Monday, December 25, 2023

Reviewing Our Itineraries for Fun and Profit


Here’s how a simple routine enables us to save on our travel budget.

Once we’ve made a hotel reservation at the lowest rate we can find, Kathy returns to the hotel’s website (yes, we always book directly rather than through third parties) several times before our departure to see if prices have dropped.

At this point in late-December 2023 we’ve already booked our hotels through May 2024 for upcoming stays in Cyprus, Florida, Ecuador, Mexico, Budapest, Australia, some airport hotels, and several European cities for our March trip with grandson Jace. Naturally, we've booked flights and rail travel in Europe as well.

Sometimes we find the rates have risen dramatically, making us feel wise for having booked when we did. Sometimes they remain the same. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing to a non-cancellable rate close enough to the stay that we don’t feel we’re tempting fate. The best is when they’ve dropped in price, occasionally dramatically.

Just yesterday, for example, we saved more than USD $400 by spotting a much cheaper rate at the hotel in Larnaca, Cyprus, where we’re staying for five nights in early January.  We also saved a bit on a few individual nights at other destinations. That was well worth the 30 minutes or so Kathy spent at her computer!

We also check our booked airfares, train travel, and rental car reservations. Alaska, like most other airlines, has eliminated change fees. Long gone are the days of having to stay over Saturday night to snag an “excursion fare.” Our Alaska status allows us to cancel flights outright and to receive either a refund or a credit applied to our Alaska account’s “wallet.” It’s also worth checking for changes in flight times (or even flight cancellations!).  We’ve learned through experience that airlines don’t always warn customers of changes or cancellations. 

Another reason to book flights early is that you’re almost guaranteed a schedule change. When the time change is “significant” according to the airline’s own rules, this gives us the opportunity to change to any flight we want within 24 hours of the original flight. We’ve often booked a cheaper flight and managed to change to a more desirable one as a result.

Finally, when we’re juggling a lot of different itineraries, we sometimes find we’ve closed one off without booking every hotel or train or tour. We try to add a reminder to our calendar for priorities, e.g. booking Eiffel Tower tickets as soon as they open for sale on the date we want, but it’s easy to miss and it’s useful for us to see if there are any gaps to fill.

In short, we’ve found it always worth our time to review our trip itineraries, and learned to our delight that it can also be profitable. It's fun when it is. Occasionally, however, we've had to deal with some unintended consequences after making a change. This is one of those times.

We had booked our March Condor flights to and from Europe with Jace on miles (we flyer geeks refer to them as "points" ). We noticed recently that the cash price for Condor's SEA-FRA Business Class had dropped to the point that it was cost-effective for the two of us to cancel our award flights and pay cash, while leaving Jace's flight on points. That would take us over the MVP Gold 100K finish line for 2025.

It's now possible to book Condor flights, an Alaska partner, on the Alaska website. We couldn't make this change ourselves and enlisted the assistance of an Alaska phone agent on our elite line. We'll call him Ernie. 

Ernie was friendly, competent, and couldn't have been more helpful. Unfortunately, he made a little mistake when booking the changes. On the outbound flight, he forgot to separate Jace's flight from ours when cancelling our outbound award flights and cancelled all three.  Ernie was extremely apologetic over the fact that, while we now have two paid seats in Business, the best he could snag for Jace was a seat back in Premium Economy. 

As a consequence, Brian will trade seats with Jace and sit a little further back in the plane, while Kathy and Jace sit together in Business Class for the overnight flight from Seattle to Frankfurt. We're now checking daily to see if an award Business Class seat opens up. Ernie did manage to book the return flight successfully and we're all seated in Business Class.

Would we complain to Alaska? Of course not. Ernie was trying to help us, and he made a simple human error. He called us back to apologize. If we'd completely lost a seat on the plane for Jace, that would have been different. This isn't the end of the world. We're still all departing and arriving at the same time on the same plane. And if we get lucky, a Business Class award seat may open up between now and March.



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