Category: travel

Moving Time!

Sorry for the absence Friday. I was off on a moving adventure over the weekend. I just got back yesterday, and my back and forearms are kind of on the painful side, but nothing was broken (on me, at least. A few pieces of furniture can’t quite say the same . . .), so all is well. I learned a few valuable lessons over the course of the move:

  • A 26 foot truck is very big. As in, very big. But at the same time, it’s kind of like a reverse TARDIS. Once you start filling the thing, it begins to feel smaller on the inside than it is on the outside. The more things you put into it, the smaller it feels. Ultimately, you wish it were bigger so it would be easier to fit all the stuff.
  • But then you drive the 26 foot truck (or act as navigator) and you wish it were smaller again. This is also true when you have to fill up the tank, which costs enough money that you have to put your credit card in twice, because it stops at $100 per gas transaction.
  • Back braces are a wonderful thing. I bought one just for this experience, and I’m very glad I did. My lower back doesn’t hurt at all, and my upper back mainly just creaks and groans like the rest of my muscles. For the record, I bought this one, and I really liked it.
  • Driver side seats in a truck are much nicer than passenger side seats. Though you have to drive the truck to be able to sit there, so I think it’s kind of a wash.
  • Moving things into a truck takes forever. Moving stuff out of the truck is much easier. Finding a place to put all the stuff when you move it out is a whole different story.
  • Moving trucks are very tall. Tall enough that you have to watch out for branches that you never would think about twice in a normal situation.
  • People in small cars don’t really care about how long it might take you to stop when you’re in a big truck. They zoom around you without a care in the world. I don’t think we ran over any of the small cars, but a few of those roads were pretty bumpy, so we might have clunked over one or two and just thought it was a pot hole. (Seriously. I’m going to be much more careful around big trucks from now on, until I forget this lesson a few months from now at least.)
  • Three people to load a 26 foot truck is not enough. Even when you have a fourth person for a couple of hours.
  • After moving for three straight days and traveling through 10 states to do it, you’re going to be very tired. But you’re not going to be able to sleep well.
  • Moving doesn’t burn as many calories as you’d think, so justifying that chocolate bar? Probably not a great idea.
  • You will be very, very glad to be home and done with it.

At least we didn’t have to go over any covered bridges.

“That’s not a bridge. It’s termites holding hands!”

What to Do When You’re Involuntarily Bumped from a Flight

When it comes to travel, things often go wrong for me. Whether it’s flights getting entirely canceled, or Colombian soccer teams making planes have to go back to the gate right before takeoff, I’ve seen my fair share of flying fiascos. So when the video surfaced of the United passenger getting dragged off the plane after being involuntarily bumped from the flight (after he was already seated!), I looked at it and thought, “That could be me someday.”

And as a librarian, I’m a firm believer in the importance of having knowledge. The right knowledge. The knowledge you need for the situation at hand.

It turns out there’s this thing called the “US Department of Transportation” that governs how air travel works in this country. (Well, there is as of today. Who knows what will get cut next under the Trump administration?) They have laws that dictate what companies have to do for passengers in a variety of situations, and that includes laws governing people who get bumped when they don’t want to get bumped.

They have a handy web page that goes over your rights as a passenger, and I encourage you all to read it, or at least to be aware that it exists, so you can consult it if you ever are in a travel bind. But since I also know from experience that my blog readers don’t like clicking through to articles, I’m going to summarize the steps to take for involuntary bumping here.

First, airlines are required by law to look for people willing to be bumped in exchange for compensation. What form that compensation takes is up to the airline. They can offer travel vouchers of varying denominations. They might offer hotel rooms and meals as well. There are no laws saying what they have to offer, only that they have to offer something. Often that offer will go up if no one takes them up on it. For the United flight that received all the news coverage, they were supposedly offering $1000 for people willing to be bumped. No one took them up on it.

Be aware that it’s totally in your rights to be fully informed about what exactly the airline is offering if you choose to be bumped. Will there be blackout travel dates for those vouchers? What flight will they put you on instead, and when will you arrive? How long is the voucher good for? Can you use it for international travel? Of course, if someone else chooses to be bumped and doesn’t care about the restrictions, the airline is welcome to deal with them instead of you. It’s a negotiation to find the person or persons willing to be bumped for the best deal for the airline.

But sometimes (as the United case shows) that deal isn’t reached, and the airline has to bump somebody. They overbooked in an effort to make sure the plane was full. (Statistically, it was likely some people would cancel or not show up for the flight, so the airline overbooks to the point where they think that will balance out. Sometimes they’re wrong.) If you are bumped involuntarily, you have some very good rights, but they depend mainly on the delay to your travel:

  • If your new flight gets you to your final destination within an hour of your original schedule, you get nothing. Good day sir.
  • If your new flight gets you there between one and two hours late (one and four hours, for international flights), you’re entitled to 200% of your one way ticket fare, up to a maximum of $675.
  • If your new flight gets you there later than that (or they don’t rebook you at all for some strange reason), you’re entitled to 400% of your one way ticket fare, with a maximum of $1,350.
  • If your ticket didn’t show a fare (you were using frequent flyer miles, for example), they’ll base the one way fare on the lowest price someone paid for travel in the same class you were booked in.
  • You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. You can also make your own arrangements and request an “involuntary refund” for that ticket. This is above and beyond the compensation listed above.
  • If you paid for any extras on the flight (baggage fees, etc.), the airline is required to refund those payments.

There are some exceptions to these rules that you should be aware of:

  • It assumes you had an actual written reservation on the flight, and that you arrived within the check-in deadline the airline posts. If you got there late, tough luck.
  • If you got bumped because they switched sizes of planes for whatever reason, you’re out of luck. You’re not entitled to anything.
  • If you got bumped due to safety regulations (weight of the plane or balance constraints) and your flight had 30-60 people on it, you’re also out of luck. Go figure.

And here’s one thing to be very aware of: if you’re involuntarily bumped, the airline will likely try to pay you what it owes in the form of ticket vouchers. You are entitled to ask to be paid in a check, instead. Once you cash the check or accept the free flight, you lose the ability to get more money from the airline. You’ve accepted the deal. If being bumped involuntarily ends up costing more than the airline is willing to pay, you can contact their complaints department and ultimately taken them to court. But not if you already accepted the deal.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

imgur.com/99dgkTs

A New Approach to Airfare

I’ve been searching for plane tickets for a good long while, I’d say. I can’t remember when exactly I started searching for my own tickets. Back in mid-2000s, I’d guess. And in those years, my approach to searching has changed over time. For the first long while, Travelocity was my go to website for searches. Then after a while, Kayak came in to take its place. I’ve branched out as far as how wide a net I cast when I do my searches as well. These days I include Portland, Boston, Bangor, Quebec, or Montreal. (Ottawa is dead to me. Sorry, Ottawa.)

It seems like each trip, I learn a bit more about the search process and come up with new approaches to get the most bang for my buck. I can’t just search Kayak anymore, for instance. I need to search Southwest’s site on its own, since their prices don’t show up in aggregators. And I search for days around when I want to go–not just the date in question.

Of course, the airlines have made things even more difficult. Charging for bags has made things really tricky, as you can’t just compare the base fares. You need to take into account if you’ll have any luggage, and how much it’ll cost on each carrier to have that luggage. Some carriers even charge for carryons now, which is an even bigger pain. But as I’ve been searching for my next trip (heading to Utah this summer), I came across an idea to make one of the new tweaks an advantage to me, instead of what I thought at first was a disadvantage.

It used to be, you’d search for a flight, and the results would always be cheaper if you bundled flights together. A roundtrip ticket was cheaper than two one ways. That sort of went without saying. But now I realized that airlines have pretty much ditched that concept completely. They charge per leg of the flight. I’m heading to ALA in Chicago, and a ticket from Boston to Chicago to Salt Lake to Boston was less than Boston to Salt Lake to Boston. Why? Because you could switch between carriers, and each carrier was having different sales. You could use those sales and combine them to hopscotch your way across the country.

Naturally, I couldn’t buy that cheaper ticket right then. I needed to square things away with work and make sure I had the time off, and then talk to Denisa to see if she and the kids wanted to come to Chicago with me. Once I had it all set, then the fare was gone. Curses!

But the approach stayed with me. What if instead of insisting I buy all my tickets at once, I just broke the trip up into smaller legs and search for each one individually? I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I’m giving that a shot this time. I’m basically doing three searches. One for Boston to Chicago. One for Chicago to Salt Lake. One for Salt Lake to Boston.

Already I think it’s paying off. I just bought my return tickets from Salt Lake to Boston, direct, for $127/person. A roundtrip direct flight was costing around $450. I think that’s a really good price for that flight. Let’s hope the other legs end up coming down some, as well.

One additional advantage I already see about this approach is that it opens up even more avenues for searches. I can fly into one airport and out from another. Leave from Portland, if it’s cheaper, and fly into Boston. (I’ll be parking in Augusta, where it’s free, thanks very much.) Breaking apart a trip into legs gives a lot more flexibility in the search, and flexibility is power.

I’m not sure if I’d do this for a shorter trip. But this is going to be a couple of weeks, which can prove to make a real difference. I’ll let you know how it goes. If I could do the whole trip for around $350, I’ll consider it a success.

Tickets Bought

After no small amount of internet surfing and thinking and pondering and weighing the various options, I’ve finally come up with my latest Great Travel Scheme to Save Money.

For a while, that looked like it really was going to be renting a minivan and driving 22.5 hours (assuming no traffic. Yeah right.) to Orlando. I just couldn’t find anything that was reasonably priced at Thanksgiving, and no amount of creative airlining was getting me any closer. There were some fares that seemed okay at first, but nothing that really caught my eye. Paying $2000 for flights compared to paying $350 for a rental car and $300 for gas just seemed like the better deal.

But I’ll be honest. The thought of driving 24 hours with three kids down to Orlando, then turning around a week later and driving twenty four hours back was . . . less than ideal. I talked to multiple friends who have done it, and they all assured me how it wasn’t as awful as you’d imagine, but let’s face it: when the slogan of your planned trip is “Not as Awful as You’d Imagine,” maybe it’s time to rethink it all again.

What if we made it less awful? What if instead of driving straight through the night, we broke it up into two legs each way? We could take the kids out of school a day early, and then it would be 4 days of driving, 12 hours each day . . .

Still not exactly heavenly.

Audio books! And surprises! And maybe stay with family on the way back! Things to look forward to could make it more palatable, right? Right. And that’s what I convinced myself. I came up with some creative ways to make the trip fun, even though “4 days of 12 hour drives” just refused to really settle into the “fun” category for me or Denisa.

This past weekend, I took a long harsh look at the details. How much money was I really going to save by driving?

  • Rental car (because I didn’t want to drive all that way in a Honda Civic): $350
  • Extra driver fee (because there was no way I’d drive it all myself): $100
  • Gas: $350
  • Hotel on the way down: $150
  • Food and snacks for the trip: $200
  • Tolls: $100
  • Surprises: $100 (or so)
  • TOTAL: $1,350

Yes. I know I could make that cheaper. But I didn’t want to. Bare minimum, if I drove all night in my own car and ate bread and water, it would still be $450, but I’d arrive to Disney completely exhausted, and I know myself well enough to see a recipe for an awful vacation when it’s staring me in the face.

How much would plane tickets be again? Around $2,000. So I’d be driving to save $650, and that no longer seemed like such a grand idea.

So I continued searching for plane tickets that might cut things down even more, and I came up with a solution today. The answer? Canada. Not Montreal this time. I’d been looking at that airport all along, and the tickets were around $1,800 for a direct flight to Orlando. (They’d been cheaper earlier. Only $1550. But I waited, and I wasn’t sure those cheap tickets would return.) I’d checked Quebec and Toronto (for kicks), but today I decided to see if there were any other airports in Canada. Montreal had saved my bacon for our European vacation, and Canada doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, eh? So tickets might be cheaper than the $2400 out of Boston for terrible flights that I was currently contemplating.

Ottawa has an airport. I checked the flights. $1,315 for direct Ottawa to Orlando tickets at Thanksgiving. $1,315 total.

How long does it take to drive to Ottawa? 6 hours.

I talked it over with Denisa, and we hatched the plan. Leave the evening before. Drive part of the way and stay in a hotel. Have a leisurely morning, then head to the airport. Fly down (only a three hour flight!). Enjoy Disney. Fly back and stay in a hotel, and then drive home in the morning. Even with the costs of hotels, it’ll still come in around $1,600, and maybe we see a bit of Ottawa in the process.

Yes, folks. I realize it’s a fairly outlandish approach to flying. Drive 6 hours to fly 3 hours. But that’s still just 9 hours of travel time vs 24 hours of driving. And it’s only a bit more expensive. Sue me. I bought the tickets.

Anyone ever been to Ottawa before?

VRBO: A Great Place to Find a Cheap Place to Vacation

I was talking to a friend the other day and I mentioned I was using VRBO to book a vacation in October (heading down to the coast with the fam), and he had never heard of it. So I feel like it’s my civic duty to make sure I’ve at least mentioned this site on my blog. I’ve used it for four or five vacations now, and it’s always been a great experience.

What is it? It stands for Vacation Rental By Owner: a site where you can rent a house for a weekend or a week. It’s like AirBnB (which has gotten more publicity), but just for renting apartments or houses. No “rent a part of a house and have to share it with the owner.” Granted, AirBnB does has this feature as well, but I’ve been a happy VRBO customer, and I’ve really appreciated how easy it is to search a wide variety of of houses, and I haven’t seen a need to switch. (Though of course you could always search both sites and find the best deal. Never a bad idea.)

We first used VRBO for our trip to Quebec City, getting a condo right downtown for a week for really cheap. It was a great experience, so I turned to VRBO again for our family reunion, renting a house for 30 people for the Fourth of July weekend. This was a bit pricier, since it was for that many people and at a holiday, but it was still super easy and we got a fantastic house. Just what I was looking for.

I used VRBO to get an apartment 100 yards from Notre Dame, for three nights, for $600 during summer vacation last year. Hotel rooms were going for more than that, and this was much nicer, and much closer to all the action. And now we just reserved a house on an island on the coast of Maine for October: three nights for $450 total.

What I’m trying to say is that if you’re looking to stay someplace for a few nights, and you want more than just a cookie cutter hotel room, then you should really be looking at places other than hotels.com. You’ll save money and have a much bigger place to stay in. You help individual property owners instead of a faceless corporation.

When I’m just staying by myself, a hotel room is just fine. But if I want to enjoy a vacation with my family, it’s been so much nicer to have room to breathe. Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful when using the site:

  • There are a ton of different search parameters. Use them to your advantage. Put in the minimum number of bedrooms you want, and the max you’re willing to pay. Want to stay on the beach? Want internet? Bringing pets? You can get very specific.
  • Pay attention to the reviews. I have yet to stay someplace with no reviews. I realize that’s cutting out a good number of properties, but I’d like to have at least some assurance that the place I’m staying will work out. I’m not willing to bet my vacation on a good deal and a prayer that it actually turns out to be a good experience.
  • Be flexible on the exact location you’re looking for if you can. Narrowing things down too much can eliminate some really great properties.
  • You’ll be dealing with the individual property manager in the end, not VRBO. Be prepared for some back and forth emails and negotiations. You’ll probably have to pay for a deposit, and then pay the rest of what you owe at a later date. Typically they arrange a time for you to check in, or give you information on how to get into the house.
  • Pay attention to details like cleaning fees and deposits when you’re booking. That can affect the bottom line of what you pay.

Anyway. I’ve now plugged the site for free, but I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been a happy customer. Give it a shot for your next vacation.

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