spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Leggings, Linking, London, and Lauderdale

Pre-trip prep time!  It’s down to the details now that all the big stuff has been settled.

—First thing I’ve been thinking about lately is WARM clothing.  We’re typically wimpy re: winter weather after living in Hawaii for so long.  I started an inventory of cold-weather gear and quickly realized…

im-gonna-need-cold-weather-meme

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements
1 Comment »

An Adventure in American AAdvantage and Avios

…ay ay ay 🙂  My mission: get the 4 of us from Seville (SVQ) to Barcelona (BCN) using less than $420, preferably on nonstop flights, preferably later in the day. Seemed easy at first: Iberia MUST have a nonstop flight between these popular Spanish destinations, right? And I could totally use my Avios on Iberia flights, so that would be a cinch, right? You would think so…

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment »

Paris to Seville UNbooked! And Newark-Honolulu finally booked!

Why would I UNbook something when the cancellation/change fees are crazytown?  Trust me, all will be explained.  I had all my price alerts set and had been manually checking prices as well…and it paid off!  I used my trusty Alaska Companion Fare to make some travel magic…and I was able to stay (sort of) on budget.  Here’s how I did it… Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment »

Confession: I just bought 4 tickets…with cash

I KNOW!  It’s so rare for me to pay for anything but taxes when using miles/points, or pay for 1 or 2 fares and use miles/points/companion fare for the rest.  But this time it made a lot of sense.  I still have some tickets to buy for the European trip, but I’ll discuss some nice updates from Chase Ultimate Rewards that may just help me out with those. Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment »

Award travel success- transatlantic flights

I plugged our voyage  into the Great Circle Mapper, an excellent site to determine flight miles between destinations, potentially very useful in the near future (see Flights to Spain and Flights within Spain further down).  This is what came back!

europe trip route map

Read the rest of this entry »

2 Comments »

Unaccompanied Minor Services- a comparison

Buckle up, everybody- your captain has turned on the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign.  This here is a crazy ride through the huge variety of services, policies, and practices of the rules for Unaccompanied Minors (UMs) on 6 US-based airlines.  Each airline name is a link directly to the Unaccompanied Minor policy of that airline- some pages were difficult to find navigating from the home page, so I figured I’d save you the work 🙂  Also, I would have torn my hair out trying to decipher what is recommended versus what is required for international travel, given that they all advise you to call in for that info AND it can vary per country, so I limited this chart to domestic travel policies, unless noted otherwise.  Some basics that apply to most major airlines: Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment »

13, 437 miles and 4 different airlines later…

…I’m back!  I successfully made it from Honolulu to Guayaquil, had my surgery, recovered really well, and traveled to my parents’ place in NJ for 2 nights before flying back to Honolulu.

This was a nice trip in that I got to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my mother, without husbands or kids!  Plus, since she was helping me after the surgery with everything from scheduling medical appointments to getting dressed, I felt like a little girl again ♥. She flew down to Ecuador a few days before I did, and then did the whole trip back with me, first to NJ, and then to Honolulu.  She stayed about a week to hang with my babies- her grandchildren, and is now, after a month away from NJ, comfortably back in her own home.

We had some airport adventures, and you know what that means…lessons learned.

  • my itinerary to Guayaquil was as follows: Honolulu (HNL) to Phoenix (PHX), Phoenix to Miami (MIA), Miami to Guayaquil (GYE).  Three flights in a row, which I was fine with because I was traveling solo and with only carry-on luggage.  I booked this trip using Alaska Airlines miles, though all 3 flights were on American Airlines.  Because I hold the Barclay Aviator AAdvantage card, I had Priority Boarding, which was AWESOME in Miami when I finally got on my flight.  The first 2 legs went like clockwork.  I was supposed to have a 2-hour layover in Miami before boarding the flight to Guayaquil.  Well, we boarded, left the gate, taxied to the runway, and the captain mentioned some “weather” nearby that was causing some takeoff delays.  We sat on the runway for a bit.  When we were next for takeoff, the captain announced that the weather radar on our plane was not working, and we had to return to the gate to have the mechanic look at it.  Back to the gate for about 30 minutes, then the captain announced that it was not fixable and we needed a different plane.  Off the plane.  They announced a new gate, so we all trooped over.  Waited another 45 minutes.  Gate agents announced that we had a new plane.  Waited some more.  They announced that our new plane was at yet another gate.  Trooped over.  Plane was not there yet.  They provided free sandwiches, chips, and drinks 🙂 Waited some more for the crew to arrive.  The captain finally showed up once the plane was there, and proceeded to grab the gate area microphone and say that this “plano es muy bueno.”  Listen, I don’t need him to speak fluent Spanish, but he should at least know the word for airplane!  It’s ‘avión,’ sir. Anyway, a bunch of people were upset and confused about the new boarding process and clogging up the gate entry, so I took advantage of the Priority Boarding benefit, sailed by all those folks, and calmly took my seat.  We finally took off after we should have landed- 5 hours late, landing at 3am Ecuador time.  As a cherry on top, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a harder landing.  Whatever, I was grateful to finally be there.  I had a moment when I thought the passport control lady would make a stink about the fact that my Ecuadorian National ID card and my passport have slightly different last names (because I got married in the US and the name change doesn’t transfer over to the Ecuadorian Government’s records), but nothing happened.
  • what did I learn from all this? Basically, patience.  I half-heartedly checked the AA app for other flights to Ecuador that night, and there were two: one to Quito (no thanks), and another to Guayaquil scheduled to depart 1.5 hours after my original flight, but was disrupted in much the same way ours was (I later found out they landed 3 hours after my flight did, so good thing I didn’t jump ship).  So I ate some yummy food from Lorena Garcia’s quick-service kiosk near the Bacardi Mojito bar and chilled, thankful that I alone was inconvenienced by the delay vs the whole family.
  • On our way from Guayaquil to Newark, we had a short layover in Panama City, for which I needed wheelchair assistance.  The wheelchair helped our case when we realized that our seats were not together anymore- we were 2 rows apart!  My mom spoke to the gate agent, who saw me sitting there looking positively green (the breakfast sandwich they gave us on the Guayaquil-Panama City leg on Copa Airlines did not sit well), and moved some stuff around so we could sit together on the United flight to Newark.  Lesson learned: none- I knew that since we had booked separately, our reservations weren’t linked, and could be subject to seat changes.  Luckily, my condition helped us to change it back.
  • Traveling back to Honolulu, we had a very long layover in Seattle- about 8.5 hours.  These flights (Newark [EWR] to Seattle [SEA], then SEA-HNL) were on Alaska Airlines, for which I had used my Alaska Airlines Visa companion fare.  I had the airport agent wheel me to the Board Room, Alaska’s lounge.  I was able to purchase 2 day passes ($45 each) for me and my mom to be comfortable during the layover.  It worked well, we had Ivar’s clam chowder and various other snacks and drinks.  Happily, that’s the last time we will ever have that superextended layover on the Newark to Honolulu journey- Alaska announced a 3rd daily flight from Newark to Seattle starting in the next 6 months, which should cut the layover down to 4.5 hours, enough time to pop out to Pike Place market and back before going home to Honolulu 🙂  Lesson learned: the day pass is a great option for very long layovers.  Keep in mind, if the club is full, they will only accept full members of the lounge.
  • Alaska Airlines finally did something wrong!  We used the Self-Tag Express program, where you print your own bag tag and slide it into a reusable plastic tag holder, then attach it to your luggage.  At the airport, you just drop your tagged luggage at the kiosk and head to the security area.  Well, with the Alaska Visa we were each entitled to one free checked bag, and additionally, the website gave me the option to check a carry-on for free as well.  So we had a total of 3 bags.  2 made it to Honolulu just fine, but the 3rd (my mom’s!) somehow went to Portland and Anchorage.  The Alaska agent here in Honolulu was quick to make a report and issue me a customer service voucher towards a future flight (he was so quick to do it in fact, that I didn’t get a chance to say that I would prefer to have Alaska miles instead of the credit, per their Baggage Guarantee.  Oh, well.)  Unfortunately, it took them 2 days to deliver the bag to my house.  So I am waiting on the reimbursement for clothing we bought for my mom on the meantime.  Lesson confirmed: always keep those baggage claim tickets safe, we needed the # on them to identify the bag and for them to deliver it to us.

I’m now back at work, and still a bit sore, but doing just fine considering I had major surgery.  I missed my babies something fierce.  I had handwritten them each a note to read every morning that I was gone, so they could start the day with some words from Mama, and talk to her every night via FaceTime.  I was able to send regular pics and updates to my husband, and he did a great job doing all the things he already does, like keeping the house clean, the children alive, and his cool during situations like this:

crayons

Last, some highlights:

  • I got to see my grandfather again, daily for almost 3 weeks.  Bliss.
  • More time in Ecuador is always good for me.  The language, the culture, my relatives, etc.  Plus, they sell ceviche in the mall food court, you guys.
  • My doctor found something major that my Hawaii docs missed, and was able to repair it during the surgery.  Dodged a bullet there.
  • I got to see my niece during my very short stay in NJ.  Now she’ll for sure recognize me more easily when we’re at the Quince in November.
  • Laughed with my mom SO MUCH.
  • Played cards with my Aunts a bunch of times- competitive and hilarious.
  • My new carry-on backpack.  10/10, would recommend.  My sister said that if I were transformed into a bag, I would be that backpack.
  • My health was greatly improved by the procedure, and I can now publicly shout that MY HUSBAND WAS RIGHT, and we needed to spend the money on my surgery rather than on another vacation.

Still planning on that post re: Unaccompanied Minors, I promise I didn’t forget.  Talk soon!

 

Leave a comment »

Bits & Pieces: Virgin America, American Airlines, Fantasmic!

  • Virgin America announced daily nonstop flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL) beginning in May, with an introductory rate of $169 (one way, plus taxes/fees).  Also on offer, LAX-Kahului (OGG), beginning in June, same introductory rate.  Details here, press release here.
  • American Airlines is bringing back free snacks in Economy on transcontinental flights in February, and will expand that to all domestic flights by April.  Of particular interest to us:

Starting in May, complimentary meal service will be available in the Main Cabin on all flights between Hawaii and Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).

  • The Disney Parks Blog is live-streaming Fantasmic! from Disney’s Hollywood Studios in WDW today at 6:50p EST, that’s 1:50p HST.  Go the blog for the link, and enjoy!
2 Comments »

Award travel success…completed!

Happy New Year!

So far, 2016 is looking great! We are now booked to return from NYC after my daughter’s party.  It took a bit of shuffling around, and separating my party of 4 into 2 reservations ( me + the kids on one reservation, husband on another), but we are all returning to Honolulu on the same day, and arriving within 30 minutes of each other, albeit on separate airlines.  And the kids will only miss 2 days of school 🙂

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment »

Sigh: American AAdvantage program changes

Following in the ignominious footsteps of Delta and United, American Airlines has announced that they are changing their frequent flyer program to be revenue-based versus distance-based.  Plus they updated their Award mileage Chart, and it’s a mixed bag for travelers beginning their journeys in Hawaii.

aa logo

Here’s the full press release, and the page explaining the details.  Blahblahblahinnovationcakes.  They are simply following the other legacy carriers in this, and pretending they are doing something new.  This seems meant to reward only business travelers, who don’t pay for their own tickets and tend to book more last-minute travel, so those fares are usually the expensive, fully-refundable kind.

Here’s their example of how the earning would work (let’s ignore this example person’s crazy decision to choose a fare that includes $458 in fees on top of their fare):

AAdvantage member flying round-trip on an American marketed flight from Dallas (DFW) to London-Heathrow (LHR):

Elite status Base fare (USD) Carrier imposed fees (USD) Miles/USD Award miles earned
AAdvantage member $1,436 $458 5 9,470
Gold $1,436 $458 7 13,258
Platinum $1,436 $458 8 15,152
Executive Platinum $1,436 $458 11 20,834

Here’s mine:

AAdvantage member flying round-trip on an American marketed flight from Dallas (DFW) to London-Heathrow (LHR):

Elite status Base fare(USD) Carrier imposed fees (USD) Award miles earned today Award miles earned as of 3/22/16
AAdvantage member $1,436 $458 (why??? LHR airport, that’s why) 8,256 9,470

With their chart, they are hoping to show that you get more miles using the revenue-based program. But today, you would get the 8,256 miles whether you overpaid for this ticket like the sample person, or whether you were smart and bought your tickets during a sale.  Pay $1900 or $900, you still get 8,256 miles as a general member, more if you have some sort of status.

What does this have to do with the price of macadamia nuts? Let’s get down to the Hawaii-specific stuff. Currently, the MileSAAver Off-Peak price for one-way mileage to the mainland, including Canada and Alaska, is 17.5k.  Sure, it’s hard to find availability, and it’s capacity-controlled.  But it exists, so for a family of 4 to get to the mainland during an Off-Peak time, you only need 70k miles.  Reminder on the Off-Peak dates as they stand now…Hawaii: January 12 – March 13, August 22 – December 15

Here’s the updated award chart (edited to concentrate on travel to regions I talk about in this blog):

Main Cabin

To: MileSAAver
Off Peak
MileSAAver AAnytime
Level 1
AAnytime
Level 2
Contiguous 48 U.S. states 20,000 22,500 40,000 50,000
Canada & Alaska 25,000 40,000 50,000
Central America 25,000 40,000 50,000
South America Region 1 30,000 40,000 50,000
South America Region 2 40,000 55,000 75,000
Europe 40,000 47,500 65,000

So now the family of 4 needs 80k miles just to get to the mainland.  One-way.  This is easily achieved with the various credit card sign-up bonuses the adults can take advantage of, but it sets the goal line further back.  Interestingly, they are also now changing the Off-Peak dates to be different whether you are traveling FROM Hawaii or TO Hawaii. Check it out:

Hawaii Off-Peak Dates:
TO Hawaii: December 29 – March 12, August 11 – November 18, November 24 – December 10
FROM Hawaii: January 7 – March 19, August 18 – November 27, December 3 – December 25

Seems to me that they are recognizing that more people are coming here for the winter holidays than going out, and they can squeeze more miles out of them, but not us.  I’d call this a net win.

now what

So, overall, I think my strategy is going to be doing the math on every ticket purchase with AA.  If I’ll get the same mileage as the distance flown, I’ll credit the flight to AAdvantage.  If it’s lower, I’ll credit to Alaska Airlines, whose mileage program is still distance-based, and who allows redemptions on American Airlines flights.

<muttering> Change is good, change is good…

Leave a comment »