LONG day

We left home around 11:30 yesterday, Hawaiian to Honolulu, then an afternoon flight from Honolulu to Atlanta on Delta – our first time in their ‘lie-flat’ business/first product. It was pretty comfortable, although I found the seat/bed a little hard and the cabin lighting pretty bright through the night flight. On the positive side, the food is better than United domestic business/first and the herringbone design gives everyone aisle access. The flight was packed and left late but caught a good tail wind and was only around seven and a half hours. I was never able to get to sleep soundly, so am a little punchy now. We had a couple of hours layover in Atlanta, then a two hour ‘domestic first’ flight to Fort Lauderdale – pretty pedestrian and I wouldn’t bother with the added expense just for a short domestic flight like that.

Probably will be awake at 3 AM and am trying to stay up as long as I can, but I’m fading fast! At least we have a long string of sea days to get over our jet lag and get adjusted slowly to the time zones in Europe!

Tomorrow we board the Oosterdam for the first part of our multi-part trip and are looking forward to getting to see our good friends who will be making the crossing with us.

Going home

I had the last post in draft waiting to add pictures that my small travel computer wouldn’t process and intended to post after we got home.  Then I got the ‘travel flu’ and what with that and all the mundane tasks like laundry, bills, and grocery shopping after over a month away, it didn’t happen.  So, at long last, it got posted and now I’ll finish the story for this trip.

We had a relatively uneventful stay at the Newark Marriott, which is surprisingly nice for an airport hotel, and then started out early in the morning for the airport where we hit our first issue.  United refused to check our baggage through to our home airport in Kona, allegedly because they don’t do ‘interline’ transfers.  But, I said, Hawaiian is one of your partner airlines, and our bags were checked through by Hawaiian all the way to Amsterdam on our outbound leg.  Too bad said the semi-nasty attendent in Newark.  As it is never wise to argue with the airport/airline personnel, and as we had a decent amount of time between flights in Honolulu, I dropped it, but when we got through security and into the United lounge, I asked the guy at the desk there and he claimed it was a new regulation that was based on complaints by consumers about not getting their luggage after interline transfers, but assured me that if I had purchased a ‘single ticket’ – i.e. booked my Hawaiian flight through United on a single itinerary, the bags would be checked through.  How, I asked, is this different than checking my bags through on two different tickets?  He had no answer.  I will be writing to someone as soon as I figure out whose rule this really is.

Our trip across the country was remarkably clear, particularly after we reached Denver so I amused myself taking photos out the window from Denver to the coast.

Leaving Denver
Leaving Denver
Denver
Denver
In flight
In flight
In flight
In flight
in flight
in flight
in flight
in flight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

in flight
in flight
IMG_0160
in flight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually, the cloud cover came in and there wasn’t much to take pictures of over the ocean anyway, so I watched the new live action Cinderella – not that impressive – and napped a bit until we were approaching Honolulu.

IMG_0163
Approaching Hawaii
Oahu
Oahu

 

IMG_0165
Getting ready to land in Honolulu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turned out that we had a strong tail wind and were nearly an hour early, which helped with our issue of having to pick up then re-check our luggage, then go back through security. Managed to get everything done, and, wearily, finally, boarded our last flight of the trip, the ‘bus with wings’ from Honolulu to Kona, arriving right around sunset.

 

 

Home at last
Home at last

 

It was a great trip, but it is always good to come home, be in your own bed, and get back to ‘real life’ – and, of course, plan for the next adventure!

 

 

 

 

TripIt travel organizing app

Similar in function to WorldMate, TripIt also has free and paid versions, with several enhanced functions in the paid version, including the capacity to track all your travel points in one place, receive alerts to price decreases and better seats for flights, alternate flights, and real-time alerts to cancellations, gate changes, and delays.  Like WorldMate, you can share the details of your trip with friends or colleagues, or keep the itinerary private, and TripIt composes your itinerary from forwarded email confirmations.  However, unlike WorldMate, TripIt is a little more friendly to the leisure traveler and cruiser, allowing you to insert a cruise into the itinerary from a confirmation.  It even outlines all the port stops, at least for ocean cruises.  I’m having a little difficulty getting it to recognize my travel agent’s confirmation of our Viking river cruise, and it may require that I enter those ports manually, but I’m still working with it.

On balance, it is a little easier to understand and intuit  than WorldMate, although I had a little trouble figuring out how to merge two trips that it had created out of my one itinerary.  The help function isn’t all that great and the search function didn’t turn up an immediate answer, as I didn’t use the term ‘merge’ initially.  I did find the answer, but it took a little longer than one would like.  I think with practice it will be a good tool for keeping track of all the details of a trip in one place and accessible on either smart phone or tablet, and may cut down on the amount of paper that I normally carry around with me to prove to the hotel desk that I’ve booked what I say I’ve booked.  More importantly, it will help to highlight any mistakes that might be made in booking dates as it is very clear on gaps or overlaps in scheduled events.  Where plans are incomplete, it prompts you by asking if there are things you want to add.

Of these two, I will definitely be keeping TripIt on my devices, and removing WorldMate, since, for me as a leisure traveler, TripIt has greater functionality.  I may even consider upgrading to the paid version but will save my 30 day free trial of the pro version until I’m actually traveling next spring.

Come Fly With Me

There are a LOT of resources out there in the blogosphere, apps, and on the web to help would be savvy flyers make the most of their credit cards, point accumulations, figure out how to get the best seats, best routings, cheapest flights and so on. But it takes a fair bit of work to both find and utilize them effectively. For the not so frequent flyers who mostly travel for pleasure, not business, it can still be a good exercise to periodically check through some of the sites that are really aimed at the road warriors among us. There are a lot of helpful hints and good information posted about everything from which seats on an airplane are best and worse, to how to navigate the security lines with the least amount of fuss and bother.

www.points.com gives you a single source place to keep track of all your airline, hotel and other loyalty program points, as well as providing a market place where you can buy, sell, exchange, and trade points within your own programs and with others. And, now that you know what you have and where it all is, everything you ever wanted or needed to know about accumulating and using all those miles and points can be found at onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/whats-the-point/

www.milepoint.com and www.flyertalk.com are really geared to the frequent business flyer, but contain a wealth of information about specific aircraft, airlines, routes, changes and offers in frequent flyer and hotel programs, and the forum format also allow you to post questions and get answers from expert frequent flyers.

I’ve already sung the praises of www.routehappy.com as a great tool for planning travel, and for selecting airlines and aircraft that meet specific needs.  www.seatguru.com and www.seatexpert.com both give you aircraft maps based on your own flight, or browseable by airline and aircraft type.  Seat Guru seems to do better at keeping up to date with equipment changes and also gives reviews of specific seats as submitted by travelers and better drawings of the seat types.  Seat Expert seems to be a little better at identifying seats with specific drawbacks or advantages.

An interesting fee based flight finding service with a good bit of interesting free content on its website is flightfox.com/about  It is worth a read through their website to see what they have to say about their business model, but there is also a wonderful case study about airline point utilization and how to value the various redemption options here: flightfox.com/tradecraft/did-you-say-air-canada-aeroplan  The analysis is worthy of my grad school economics class, but it also manages to be quite readable and the methodolgy is easily replicated.

www.kayak.com/ is an easy multi-platform tool for searching out the best published fares, and the venerable www.priceline.com lets you bid to achieve a lower airfare – but you should also be aware that flights booked through Priceline may not accumulate miles in your loyalty program and you may not have all the benefits that you expect should there be a problem with your flight.  We had a very bad experience with a mechanically delayed United flight where we had booked through Priceline and we really had to fight with them to get them to accommodate us on an alternative flight. The agent made it really clear that he wasn’t happy helping us because we had booked through Priceline!  There was absolutely no question that in his view we were at least second, and maybe even third or fourth class customers.

There are a number of tracking sites as well, where you can put in information about a planned trip and when there are changes in the pricing, the program will email you with an update.  Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia all have some form of this service.  www.airfarewatchdog.com is another good one.

While not strictly a flight site, this is one of my favorite new travel toys and it DOES offer you some guidance when doing odd or exotic itinearies.  It bills itself as a multi-modal door to door routing service.  www.rome2rio.com/about  It is fun just to play around with, putting in exotic locations and letting the program figure out how to get you from point a to point b.  On a more practical note, it will lay out your flight options or show you how to get from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur by train.

 

 

 

 

 

Airport research

Today was airport research day for our upcoming trip to Japan. Like my port research, my usual ‘go to’ sites were less than helpful. www.seatguru.com has an airport information link that is usually good to find out airport layouts, where the gates are, where to find ATMs, arrivals area duty free shops, and ground transportation, and, for the return flight, where the airline lounges are. I entered NRT for Narita, and came up with basically a blank page. Another of my regular sites, http://www.travelnerd.com/airports had more information but it wasn’t very detailed, particularly about the ground transportation options to get to Yokohama, which was one of the main things I was looking for.  However, a simple web search did turn up the English language Narita Airport guide, which is a good bit better than most of the airport authority guides I’ve consulted in the past. www.narita-airport.jp/en/access/index.html

In addition to the usual airport maps, there are detailed step by step outlines of arrival and departure procedures for Immigration, Quarantine, Baggage Claim, and Customs that even tell you what documents you will need to have in hand at each step. Even more helpful, there are photos of each area and of the signage so you have a good idea of what you are looking for which is a lot more useful than just a schematic or map.

The site also has a very handy Airport Access guide that allows you pick either direction – from the airport or to the airport – and specific locations, in some cases even hotel names – and airline flight numbers – and it will provide outlines of the various ways to get where you want to go, showing numbers of stops, transfers, time requirements, and price. I don’t recall seeing anything anywhere close to this good a transportation guide for other major airports like Heathrow or Charles De Gaulle. I had initially intended to use the Narita Express train from Narita to Yokohama until I put my information into this application and discovered that there is an Airport Limousine Bus that costs less, takes about the same amount of time, and drops us off at the door of our hotel in Yokohama, rather than at a train station some blocks away.

I haved heard that there are sometimes issues with Japanese ATMs and foreign ATM cards, so was pleased to find, when consulting the site for the locations of ATMs that CitiBank has ATM outlets right outside of the Customs and Immigration clearance area.

As we’ll have a good bit of time to kill on our return flight day, I was also interested in the airport lounges.  I have a great app on my IPad called Lounge Buddy.  You can download from here: www.loungebuddy.com/ for IPad, IPhone or Android.  It allows you to set up a profile with your access information – membership in airline clubs, various credit cards that give you access, class of flight and so on – and then enter the details of your trip – originating airport, connecting airports, terminating airport.  You can then see all the lounges you have access to on a free or fee basis and what each offers.   Other users may also have reviewed or posted pictures of the lounges so you can see what they have to offer.  I discovered, in looking at the information for Narita that we should have access to the allied ANA lounge and that it is higher rated than the United lounge.  We should have time to visit both and make our own judgements.

Patience, persistence, and a little bit of luck

We’re doing a ‘big’ trip in the spring of 2015 – flying from here (Honolulu, actually) to Singapore, picking up a Holland America 14 day cruise round trip from Singapore that will spend two nights and almost three days in Yangon – which used to be Rangoon, in Myanmar, which used to be Burma.

I can’t help but feel that my elementary school, and even my college, geography classes were pretty much a waste of time and memorization since hardly anything in Africa and very little in Asia is what I learned way back then. But I digress. After the cruise, we will fly from Singapore to Siem Reap and spend a few days exploring Angkor Wat, then back to Singapore and then home again.

Since we put all our remodel expenses on the United Airlines affiliate card, we had quite a bit of accumulated miles and, unlike my usual practice, I decided to book award tickets for our flights instead of using the miles for upgrades – in large part because there weren’t any particularly good flights available for upgrades and in part because it took almost as much mileage (and a lot more money) for the upgrades as for a saver award flight.

The award flights were from Honolulu to Narita, Narita to Singapore, and back, with the Singapore to Siem Reap on a separate itinerary. When I booked the award flights, I had to do Dennis’ and mine separately because we each had enough miles in our accounts for just one first/business saver ticket. I booked Dennis’ first and it went through, no problems, with the initial flight from Honolulu to Narita on United and the ‘middle’ flight Narita-Singapore-Narita on ANA, a United affiliate. Then I changed accounts and by the time I had gotten logged in and was booking my flight, the available award seats in Business/First for the ANA flight were gone. So, I ended up booking myself in the cattle car for those two 7 hour plus flights while Dennis was safely ensconced in Business.

I had considerable conversation with the United representative about what options I had, and she suggested that I check daily to see if anything opened up as, she told me, inventory moves into and out of the available award seats all the time. This was back in May.

Faithfully, every single morning with my coffee, I have been checking the availability of Business/First award seats for Narita to Singapore and return. Today, lo and behold, a pair of First Class seats opened on a United flight from Singapore to Narita on our date! So, thinking I would likely end up paying a fortune in change fees, additional miles and so forth, I called to see what it would take to change the flights.

I got lucky – really really lucky – and got a fabulous agent. At first, she said “It will take more miles…” then she said, “wait a few minutes and let me see what I can do.” And she put me on hold.

Time passed as the United theme played in my ear. I grabbed my IPad and started to read, with the phone propped up to my ear. I let out the dogs. I made another cup of coffee. I let the dogs back in. Still the United theme. Finally, she came back on the line and said “I need your credit card number.” I said “Wait, how much is it going to be and how many extra miles – I might just take a chance on an upgrade at the gate!” She said “Oh, I don’t think you’re going to want to do that – it is three eight-one each.” I said “three hundred and eight one dollars?” She said “No, three dollars and eighty one cents.” I said “How many extra miles?” She said “Oh, I was able to make it work with the existing award miles!” Much profuse thanks later, for an additional $7.62, we have a better flight, on a better airplane leaving at a better time. Patience and persistence can pay off – especially if you get really lucky, too!

Am I going to keep watching for that outbound Narita to Singapore leg? You bet!!

Planning to get off the rock

When you live in Hawaii, the first thing you have to consider is getting to somewhere that you can get to where ever it is that you want to go, from. If that sounds confusing, well, it is. For us, we have a limited range of non-stop destinations from Kona – essentially all western US locations – and no flights with the “good” kind of business/first class upgrades available. This is defined, by my significant other, as seats that make into lie flat or nearly lie flat beds. He is a very anxious flyer and since we started using our airline miles for upgrades and first experienced the ‘lie flat’ business class seats, this is all he wants to fly. That means we have to go first to Honolulu. Normal people, however, can pick San Francisco, Los Angles, San Jose, Oakland, Seattle, Phoenix, or Portland as their gateways, non-stop from Kona. We used to have more choices – Chicago, Houston, even St. Louis briefly, as well as a couple of times a week direct from Kona to Japan on JAL. Airline consolidations, 9/11, and one thing or another have elminated some, added others over the years, but the principal remains the same. Unless your final destination happens to be the western US, you are flying to get to somewhere where you can get to where you want to go. For us, though, the first stop is always going to be Honolulu, because there are NO flights from Kona with the requisite types of seats to make my anxious flyer willing to endure a trip of 20 plus hours to Europe or 11 or so to Australia or Asia.

With the added complication of being limited to specific aircraft configurations, I find one website absolute indispensable. It is www.routehappy.com and it is the greatest flight planning tool on the web, in my somewhat biased opinion. Why? Because you can put in the beginning and ending points of your proposed trip and it will pull up, not just all the possible flights and connections – lots of sites do that – but also the ‘happiness factors’ and these include the types of seats – recliner, angled flat, cradle sleeper, and flat bed or pod. They also tell you all about the food, and also have reviews of the airline/s and/or the route, note any long layovers and outline the entertainment options, availability of wifi on board, plugs at the seats and a host of other details.

With the help of Routehappy I can figure out who goes where I want to go which the right kinds of seat, what airline alliance I need to tap into to get that routing, and then I can start to figure out how to make it all work.