold out.  Then, of course, I settled on the nonstop on United to come home.  OK, so the flights were settled.

Back to the rental car.  As I often do, I entered my car rental information into AutoSlash, which reruns the reservation information through several car rental sites daily, looking for better rates.  After a few weeks, I only had one hit, and it involved changing my reservation from Budget Rental Car (through Costco and its superior consumer protections) to Dollar Rent-a-Car (stand-alone).  No way, Dollar has a terrible reputation, plus they were going to charge for the second driver, which Costco includes.  And I would only save like $20.  Not worth it.  I checked around again for rates, and the prices were close to double what I had reserved at (hence the pat on my back for booking so early).  I pulled the reservation from AutoSlash at that point.

Right around this time, DH was getting ready to close his Barclaycard Arrival+.  The annual fee was coming up, the terms had changed for the worse, and it had already served the best purpose evah- free Universal Islands of Adventure tix! As we got ready to close the card, we wanted to be sure there were no “orphan points” left over.  The highest value redemption of Arrival+ points is on travel purchases, so we redeemed the max we could based on the points he had left, and scored a $100 gift certificate for Budget Rental Car :).  When you redeem for travel, you also get a redemption rebate.  We used up those last few points as straight cash back, and canceled the card.

Now it was time to research Budget’s eToll service.  The toll device usage/rental details are a tricky area that many consumers don’t understand before driving the car away.  It’s hard to find the fine print on most car rental sites, in fact.  Almost like they want you to be surprised by fees that you can’t contest later….hmmmm.  Anyway, names and services vary by region, but I was working in the Northeast, so we’re primarily talking about using EZ-Pass here.  I wondered if it would be worth it to pay for Budget’s eToll transponder rental ($3.95/day plus actual cost of the tolls), which would allow us to use the EZ-Pass lanes at EZ-Pass rates that are usually lower than the cash rate, or keep the transponder box thingy closed and make sure we had cash to use at the cash lanes.

I knew we would need to go through the Midtown Tunnel and the Lincoln Tunnel at least once.  Depending on errands, we might have had to use the NJ Turnpike a few times.  There are few cash and cash+EZ-Pass lanes compared to just EZ-Pass lanes, which require some maneuvering in the toll plaza to get to.  The cash lanes are much slower.  Plus, you need cash, duh.  I famously never carry any, preferring to earn more miles/points/etc. with a credit card.  Did it make sense to shell out the extra for the eToll?  I was like…


…and in the end, decided that yes, we would use it.  We wound up not using the Turnpike at all, but I was extremely grateful to have it at the toll plaza for the Midtown Tunnel- it was a zoo and I didn’t want to think about having to change to 3 lanes over in that crowd.

Speaking of rental car choices, we also used the EZFuel option, where you prepay a tank of gas and return the car with whatever’s in the tank instead of have to find a gas station close to the airport and filling up before you return the car.  My husband was going to be returning the car at about 6am on a Sunday, so it worked out well.  He knows where he is going in NY, but not NJ- asking him to find a gas station that early and then make his way into the complicated roadways inside Newark Airport would not have been nice.  I did all the driving on the trip, except for the rental return.  I had driven in Manhattan before, so it was fine.

Last detail on cars….I used that same math session depicted above to determine that parking our car at the HNL “commuter lot” right outside the Interisland Terminal for the duration of our short trip would cost the same as shuttling to the airport from home and then taking a cab from the airport home.  Sold!  Entering/exiting the lot is easy, and the payment by CC to exit is automated and open 24 hours.  Nothing beats getting to go home in your own car at normal human speeds, instead of a slow-ass Honolulu cab.

Permit me a small tantrum.  In large cities, if you take a taxi, you are knowingly risking your life a bit, because that taxi driver will cut cars off, squeeze past pedestrians, and make illegal u-turns, all in exchange for getting you to your destination quickly.  In Hawaii, the taxi drivers take all those risks, but they do them SLOWLY.  It’s infuriating.  The whole point of the danger is to get there fast!  I hate Honolulu cabs.  Tantrum over.

We needed to take DS’s car seat with us on the trip, to use in the rental car. Side note: you can rent car seats from the car rental agency, usually at $8/day or similar.  Upside: you don’t have to carry your own seat in/around the airport.  Downsides: kid is not familiar with the seat, you are standing in the rental car parking lot readjusting all the straps to fit properly, you have no idea if they replace the seats after an accident as recommended, who knows what the cleaning schedule is, you have to install the seat yourself because due to liability they can’t do it or help you in any way, sometimes they run out even if you reserve one (!),and yeah $32 extra for all that, no thanks.  So clearly, DS’s seat came with us to the East Coast. Car seats, like strollers, are a free checked luggage or gate check item.  Since we didn’t need the seat on the plane, I opted for regular checking.  For Alaska Airlines, it is considered an oversize item, and supposedly goes through more careful handling.  You might remember I mentioned a car seat travel bag that I’ve used in the past.  Well, that thing finally bit the dust, so I just used the custom plastic cover that the car seat came in.  It had a handy-dandy placard inside that I put my contact information on, plus a carry handle.  The seat made it to NY, I still had to install it in the rental car myself, but because I already know how to deal with this seat I was able to install it before frostbite set in.  Yes, after living in Hawaii for too long, I have a low tolerance for cold, especially in my hands.  BTW, the car was a Hyundai Elantra, and very nice.

As for the actual flights, they were uneventful for the most part.  We had a 4-hr layover in Seattle, where we had something to eat, and I got an email from the party DJs informing me of a time discrepancy for our party.  That required an email/text flurry to attempt to partially resolve it before needing to see people in person once I landed in NY.


It wasn’t too bad in the end, but I was glad I’d packed my angry eyes.


Then, when we were about to board, an earsplitting door alarm went off several times, right next to the gate.  OH!  I almost forgot a juicy detail.  We were delayed just a bit in boarding, because some jerk had drawn something “incredibly vulgar” on his armrest and tray table with a Sharpie or some such permanent marker during the incoming flight, and the crew was trying to clean it before we boarded.  There was talk of police reports, fines for damaging the aircraft, etc.

Well, we got on, and the kids were able to sleep pretty well, while I slept for about 30-40 fitful minutes, then wrote my speech for the Quince, cried while writing it because my little baby girl is 15!!!, and inhaled my delicious Chicken Caesar Sandwich from the yummy Great American Bagel Bakery in Sea-Tac.  Landed at JFK, were able to apply the Budget Rental Car certificate to the reservation no problem, installed that car seat, and we were off to a diner, the Classic Diner, to be exact.  Droooooooool.  After a delicious meal, we drove across Queens and Manhattan to NJ with some traffic but nothing too bad.  Made it to my parent’s house around 11a (we had landed at 6:00a), and got ready for a day of party-related errands.

Next: checking into the Holiday Inn Secaucus, and the first Thanksgiving spent with my parents since 2003!

2 responses to “Quinceañera Trip Report Part 1: HNL to JFK

  1. Mel & Suan says:

    Always an adventure for us too, to get into the US via JFK!


  2. gina says:

    I love to read all the steps you followed to prepare for this trip!!! amazing!


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