spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Alaska Airline Visa- free checked luggage now a benefit for cardholders!

Do you recall when I complained that Alaska Airlines Visa cardholders still had to pay for checked luggage?  Remember that time when I explained that Alaska Airlines Visa cards are a super value despite the annual fee because of the Companion Fare, now if only they would drop the checked baggage fee?  Also, I was kind of a pest about it to the CC company, and reminded them that it was a benefit that I wanted for this card every single time Bank of America sent me a survey or I had to call and speak with a rep.

IT WORKED!  Behold the glory, from the new application landing page:

Bold red box is mine.

Bold red box is mine.

Yes!!!!  This has been your Good News Monday, that’s the only good news from this past ……j/k.  This also happened this weekend:

YAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSS.

YAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSS.

 Hope everyone had a good 4th of July!

 

 

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Disney Pre-Trip Report: flights are booked!

Q: SpreadsheetsandSuitcases family, you’ve just confirmed the school/work calendar for the next year, what are you going to do next?

A: We’re going to Walt Disney World!


Yes, indeed, we have official trip dates set for October!  My Disney2015 spreadsheeting activities are in full swing, and I’m crossing things off my lists left and right.  Super exciting, especially once I remembered that not only would Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party be going on at Magic Kingdom during our trip dates, we’d also be able to partake in the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.  But in order to enjoy all this fun, we must first travel the 4,747 miles from Honolulu to Orlando.

First order of business was to research flights.  Honestly, I have been tracking flight prices for both trip date options (July/August and October) for months already.  So I knew what the prices would be like, and I knew that, barring any sudden 80% off fare sales, our best bet would once again be using the Companion Fare benefit of the Alaska Airlines Visa.  I did fresh research, and came up with the same answer.  Using the Companion Fare will save us quite a bit- here’s the breakdown on my reasoning and calculations.  Warning: itinerary minutiae ahead!

  • the least expensive (non-Alaska) RT fare on our trip dates in October 2015 was $897 on Delta.  Itinerary is OK, both outbound and inbound flights get us to/from Florida in the one day over the course of 11-14 hours with brief stops in Los Angeles (LAX), eliminating any need for layover hotels.
  • the least expensive Alaska RT fare came in at $843.  This itinerary included overnight layovers both ways, in San Diego (SAN) on the outbound and Seattle (SEA) on the inbound, requiring airport hotels.  When I looked at the options, I decided that a different return flight was a better option for us, which added $20 to the fare, so the final price was $863.  Let’s put our Comparing Caps on!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • the Delta itinerary includes arriving at Orlando Int’l (MCO) at 5:35am EST…this means our first day in Florida is kind of a wash: nothing will be open, the resort room may not be ready for hours, the parks don’t open until around 9am, and we’re unlikely to have slept enough on the flights to handle a day of activities.  By the time we got into our room, I think we would all just crash and be useless for the rest of the day trying to get off of HST.  In contrast, because of the overnight layover in SAN on the outbound Alaska itinerary, we’d arrive at 6pm EST, giving us time for a hearty dinner and some exploration of the resort before hitting bed fairly early to prepare for Islands of Adventure the next day.  In both cases, we’d be looking at 2 days of travel/adjustment, but the Alaska itinerary is definitely more appealing.
  • on the return, the Delta itinerary leaves MCO at 7:00am.  Since we’re using Magical Express to get to our resort, we’d be looking at a pick-up time of 4:00am. They want you to be at the airport 2 hours early, and sometimes stop to pick up guests at a few different resorts, so they pick you up 3 hours before flight time.  EWWWWWW, and it messes up our last night at the parks.  Either we go to bed super early and miss fun evening activities, or we try to stay up all night.  In contrast, the Alaska itinerary has us leaving at 6:55pm, leaving us most of a day to sleep in, relax at the resort, and have a good lunch before being picked up at 3:55pm.  Side note: Disney’s Magical Express is a complimentary bus service to/from MCO, and is available only to WDW Resort guests staying on-property.  It includes luggage transportation as well- they pick up your luggage at MCO for you and deliver it to your resort room a few hours after you land. Very convenient.
  • finally, with the Delta itinerary, we arrive at HNL at 5pm HST (since we’ll still be on EST, it’ll feel more like 10pm), and we’d need another “recovery day” before going back to work and school.  With the Alaska itinerary, we land at HNL at 1:16pm HST, and can get unwind/unpack with time for a full nights’ sleep and not miss anymore work and school.  DD will be in high school, so I’d prefer to limit school days missed (even though travel is educational, of course :))
  • alright, let’s talk numbers!  Delta itinerary price is $897/traveler, no layover hotels, luggage fee of $25 for 1st checked bag since we have no status (I’ll assume 2 bags each direction, each one assigned to a different family member, 4 flights total): = (897*4)+(25*4) = $3688.  Alaska itinerary price is $863/traveler for 2 of us, and $99 + tax/traveler for 2 of us, 2 layover hotels averaging $115/night each, luggage fee of $25 for 1st checked bag (I’ll assume 2 bags each direction, each one assigned to a different family member, 8 flights total because we have to repay the luggage fee after picking up the suitcases for the overnight layovers- Alaska STILL charges CC holders checked luggage fees, gah), the $75 annual fee for the Alaska Airlines Visa for both of us, and some taxis to the layover hotels since we arrive later at night: (863*2)+(166.08*2)+(115*2)+(25*8)+(75*2)+(50) = $2686.16, a savings of a little over $1000, even with all the extras.  That averages $671 per person for RT transportation, not too shabby.

We bought the flights this week!  If you’re curious about the taxes breakdown with the companion fare, here is my detailed receipt section.

Total transportation cost averages $671/person, round-trip!

Both sets of taxes include: US Alaska/Hawaii Departure Tax $of 17.80, US Flight Segment Tax of $16.00, US Passenger Facility Charge of $18.00, and US Sept 11 Security Fee of 11.20. The difference in totals comes from the US Transportation Tax, which is $24.11 on the Base Fare of 775.89 and $3.08 on the Base Fare of $99.

Now I have to research airport hotels.  I have to tell you, I’m baffled by the lack of airport-only hotels in San Diego based on my research so far.  They’re mostly called Sea World/Airport, or Zoo/Airport…and none of them seem to be within 1 or 2 miles of the airport.   That’s why I factored in the cab rides in my transportation estimate- we’re looking at $25 cab rides to airport hotels in San Diego, because we’re landing near midnight and most of the airport shuttles have stopped running by then.  That’s crazy talk.  I’ll keep looking.  Any recommendations for San Diego?

And will October get here already?!  I have new magnets to buy!

 

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Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 4

See Tutorial Parts 1, 2, and 3.

We’ve reached the Carry-on Packing List and Packing List tabs on our spreadsheet!  Everyone knows a vacation isn’t really happening until you pull out those dust-free suitcases and start loading your clean neat piles of clothes, which fit with plenty of room to spare…no?  Does the process look more like this?

Mickey Overstuffed Luggage

Well, my friends, it doesn’t have to!  Packing can be fairly simple and organized if you embrace the concept of the Master List, and utilize categories to keep everyone on track.

First, I’ll explain why I separated the Carry-On and Packing Lists.  Once upon a time, I had just a trip-specific packing list on a piece of paper in my planning folder (it had not yet graduated to a binder).  I would list the needed items into groups like Clothes, Camera Stuff, Toiletries, Confirmations, etc, and put a star * next to the items that I needed in my carry-on.  As I packed an item, I would highlight it or cross it out, and eventually would only be left with the carry-on items.  This system worked well, especially because I would then fold that piece of paper into my carry-on and take it with me.  This provided a list of what I had packed in case my suitcase was misplaced and I needed to replace my stuff.  Also, it served as a Repacking List for the way home, making sure I didn’t leave anything behind.  So why didn’t I continue with that method?

my husband and kids

my husband and kids running away from my lists

That’s why.  More people = more stuff to pack/forget to pack/leave behind.  So I upgraded my system.  I still use the Master List, but now it’s separated by Carry-on Packing (things you need on hand) and Packing (for checked suitcases or things you don’t need immediate access to).  Plus, it’s in a spreadsheet (duh!), and color-coded.  Each traveler has a color assigned to them, which is the same on each of the packing lists, and Lord help me if I don’t subconsciously buy travel items for my family in their assigned packing list color!  Husband, did you ever wonder why I was so happy to find a RED spinning suitcase for you?  And why you have a hanging toiletry kit with a RED lining?  All my favorite travel items are various shades of blue, because that’s MY color 🙂  Anyway…

The Master List: there are some items you need on every single trip,  so you may as well fill them in on your packing list from the start so these important items don’t get left behind. You may think some of these are no-brainers and you don’t need to have them on a list that you check before leaving the house, but imagine getting to an airport security checkpoint or Border Patrol crossing and realizing that you left your passport in your at-home safe.  This has not happened to me, thank goodness.  But it has happened to others and gives me nightmares nonethelsss.

The Carry-On Master Packing List includes the following categories:

  • photo identification: driver’s license/state ID is sufficient for domestic travel, valid passport required for international travel.  Kids under 16 don’t need to show anything, though the TSA folks usually ask my daughter what her name is to see if it matches the boarding pass.  A child traveling internationally with only one of their parents may need to show something stating that the other parent is aware of the travel- this letter or form may need to be notarized.  Check the entrance requirements for the country you are traveling to (I’m looking at you, Canada).
  • money & wallet: take credit cards with no foreign exchange fee if leaving the US, and ALWAYS have merchants run the charge through in the local currency to save on Dynamic Currency Conversion fees as well.  I like to start with a small supply of Euros or whatever to use on the public transport right when I get somewhere.  Plus, bring any membership or affiliation cards you need to prove you are indeed eligible for that fabulous discount-remember, that info in your Details tab.  Forgetting your health insurance subscriber information is courting disaster, so include that card as well.
  • confirmation information, tickets, hotel reservations, etc.  For me, this means just chucking the Trip Planning Binder right into my bag.  I take out the documents I need within the first hew hours of traveling, like flight information and boarding passes, and put them in an easily accessible pocket.  I wouldn’t dream of getting to an agent or kiosk and taking time to open my binder, take stuff out, put it back in, etc.  Gah- that’s like when people stand in a long food line and only start deciding what to order once they’re at the cashier!  Have some consideration, people.  So, I keep my documents handy, and just put them back in neatly when I’m on the plane.
  • phone!  Put it on Airplane Mode though, please.  And also lower the volume, I don’t want to hear “Kung Fu Fighting” alerting you of your missed calls the moment the airplane lands.
  • entertainment options: I like a good crossword puzzle book, and my iPod/headphones.  My husband brings Sudoku.  The tween brings her Kindle Fire.  I bring coloring/activity pages and crayons for the little guy.  We always have our headphone splitters in case the kids want to hear or watch something at the same time.  And depending on how long of a flight/car ride/train trip it is, we’ll bring magnetic chinese checkers, a deck of UNO cards, or a Disney Road Trip game I found at Hallmark once and never saw for sale again.  Don’t forget to bring something to write with.  I like a pen/highlighter combo myself.
  • snacks & water: the kind and amount of snacks you need is determined by the length of your trip and the ability to stop and buy food.  But you need something with you to avoid blood sugar lows.  For trips < 3 hours, I eat before I leave, and take some protein-rich stuff like nuts to keep me full in case of delays, and also some candy, because…I like it.  For longer trips, I like to have the equivalent of a full meal, but eat it in shifts.  More on that in another post.  Re: water- I hate the flavor of bottled water with the fire of a thousand suns, and really dislike drinking water in general.  I much prefer juice or milk.  Due to liquid restrictions from the TSA, I bring my own empty reusable water bottle, fill it up at a water fountain after security (I love the one at SEA that makes a babbling brook sound when you use it), and then add a flavor powder to it.  Instant no-calorie ” juice.” Just be careful opening any sealed containers with spouts after take-off; the pressure builds up under the spout, and if you don’t release it slowly, you’ll have a geyser on your hands! And likely, all over your clothes.  Which brings us to….
  • spare change of clothes: you never know when something will spill on you.  “Juice” or otherwise.  Those with motion sickeness-prone kids or potty-training kids know what I mean.  And change of clothes means everything, down to socks and undies.  Take very light-weight stuff: ladies, that usually means a sports bra.  We wear our sneakers or other heavier shoes onto the plane, but have our rubbah slippahs in the carry-on for bathroom trips or as a spare pair of shoes. Also, bring something in case it gets cold and you can’t change the temperature yourself.  I use a wonderfully soft pashmina, and the kids use lightweight hoodies.
  • medicine: common sense, folks.  Meds never go into checked luggage, and should be labeled properly or in their original containers.  You should also have a list or some other reference document of your medicine name, dosage, and precribing doctor should you need an emergency refill while away.  When traveling outside the US, knowing the actual name of the medicine as opposed to its brand name can also help, as the pharmacy may not carry Aleve, but they definitely have naproxen sodium. I carry a 7-day pill organizer, and have labeled the inside of the compartments with things I carry for each trip: adult pain meds, kids chewable pain meds, motion sickness meds, chewable Pepto-Bismol tablets, chewable Benadryl tablets, nighttime cold meds, and my prescription migraine meds.  Ear plugs fit into this category, and take up very little room.
  • makeup: We’re not talking pageant-level makeup, but a little tinted gloss keeps your lips moist, and keeps you from looking like death when you arrive.  Bonus: your compact’s mirror can come in handy when your child drops the emergency information card under the seat for the 40th time and you need to find it.  Ask me how I know.  Some people like to bring Evian mist or some other moisturizing lotion to guard the skin against dehydration.  I like to save one of my 3-1-1 for travel-sized toothpaste.
  • a timepiece: your phone or iPod touch can work for this if you don’t wear a watch anymore.  Nothing worse than not knowing how many hours are left.
  • cameras & memory cards (or film!), plus chargers: trips must be documented, and these are the tools of the trade.  Do not put them into your checked luggage under any circumstances.
  • comfort items: eye masks, neck pillows, blankets, compression socks to promote circulation, etc.
a glance at my in-process Disney trip carry-on list

a glance at my in-process Disney trip carry-on list

 

The Master Packing List includes the following categories:

  • clothes: of course, you need clothes! Unless you are going to a nudist camp, and this is not that kind of blog.  I like to specify how many of each thing to bring, and then let my husband and daughter pack for themselves.  Sort of. They choose and fold, and then I review and maybe edit their choices before they go into the suitcase. A sample list might say, “T-shirts (5), dressy tops (2), skirt/slacks (1), shirts (4), long pants/jeans (2), socks (5), dressy shoes: low black heels (1), bathing suit (1),”  etc.  I include everything they might need, from a specific shoe like in the example, to a certain hat, like the visor I only wear in Disney World.
  • toiletries: deodorant, q-tips, razors, face lotion, hair gel, sunscreen, bug spray, and so on.  If staying in hotels, I bring my own high-quality conditioner.  I figure, whatever hotel shampoo is available is probably adequate, but the conditioner is bound to make my hair look like Kramer’s in the low water-pressure episode of Seinfeld:

kramer

  •  Miscellaneous: this is actually one of my favorite categories.  This is where you put the stuff that makes your life easy, and that you should consider taking on most any family trip.  A power strip that includes a USB charger.  A pop-up hamper to contain dirty clothes, and a small laundry detergent sample to clean them with.  Shout Stain wipes. Palmolive dishwashing wipes to clean out sippy cups and reusable water bottles in hotel sinks- as you can see, this item was discontinued.  I have carefully hoarded a supply.  I suppose you can make your own with some soft paper towels, diluted dishwashing liquid, and a watertight container.  A large photo mailer to keep trip keepsakes neat and flat.  Glow sticks to keep kids amused in dark places.  A large tote bag to use while shopping, and a carabiner to attach the bag to the stroller or suitcase- my sister raves about the Mommy Hook.  The luggage scale I never travel without.
packing list

Disney packing list so far

Once you’ve got your Master Lists in place, add items specific to your destination, and you’re all set!  I print out the Carry-On and Packing Lists on separate pages and tape them in a central spot in the house.  My crew can see what they need to prep and fold, and then bring it to me at Packing Central, aka, my bed.  Once everything is checked off the lists, I grab them off the wall to use as a Repacking List on the way home.

And now, some words about bags and suitcases!

possibilities

Your carry-on bag should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.  Check the dimensions by airline: If you take a rolling case or duffle bag on board as well, make sure you’ve organized yourself enough that the things you need while in your seat are already at hand, and the rest lives in the overhead bin.  I personally think that if you are checking a bag, you don’t also need a rolling suitcase on board.

Parents, consider using a backpack or cross-body messenger bag instead of a shoulder bag as a carry-on  It’s nice to be hands-free, especially if you have a stroller.  I require my carry-on bag to have a secure water bottle holder, be big enough to fit my trip binder without bending it, and have an easy-to-reach place to stash my sunglasses and iPod.  Choose a bag you love.

I love shopping eBags for any and all bags. They have a great eBags brand line as well.  We’ll be taking this baby out for her 1st ride on our trip to Ecuador.

A tip regarding checked bags: if my itinerary includes small airports, I sometimes lay a sheet of plastic, such as a dry cleaning bag or trash bag, over the top and sides of my packed items before closing the suitcase.  Your luggage may be left out on the tarmac in the pouring rain before it gets loaded onto the plane.  This is less common in large airports, but still possible.  Better safe than sorry.  This can also be solved by using Space Bags or those Ziploc Big Bags for most of your packing.  Also, I make some Outfit Bags for small children to protect and organize those items.  More on that in a future post about Traveling with Toddlers.

Pro-tip regarding repacking to go home: I pack dirty laundry into the suitcase inside out to clearly distinguish it from clean stuff.  Or you can designate one of the Space or Ziploc Bags, because most clothes are not helpfully labeled like this:

clean shirt

 

The next post in the Spreadsheet Tutorial will be The Itinerary 🙂

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