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Category Archives: Trip Planning
We finally booked our flights for next year’s Spring Break. We’re going to Ireland! Our last several trips have been warm weather destinations – Hawaii twice, Wyoming in the summer and Disney World.
We were originally thinking of going to Belize based on my cousin’s recommendation. We were going to use American Airlines miles because they are the best deal when traveling to Belize (it would have only been 30,000 miles round-trip). However, as a mentioned in a post recently, I think that American Airlines is limiting award tickets within the US so I couldn’t find any availability.
When that didn’t seem to be working, I began looking at other locations. I still wanted to use our American Airlines miles because I wanted to save our United miles for a future summer trip to Europe and our British Airways miles for trips to NC. I found some availability to Caribbean locations out of JFK but none of the islands excited me.
Then I saw a post on The Points Guy where he talked about redeeming British Airways miles on Aer Lingus between Boston and Dublin for only 25,000 miles round-trip! Nearly 13 years ago, my husband and I took a trip to Ireland years ago, 2 weeks before our wedding (he had a work conference). We called it our pre-wedding honeymoon. It was fantastic to get away before the wedding – I highly recommend it to anyone who is planning their wedding. We had an amazing time and were talking about when we could go back before we even left. But life happens (work, house, kids) and we haven’t made it back. We’re so happy that we are finally making the trip back and the boys are thrilled for their first trip out of the country! Plus one of my husband’s cousins married an Irishman and moved there so we’ll get to see family while we’re there.
Now the real planning starts. We need to get passports for the kids and figure out where we want to go. I imagine it will be a much different trip than the last time we went. But I’m excited to show the boys where some of my ancestors came from. And, come on, what little boy doesn’t want to go see some castles?
I am in the process of planning our 2013 Spring vacation. My husband’s first choice is Belize. I was thinking of using our American Airlines miles since a round-trip award ticket is only 30,000 miles. As with other vacations, I made sure that I was on aa.com exactly when the day opened up for booking. However, unlike other times, the MileSAAver award availability just wasn’t there. So instead of 30,000 miles round-trip, it would have cost us 60,000 miles round-trip. That’s just not viable when we’re trying to fly 4 people. I even search availability from several airports that are within driving distance from our house and still did not find any availiabity.
I wondered if it was just me or if there was some larger award availability issue. I went to Flyertalk and found an entire thread on how booking award tickets has been more difficult this year (the thread goes back to 2009, but if you read the more recent posts, you’ll see comments about how it’s been difficult this year). There is speculation around the cause from the bankruptcy to the glut of people who have miles from the 75k sign-up bonus. My gut tells me that it’s a result of the bankruptcy and trying to get more revenue out of each flight. I never had an issue booking an award flight until this year. And I was on aa.com, refreshing every second, so I know there is no way someone booked all the flights that quickly.
I wanted to alert people that this is happening in case you run into the same situation. It may be easier this year to use another airline’s miles or book a flight on one of American’s partner airlines instead.
In a previous post, I talked about how my older son is going to spend a week visiting his cousins in North Carolina this summer. I was using the American Airlines voucher that we got when we volunteered to get bumped from a flight on the way back from Wyoming last summer (the amount we had left over after booking our trip to Disney).
To book the flights, I went onto aa.com and held the tickets that I wanted. I then called the reservation number and told them the confirmation number. They changed the status of the tickets to “purchased” and gave me the instructions on where to mail the voucher.
I mailed the voucher using delivery confirmation with the US Postal Service, like the time that I used the vouchers to purchase our tickets to Disney. Delivery confirmation does not require someone to sign for the mail, it just allows you to check the status of your mailing on-line. So I was very surprised when a few days after mailing the voucher, I checked the status and it said they tried unsuccessfully to deliver it. I figured I’d wait a few days to see if they would automatically redeliver it (or American Airlines would schedule a redelivery). Five days passed and the status was still the same. So I called American Airlines to ask them to schedule a redelivery. The agent I got wasn’t very helpful at first. She basically said, well those don’t come to where I work so I can’t check on it. I asked if she could call where they go to see if they could schedule a redelivery. She came back in about 5 minutes and said that they don’t schedule redeliveries. She said it was odd that they couldn’t deliver it because the location is open 24/7.
Now, if American Airlines doesn’t get the voucher in an envelope postmarked by a certain date, they will cancel your tickets. And ticket prices for those flights have gone up so I didn’t want that to happen. I knew if no one scheduled a redelivery (or the post office couldn’t deliver them), they would get sent back to me. However, that would mean I’d have to book new flights at a higher price and send the vouchers in again.
I didn’t know if the post office would automatically try to redeliver before the 15 day expiration (at which point they send your envelope back to you). So I decided to try to schedule a redelivery myself. Technically I don’t think I was supposed to do that because I was not the person receiving the package but desperate times call for desperate measures. I went to usps.com, looked up the status of my mailing – still unsuccessful delivery. On that page, there was a hyperlink to reschedule a delivery. I clicked on that and then on a button that said it was being delivered to a business. However, they still wanted me to fill in the First Name, Last Name and Phone Number fields. So I decided to put American in the First Name field, Airlines in the Last Name field and my phone number in the Phone Number field. I figured, hey if they can’t deliver it, at least I’ll get to talk to someone and could explain my situation.
Well, I’m happy to say that I went on aa.com yesterday to check the status of my tickets and the status was changed to ticketed!
You may have noticed a lack of posts for the last week or so. The reason I wasn’t posting is we were in Hawaii! Yes, the long awaited trip was fantastic. I’ll post a trip report over several days in the coming week(s). I’m finally getting back on East Coast time so I’ll be awake enough to put one together.
And after taking such a lovely vacation, I want more. I’ve turned my attention to our trip to Disney that we have planned for this April. Originally, I was planning on using Starwood Hotel points to book a room at the Disney Swan resort. However, I have reconsidered that. Disney is running a promotion (that ends today) where you can book some of their hotels for 30% off.
Here’s why I reconsidered my hotel strategy. When redeeming points, I want to get at least a 2 cent return for each point redeemed. We are planning on staying in Disney for 5 nights. The only option to redeem points at the Disney Swan was the free night option (cash and points was not available). Since we were staying for 5 nights, I could do the redeem 4 nights and get the 5th night free option. Each free night would cost me 10,000 points. So I would have to spend a total of 40,000 points for the stay. Now you could say that that means I’d have to get at least $800 worth of value out of the stay. But you can redeem 40,000 Starwood Hotel points for 50,000 airline points (Starwood gives you a bonus 5,000 points for every 20,000 points you transfer to an airline). So I want to get at least $1,000 worth of value out of the stay. Plus I’d really like to do better than $1,000 in value because I value Starwood points more than other points.
Technically, I would have done better that that with booking at the Swan. A night at the Disney Swan resort was running about $240 (not including taxes/fees). Since we were staying 5 nights, that would be nearly $1,250 in value. But I needed to look at the alternatives. With Disney’s promotion, I could book a night at one of the moderate hotels for about $140-$150/night. And since it was a hotel run by Disney (unlike the Swan, which is on Disney property but run by Westin), I could also take the Disney Express to the hotel from the airport (so I won’t have to pay for transportation from the airport to/from the hotel). Plus I still had a credit with Hotels.com from this promotion last year where you got a free night if you booked one night through them. With all that taken into consideration, the hotel stay would only cost us $660 in total. We’ll be staying at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort, which both a friend and Mousesavers.com recommended.
Every time I plan a trip, I look at the alternatives. That’s why it’s not possible to give people a one size fits all strategy for booking a trip. In general, I try to minimize out of pocket expenses. However, in this case, it made more sense to pay money for the hotel stay than to use points.
Although most of my airline travel is now booked using points, I do see value in sites that help you save money for paid travel expenses. I’ve talked about Priceline, Hotwire and Last Minute Travel for hotel stays. I’ll talk about another hotel site in the coming days, but today I want to tell you about a cool feature on Fare Compare. It’s called the Where-to-Go Getaway Map.
If you have flexibility in when you travel and you’re not sure where you want to go, this site is perfect for you. It allows you to say where you want to travel from, the month you want to travel and your budget. Based on that criteria, it will give you a list of locations you can travel to.
If you like one of the fare, you can click on the Find Flights button.
That will bring up a window where you pick the day you want to depart.
When you pick your departure date, you will get a selection of return dates to choose from.
After you choose your return date, you will be brought to a screen where you choose your specific flights.
You then click the Select button next to the flights you want. That will take you to the carrier’s site where you can book the tickets.
And these flights actually turned out to be a little cheaper (about $15 less) than the map showed.