Category: airplanes

Where Do You Draw the Line to Save Money?

We’re planning another trip to Disney this year, and that means Bryce gets to obsess over small details (and start talking about himself in the third person.) At the moment, I’m looking at plane ticket prices (mainly because it’s too soon to start really looking at Disney prices, and I’ve got my fingers crossed they’ll be offering free dining again . . .)

Each time I look at these tickets, my knee-jerk approach is to find the cheapest tickets available and book those. But maybe I’m getting older or wiser (or just not as frugal), but I’ve been burned by that approach a few too many times in the past. It’s one thing to find the CHEAPEST FLIGHT YOU CAN, but then you still have to actually use those tickets.

In other words, it might seem awesome to save $150 a ticket by flying on an off day out of an airport that’s far away, with a 2 hour layover, on the red eye. But when it comes time to make that flight, and you’re stuck traveling or 12 hours for a trip that really should have just taken 6, you begin to wonder if it was really worth all the savings.

So it’s a balancing act. A few years ago, I think I would have gone with the savings, every time. It was the difference between being able to go on the trip or not, period. These days, when we’ve got a bit more extra money in the budget?

Let’s talk specifics.

For me to fly to Orlando, I can leave from multiple airports. The closest one is Portland, 1.75 hours away. Bangor is about the same, but it’s a regional airport. (Though it does do direct flights to Sanford, which is close to Orlando . . .) Then there’s Boston or Manchester, both about 3.5 hours away, though you can take a bus to Boston easily. (But if you take the bus, that adds on $150 of bus tickets for our family, which cuts into savings from flying out of Boston.)

There are no direct flights from Portland. There are some in Boston, but they cost more, so you eat up the savings you could have had if you go that route. (You’ve also left from Boston, which added a bus ride to your journey . . .)

But wait! There’s more!

We’re looking at Thanksgiving. And as everybody knows, Thanksgiving is a time when airlines like to hike their prices. So we can either fly at strange times for less, or pay more to fly when we actually want to.

Then again, there’s also Montreal. Canada doesn’t do that whole Thanksgiving thing, so we could fly at normal times for normal fares (non stop, even) . . . if we’re willing to drive 4.5 hours and make it into an international flight.

Add these all up, and there are so many moving parts, it makes my head spin. And how much money am I saving if I’m putting in 20-30 hours of my time just to save $150?

Which leads me to my question of the day: where do you draw the line, personally? Are you the sort of person who will go for the absolute cheapest, no matter what? Do you just ignore the ticket price and go when it’s convenient? There’s a lot of middle ground between those extremes, and I’m curious how other people decide where they fall in there.

Do tell.

Window vs. Aisle

I’m on my way back to Maine today. (Yay!) So I don’t have a ton of time to post. Todays’ topic? An experiment I ran on the way out to Utah.

For the past few decades, I’ve been a long standing Aisle Man when it comes to an airplane. You have more legroom to stretch out now and then. It’s easier to get in and out of your seat. It just always felt like the better idea. This time on the way out to Utah, I decided to call an audible and sit in a window seat.

I loved it.

I could lean against the window and sleep. (No kidding. I actually slept!) I could look out whenever I felt like it.  When I had to get up to go to the bathroom, I just told everybody else in the aisle, and they all had to move. (Mwa ha ha ha!) Better yet, I didn’t have to get up to move for anyone else. The flight attendants never hit me in the elbow with the cart. People never pulled on my chair back as they made their way to the back of the plane.

True, I was a bit cramped at times, and I got antsy now and then, but overall, I’d say it was a successful experiment. Which leads me to wonder what other people think about it all. I’m going on the assumption that no one likes the middle seat. But what about window vs aisle? Which do you prefer, and why?

These are the pressing questions I ponder when I’m stuck in a plane. Exciting, isn’t it?

European Vacation: 2015 Edition

Ever since we were married, Denisa and I have tried to get over to Slovakia once every three years. That’s the goal. We’ve gone in 2012/2013 (for our European Christmas tour), 2011 (where we got over to London and Vienna), 2008 (where we got to see Dublin), 2005 (with a trip to Prague included), and 2002 (my first trip over). So doing a bit of math, we’ve gone 5 times so far, with the Christmas trip making it so we’d gotten a bit ahead of ourselves. (Twice in two years!) The hope was to go again this year, but when we had MC get added to the family, we realized trips to Europe might have to become less frequent.

Still, it never hurts to try, right?

And I’ve been trying everyday for months. Checking the prices, hoping that they might come down some. Kayak is my go-to source for price checking, though I’ll throw in other sites now and then to be thorough. But even with all my checking, the lowest I’d seen a flight this summer was $957 on Turkish Air, and that was with a long layover in Istanbul. (It also was a month ago. I didn’t pull the trigger then, because I thought the prices would come down. I hoped to get a ticket for $850 or so.)

These days? The best ticket I could find with reasonable layovers (meaning, no 6 hour monstrosities) was $1,210 on Aer Lingus, Boston to Vienna. With the bus ticket to Boston and all the other transportation costs included, that meant we were going to have to pay $6,100 just to get to Slovakia. That . . . is a lot of money. Enough that Denisa and I were seriously considering just skipping this year’s trip and saving for next year.

DC, however, had other plans. She really wanted to go to Slovakia, and she decided to pray and fast this past Sunday that I’d be able to find tickets we could afford. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d been trying nonstop for months, and that God wasn’t going to bring the prices down just for us.

Note to self: don’t doubt the power of a 7 year old’s prayers.

Yesterday (two days after DC prayed and fasted for this), I saw a ticket on Kayak for $850 or so. The only problem? It involved two or three layovers and 40 hours of travel time. I’m willing to try to go beyond the call of duty for a deal, but even I have my limits. I’d seen this wacky deal before, and I’d always dismissed it out of hand. This time? I decided to look more carefully at it. I saw it was leaving from Toronto, so I checked prices leaving straight from Toronto. $750 or so.

A quick jaunt over to Google Maps told me Toronto was over 9 hours away from me. So . . . not that practical. But I had the scent of blood now. Give a librarian a toehold somewhere, and we’ll find out anything we want.

Long story short? I found tickets out of Montreal (4.5 hours away) for $720 roundtrip, including a 3 night stopover in Paris. Yes, Montreal is a bit of a drive, but so is Boston. (Boston is 3.5 hours away.) It’s a simple Montreal to Paris, Paris to Vienna flight, all on Air France.

Denisa and I bought the tickets last night. DC was overjoyed.

I don’t know why I never thought about Canada before. Say what you want about prayer, I personally feel like DC was a prime helper in this year’s trip planning. It took a while to convince myself that Montreal was doable. Can you just leave from Canada on a trip? Just like that? But yes, you can. The plan at the moment is to stay the night in Montreal before our flight leaves, thus allowing us to park the car there for free. We’ll be able to go to Slovakia and Paris for a total cost (including hotels, meals, and rental car) that will be less than what we would have paid for just airfare from Boston.


Anyway. If anyone’s looking to meet up with us, feel free to drop me a line. We’ll be over there in August. If you live within driving distance of major Canadian airport, I’ve got a few tips for you . . . 🙂

(End note: It’s Wednesday, and that means I have to stick to my goal to report on the no-sugar thing. This week, I had a bit of maple syrup on pancakes yesterday, and some granola that Denisa made that has a bit of maple syrup in it. That’s it. Still feeling great. Weight loss was minimal, until this morning, when I was suddenly down two more pounds. Total loss is 6.8 pounds as of today, but I expect that to tick back up, most likely.)

Getting Ready for the Meat Wagon (Plane Ride)

Oh joy. I’m going on a plane on Wednesday. This weekend, the dread has already set in. Longtime readers know how much I dislike flying. And for a guy who dislikes it, I certainly buy more than my fair share of plane tickets.

As I was prepping for the flight, the reasons to hate flying only became more apparent. Case in point: one of the few things I look forward to about flights these days is the chance to see what movies they’re showing. If I have to be trapped on a tube with wings for 6 hours, I might as well get some entertainment out of the deal, right?


US Airways has helpfully stopped offering any in-flight entertainment on domestic flights. Why? Because heaven forbid they might consider making some part of the trip actually enjoyable. Since 1985 (the time I can start actually remembering being on airplanes), they’ve made the seats significantly thinner, crammed them in more, taken away the (admittedly often awful) food, made it ridiculously hard to get on the plane in the first place, and now they’re taking out the movies?


Back in the day when I was making the flight from New York to Utah on a regular basis, I remember some things I actually liked: the movies, the food (hey–I was a kid, and the food broke up the monotony of the flight), and the ability to ask for packs of playing cards from the flight attendant. (Free cards? Score!) Of course, just as I was about to start protesting how expensive plane tickets are these days, I had to go and research the statistics first. Turns out tickets are down remarkably over the years (though they have risen somewhat recently). So I guess the cheaper tickets come with consequences. Go figure.

So what am I doing to prepare for the planepocalypse? Over-preparing, as usual. If I do a lot of things to ensure as much as I can that things go smoothly, then I tend to feel marginally better about the future. For this trip that means:

  • Downloading 13 hours of movies ahead of time. No in-flight entertainment, US Airways? Fine. I’ll bring my own. Jerks.
  • Buying bus tickets ahead of time. And double and triple checking when all the departures and arrivals are.
  • Downloading multiple new books onto my Kindle. Not because I’ll read them all, but because what if I don’t have a book I like?
  • Downloading new games for my iPad. Again–spending money ahead of time somehow makes me feel more prepared.
  • Making out a complete packing list. (I’m pitiful, is what I am. Pitiful.)

In any case, when Wednesday rolls around, you can follow along with me as I embark on my trek to Utah. Leaving the house at 3:30 am or so. What will happen this time? Will soccer teams delay my flight again? Will I still have knees by the time the flight is over? I’ll be sure to update Facebook and Twitter with all the juicy details, so you can experience it all vicariously through me. Why would you want to do that? Because I’ve found that when you know someone out there is having a worse day than you are, your day becomes infinitely more satisfying and enjoyable.

I aim to please, folks.

Adventures on the Way to Chicago

I don’t know what it is about me and flying. Maybe it’s not me. Maybe flying is a horrendous experience for everyone on the planet. Maybe it’s my expectations. I should just expect to have a hellacious experience every single time I step foot in an airport.

Oh wait. That’s already what I do anyway.

I’ve started flying out of Boston whenever possible instead of Portland. I can often get a direct flight from Boston, and it’s cheaper to boot. I just catch the bus to Boston and it takes me right to the airport. Easy peasy. So that’s what I did yesterday. I got to the airport 2.5 hours early (it never hurts to be careful, when it comes to me and travel). As soon as I got to the gate, I saw there was going to be trouble. The flight before me (also to Chicago on United) was delayed by an hour. My flight was delayed by a half hour (so they said).

Half hour. One flight. No connections. So what, right?

We ended up taking off about an hour late. Still, I was thinking this wasn’t so bad. They didn’t make us wait on the plane for forever. Bonus. And then, thirty or so minutes from Chicago, the captain got on he loudspeaker. I was expecting him to announce that we’d be there soon.

“Folks, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you. Chicago just called to say thunderstorms have shut down the runways in and out of the airport for at least the next forty-five minutes. We’d wait it out in the air, but we don’t have enough fuel to do that. So we’re going to be landing in Indianapolis to refuel and then wait on the ground until they give us the all clear.”

Ironically, the flight attendants had the temerity to do their “Welcome to Indianapolis” spiel when we landed. Um, when I get stuck in a city I don’t want to be in, I don’t want to hear a welcome.

So we went to a gate, had to stay on the plane, refueled, taxi’ed out to the runway, and then sat there for an hour or so. I got to Chicago at 8:45.

Of course, that’s just 3.5 hours late. So maybe I should be thankful it wasn’t worse. The airport was a zoo when I got there. (Stands to reason, what with the runways having been closed for 2 hours or so.) I’m am glad that I was on the 4 o’clock flight. I’d taken the earlier one on purpose–knowing that I usually am afflicted with some airplane curse on the way over.

So once I found my way to the subway, took the 45 minute ride to the city, found my connecting bus, made it to the hotel, tried to check in, had my credit card declined, called the card company, cleared the hold, checked in again, and got to my room, it was 10:30.

I love flying.

All’s well that end’s well, right? Except that I just looked on Google Maps to see how far my hotel is from my home. I could drive there in about 17 hours. I left my house yesterday morning at 8:30. I got to to the hotel at 10:30 at night (11:30 EDT). Which means it would have just taken me two hours longer to drive here yesterday than it did to fly.

But hey–two hours more wouldn’t have been fun at all. So I guess I should just stop complaining.

In other news–ALA time! If you’re here, give me a shout out, and I’ll try to say hello.

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