Posts Tagged With: United

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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Day 3: Somewhere over the Pacific

We arrived at the airport about an hour later than we had planned to arrive. There was a minor complication that actually had me stressing for ten minutes. When I applied for our Australian visas I accidentally put my dad's birthday as my son's birthday. I realized that right after I did it and I had gone to the Australian website to see what I needed to do to fix it. The FAQ said to just apply again. So I did…and that was the end of that.

Well, when I went to check in my son they said there was a problem as he had two visas in his profile and as a result the agent could not check him in. She was going to need to place a call to get the visa removed. I was concerned because I was not sure how long it would take to fix…and I was worried he would not be considered checked in and his seat would be given to someone else.

The agent came back ten minutes later and all was well. We then proceeded through security and then headed to the lounge for twenty minutes. The lounge was ok – not as nice as the Delta lounge at JFK. The bathroom was really small – there were only two stalls. And I was not impressed with the food options.

We arrived at our gate right as they were starting to board. We waited in line and took our seats. Rachel and I were in the first row and the men were right behind us. The first thing the flight attended did was confirm that Rachel and I had the gluten free meals.

We got settled in our seats and then we enjoyed a pre-departure beverage. I had champagne, Rachel had a Coke. Take off then occurred around 10:50 pm and we settled in for a fifteen hour flight!

The goal for me on this flight was to stay up as late as I could before falling asleep. This was because we were landing in Sydney around 6:50 AM and I wanted to wake up as close to that time as possible.
By now you may realize that we flew business class to Australia….our four business class tickets cost us roughy $350 for ALL FOUR tickets. We were able to do this as we have saved our miles for years. We also took advantage of generous credit card sign up offers. We knew that if we were ever going to fly somewhere business class that it would be to Australia…that is one of the longest flights you can take and there are not a lot of options on getting there.

Two hours after taking off we received drinks and an appetizer. At first I was slightly excited as the appetizer for Rachel and I had rolls on it. I quickly asked if they were gluten free and then our appetizer was quickly wisked back away. We then received another appetizer….Rachel was being a real trooper…she was extremely tired and was upset when she saw other people eating bread. She really misses good bread…

I asked the flight attendant if Rachel could get her meal a little early since she was starving, and they were fine with that. I was so excited when that meal came out and it was plain chicken, rice, and broccoli. Three things which I knew she would eat.

After dinner the rolled out the ice cream cart. By this time it was 1:30 AM Pacific time. I had vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce while Rachel had vanilla ice cream with whip cream.

Following dinner and dessert I changed into the pajamas. As I walked through the cabin I observed many people were already asleep….yet my kids were going strong. By this time we still had eleven hours plus left of the flight. I changed my seat into a bed and actually managed to sleep for at least seven, possibly eight hours. When I finally got up there was still three hours remaining of flight time.

I drifted in and out of sleep for the next hour and a half. When there was 1.5 hours left of the flight they started waking passengers up for arrival. They asked me if Rachel and I wanted a beverage and we both had a Coke. Less than than two minutes after they handed us the cokes Rachel managed to spill hers all over my seat and my pants. I packed extra shirts for all of us but neglected to pack extra pants…since I figured we were more likely to spill on our shirts than pants….

Breakfast was served and our gluten free meal was actually sufficient enough for Rachel and I. She had some fruit, I ended up eating potatoes and an omelette.

After breakfast service it was time to start cleaning up. I put my contacts in and brushed my teeth. I cannot believe how fast the flight seemed to go by. I didn't even finish the only movie I started….

I am not sure what to expect with customs. I plan to declare everything. I have a mini cooler that contains food and while I think I can bring it all in to Australia I would rather declare it and have them check it than face a fine. Additionally the kids and I have been in lakes in the past week, so our shoes and clothing may need to undergo some scrutiny.

Once we exit customs we have a two things we need to take care of before we leave the airport. We need to obtain Australian dollars from an ATM and I need to get a SIM card for my personal phone. I have a work phone that is enabled for international service but I really only hope to use that when I am on wifi only, and it costs $10 a day for that. If this was just a one week trip I would be fine with that but since we will be gone a while I would prefer to spend $20 AUD for a lot more data.

I have to say this flight flew by. This was my first experience in business class and it was wonderful. Normally when I fly overseas I don't feel rested and feel like I need a nap immediately. However right now I feel like I could go siteseeing. I think we will check into our lodging, change our clothes, and go explore….and then probably come back in the afternoon for an hour nap or two. I wonder how jet lag will be for us over the course of the next week.

Categories: Sydney | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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 🙂 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!

Categories: Airplanes, Packing Light | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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

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 🙂

Categories: Australia, New Zealand | Tags: , , , | Leave a 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.


Categories: Airplanes, Data abroad, Scotland | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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