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 🙂 ).

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

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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Christmas Gifts, Part Two

Besides books on Australia and New Zealand, the kids also received items to be used for our trip:

Both kids received hiking shoes and hiking socks. Additionally they also got some winter clothes. These gifts really thrilled them 🙂

 Both kids also received new luggage bags that they can carry on (or check). My preference is that we do carry on only for the international flights. First – I hate having to wait for a bag after long flights. Second – I don’t want to take a chance that our luggage is left behind in San Francisco and we are waiting days to receive it. I am more willing to check luggage on our flights in Australia and New Zealand though. The bags are eBag’s TLS Motherlode Weekend Convertibles. They do not have attached wheels. I am not really a fan of those as they take up space that could be used for clothes. I did though also buy a Samsonite collapsible luggage cart because the bags will be too heavy for the kids to carry on their own. The rule is that everything you need must fit into one bag, so therefore you need to pack smartly and realize we will be doing laundry. Anyway, here are some pictures of what the bags look like:

The girl received a nice pair of binoculars. She has showed an interest in observing animals, so I am hoping she will use them to look more closely at animals and birds. That is also why she got books on animals and birds. Additionally she asked for a camera. Instead of buying her a digital camera, I bought her an instax camera based on the recommendation of my sister. I hope that the girl will take a couple of pictures a day so when we come back we will already have our first photo album.

The boy received a GoPro. We all need to figure out how to use it. I anticipate once it gets warmer out he will want to use it when he is riding his bike. I also think he will want to use it when we are zip lining. I tested it out the other day and I was amazed at the wide angle picture it took.

Anyway, the kids did not ask for much this Christmas, and as a result most of their Christmas gifts were trip related.

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Christmas Gifts, Part One

What do your kids get for Christmas when you have a big trip planned the following summer? Lots of items that can be used for the trip.  If I am going to buy them anyways I may as well put them under the tree as Christmas gifts.

Both kids will be getting books on Australia and New Zealand. My daughter hates to read, but she is very interested in animals. I am hoping that she may actually glimpse at these items…:

My son, on the other hand, is an avid reader. I am pretty sure he will read all the items he is getting and will have memorized everything in the books as he reads them.

I will figure out tonight if these will be stocking stuffers or if they will be wrapped and go under the tree. I think if I can fit them in the stockings they will go in there, otherwise under the tree they go. 

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Itinerary Complete?

After a few months I think I have finally settled on the itinerary.  The North Island was giving me some troubles, and there was one city I wasn’t sure about on the South Island.  Over the weekend I finally figured it all out (for now).

One thing on my list of things to see was a Glow Worm cave on the North Island.  But with as much as I wrestled with the other things I wanted to see, I could not make that work.  The tours are only 45 minutes long, but the reality is to drive there, park, and do the tour means it is taking much more out of our day than 45 minutes.  There are other things we could be seeing.  So, I decided that the Glow Worms are not a necessity.  I would rather be enjoying a hike (which is free) than in a cave seeing worms that light up.  If we can make it work, great.  If not, that’s okay and it is nothing to focus an itinerary off of.

So – now on the North Island the plans are to stay in Tongariro National park for two nights and Whakatane for two nights.  The national park is literally in the central part of the North Island.  This will allow us to pick any direction and go that way and we don’t need to decide until closer to the date.  It will also allow me another day to take the kids skiing if my husband wants to go out on his own.  Whakatane is about 3 hours and 45 minutes from Auckland.  Again – this will allow us more options – we’ll be along the coast but we can also go towards the north east area of New Zealand.

I think with our itinerary we have a good mix of hotel stays and apartment stays.  Two apartments we will be in for 5 nights, 1 for 4 nights, and 2 for 3 nights.  With the hotel stays we will have 3 that are 2 nights, and 2 hotel stays that are only 1 night each.  The longest we will be without a washing machine is 4 nights.  So, we should be able to pack light.

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Trip planning update

Well, it’s now November 20th…the trip is coming together.  I *almost* have the itinerary completed.  Just when I think it is final I think of something else.  I only have two areas to work out – the North Island stint between Wellington and Auckland (4 nights – I am looking for only two locations there) and if we fly into Invercargill or Dunedin before heading into Queenstown.

I may have reserved all of our apartment rentals at this point.  Right now for the North Island I have us booked in a hotel for three nights, but I may change that.  I’ve reserved our rental cars as well, and only have one more flight to book.  So I’m feeling like we are getting there.  I’m the type that likes to go on vacation with everything fully paid for except for meals, so for me I like having everything booked way in advanced and paid off before we go.

Places we have apartment rentals for are: Sydney, Port Douglas, Queenstown, Nelson and Auckland.  We are in hotels for Christchurch, Franz Josef, Punakaiki, and the North Island (possibly).  I have to admit that apartment rentals keep us sane when traveling as a family.  By the end of the day we all need our own space.  An apartment gives us the capability to spread out and relax on our own.  It also allows us to prepare our own meals in case we aren’t in the mood to eat out.  It also helps us pack light as we can use a washing machine in the apartment to wash our clothes every few days.

The kids are starting to become more interested in the trip as well.  The boy would like to go to Puzzling World in Wanaka, New Zealand.  The kids also want to go skiing when we are in Queenstown.  The boy has also requested a helicopter tour…we will possibly do that at the Franz Josef glacier but with it being winter there is a high probability that the ride might now happen.  And the girl may participate in the Sydney zoo’s Zookeeper for a Day program.  It looks pretty neat.  I have been telling the kids to expect clothes this Christmas since we’ll be doing some expensive outings on our big trip.  They were not too thrilled 🙂

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Australia booked

Well, the Australia portion of our trip is now fully booked, except for the flight from Australia to New Zealand….

I ended up doing a complete 360 on the Australia part. Originally I wanted to visit Tasmania and Melbourne but then my husband reminded me he needs to work while we are in Australia so flying between Sydney and Tasmania and Melbourne would be too much checking in and out. So now we are going to stay in Sydney a little longer and then visit Port Douglas, based on the advice of my brother and people on a TripAdvisor forum.

Port Douglas is about an hour north of Cairns. Cairns is one of the gateway cities to the Great Barrier Reef. However, there is not an actual beach there. Port Douglas on the other hand has a four mile beach and is also close to the Daintree Rainforest, Mossman gorge, and a river where crocodiles live.

So now the plan for Port Douglas is to go zip-lining above the rain forest, enjoy the beach and try to relax for a few days before we head to New Zealand. I plan to take the kids to the Great Barrier Reef at least once but I hope we can go twice. It will depend if they like it or not.

I have the lodging booked for both cities as well.  We are staying in a townhouse very close to Circular Quay in Sydney. That is one of the central places for public transportation. And in Port Douglas we are staying in a resort where we will be very close to the beach and there are huge salt water pools that the kids will love swimming in.

Now – I just need to get my husband to start working on New Zealand, otherwise I am going to plan everything there. I keep asking him for help but so far I have gotten no feedback from him except for Australia.

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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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Next Adventure in the Works

Our next family adventure is in the works.  This week I finalized our tickets to Australia and New Zealand.  This started out as a two week trip to New Zealand…and then I thought about it and realized how much I would regret not seeing some of Australia while we are in that part of the world.  It is so far for us to fly too, so I figured we might as well make the most of it and try to see both places.

The plan is to fly into Sydney.  My husband will have to work when we are in Australia as he can’t take off the extent of time that I plan to take off. Right now, I tentatively want to see Sydney, Tasmania, and Melbourne.  Other places I thought about but ruled out are the Whitsundays and Cairns.  They could make it back into the itinerary, but it is doubtful.  Those places are farther to fly to in Australia.  Sydney, Tasmania, and Melbourne are relatively close to each other and easy to get to.  I will limit the Australia portion of our trip to no more than three destinations.

For the New Zealand portion of the trip, I’ll primarily let my husband design that itinerary.  I know I would like to see Queensland, the Franz Josef glacier, perhaps the Abel Tasman National Park, Rotorua, and Auckland.  But I’m pretty flexible on everything we do in New Zealand.

In regards to our tickets – we used frequent flier miles to fly all four of us to Australia and home.  I’m somewhat relieved to finally have the tickets purchased.  The four tickets ended up costing us only around $300.  I expect that we may have to pay up to $800 additional in change fees before we finally go….for instance – I was not able to book our segment from our hometown to SFO.  As of right now we are flying United to Auckland and then connecting to Sydney.  I’m hoping eventually a flight opens up for award tickets from our hometown to SFO, and when that happens I’ll have to pay a $100 per person change fee to add it on.  Still – it would be cheaper than booking a one way flight there.  If I also see award availability open up on the direct flight from LAX or SFO to Sydney I may switch to that as well so we don’t have to connect in AKL.

I had to lengthen our trip slightly due to award availability…originally I wanted to plan a Saturday to Saturday trip.  This is because when we fly out there it essentially takes two days and I didn’t want my husband to be missing any work on the flights.  This past weekend though United changed the award availability…they had been showing Wednesday and Saturday availability for the flight I wanted and now the availability is for Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.  So we come back on a Monday now.  Ideally if we came back on a Saturday we would have time to adjust before heading back to work.

I also bought segments as two one way tickets.  This is because when you are trying to fly four people on award tickets to that part of the world, you book the tickets when they are available and don’t take a chance that they won’t be there when the return portion is available.  With both of the “big” flights, right after I booked our tickets the award seats were no longer available on each of those flights…so I guess United may only allocate four seats at first.  Eventually I’ll write a post at how we were able to accumulate so many miles when we only fly about once a year.

So – now the fun begins – the planning and the dreaming 🙂

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