Monday, July 28, 2008

What I’ve Learned From Booking 12 Different Round-Trip Flights in the Last Two Weeks

Author: Nick
Category: Money

comic 46 - last minute flight

Let me just get something out of the way first: I am not a big air traveler. In fact, I hate airplanes. It’s not that I’m afraid to fly, because I’m not. You’d have to be an idiot to be afraid to fly while not being absolutely mortified to set foot in an automobile. I just don’t like the idea of airplanes and how they are, essentially, controlled, self-contained people catapults.

For the people who know just how much I dislike air travel, it would freak them out to know that I’ve booked nearly a dozen round-trip plane tickets in the last couple of weeks. This comes after only having booked plane tickets one other time in my entire life (last summer, for a business trip to Colorado). Lest you think I’ve somehow gone plain crazy (plane crazy?), most of those tickets were not purchased for myself. Most of them, in fact, were booked on other people’s behalf. Here’s the breakdown of just who got those tickets:

  • Four out-of-town co-workers. At a recent business conference, several of my co-workers located in other states asked me to help them get interviews at our locations in the Washington, DC area. And since I helped them get those interviews, I also volunteered to help them order their plane tickets (paid for by the company, of course) so as to avoid busy travel times and other retarded features of flying into and out of our nation’s capital. All four got round-trip tickets there and back; two are coming back in the next week or so for another interview while two others have or soon will be taking a one-way trip to the area to start their new jobs. (Oops, I fibbed about all 10 of those tickets being round-trip.)
  • One out-of-town co-worker and close friend. I became good friends with one particular co-worker who managed to turn a separate three-day finance conference in the DC area into a fun-filled week-long orientation to her soon-to-be new city of residence. But because her plans changed several times, we ended up going through three different round-trip itineraries (and the associated change fees) just to accommodate her conference and her interviews.
  • One round trip for myself. Lucky me, I just found out last night that I get the wonderful pleasure of doing some traveling myself next weekend. Yay.

So in about half a month I’ve gone from not knowing the difference between an e-ticket and standby to knowing all 37 different ways you can get from Denver to Dulles on a Thursday afternoon. But that’s just one of a few lessons I’ve picked up from my ticket-purchasing spree of late. Here are some of the other things I, an air travel novice, have learned about going from point A to point B via giant winged metal monstrosity.

  1. Flying is actually not that expensive. It only runs about $250 round-trip to come up here from Orlando and go back… if you don’t mind flying on a discount airline. Considering you’re going about 1700 miles in less than five hours, that only comes to about 15 cents a mile—about what you’d pay for gas alone if you drove instead.
  2. Flying is expensive. Considering that traveling economy class on a discount airline is about half a step up from packing yourself in a cardboard box and shipping yourself to your destination, it sure does cost a pretty penny.
  3. Changing a flight is expensive, a pain in the ass, and expensive. In one case, the itinerary change fee was almost as much as the one-way trip itself. By 2020, I imagine the average round-trip flight fare will still only be $250, but you’ll pay $3,000 in “because you breathe oxygen” fees.
  4. Frequent flyer miles fail if you don’t freaking fly frequently. After saying that three times fast, I’ll just note that frequent flyer plans aren’t like credit card rewards where even schmucks who just buy a few items here and there can still get something for their trouble. Even after booking a dozen flights with my own frequent flyer numbers, I still don’t have enough miles on a single airline to get me off the ground! Oh, and why do they say you have “15,000 miles” if they’re really only good for a flight that’s 500 miles? I guess inflation has hit the airline industry harder than everyone else.
  5. There’s never a plane flying when you really want one to be flying. So you want a flight that departs Denver for Washington sometime between 2pm and 6pm? Okay, we have flights leaving at 9am and 8pm with available seats. Or you could connect through Chicago and Atlanta, but we can’t promise that your baggage won’t end up in, say, Dublin.
  6. Cheap airlines are cheap for a reason. As if no food service was bad enough, some discount airliners thought that a great way to save money would be to introduce negative leg room. Yes, worse than 10 inches of leg room. The next guy’s seat actually starts before yours finishes. Hopefully you have detachable feet you can store in the overhead compartment.
  7. Sites like Expedia and Travelocity are great. You use them to find the flight you want across 50,000 different airlines; then you go to that airline’s website and book it directly with them instead of paying Expedia or Travelocity’s stupid fees.
  8. Two of the three DC-area airports are not public transportation friendly. In a way, planes are a form of public transportation. Okay, in many ways because they freaking are. So why DC doesn’t do a better job of getting folks from all points in DC to Dulles or BWI Airports on public ground transportation without having to transfer at least twice on Metro and then take an hour-long bus ride is beyond me. Sure, there are plans to build Metro lines out to Dulles one day, and DC residents typically don’t give a crap about BWI anyway, but whoever planned the placement of these airports relative to the rest of the area really didn’t take into account that, hey, everyone lives 30 freaking miles that way.
  9. Airport food is expensive. Three bucks for a bottle of water? Fifteen dollars for a crappy sandwich at the airport restaurant? I fully expect that we will soon see airlines purposely delaying arrivals so that passengers disembark so famished and thirsty that they’ll gladly pay the $42 for a piece of baloney and a packet of mustard.

There’s one thing I learned from all of this recent air travel planning that deserves to be kept separate from the rest of the list: Arrival gates are one of the happiest places on earth. Seriously, anytime you’re feeling down in the future, just take a trip to the nearest airport’s arrival gate for a couple of hours. You’ll witness a steady stream of tearful reunions that’ll really cheer you up and renew your faith in humanity.

Your faith in the airline industry, on the other hand, is now departing from Gate 15A on a one-way trip to Never-Never Land.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ten Ways to Save Time and Money on Thanksgiving Travel

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

stay home this thanksgiving and avoid pumpkin pie rain and crashing world war 2 airplanes

Over the next 72 hours, Americans will travel the equivalent of 16 light years around the country to visit relatives, exchange family gossip, and pass out from turkey overload while watching football. If the thought of squeezing the spouse and kids into the car for a four-hour drive to grandma’s has you down, consider these options for making that Turkey Day commute a little less painful.

  1. Stay home. Make no excuses. Just tell everyone you’re staying home. “No, gas isn’t too expensive. No, we don’t hate you. No, we’re not converting to the Cult of Turkey Protectors. We’re just staying home and having a small, inexpensive Thanksgiving celebration on our own. Just us, our children… and the Nintendo Wii which is the real reason we can’t afford to drive to see you all this year.”
  2. Meet them halfway. You live in Boston, they live in Atlanta. Both of you could travel half the distance and enjoy the holiday where you meet. So what’s a good halfway point for Boston and Atlanta? Pancake, West Virginia, of course!
  3. Celebrate with closer relatives and friends. There’s no need to drive seven hours to visit your parents back home when you’ve got perfectly good cousins 90 minutes away that you haven’t seen in years… maybe even never! For that extra Thanksgiving surprise, don’t tell them you’re coming and waltz right through the front door. Just be sure to bring a copy of the family tree to prove you’re entitled to half their turkey.
  4. Host family at your place. Bring your travel costs down to zero by guilting everyone into coming to your home for Thanksgiving this year. Don’t let relatives crying “But Grandma’s hosted it every year for 25 years, and she’s in a wheelchair so she can’t drive down here, and this could be her last Thanksgiving” deter you. You’re hosting Thanksgiving… and you’re giving away free DVD players to the first five relatives to arrive!
  5. Go shopping instead. Kmart is open on Thanksgiving and has some great deals on GPS navigators and… oh wait, that’s not really going to save you any money. It’ll save gas money, maybe.
  6. Set up a Thanksgiving videoconference. That fancy video communications equipment they have where you work is just begging to be borrowed to help bring together distant families this Thanksgiving. Now you don’t have to worry about Great Uncle Fred eating all of the sweet potatoes, but you still get to hear his amusing yet slightly insulting stories about all the dames and broads he’s known in his 80-some years.
  7. Purposely book the worst flight possible. Check which airline in your area is notorious for delays, bumping passengers, and causing extreme frustration in its customers during Thanksgiving week. Then book your plane tickets on them, show up late, and pray that they bump you to a flight that doesn’t leave until Christmas Eve.
  8. Cause a family feud. You’ve got less than 24 hours to do it, but you could get the ball rolling by telling Aunt Kelly that you overhead Aunt Sally say she was getting fat. Eventually long-repressed opinions will spread like wildfire, and your family won’t want to be near each other until at least Easter 2012.
  9. Disown family that lives more than 100 miles away. It’s not your fault they decided to stay in their inexpensive country farm home on 50 acres of gorgeous meadow while you and your family decided to take up residence in a ridiculously overpriced 600-square-foot apartment in the middle of downtown. You can have an amazing Thanksgiving feast at home… well, except you don’t have an oven to cook it in… or a refrigerator… or a dining room table. But nothing says Thanksgiving like an Arby’s roast beef sandwich!
  10. Convince yourself it isn’t Thanksgiving. Several of my co-workers and friends were confused by the extra Thursday this month; they were thinking that Thanksgiving was always the last Thursday in November when it’s really the fourth Thursday. Play dumb and make this “mistake” yourself. Then enjoy the James Bond marathon on Spike TV with Pussy Galore and all her friends.

As for me, since my family is only 60 miles away, we’ll be spending the day there tomorrow with relatives, friends, and the biggest turkey you’ve ever seen (wait, I forgot Uncle Fred isn’t coming this year because he has to work).

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Forced to Forfeit Your Liquids at the Airport? Your Hotel May Give Them Back!

Author: Nick
Category: Money

airports seize liquids, leave solids and gases untouched

No doubt you’ve already heard of the recently uncovered terrorist plot to permanently ground some airplanes in the United Kingdom. And especially if you’ve taken to the skies yourself in the last few days, you know that there are some new restrictions in place at airports around the world. Specifically, virtually any liquid or gel substances have been banned from being carried aboard commercial aircraft.

As a result, many passengers are now finding themselves in strange, exotic lands without their toothpaste, shampoo, and other comforts of home. Fret not, weary travellers, for your hotel may come to your rescue! While most hotels already offer complimentary toiletries, some are extending the line of free products they now offer their guests. For example, Omni Hotels has responded to the new security measures by providing guests with free replacements for many of the liquids that airports have started seizing from boarding passengers.

“Taking care of our guests is fundamental,” says one Omni representative. “That’s why we are taking immediate steps to replenish nearly all forms of liquid and gel ‘basics’ you may be required to relinquish at airports across the nation.”

The items now offered for free to guests of Omni and several other hotel chains include:

  • facial skin care products
  • women’s cosmetics
  • hair care products
  • sunscreen
  • toothpaste
  • contact lens solution
  • nail polish and remover

So if you’re planning a trip in the near future, call ahead to see if your hotel will provide you with these items so you can leave your stuff at home. And if you’re one of those folks who likes to bring home the tiny shampoo bottles from hotels (hey, who can blame you?), sorry, but those liquid restrictions may still apply on the return trip.