spreadsheets and suitcases

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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 »

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Delta adding SEA-KOA route in late 2015

So, Delta and Alaska are locked in this crazy war over domination of the Seattle airport market.  This is surely meant to be another direct blow.  When airlines compete, travelers usually win- in the form of improved access, increased bonus miles, and lower prices.

Delta announced several new routes out of Seattle coming in the next year, but the one that interests us is the new route from Seattle to Kona.

I went ahead and added the flight to my Delta information page.  Happy flying!

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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!



Strategies for Hawaii residents: Delta Airlines

First, some time-sensitive news:

Delta Air Lines is beginning their seasonal nonstop HNL-JFK service on Dec. 18th, and it will run daily through Jan 11th, excluding Dec 24 and Dec 25.  The HNL-JFK flight leaves at 5:15pm and arrives at JFK the next morning at 8:00am.  It’s total of 9hrs and 45min.  The flight back from JFK departs at 8:45am and lands in HNL at 3:43pm.  This flight goes on FOREVER at 11hrs and 58min.  Apparently the difference in flight time has to do with tail/head winds.  I prefer not to know too many details about actual flight operations, as I will torture myself with scenarios of 1 million things going wrong during the flight.  I like this basic explanation:

flight magic

OK, onto the rest of the Delta details.  Delta flies the following nonstops on Delta metal from Hawaii to the mainland:

  • from HNL: Los Angeles, CA (LAX), San Francisco, CA (SFO), Seattle, WA (SEA), Salt Lake City, UT (SLC), and Atlanta, GA (ATL).  New York, NY (JFK) is a seasonal nonstop running through Jan 11, 2015.
  • from OGG: Los Angeles, CA (LAX), Seattle, WA (SEA).
  • from KOA: Los Angeles, CA (LAX), Seattle, WA (SEA) SEA-KOA will be once daily beginning December 19, 2015.
  • from LIH: Los Angeles, CA (LAX)

Delts is part of the SkyTeam Alliance, which has plenty of other big names: KoreanAir, Air France, Alitalia, KLM, AeroMexico, China Airlines, and several more.  In addition, you can use Delta SkyMiles to book on the alliance-less Alaska Airlines.  Let’s take a look at what award booking will cost…they have a whole page dedicated to Travel from Hawaii:

From Hawaii Economy Class
Miles shown are each way based on round-trip purchase.
Level 1 (Formerly Saver)  Level 2 Level 3 (Formerly Standard) Level 4 Level 5 (Formerly Peak) 
To Continental US, Alaska, Canada  22,500 27,500 32,500 37,500 45,000
Within Hawaii 7,500
To Caribbean 25,000 30,000 37,500 42,500 50,000
To Mexico 25,000 30,000 37,500 42,500 50,000
To Central America 25,000 30,000 37,500 42,500 50,000
To Northern South America 30,000 37,500 47,500 55,000 65,000
To Southern South America 40,000 50,000 62,500 75,000 85,000
To Europe 40,000 50,000 62,500 75,000 85,000

Note: Northern South America includes Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.  Southern South America includes Argentina,  Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Delta’s frequent flyer program is called SkyMiles.  Since Delta doesn’t routinely fly any routes to the NYC area, I pretty much ignore it.  I think I have about 5k miles in their program from some pre-merger Northwest flights, and haven’t flown Delta since 2004.  Additionally, I knew that you couldn’t book one-way flights with SkyMiles, and even round-trip flights are really tough to get with miles due to availability issues, and that makes me stabby.  I like flexibility in my miles programs, since it’s so hard to accumulate enough for 4 round-trips in just one program.

But, some things are about to change re: Delta.  First, the # of miles you earn will not be based on the distance of the flight, but on the price of the ticket you purchased.*  They also have a new award chart beginning Jan 1, 2015, and one of the changes is the ability to book one-ways with miles, or book flights with a combination of Miles + Cash.  They also claim that the award availability will improve, but of course, that remains to be seen.  For what’s worth, every single flight search I attempted results in a Level 5 mileage amount– and these were flights during off peak times.  45k SkyMiles one-way HNL-Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) on 1/28? 45k SkyMiles one-way HNL-SLC on 2/3?  65k Skymiles one-way HNL-SAN on 4/15?  They’re nuts- that last one is on Wednesday and includes a useless layover at LAX!  You can literally take a non-stop flight HNL-SAN flight on Alaska Airlines on the same exact day for less than half the miles.

You can even stop and eat dinner in Seattle if you choose one of the layover options.

You can even stop and eat dinner in Seattle if you choose one of the layover options.

I’ll hold my full judgment until 2015, but so far, so NO GOOD on Delta’s Level 1 award availability.

*Just a small portion of the fine print on the new revenue-based mileage program: For Delta-marketed (flight numbers that include the “DL” airline code) or Delta-ticketed (featuring a ticket number beginning with “006”) flights, SkyMiles members will earn miles based on ticket price, at the rate of 5 miles per U.S. Dollar (USD) spent. Ticket price eligible for mileage accrual includes base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges, but excludes government-imposed taxes and fees. Members with earned Medallion status will earn an additional Medallion mileage bonus per USD spent based on their status at the time of travel. Silver Medallion members will earn 2 additional miles per USD (for a total of 7 miles per USD). Gold Medallion members will earn 3 additional miles per USD (for a total of 8 miles per USD). Platinum Medallion members will earn 4 additional miles per USD (for a total of 9 miles per USD). Diamond Medallion members will earn 6 additional miles per USD (for a total of 11 miles per USD).

Since I have very few SkyMiles, my next experience with Delta will probably be on the cash booking side.  If you are closer to a flight award with them, here are some ways to boost your miles balance.

  1. get one of the several American Express co-branded credit cards.
  2. use their shopping portal
  3. use their dining program
  4. use some of these partners…do you need Ohio Natural Gas service? Lucky you, you get to earn SkyMiles, too.
  5. in general, most hotel rewards program will let you earn miles as well as hotel points, depending on how you set your earning preferences.  Delta has this Crossover Rewards program with SPG.

I couldn’t find any other discounts for Delta that were useful for kama’aina.  Does anyone know of any?  Who flies on Delta a lot from Hawaii?  I’d love to hear from someone with recent experience.  I have heard no good stories!  I’d call this post kind of a downer.







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Travel Guide- Hawaii Interisland Travel

So, you know I focus on traveling AWAY from Hawaii.  But I also want to help all of us Kama’aina get around the Islands as easily as possible.  When your next mainland trip is many months away, a short jaunt to see the sights and natural beauty of our Neighbor Islands can be a nice distraction.

As a bonus, sometimes when searching for award availability, it is easier to find seats on lesser known routes such as the aforementioned Lihue-Denver on United Airlines 🙂  It would be easy-peasy to hop over to Kauai for a low price or just a few thousand miles, and be able to connect to another award flight from there.

I sometimes get confused with all the interisland options, since there are so many per day.  I figured I’d get this all into 1 centralized location.  Here is a spreadsheet with information on travel time, travel distance, and which airlines service each Island airport, even the tiny ones.  There is also information on how many award miles you need to use for a one-way ticket.  A few details:

  • For simplicity, I only included nonstops between the given airports.  You can get to any island from any other with connections, of course.
  • Makani Kai Air operates from a small airfield outside of the airport due to their charter service, so there is no shuttle/parking at or to the HNL interisland terminal.  They don’t have a frequent flyer program, all commercial flights are a flat $50 each way.
  • Some of these flights have limited service, so check the schedules carefully using a range of dates.
  • I calculated the distances using the Great Circle Mapper.

The table was too big to post on here, so I made a handy Interisland Travel Google Sheet.  Anyone should be able to see it, and I can keep it updated, as surely things will change in the future.  Specifically, I know that Delta Airlines will have some system-wide award travel changes beginning January 1, 2015, so there might be changes in the way we can use Delta SkyMiles for Hawaiian Airlines flights.

Here are the web links for the various airlines offering interisland travel:

Happy island hopping!  Hope your plane isn’t made out of Legos!  Or has a pterodactyl leading the way!

Can this BE more Jurassic Park-y?

Can this BE more Jurassic Park-y?



Strategies for Hawaii residents- Alaska Airlines

Let’s face it- Hawaii is an extremely popular destination.  Most travel blogs love to highlight how people can get TO “paradise” for that dream vacation using mistake fares or miles.  Inevitably, these people live near an airline hub with plenty of competition that keeps prices low, or they are redeeming miles for only 1 or 2 people.  Guess what, everyone?  Almost 1 million people live in the Hawaiian Islands, we’re limited in airports (no driving 1-2 hours to get a better fare), and we tend to travel in family groups.  Those tips don’t work for us.

So I’ll talk about traveling FROM Hawaii, and using any benefit that is available to keep costs low.  The title of this post indicates “strategies for Hawaii residents,” but really they apply to any travel originating from the Islands.  To date, I haven’t found any permanent airline/miles discounts specifically for Kama’aina (residents), though if anyone knows any I’ve love to take advantage of them!

Note: in keeping with the focus on my blog, I’ll only discuss travel options to the US mainland, South America and Europe.  There are many worthwhile destinations outside of those regions though, especially to Asia from Hawaii.

Let’s start off by discussing Alaska Airlines.  Alaska flies 25 non-stops on Alaska Airlines metal (AS) from the Hawaiian Islands: 7 from Honolulu-Oahu (HNL), 8 from Kahului-Maui (OGG), 5 from Kona-Hawaii (KOA), and 5 from Lihue-Kauai (LIH).  Here is a list of nonstop destinations by island:

  • from HNL: Anchorage, Bellingham, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, San Jose
  • from OGG: Anchorage, Bellingham, Oakland, Portland, Sacramento, Seattle, San Diego, San Jose
  • from KOA: Anchorage, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, San Jose, San Diego (beginning 3/5/2015)
  • from LIH: Oakland, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, San Jose

Of course, after landing in any of these cities you can connect to hundreds of other destinations.  On our recent east coast trip, we flew to Seattle from Honolulu, and continued to Newark (EWR) from Seattle. Note that you may have to have an overnight layover if you are making a connection due to the time zone differences and limitations in the flight schedules.  We did an overnight layover in SEA on the way to EWR, but had both flights in one day on the way back to HNL.

Alaska has some spiffy new planes and seats, and most of our recent flights did indeed have the USB/115v power ports at each seat.  Their onboard food is OK, though I prefer to bring my own snacks from home, or get a Caesar sandwich from Great American Bagel Bakery at SEA to eat on the plane, yum.

Alaska’s frequent flyer program is called Mileage Plan.  This airline is a bit unique in that it is not part of any alliances such as oneworld or Star Alliance.  You can, however, redeem Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles in other programs, including American Airlines, AeroMexico, Air France, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Fiji Airlines, KLM, Korean Air, Pen Air, Qantas, and Ravn Alaska.  You can also book on Cathay Pacific and LAN, though those awards are not bookable online- you have to call in.  So there are many options to redeem if you have Alaska miles!  Obviously, many more nonstops from the islands open up when taking these partner airlines into account- too many to list.  It can get overwhelming.

First, let’s figure out how many miles you need to get from Hawaii to the mainland and back, on AS metal:

Award Type One Way Round Trip
Money and Miles – 50% Discount up to $100 10,000 10,000
Money and Miles – 50% Discount up to $200 20,000 20,000
Coach 20,000 / 30,000 40,000 / 60,000
Refundable Coach 40,000 80,000
First 40,000 80,000
Refundable First 80,000 160,000

And here’s how many you need for American Airlines, which allows one-way award redemptions: UPDATE: for clarity, even though the chart below only states, “North America to Hawaii,” the mileage required is the same from Hawaii to North America as well.

Class of Service Region One-Way
Award Level
Award Level
Coach North America to Hawaii 22,500 45,000
Business/First North America to Hawaii 47,500 95,000

And finally, here’s how many you need for Delta Air Lines, which DOES allow one-way award redemptions, but charges the same # of miles as though they were round-trip redemptions when all the flights are on Delta: UPDATE: if one of the flights in your itinerary is on AS metal, the mileage required could be lower.

Class of Service Region One-Way/Round-Trip
Award Level
Coach Lower 48 U.S., Alaska, or Canada to Hawaii
for tickets issued through May 5, 2014
Coach Lower 48 U.S., Alaska, or Canada to Hawaii
for tickets issued on or after May 6, 2014
First/Business Lower 48 U.S., Alaska, or Canada to Hawaii 80,000

So, you’re seeing what I’m seeing, right? For a family of four to get to the mainland, you need at least 80,000 miles if you are using the Money and Miles option, or 160,000 if just using miles!  It seems completely out of range for most folks.  Unless you travel for work and are able to keep the oodles of miles you earn (not me), you need another strategy.

A while back, I stumbled across information about the Companion Fare benefit for Alaska Airlines Visa Signature cardholders.  It’s an annual benefit in the form of a discount code.  Cardholders receive a code in their Mileage Plan accounts entitling them to pay just $99 plus applicable taxes for another passenger on the same reservation.  Caveats: Trips must be round-trip, in coach/economy, all on AS metal, cannot be combined with any other discount codes (including Customer Service credits) and the Companion must have the same itinerary as the cardholder.  So, my husband and I both applied and were approved for the cards.  Here’s how it worked for us as cardholders, using the children as our Companions:

  1. We researched and made a note of the itinerary we wanted, including flight #s and times.  Let’s say the base fare for 1 adult was $1000, plus $100 in taxes, for a total of $1100.
  2. I went online and purchased tickets for just me and my daughter, and applied the discount code.  I would pay the $1000 for my base fare, the $100 in taxes for my ticket, $99 for my daughter’s base fare, and $100 for my daughter’s taxes.  Total: $1299.
  3. My husband went online and purchased tickets for himself and my son (same flight #s and times), again applying the discount code. Total for them: the same $1299.
  4. Once we had our tickets confirmed, I linked our reservations together so we would be bumped/moved or whatever as a group in case of delays or cancellations.
  5. Our total airfare cost in the example above would be $2598 instead of $4400, a savings of $1802 🙂  The cards have an annual fee of $75, so taking those into account, we saved $1652.  This more than makes up for the annual fee!
  6. Here’s my favorite part: these are considered regular tickets for the purposes of mileage-earning.  They are not “awards,” so they earned us about 10k miles each, getting us that much closer to our next flights.  I credited the flights to American Airlines, since we’ll be using AAdvantage miles to fly back from Ecuador later this year.

Note: I do not receive any type of compensation from talking about airlines or credit cards. Do not get credit cards for any kind of benefit unless you are committed to paying off the balance in full every month- paying interest cancels out any kind of rewards you get.  I love this thread on FlyerTalk outlining the best offers for many airline and travel-related cards.