spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

An Adventure in American AAdvantage and Avios

…ay ay ay ūüôā¬† 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…

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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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Southwest announces flights to Hawaii in 2018

Yes, you read that right.¬† After months of speculation, and some recent confusion here in Hawaii, tonight Southwest announced they would start selling tickets to Hawaii in 2018!¬† The recent confusion had to do with the Hawaii Global Tourism Summit last month- for the first time, Southwest signed on as a major sponsor of the event.¬† Many (including me) thought that it was a clear sign of an imminent announcement regarding flights to Hawaii.¬† The Summit came and went without any such announcement.¬† But today…this! Read the rest of this entry »

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Quincea√Īera Trip Report Part 1: HNL to JFK

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

disgust

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 ūüôā

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Award travel success…so far

We’re going to NYC¬†in November 2016…but I don’t know when we’re coming back.¬† Let me explain:¬†¬†most airlines release their award availability about 330 days in advance.¬† Since we’re wanting to travel for Thanksgiving next year, the time to book is now!¬† But it’s still too soon to book the return…

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Theme Park Planning- Universal Studios Tickets

So I outlined my 1-day, 1-park strategy for Islands of Adventure here.¬† Now let’s talk admission tickets, and some ways to save money!

As with most theme parks, the price per day of admission goes down as the number of days on the ticket increases.¬†This is because the¬†more time¬†you spend in the park, the more opportunity¬†for you to spend money on food, souvenirs and extra experiences.¬†So, the park gives you an incentive to stay longer by making days¬†4,¬†5, and beyond¬†much cheaper than days 1 and¬†2.¬† Huh?¬† Here’s a handy chart if you are a visual learner:

Did I use Excel to make this chart? Of course I did!

Did I use Excel to make this chart? Of course I did!

The main thing you’ll notice is that the values along the green line, representing the average ticket cost per day of admission, get lower as the # of days admission gets higher.¬†¬†It’s a¬†powerful motivation to add more park days onto your ticket.¬† In my sample above, you can add another day for only $10 in some cases!¬† A perfect example of that classic sales tactic, “The more you buy, the more you save!”

What a lovely saying.¬† We all know the truth—the more you buy, the more you spend.¬† But as we’ve determined that travel is worth spending for, we continue on our quest to at least spend wisely!¬† Back to the tickets.

In the case of Universal, they only sell Base tickets (1 park only), or Park-to-Park Admissions of up to 4 days.¬† If you’re staying longer than that, an Annual Pass is your best bet to reduce costs, and they tell you so right on the site.¬† For tickets of 2 days or more, whether Base or Park-to-Park, one way to save money is buy the tickets online at the Universal Orlando Resort site.¬† Currently they offer a $20 discount for online¬†purchases.¬† Things to know:

  • You can buy tix whenever you want in advance of your trip- they don’t start counting the days until you first use them at the gate.¬† You then have 14 days to use all your admissions up, and they don’t have to be consecutive days.¬† For a 4-day ticket,¬†you can go the Park on a Monday the 1st, Wednesday the 3rd, Sunday the 7th¬†and use your last day on Sunday the 13th, or whatever combination you choose.
  • No refunds on days you don’t wind up using within the 14-day window.
  • Only Park-to-Park tix can be used to enter more than 1 park per day (meaning, if you have 2-day Base tix, you can’t use 1 admission “credit” for IoA in the morning, and then use another “credit” for Universal Studios that same day).
  • Tix are not transferable, they must be used by the same person every time.
  • You can print your tix at home or pick them up at the Park’s Will Call window.¬† Though choosing to get into a line that won’t end in a ride is baffling to me, I realize that some people don’t have a printer or are picking up tix that someone else bought for them.
  • Be prepared to show photo ID at the ticket window if picking tix up.
  • You can also add admission to the Wet ‘n Wild Waterpark or Blue Man Group shows along with your park tix.

Well, the bad news is that there are almost NEVER discounts available on the ticket I need for my visit: 1-day Base.¬† I need to spend $96 per adult, and yes, my tween counts as an adult (ages 10 and up!), and $90 for my toddler just to walk into the place.¬† Ouch.¬† I’ll continue to look at possible discounts as we approach the trip, since there are various avenues that just might turn up a little bit of relief for the wallet.¬† Here’s my checklist of sites to consult as I prepare to buy our tix:

  1. I’ll always start at the Universal site itself.¬† They occasionally run promotions offering more than the standard $20 discount per ticket for direct online purchases.¬† Note that you have to get a few steps into the ordering process to see your true total including tax.
  2. Undercover Tourist:  this is a reliable ticket broker site that offers admission discounts along with free shipping, AND their displayed prices already include tax.
  3. AAA: again, occasional discounts available right now, they offer the same price as the Universal site, and only on Park-to-Park tix.  They do offer a small discount if you buy tix at the gate and show your AAA card.
  4. AARP: we used this site to great effect to save $80 on our Hershey Park tix.  Nothing spectacular for Universal right now.
  5. Costco: you can search the site for discounted theme park tix, check the warehouse, or go to Costco Travel for vacation packages that include hotel, rental car, and tix as a bundle.  Many of the vacation packages offer a Costco Cash card for booking.

Also, a few of these discounts may apply to some of you out there: military discount here, Florida Resident discounts here.  Those of you combining a visit to Universal with other Orlando attractions like Sea World/Aquatica/Busch Gardens Tampa Bay might look into the Orlando Flex Ticket to save on overall admission costs.  People whose employers participate in Tickets at Work or Working Advantage are lucky ducks indeed- check with your Human Resources or Benefits Dept for a password.

There is one more way to save on Theme Park ticket purchases that I know of: use some of those hard-earned credit card rewards!

cc rewards

While I would never use actual airline miles on merchandise unless I was simply overflowing with them, there are alternate points one can earn and redeem from credit cards, like Ultimate Rewards points from select Chase bank credit cards (I’ve only seen Universal tickets offered occasionally), Membership Rewards points from select American Express credit cards,¬†Hilton HHonors points from the co-branded credit cards or Hilton Stays- redeem through the Shopping Mall portal, and Barclaycard Arrival points (Note: this card offers cash back in the form of statement credits for qualifying travel purchases.¬† The ticket purchase on its own would not be eligible, but if you bought tix as part of your hotel charges or with a package including hotel/air/etc, it would count).¬† Some of these cards have annual fees, so factor that cost into your savings calculations.

Finally, the U.S. Travel Association partners with American Express every spring (roughly late May through early June) to offer some pretty amazing travel deals called Daily Getaways. This past spring, a 2-day Universal Studios Hollywood ticket was going for about $89, a hefty savings.  They announce the deals about a week before they go live on the site, and you need to be quick, they mostly sell out FAST.  Be sure you read all the details before purchasing a deal- they are nonrefundable and I heard of at least 1 person who bought that Universal ticket without realizing it was for California and not Florida.  Bonus: if you pay with an American Express card, you get an additional 10% off the deal.

I’ll be on the lookout for any and all Universal 1-day Base ticket discounts¬†from now until next summer!¬† I’ll let you know if I’m able to score a deal.

 

I just want you guys to know that prior to having this blog, I would talk about and debate the merits of all these kinds of options out loud to my husband.¬† Several times over the year leading up to a trip.¬† Which is all the time, because I am always planning a trip.¬† And usually late at night, which is when I do my best thinking (shhh, don’t tell my boss).¬† So, by reading, you are doing a great public service to my husband, his ears, and his REM sleep patterns.¬†¬†Were he to meet you, he would¬†thank you sincerely.

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