spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

We near the end…but not without some fun updates :)

So after taking increasingly long breaks from blogging, mostly due to life happening around me, but sometimes due to laziness, I’ve pretty much decided to stop updating this website before the domain name renewal in June.  This will allow me to wrap it up neatly (6 years strong), and provide one last Trip Report– for the upcoming May Disneyland trip.  Read on for a great update on our flights! Read the rest of this entry »

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Bits & Pieces: Disneyland, Dallas, and Drew

Boy, I really thought I would have more free time now that DD is in college! No more marching band rehearsals/competitions, musical theatre rehearsals/performances, senior year/graduation stuff, etc.  I was wrong.  Ah, well.  We proceed…

  • Disneyland planning: we’re moving right along.  I purchased the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2020 and have been sticky-flagging like a madwoman.  In my spreadsheet, I’m making lists of must-do restaurants, snacks, rides, and attractions.  I’ll then take that info, plus the Touring Plan guidance from the book, and begin a preliminary itinerary.  Disneyland vacations are much less involved than Disney World: 2 Parks vs 4, Dining Reservations 60 days in advance vs 180, 1 flight vs 2 🙂  The planning is half the fun, so I’m trying to stretch the process out a bit by working on the spreadsheet/book/websites just 1x/wk.  Currently IMpatiently waiting for my next Alaska Companion Fare code to be valid so I can buy the plane tix!  Should be just a few more weeks.  DS still has no idea.  This is going to be so fun!                           candace heart eyes
  • A few days ago I was chatting with my husband about our future plans to move back to the mainland, and about needing to take another trip to Ecuador before then.  I was bemoaning the timing, because of course getting to South America is much, much easier from the mainland, both in terms of flights/airlines available and with regard to travel time.  It’s at least a day and a half of travel time each way, blerg, mainly because direct flights to Guayaquil (GYE) were limited to Miami (MIA), New York (JFK), and just recently, Fort Lauderdale (FLL).  BUT!!!  I saw a notice that (despite their recent loss of codeshare with LATAM), American Airlines is adding a direct flight to Guayaquil from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)!  It will begin December 19, 2019, and it means that I can get home in 2 flights with American Airlines.  The trip would still take about 22 hours, because the Dallas layover is 9 hours.  But the layover would be during daytime hours, so maybe we’d leave the airport and go eat some BBQ or something.  Anyway, I’m thrilled, and will be beginning the next Ecuador trip planning process in the next 6 months- this time, I’m aiming for the Galápagos Islands 🙂

    bfb

    Blue-footed booby

  • Totally non-travel-related: I have always loved to read, and vividly remember spending some money that my parents gave me to pick something out at a yard sale on some old Nancy Drew books.  I love the character, and have read most, if not all, the books, in both the original and more modern series.  I also saw that tragic 2007 movie starring Emma Roberts.  Anyway, there is a new Nancy Drew TV show on the CW network.  I was undecided after the first episode, because they’ve added a supernatural twist to the mystery, with jump scares (boo), and I didn’t love Nancy’s personality.  A few episodes in, I’m a fan.  Check it out if you can!                                    nd books
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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 »

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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 »

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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

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Some lighting, some watching, some planning

 

Lighting: I hope everyone had a Happy Hanukkah if your family celebrates the Festival of Lights.  This year, my son was finally old enough to remember the candle-lighting prayer from one night to the next.  He previously would just hum along with big sister and dad, but now he knew the words and sang more confidently.  This bodes well for the future, since my husband’s family tradition is that the youngest family member leads the singing, and my little guy will have to step up to the musical plate once DD leaves for college.  I received some fun Disney-themed gifts for Hanukkah this year, including this trading pin jigsaw puzzle and Mickey sanduche-caliente maker.

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Bits & Pieces: Laptop ban update, Alaska CC, Southwest to HI, Referral links

    • Here’s a long article from Bloomberg News about the possible laptop ban from Europe into US airports.  They….didn’t make a final decision, and are still fighting it out.  The prediction is that they will try to implement it, get a lot of ire over it, and  retract it.  Sounds good to me.

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Flights and Mice- Part 1

Hello, there! Something exciting: my sister has graciously agreed to share the details of her experience traveling with my favorite niece.  It’ll be her report of the travel TO Hawaii, then I’ll interject an Aulani Report and some reviews of other local activities, and then it’ll end with her travel FROM Hawaii.  These are her words- any comments I add will be in RED.

and away we go

And away we go…

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Using the Alaska Airlines Low Price Guarantee

The eternal question: buy air tickets right away when you see an acceptable price, or wait to see if the price comes down?  Unless you have elite status with an airline, and can therefore eliminate the Change Fee, it’s generally not worth the financial hit to make a change to your non-refundable reservation to take advantage of a price drop.

Cancelling/rebooking a flight due to a price change usually falls into the “change” category.  Here is a handy chart outlining most major airline fees, as well as information on how/when to cancel or change your reservation.  Southwest doesn’t have any change fees, but they don’t fly to Hawaii so that benefit is of limited use to us.  I agree wholeheartedly with this blogger’s approach to leaving cancellations until pretty close to the departure date (tip #3).  If the carrier changes the flight schedule by ~5 hours or more (for American; other airlines use anything from 3-8 hours as the criteria), you can usually request a different route to your destination or cancel your ticket altogether without cancellation fees (even for a nonrefundable ticket) because the airline itself changed the schedule by an unacceptable amount.  You generally want to call them to see your options- be aware that they may charge a phone fee if you make changes, something nominal like $25.  Still better than $200!

On that topic, Alaska Airlines has a good benefit that I took advantage of last week.  They advertise a Low Price Guarantee.  This means that you can get a refund of the difference if you find a lower fare for your exact itinerary (including flight #s).  You can find a lower fare on a competitor’s site within 24 hrs of booking on alaskaair.com to claim a refund, or you can find a lower fare on alaskaair.com before your travel date to claim a credit into your “Wallet.”  Make sure your flights qualify, there are some restrictions (notably, it’s valid only for flights on Alaska metal and some little regional services they use).  But if your reservation fits the specifics, it’s pretty easy to go through the process using their online form.  To be clear, you can’t use this process to change your flights dates/times, only to take advantage of a price drop with your same itinerary. Here is my original receipt:

Before...

Before…

And here is my new receipt after submitting the claim:

and After!

and After!

As you can see, I was actually charged $0.45 for my Companion Traveler’s tax difference.  They used my credit card on file…I hope my credit score is OK after that 45-cent hit 🙂  More importantly, I got a credit of $84.99 into my online Wallet to use on any future Alaska flight.  I must use the funds to book travel by late January 2016; actual travel can take place whenever.

Finally, a note about change fees in general.  Many complain about having change fees at all, citing Southwest as an example.  This airline apparently can absorb the “extra administrative costs” (rolling my eyes, it’s an hourly worker clicking a few thing into a computer) incurred by having a passenger change their itinerary, flight dates, etc, while other major airlines pass the cost along to the customer.  Non-change-farers actually want the airline to track the price and refund them automatically as the ticket prices drop.  To them I say, well, you wouldn’t want to continually be charged more if the ticket price goes up, do you?  Slippery slope, that.

Others protest that having some change fee is fair, but the actual cost is outrageous (I agree, $200 is not insignificant to a travel budget).  I fall into this second camp.  Life happens, and plans sometimes need to change.  If the airlines want to foster some goodwill with a traveler and their family in order to keep them as a customer, they’d bring these costs down.  Charging a flat $200 to change a $180 fare or $1800 fare is madness.  I’d love to see a sliding scale change fee structure, based on a percentage of the base fare cost.  Anyone? Bueller?

BTW, totally thinking of using up my flight credit on a family trip to……

Never been, always wanted to.  Nonstop flights, woo!

Never been, always wanted to. Nonstop flights, woo!

 

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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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