Day 32: Journey home

The epic vacation finally comes to an end. I barely slept the night before we left. Went to bed around midnight but I needed to wake up at 3 AM. I ended up getting up at 2:45 AM. I just don’t sleep well when I know I need to be up early.

We woke the kids at 3:30 AM. We had them sleep in the clothes they would be wearing the night before. Jonas was very good about waking up, Rachel refused. Eventually we got her up.

Then I tried to request an Uber. Turns out bars close at 4 AM in Auckland so I had trouble doing that. Luckily there was a taxi stand less than a block from our rental so David hailed a cab.

We arrived at the airport and checked in ok but we could not check our luggage in until 5 AM. We ended up going into the Premium Check in so we could get our luggage checked in earlier.

Then we headed towards the flight. We were split up for this flight. The boys were in coach for this flight and the ladies were in business class. Rachel and I went to the lounge for Air New Zealand and we were very excited to see that they had a gluten free toaster and gluten free bread. We both had some real toast. It was awesome.

Our first flight was great (for Rachel and I). I resisted falling asleep. We had two courses with our breakfast. The service though took a while….due to the early flight I would have preferred to nap a little but this turned out to be good that I did not nap. Rachel took a good 1.5 hour nap though.

The flight landed and then we headed to our next flight, Sydney to San Francisco. We went to the Singapore Airlines lounge. At that lounge Rachel found some food to eat. This was good as when we were already boarded on our United flight we learned that they did not have our requests for the gluten free meals. This is not the news you want to hear on a 14 hour flight….thankfully we had a cooler full of food we could eat.

The crew was very friendly on this flight and they apologized for not having our meals. I did enjoy two glasses of champagne and a glass of red wine. I started watching the Land of Z (or whatever it was called) and ended up not finishing it. Then I decided to try to sleep. I was hoping I could sleep on East Coast hours. I was thrilled when I woke up and there was only 45 minutes left of the flight. Rachel slept a little but not much. Jonas slept for over 5 hours, I am told.

We went through customs and immigration and then headed to the United Arrivals lounge to take showers. The arrival’s lounge showers are awesome. We all left feeling refreshed. By the time we finished it was time to head to the gate.

We boarded the plane and for once the kids agreed to sit next to each other! So for one flight David and I could pretend we were on a vacation by ourselves. For this flight we were in “first class”. I must say that domestic first class is so different than international business class…the seats are no where as big and the service seems sub par. On our particular flight there were also no personal entertainment systems so you had to use your own device for that. It just doesn’t feel the same…..

This flight went smoothly. We were flying from the west coast to the east coast around the same time as the eclipse so I was wondering what it would be like. Turns out there was nothing to see. I think had we left two hours earlier we would have seen things.

Our flight landed slightly early and then we went to pick up our bags and take a taxi home. Five minutes after we got home Rachel and I left to go pick up our dog. We got home from that around 8:30 PM. Around the time we got home our groceries were delivered. We then started to unpack. I may have also started weeding our front which got a little overgrown when we were gone.

Some of the family went to bed earlier than others. I actually went to bed at a normal bed time. I was not sure when I would go to bed as I actually slept a lot on the plane. I was actually really excited to go to bed and get back into our normal routine. I was very excited to head back to work the next morning.

In summary – all of our flights back were fine and we had no delays. We were all excited to get home from our trip. We had a wonderful vacation and spent a lot of time together as a family, and it was great taking a break from our day-to-day lives at home.

Also – as a side note Jonas ended up having six breakfasts this day:

1. Auckland airport

2. Flight from AKL to SYD

3. Lounge in SYD

4. Flight from SYD to SFO

5. Flight from SFO to IAD

6. Waffles for dinner at home (as that is what we had in the freezer)

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Travel test run number one

I headed to California this weekend for a bridal shower. I used it as an opportunity to figure out what I am bringing to Australia and New Zealand.

The “I am leaving at home” items:

One thing that I am not bringing is my water bottle. I love it because it fits 16 ounces but the water bottle I have is just a little too big to be convenient. I also have a water bottle that is collapsible and I think I may stick to bringing that one instead, if I decide to bring one. 

Another item I am no longer bringing are my travel pillows. They are ok, but not worth the valuable space in my bag when I am trying to pack light. 

I am not going to bring my travel blanket. It is not functional enough for me to carry around on our big trip. However I am always cold and I also use it as a pillow sometimes. I think instead of bringing the blanket I am investing in a sarong swim cover up. Someone suggested I look into that as I need one for Australia and I could also use it as a blanket or pillow.

I have decided to leave my running shoes behind as well. I have been thinking this past month about what shoes to pack that are comfortable and can be worn with shorts and jeans. I already know I am bringing my hiking shoes and kept thinking about bringing my running shoes. But I felt they are too similar to both need to come with me. Finally when I was shopping for a dress shoe this weekend I saw low profile casual sneakers. I am going to look for a pair that is comfortable to walk in and that goes well with the shorts and jeans I plan to bring on the trip.

The “I am thinking about it” items:

An item I am debating about bringing is a set of portable luggage wheels. On one hand, it makes it easy to carry my bag, but on the other hand it is a pain to take the suitcase off of it. The problem is the kids are not strong enough to carry their bags which do not have wheels. However, I prefer bags without wheels as it gives you more luggage space.

The “Coming for sure” items:

The new suitcase I bought worked GREAT. I love it. I love that there is a separate section for my laptop. I know when we fly out West that I am not going to check my suitcase, but will check the kids. I plan to mix our clothes between the three suitcases in case something happens to our baggage. Then we are not stuck with no change of clothes for a few days. But I need to figure out how I will carry my work laptop for our shorter flights. Those flights we will need to check bags as the planes will be smaller. 

I bought a travel cooler for Christmas as my daughter and I have a severe wheat allergy. I tested this out on my quick trip. It was ok…it is something I will need for sure on our 15 hour flight, but on our smaller flights I think I will be checking it. 

I also used my travel purse. I wanted a travel purse that would be big enough to hold my daughter’s iPad mini and this one can fit it. The only problem I had with the purse was it had too many pockets! I guess that is a good thing. I need to start figureing out where I will put everything.

I am debating purchasing a book bag for myself that would fit my computer. When we travel my husband always steels my backpack and uses it for his laptop. My son also has a book bag and I am trying to keep our bag count down, so I may just use his book bag instead of purchasing one for myself. Perhaps that way I can tell him that he and his sister can bring a carry on but it needs to fit in that bag AND I need to be able to put my work computer in it on the smaller flights. The work computer is something I cannot and will not check.

A pair of super warm and comfortable socks for the flight. I only had my low ankle socks on my trip. I really could have used some larger socks for the flights. 

I am heading out to California again in 16 days for the wedding, so I will have a chance to refine my packing again ūüôā This time the kids are coming so I can see how much of a pain it will be if I don’t bring a set of luggage wheels. Stay tuned for more updates!

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Second Crisis Averted

This morning the airline agent told me our flight from Auckland (AKL) to San Francisco (SFO) was fine….at the end of my workday today I finally took the time to read the Flyertalk thread my brother had sent me on United’s New Zealand flights. Reading through the thread I noticed several people had a problem with their AKL to SFO flights as being cancelled. I took a look at our reservation and realized that our flight had also been cancelled.

Thus, I quickly stopped everything and texted my husband that he needed to bring home dinner. Two hours later I was still on the phone with United. It took me five calls to get everything fixed.

Things were more complicated than typical passengers as we were flying on award tickets. And the flight was discontinued, not just one flight cancelled. So United could not just put us on their next flight. They also could not force another airline to grant us award tickets.

During my many waits on hold I researched alternatives. My ideal situation was flying from AKL to Houston and then catching a flight from Houston to our home. But that flight is on Air New Zealand and they could not get us on it. Thus, I figured we could maybe connect in Sydney and fly home that way. 

Thankfully the agent was once again able to get us overrided onto that flight so we could use our points even though business saver tickets were not available. We come back to the US through SFO. The one positive of this is that we are now in first class from SFO to the East Coast. Before we were just in coach.

So, crisis number two has been averted as well. Thank goodness it is Friday. Today has been very stressful.

Categories: Airplanes, Australia, New Zealand | Tags: , | 1 Comment

First Crisis Averted

When I originally booked our tickets to Sydney (SYD), we could only get award flights with a connecting flight in Auckland (AKL).   Unfortunately the flights from AKL to SYD were in coach class as Air New Zealand had not released availability at that point.  Daily I had been checking flights from AKL to SYD to see if business class (J) seats had opened up.  In mid-December I noticed two seats available in J.  Thus I called and was able to have our ticket split and had the girl and I placed in J while the boys remained in coach.

Twice a day I check for availability in J for the AKL to SYD flight. This morning I noticed that there were two more seats available in J. ¬†So, what I had hoped to be a quick call to get the boys into J class turned into a potential nightmare. ¬†The agent I spoke to told me the flight from SFO to AKL had been cancelled by United (I was not yet aware of this)…..she said if I was flexible with dates she could get me on another flight.

I told her our whole trip had been planned around these flights. ¬†At this point I went to my computer and started looking at options. ¬†I knew there were J seats available on SFO to SYD, however there were not any “saver fare” seats available. ¬†She initially told me that because of that I could not get onto that flight. ¬†I asked her very nicely if she could check with a supervisor because I was showing there were plenty of J seats available and our original flight had been cancelled. ¬†I was put on hold, and she came back and confirmed she could do that.

Thus, I went through a series of holds. ¬†I know booking these international flights can be quite complicated, and I’ve also experienced being on hold with people and then the line going dead. ¬†About ten minutes later I receive an email with an updated reservation for the boys that they are now on the SFO to SYD flight, and then five minutes after that I receive one for the girls. ¬†Until I received those emails, I was very nervous. ¬†What if our reservation got cancelled, the phone call got dropped, and we ended up getting screwed?

So, this morning’s crisis has now been averted. ¬†I am slightly disappointed that I won’t be able to fly in J on Air New Zealand, but I am excited that now we do have a direct flight to SYD. ¬†That flight is also 15 hours, but lands in SYD at 6:40AM….I know we won’t be able to check into our lodging that early, I am hoping there is somewhere in the SYD airport I may be able to take a shower after landing. ¬†However, while the flight is 15 hours I know I can enjoy all of the benefits of the flight. ¬†I can sleep, I can eat, I can watch movies. ¬†I will surely get my money’s worth.

Also – now I can stop checking United daily for availability from SFO to SYD or AKL to SYD. ¬†Now I just need to check to see if First Class opens up from SFO to our hometown, but I think that is doubtful. ¬†(I also check twice a day to see if any of our Southwest flights have gone down in price ūüôā ).

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Thank you Southwest Airlines!

In January I opened a Southwest (SW) Ink credit card as they had a 50,000 point offer going on. In late October I opened a SW Premier credit card as that one had a 50,000 point offer. Because of the two cards and the spending (new floors for bedroom helped get us to the spending goal faster ) I put on the cards I was able to accumulate over 110,000 points in a calendar year. This gave me a free Companion pass that expires in December 2017.

I have put my SW points to good use this year. First, my younger brother is getting married in the LA area in the spring. This was an unexpected trip for us. Typically we would have made that trip our only “big” trip this year and not worry about the cost, but this year we had already planned on Australia and New Zealand. So, in order to save us $1600 in unexpected travel costs I used some of my SW points to book three tickets to CA. I only needed to book three as my daughter flies free as my companion. Now the only expense we need to worry about is lodging.

Second, the only airline portion of our Australia/New Zealand that is not booked is our flight that gets us to San Francisco. I had been hoping that a flight would open up for frequent flier miles and we could just change our tickets for that, but I also did not want to fly from the East Coast to the West Coast and then to the South Pacific in one day. Flights for the South Pacific leave around 10:30 at night and I also have no desire to be on Rast Coast time and also need to wait for a 10:30 flight. I kind of want to fly out a day early and show the kids SF as that is where my husband and I got married.

To complicate things, there is a specialized summer camp my daughter wants to attend in MN the week before our big trip. I have tons of family in MN so lodging is not a problem. My husband and I are not 100% positive that she will attend this camp, but I wanted to make plane reservations at the cheapest rate I could. So for now I have three tickets to fly the kids and I to MN the week before our trip and then after my daughter’s camp we will fly to SF on a Friday and meet my husband out there.

The great thing about SW and booking tickets using points is we have 100% flexibility with our flights. Plus I have only had to pay for the $5.40 per person in taxes for each ticket. Now the only ticket we actually need to buy for our trip is to get my husband from the East Coast to the West Coast.

So, I would like to thank SW for allowing me to make all of these tentative reservations (for free), and not need to worry about change fees, and also not need to worry about checked luggage fees. I hate having to make a connection, but I do heart Southwest.

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Accumulating Our Mileage Points

When we go to Australia and New Zealand, the four of us are flying business class from the US to the South Pacific.  The “cost” for that is 560,000 miles.  That’s 140,000 miles per person.  So how did we accumulate all those miles with the limited air travel we do?

Description Wife  Husband   Total 
Beg balance as of Sept 2014 (flying, credit card points) 50,000 119,088 169,088
Airline miles earned (various) 760 20,834 21,594
Bought miles (May 2016) 50,000 50,000
Mileage bonus (May 2016) 50,000 50,000
United card (Summer 2015) 55,000 55,000 110,000
Chase Sapphire points transfer (Sept 2016) 62,000 77,000 139,000
United card transactions (2015 – 2016) 14,137 8,732 22,869
Total Miles 281,897 280,654 562,551
Award Ticket cost (280,000) (280,000) (560,000)
Remaining Miles 1,897 654 2,551

The table above shows how we managed to accumulate those miles.  Between 2014 and September 2016 we managed to earn 393,463 miles.  When we had first started talking about this trip, my assumption was that we would pay for economy tickets and then use miles to upgrade to business class.  However, United has become stingy with their upgrades.  Many of them cannot be guaranteed.  Furthermore, to upgrade from Economy to Business on the cheapest fare would cost $600 each way plus 30,000 miles.  So, four all four of us to upgrade it would have cost us 240,000 miles plus up to $4800 in upgrade costs…on top of the cost of the airline ticket.

If you look at the table you’ll see that in September 2014, my husband and I only had around 170,000 points between us in our United accounts.  That wasn’t even enough for upgrades.  In the summer of 2015 I learned of an offer from United for one of their credit cards.  If you opened a new card and spent a certain amount of money within a certain time frame, you could earn up to 55,000 bonus points.  So my husband and I both signed up for those to get those miles.

Additionally – we have had a Chase Sapphire card since 2013.  I love that card.  The points earned on that card can be used on many different hotels and airlines.  So we primarily use that card, and then transfer miles when we need them.  The points can be transferred to Air France/KLM, British Airways,  Korean Air, Singapore KrisFlyer, Southwest, United, and Virgin Atlantic.  Additionally, points can be transferred to the following hotel companies: Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club/InterContinental Hotels Group, and Ritz-Carlton.  Like the United credit card offers, that card also came with a 50,000 sign up bonus.  So we accumulated roughly 160,000 points from credit card sign up bonuses.

It wasn’t until this past spring that I realized we may all be able to fly business class assuming I could find four award tickets on a flight to the South Pacific.  I was reading my email one morning and noticed that United had a deal going on that if you bought one mile, you’d get another one free.  I immediately called my husband at work and asked him how many miles were in his United account.  Then I calculated how many miles I thought we would earn in the next three months before we needed to buy tickets.  From there I determined the number of miles we needed to buy.  We needed approximately 100,000 miles.  The cost to buy 50,000 miles was around $1800…but that also got me the remaining 50,000 miles I needed.

Airline miles also made up a chunk of our miles pre-2014.  My husband and I have been saving our United miles for years, knowing that one day we’d like to use them to fly business class for a long flight somewhere.  My husband had to travel some for work in 2015 and as a result he was able to earn around 20,000 miles from that travel.

In conclusion, approximately 260,000 miles we obtained from credit card sign ups and buying points. The rest of our points came from flying and from various balances of miles we had accrued and transferred over to our accounts.  We essentially paid $2,100 for tickets that are valued at $28,000.  That’s cheaper than flying to Europe and almost the cost to fly a family of four to California.

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Day Zero: Flying to Italy

It’s vacation day! Yay! I wish I was feeling slightly better so I could be more enthusiastic. I have had a cold all week and had trouble sleeping last night because I was worried the flights would be super painful for my ears. Hopefully that will mean I sleep well ok the flight tonight. The good news is that while I am still blowing my nose I finally feel like I am on the mend.

We had a car pick us up at 8. I had booked a sedan but we received a suburban so that was a nice surprise. Despite it being rush hour we managed to get to DCA faster than I expected. We then checked our two bags and proceeded to the Delta Lounge since we still had two hours before our flight left.

The lounge had a great view over the airplanes. We got to watch airplanes taking off and parking.  Everyone had a comfortable seat and some snacks. 

We left the lounge at 11 to proceed to our flight as boarding news starting at 11:15. We got to the gate and regretting getting there early. Most seats were occupied. While we were at the gate a delta flight attendant approached the kids and asked if they wanted wings. 

The flight to JFK was very quick. We were mostly in clouds the whole time. We went up, and then we came back down.

We got to JFK shortly before 1. We are lunch at a Shake Shack and then after that we proceeded to the Delta Lounge to wait for our flight. We have a long layover at JFK. The kids have found the cookies and popcorn in the lounge. I have seen the wine but it is still too early (by my standards) for me to have a glass.



The JFK lounge does appear to be really nice. There are windows all around overlooking the airport runways. There is even a rooftop terrace but unfortunately it is closed right now. The lounge has recliners that are meant for napping (if necessary), high back chairs, work spaces, business center, and showers. I am debating if I shower before our next flight just so I feel refreshed.

Our flight to Milan leaves at 6. It is a 7 to 8 hour flight I think. I am looking forward to watching some movies on it that I have not seen before. We arrive in Milan around 7 AM their time tomorrow. Then we take either a bus or train to the center of Milan and hopefully our room will be ready and we can take our post flight nap. If it is not ready we could be doomed.

Once we get to Milan I will only be on my phone if there is wi-fi. I am going to try to get a SIM card for my phone so hopefully I am not limited to wi-fi.

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Next Planned Vacation – Drum Roll Please…..

To my faithful blog followers – we’ve got a big trip coming up next month. ¬†The family is heading to Italy.

I wrote a post a while ago about researching flights before buying them, and I just want to reiterate the importance of this. ¬†When we’ve gone abroad I have now gotten in the habit of booking airline tickets first before I start making hotel and train plans.

I first approached my husband about going to Italy in September when I saw a cheap fare on US Airways out of Philadelphia.  By the time I convinced my husband to agree to Italy, that fare was gone.  He also said he would prefer if we flew in an upgraded economy ticket (one with extra leg room).  I knew I spoiled him in August when we were in the exit row going to and from the United Kingdom.

Well, I really wanted to go Italy, but I also didn’t want to spend an arm-and-a-leg on airline tickets. ¬†In my head I had a set budget per ticket I was willing to pay. ¬†I thought now that I needed the upgraded economy tickets that there was no way I’d find a good fare that I was willing to pay.

After a couple of hours of research – I found our magic fare. ¬†We are flying Delta, connecting in JFK and arriving in Milan. ¬†Milan was the magic location in Italy that was at least $400 cheaper per ticket than Rome. ¬†If we took a train up to JFK we could have saved an additional $150 per person…but getting to JFK via Amtrak is slightly trickier than getting to Newark on Amtrak…so this time I opted to fly out of the DC area. ¬†The downside of this means we now need to get from and to Milan to other places in Italy. ¬†But the positives outweigh the negatives. ¬†I love train travel (especially in Europe). ¬†And I was initially disappointed with our originally anticipated itinerary because I did not think I would get to see the Last Supper Painting, but now we will be in Milan with enough time to see the painting (blog post to follow soon on that booking) and possibly their Cathedral.

Anyway, back to booking airfare early. ¬†Another advantage of booking early – the seats that we have booked are the “green seats” on seat guru. ¬†I do believe that the longer you wait to book tickets, the fewer “great” seats you can choose from.

Finally, there’s also the benefit that the earlier you book, the more likely your airline schedule will be affected. ¬†This could be a negative, but has more potential to be¬†a positive. ¬†We’ve had our schedule affected three or four times now. ¬†Twice I’ve had to call and request different flights, but those flight changes haven’t¬†cost me a thing because the schedule changed affecting our itinerary. ¬†When we went out west to Arizona and New Mexico a few years ago I had been dreading our eight AM flight with a three year old and five year old, but then there was a schedule change and I was able to switch to a ten AM flight instead – at no additional cost. ¬†When I had initially booked our tickets the¬†fare for that flight was too costly to book.

When I know I want to travel somewhere I don’t start looking at air fare costs when I’m ready to book that ticket. ¬†I start looking months and even years in advance. ¬†Other destinations I will periodically query are Alaska, China, New Zealand, and Australia. ¬†I still think it will be a while before we get to those places, but I like to keep an eye on air fare trends. ¬†That way when I see a great fare, I know it is a great fare and feel good about my decision to pay that price.

So – stay tuned for additional blog posts about our upcoming trip. ¬†I’ve also listed our expected expenses in an Excel sheet and after adding everything up – our costs for airfare, lodging, and transportation for four people are LESS than the cost for ONE person to participate in a tour such as National Geographic Family Expeditions. ¬†Those tour prices don’t even include air fare, where as my calculations do.

Categories: Airplanes, Financial | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Day Zero: Getting To Edinburgh

The day started very early with us needing to get people to where they needed to be. We managed to say goodbye to the kids,


and only I shed some tears. We then dropped the dog off with my sister and this time I did not shed any tears.


My sister was kind enough to drive us to the airport for us to catch our first flight. We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The hardest part was resisting the urge to nap. I’m worried if I nap now that I will be up all night on the plane. So while we waited for our first flight I watched a movie on my phone.

Now we are sitting in the United Lounge waiting to board our flight. It is weird to be on a trip without the kids. The last time we were on a big trip without kids was before we had kids. They have already Facetimed with us twice and sent us text messages. It is nice to be able to talk to them so easily even though they are far away.

Next up Edinburgh! I will post once I can there. I am keeping my phone off until I can get a SIM card and unlimited data plan for it. After I obtain that I hope to nap.


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Let the planning begin!

My husband and I are celebrating our ten year anniversary next year.  To celebrate I proposed that we take a trip to celebrate.  I prepared a list of probably 20 to 30 destinations that I would be interested in going to.  This past week during lunch we decided on a location for our trip РScotland!  Now to start the planning.  I know we want to spend most of the trip in Scotland but maybe a few days in London as well.

We are going to time our trip with an event that is happening in Scotland. ¬†We need to obtain tickets to this event and tickets have not gone on sale yet nor do we know what day we will get our tickets for. ¬†So right now I don’t even know the dates we will be heading there. ¬†It will most likely be July or August.

So, since I can’t buy tickets then I can at least start researching air fare prices. ¬†Additionally we need to decide how long we will go for. ¬†And if we’ll bring the kids with us or not. ¬†I have mixed feelings about bringing the kids. ¬†On one hand if we bring them they can enjoy the trip and we don’t have to worry about them at home and we can probably stay longer. ¬†On the other hand, this is to celebrate our ten year anniversary and their mood can sometimes limit what sight seeing we are doing. ¬†And it will be easier to line up child care since we would be gone in the summer…they could visit with cousins or grandparents.

I strongly believe that half the fun of going on a vacation is planning the vacation and finding that perfect hotel and that great deal.  So time to start planning!  I often plan at night once I have finished working and am relaxing in bed.  I find it is fun to drift off to sleep dreaming about the latest place I have discovered.

Have you ever been to Scotland?  What do you recommend?

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