Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Article:Unbearable Heaviness of Business Class

This article is about how much business class seats cost and how much they physically weigh compared to coach seats.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More travel day drama to the city of brotherly love

I traveled with a group of 13 including myself, to Philadelphia for a conference. Our group of
13 people included 6 adults and 7 minors traveling from SNA to PHL. Our originally scheduled flight was to be on UA 728 from SNA to SFO departing at 6:45am. At 6:15am they announced the delay due to weather in SFO. The delay would've forced us to miss our connection from SFO to PHL. This delay was announced at the gate and another chaperone and I stood in line to wait for assistance with our flights. The agent that helped us was very helpful and worked feverishly to get our group to PHL as early as possible. He had options for us on two different airlines where we would need to split up our group. That was not ideal. After about 10 minutes of checking he found 13 seats on UA/CO1691 from SNA to EWR. This was great for us but the flight was leaving in less than 45 minutes from that point. He split up our reservation to make it easier to book and we were all set with new itineraries. As each ticket was printed I sent each person in our group down to the new gate so that we would all make the flight. We had about 10 minutes to spare by the time we all arrived at the new flight and had to get boarding passes from the Continental staff. At the new gate I asked the agents about our connection to PHL to which they replied that we were not booked on any flights past EWR. They told us to sort it out in EWR or take everyone off the plane and sort it out there. They were very short with us because the flight needed to leave in minutes. Once we arrived in EWR, we went to the customer service desk
near gate 90 and inquired about getting us to PHL. Since we were on a United issued ticket the Continental staff could not help us but they assured us that the United staff in Terminal A would get us train vouchers with no problem. So we had to get our luggage from Terminal C and get to Terminal A to talk to United. We also discovered that one of the student's bag didn't make it and so we filed a report with the baggage service desk in Terminal C. Once we arrived at Terminal A, the supervisor was completely unhelpful and said that they do not issue train vouchers even though they code share with Amtrak to PHL 30th street Station. This was unacceptable and he said that he couldn't do anything. I was getting pissed at this point and I cold feel my voice getting louder. I told him that it was United's responsibility to get us to PHL as per our original itinerary. I even called the group desk to ask for help since we were on a group reservation and she told us to talk to the UA staff in terminal A. At this point we were so frustrated by being tossed around from CO to UA with no resolution of our problem that we decided to buy tickets on the train. The rate was $100+ tax per person, which would've cost us $1300+ for our group. We looked into renting 2 vans from Avis, which priced out to about $1000. So we
went with that option. As one could imagine, this situation would be quite stressful had I been traveling alone, but with 12 other people this situation was ridiculous. I feel that UA dropped the ball with this
situation and I completely understand that the original rebooking that occurred at SNA was done within a very short window to work with, but something should've been in place in the notes of our reservation to assist us in getting to PHL instead of leaving us to our own devices to get from Newark to Philly.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Two Money-saving Travel Day Tips

Here are two handy tips that will save you money the next time you travel:

1.   Don't buy water - If you have flown in the past 5 or so years, you'll know all about the ridiculous liquid ban on flights. So instead of buying a bottle of water for $5 that would normally cost $0.50, bring an empty bottle (either the ones that are en vogue now, or just an empty plastic one) in your bag through security. They'll know if there is liquid in it or not. Then go find one of the water coolers, or go to a fast food joint in the airport that has a self-serve soda fountain and I guarantee you there will be water there. And you can even get ice while you are at it. I've not been stopped once for doing it although it's not like I'm making a spectacle of myself about it either.

2.   Don't pay to check your bag - This only works if you have one reasonably sized bag to check. The trick is to act like you are going to carry it on. Of course that means that you have no liquids larger than 3oz, or whatever the dumb rule is. But bring the bag with you through security and when you board just have the gate agent check it. I guarantee you that they'll do it since they will no doubt run out of overhead bin space when all is said and done. The gate agent will gladly check your bag to your final destination and you didn't have to spend the $25 to check it. This is especially convenient if you have a connecting flight and don't want to be dragging your bag with you through a gigantic airport like Dallas, Chicago, Denver, or Atlanta.

Reflections on Turkey

As promised, this is my post on my reflections about my trip to Turkey. Besides the awful start that I had with United Airlines and Turkish Airlines, the trip was really pretty great. Here some quick thoughts/reflections/do's/don'ts.

  • DO's
  • Fly Turkish Airlines - They are way better than any US airline and their international inflight entertainment is pretty good. Their food is really good too. Even their domestic flights were enjoyable with good service and flights.
  • Learn the language - At least learn some phrases. I didn't and I regret it.
  • Eat the food - Literally everything I ate was incredible. Unfortunately I don't know what any of it was because at the conference hotel food was buffet and things were barely labeled. Turkish desserts are incredibly sweet and usually dripping in honey or syrup. Drink Turkish coffee and tea. It's delish.
  • In Istanbul, stay in the Old City - That's the part of town where it's really, uh, old. But you'll be very close to the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, which are must-sees. 
  • DON'Ts
  • Drive without GPS - The one thing I would not do again is drive in Turkey without a GPS. Roads are labeled very poorly and hardly any streets are straight. Cities aren't grids which can be confusing. Actually I wouldn't recommend driving if you don't absolutely have to. Gas is the most expensive in the world because of all the taxes. Turkey has a very extensive bus/coach system that looks to be quite affordable. I would've done this had my conference not been in the boonies.
  • Buy domestic Turkey tickets from travel websites - I had to buy a one-way ticket from Ankara to Istanbul and I checked the usual suspects, expedia, orbitz, etc and they wanted like $200 for the 45 minute flight. But I went to the Turkish Airlines website and it was around $50 for the same exact flights. It's ridiculous. There are other low-cost airlines that fly domestic routes in Turkey, but they fly to the alternate airport in Istanbul on the Asia side, which may not be convenient if you need to be on the European side. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

A series of delays

As a good seasoned traveler would, I checked in for my flight to Honolulu via San Francisco from Orange County airport online so that I could use the electronic boarding pass. I love this since it is paperless. My flight boarded at the really cool new addition to terminal A and consists of 3 new commuter gates.
My flight boarded on time and we were able to walk out to the plane which I love because it reminds me of the good old days before Orange County had a terminal with jetways.
I flew on a United Express regional jet and it was actually quite comfortable.
Once on board, we were informed that our flight that was supposed to leave at 10:39am would now leave at 11:05 for an air traffic control hold from SFO airport. It wasn't that big of a deal because I would still have plenty of time to make my connection to Honolulu. I started this new service with called pro.

It tracks your flights for you and sends either text messages or emails with flight alerts. It works quite well and it let me know that my flight from SFO to HNL would actually be delayed also due to a late incoming aircraft. It evens gives you options for alternative flights. I'm sold on it. I had a free 30-day trial, but I may purchase it. Once I landed at SFO I had about 3 hours to kill so I ate lunch at Boudin and had a great overpriced sandwich. I found a wifi signal near an empty gate and played some games and did emails, facebook, etc. I soon made my way to my gate and saw that the estimated departure time kept creeping more by 5 minutes each time I checked. My flight ended up boarding around 3:15p and we left the gate around 3:30p with an initial departure time of 1:40p.
I ended up with the seat free next to me which made for a very comfortable flight. United Airlines has a contest on their flights to Hawaii called "Halfway to Hawaii". The captain gives out the flight time and average speed and you are to determine at what time in HST the plane reaches the geographical midpoint  between SFO and HNL. I was 15 seconds off from the winner. I was pissed.
Upon landing I saw parked at Hickam AFB all of the dignitaries' planes for the APEC meeting in Waikiki this week. I wish it would've been daylight so that I could take pictures because there were all of the President's planes and executive planes from Russia, China, Australia, Brunei, and Japan that I noticed. Once we arrived the bags came out quite quickly and my grandma was waiting for me at the curb. We went right to dinner since I was starving and didn't buy any food on board my flight. We went back to her house and she let me take her car to my hotel for the night, the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Apparently President Obama and President Medvedev of Russia were staying there too. It took me 2 hours to get past all of the blockades and security measures in place before I could even drive up to my hotel. It was crazy. They made every car open their trunks and engine hoods and had a bomb dog sniff out each car. I was exhausted by this point. Nicely enough, the hotel didn't end up charging me the $25+ for valet parking. Most of the streets were blocked and things were beyond crazy. Given the number of world leaders and Hawaii's history with Pearl Harbor, I was glad to be in the safest hotel on the planet.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Article: Aviation Consumer Protection Division

Bookmark this in case you ever get bumped from your flight. That way you will get the compensation you should receive. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Things to Make Your Trip Memorable

Take a sensory inventory  - To me this is the most important thing you can do to truly make your trip memorable in the sense that you will always remember it. Use your senses. This means get the tastes, smells, and sights of your trip in your memory.
     Taste: Sample local foods and write down the names so that you can find it again when you return, or you may even be able to make it at home. You will always remember that dish or snack or whatever it is. For me, chicken vindaloo always reminds me of Nice, France because I've had it there several times at a restaurant called Le Taj. Chicken Rice is a staple in Singapore as well as Lahksa. I agree with the Bizarre Foods host, Andrew Zimern, when he says "if it looks good, eat it."
Chinatown in Singapore
     Smell: for me Europe and Asia have distinct smells, and certain scents remind me of both. When I smell ylang ylang, I always think of London because the Hilton we stayed at had ylang ylang scented soap. In Nice, they had L'Occitane verbena and lavender scented lotion and that smell always makes me think of the south of France. Jasmine and orange blossom flowers always remind me of Thailand, although Thailand has so many incredible floral scents all over that it's hard not to think of Thailand when I smell tropical flowers.
The Singapore National Orchid Gardens
The famous Negresco Hotel in Nice, France
     Sights: Go see the things you want to see and the things you are "supposed" to see like the Eiffel Tower or other notable places in the place you are visiting. SEE it and take it all in. Don't make taking the picture the first thing you do. See it for what it is and absorb the sight. This suggestion also goes hand-in-hand with #4 below, so I'll direct you there.   

Take some risks - This doesn't mean that you should go jumping off a bridge or something like that. But do some things that you wouldn't normally do at home. Try something new. Take a cooking class even if you can't cook because you will learn so much about the culture too in addition to the recipes. Treat yourself to a spa afternoon. Try Chinese reflexology, a Japanese onsen, or Turkish hamam. Even if you hate it, you'll never forget it and it's something that is unique to that culture. Even if you can't read or speak the language, get out and explore. Ride the subway or train. If you make a mistake, who cares? You won't lose points for being a daring tourist. Go off the beaten path and ask a local person or a hotel employee where they would go. Sometimes it will be great and sometimes it won't, but you'll never forget it. 
On the Singapore MRT (subway)
Get lost! - can have the cookie cutter experience that every single tourist gets who bought the same Lonely Planet book that you did, or you can have an experience that no one else will have. So go find a neighborhood on the map and figure out how you want to get there and back. And that's it. Don't plan anything else for that excursion because you are just going to explore the area and see what strikes you as interesting. You will see local people doing things that locals do. I love just walking around neighborhoods and seeing the little shops and restaurants all over the place. Europe is full of these places. I think I've been lost in just about every country I've been in. Recently when we were in Chiang Mai Thailand, we wanted to see some temples in the city and we ended up walking completely around the old city walls and found other temples that weren't even on the map. 
Chiang Mai Old City Wall
We also saw where they all get their household appliances and where they get their cars fixed, but it was all part of the fun. In Tokyo, we were trying to find the Tokyo Tower and we ended walking through a neighborhood where many embassies and schools were. We also stumbled across this jungle-like park right in the middle of the city. It was so awesome. 
Tokyo Tower
In Paris, Nice, Cannes, and Monte Carlo, we stumbled upon some of the best pastries and snacks because we didn't plan it all out. It's actually very easy get lost in France. In London the red light district found us and we were propositioned by prostitutes. It's easy for that kind of thing to find you in Bangkok too. You get the point, just get out without a plan and explore.

Don't take so many pictures - or at least don't focus on getting the pictures just right. I don't care if you are Annie Leibowitz, no picture you take will compare to actually being there especially if you are seeing one of the truly magnificent wonders of our world like the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, the Hagia Sofia, the Tower of London, Versailles, Shibuya Crossing, etc. Like I said earlier, take a minute or more to just see it with your eyes and not the camera lens. It's nice to have pictures of your trip and they will serve as memories, but if you took the time to take a sensory inventory the pictures will remind you of much more than just remembering when you took the picture. The last day I spend in Shanghai, my camera batteries were just about dead and so were the backups I brought. It was actually fine. All the time our group spent taking pictures in the parks and around the city, I just sat around and took it all in. It was one of the best things I did for myself the whole trip. It was so peaceful and actually liberating without feeling like I needed to capture every single thing with my camera.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Top 25 Daily Itineraries in London

This list was compiled by my friends, Kevin and Seda living in Turkey, who spent a month in London. I think it's a good list with lots of things that I would love to do in London too.

Top 25 Daily Itineraries in London

After spending a month in London with two young children, here is a compilation of our daily itineraries and our own “Best-of-London” list – in no particular order:
  1. Walk around Holland Park, Chelsea, and embassy row at Hyde Park
  2. Go to Princess Diana Memorial Childrens Park at Hyde (Kensington) Park for the kids to play and the Diana Memorial Fountain for the kids to walk around in the water with the adults. There’s also a smaller park playground on the south side of Hyde Park near the Knightsbridge tube stop
  3. Go to Kew Gardens, which has a Kids play area and a Tree top walk high above the ground
  4. Go to M&M World in Soho- very colorful and fun for kids to look around – and get some M&Ms
  5. See the Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, walk by Westminster abbey, Big Ben and the houses of parliament
  6. Visit the Natural History museum and the Dinosaurs exhibit, visit the Creepy crawlies exhibit
  7. Visit Harrods to see the bottom floor – the food courts and then walk around Kensington and Chelsea
  8. Go to Tate Modern and see the exhibits (in our case – Miro). Then walk across the nearby Millennium Bridge towards St Paul’s cathedral
  9. Go to Hamley’s toy store near Oxford Circus/Soho has 7 floors of kid craziness
  10. Go to Notting Hill to walk down Portobella Road Market for all its shops and vendors
  11. Go by the London bridge, walk to Embankment from there via the Bankside
  12. Go to the Museum of London and check out the maps made by London residents (check out the London Loos map!)
  13. Go to the Borough Market near the London Bridge tube station for its large outdoor food market.
  14. Go to the O2 Arena – enjoyable place with outside music, free exhibitions, and restaurants inside.
  15. Go to Richmond Green, and walk along the river in Richmond
  16. Have an afternoon tea as part of the tradition – enjoy the cucumber and salmon sandwiches, scones, cookies, jam and cream and a pot of tea
  17. Visit Hampton Court palace on a Monday when they have free family activities (Kaya and Alara made Knight’s helmets) and go through the maze
  18. Visit Windsor castle and see the Changing of the guard, climb the tower, go through the Doll and state houses, and see Georges church
  19. Go to Victoria & Albert (V&A) museum, stroll in Kensington, walk through Hyde Park and to the Marble Arch and the Speakers corner
  20. Visit Richmond Park to see the Deer, view of London, Pembroke Lodge, King Henry’s Mound – view of St Paul’s Cathedral
  21. Ride the London Eye and take a short (two stop) boat ride along the river. Visit St Paul’s Cathedral and walk all the way up St Paul’s dome
  22. Go to Covent Garden to walk around and see the Market and street performers. Visit Trafalgar square to see the statutes.
  23. Go to Cambridge for an afternoon to see this Town of colleges and walk along the river there
  24. Go to Camden Town market for shopping and then walk along the Camden Lock and up the hill to see the magnificent views of London from Primrose Hill
  25. Pack a picnic and enjoy the vast parks, greenery and serene August beauty of London and find a list of pubs for where you will be and enjoy a pint in each of them

Monday, September 26, 2011

Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia)

View Larger MapI went to Lake Abant in Turkey for a math and technology conference where I gave a presentation about math software and how to use it in teaching calculus. Abant is about 20 minutes from the city of Bolu, which was about a 2 hour drive from the capital Ankara.

I was also able to have dinner in Ankara where I reconnected with an old friend and met his family. I also spent an afternoon in Istanbul as a stopover on my way back home. (I am going to write more on my reflections on Turkey in a later post.) Besides the professional benefits of presenting a session at such an informative conference, the most meaningful and memorable thing for me outside the conference was walking into the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia). I have wanted to see this amazing structure since I was in high school art history class. This building which is now a museum is truly breathtaking. The Hagia Sofia is one of the oldest churches in the world and existed as such for about 1000 years before it was turned into a mosque. It's amazing to see it with both the Christian and Islamic images. I know it's naive to think this, but being there and seeing so many different people there of different faiths makes me wonder why all religions in general can't coexist. Seeing such a magnificent architectural wonder after wanting to for 20+ years was such a gratifying experience for me. I was practically giddy. She did not disappoint. I could've stayed there for hours marveling at all of the detail and artistry in that building. I have never been so enamored by a building/museum. I truly didn't want to leave, but I knew I had little time to see some other parts of the old city.

I have no idea how long I was there, but I left there to walk across the way to the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque). I knew that this was another building that is on everyone's "not-to-be-missed" list, but I really had no idea what to expect. It is a working mosque so tourists can only walk in certain areas. You must remove your shoes and place them in a plastic bag and bring them with you because you enter and exit through different doors. When I found the door to enter, I removed my shoes and walked in. I looked around and unexpectedly blurted out "Oh my god!" I was not prepared for the exquisit beauty and detail of the adornments. It is unbelievable because the place is gigantic. I do not consider myself a religious person...more spiritual if anything, but I have always been so intrigued by Islam and one can't help but feel the power and serenity of being there. I am also deeply moved by the Muslim call to prayer that can be heard throughout the city. I find it enchanting and haunting at the same time.

The pictures don't do it justice because there is just so much little detail throughout and there are hundreds of lines coming down from the ceiling holding the lights which obscures everything. It is still amazing. I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to go see these two incredible wonders.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Travel Day Debacle

I was supposed to fly from LAX to Istanbul on Sunday morning at 6:14 am on United Airlines via JFK. Unfortunately, that did not happen. I checked in online and when I arrived at LAX , the United kiosk couldn't find my reservation and made me see an agent. I moved to a different line and waited for about 25 minutes before an agent helped me. By this time, I had 30 minutes to catch my flight. Well, they wouldn't let me check my bag at that point. I was pissed and the supervisor was arguing with me that I wasn't in line in time. Had it not been 5:45am, I think I would've been more combative. At that point I just wanted to get on the plane. That did not happen. They couldn't change my ticket because it was a Turkish Airlines ticket with United code-share. After waiting in another line for another 20 minutes, they said they couldn't help. So I called Turkish to change the flight. This took a very short time. I was then booked on a flight later that evening at 5:55 pm. So I went home because I wasn't going to stay there for another 12 hours.

At 3:00pm, I arrived at the intenational terminal to check-in and get my new flights. I soon ran into more problems. The Turkish Airlines people couldn't change my ticket from the original even though they had done it over the phone. I had to call the travel agent who booked my flights and they said that only Turkish could change my flights. I was getting the run around and I was on the phone and in line talking with supervisors for close to 2 hours. It was insane. After some work, I was finally assigned a seat and given boarding passes for that flight and the connecting one. When I got on the plane I realized that I was given a middle seat in the middle section of the plane, but at least it was a bulkhead seat with tons of legroom. But then a woman came on the plane with the same seat assignment. She asked one of the ground crew about it and he said that he could move me to an aisle some rows back. It was actually a much better seat, so I didn't mind. It was the last row in the section so there wasn't anyone behind me to grab or kick my seat.

Even though I had the awful experience at check-in, which wasn't entirely Turkish's fault (it was United's), Turkish is my new favorite airline. The 777-300ER was brand new and even the lavatory has motion sensors for the sink so you don't have to touch it. The food was really good and the entertainment system was awesome. The flight was a short 12 hours and 20 minutes and it was 5:00pm when I landed in Istanbul. It's so funny to me that European airports have a certain smell. I don't know what it is, but they all smell the same. I had to stand in line for a visa-on-arrival with the rest of the plane, but it went quickly. Then another queue to get through passport control. After that it was off to the domestic terminal which is connected to the international one by a covered walkway. Changing planes here was very easy.

Once I was through security in the domestic terminal, I waited by a Burger King for my flight to board. This time I was on a small 737-800. We were bussed from the terminal to the jet, which is fun because I got to walk up stairs to the plane. The flight to Ankara was 45 minutes and they served a full meal and drink service. It was crazy...that would never happen in the U.S. I had my turkey sandwich over the air of Turkey. I thought it was hilarious. I found Hertz at the airport and signed papers. I was given a Hyundai Getz, which is ironic because it Getz nothing. It's a piece of junk with a terrible radio. I had to navigate the Turkish highways and tollroads for 2.5 hours to get up in the mountains near the city of Bolu. The conference is at the Buyuk Abant Oteli, which I think means Big Abant Hotel. It's not that big but it's the only thing out here besides Lake Abant. The road to here from the highway is 2 lanes and is pitch black. It felt like I couldn't possibly be going the correct way. But sure enough after 22km and no sign of human or other life, I arrived at the hotel around midnight. I got my tiny room, showered, and passed out.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Booking hotels

With a seemingly infinite choice of possibilities of where to stay for your trip, choosing a place to stay can be quite overwhelming. I realize that not everyone is as OCD as I am about getting deals and booking the cheapest, but nicest hotel I can. Before you even think about booking, do some searching first. I always go to to look up reviews and see where the hotels are located. You can also see pictures that real travelers take of the rooms and grounds of the hotel. This is one of my absolute favorite websites (not just because I contribute reviews to it) and sometimes I read through reviews in my spare time, especially if I hear of a really nice hotel that I could never afford, it's still fun to see pictures and dream. They also rank their hotels according to reviews, so it's very reliable. You can also search using a lot of different filters.

So once you locate your hotel, use a site like to search your dates because that site will show you the prices that various sites have. Here is a search I did for the Royal Hawaiian for a date at the end of this month.

  • Hotel Chains: If you have chosen a hotel chain for your loyalty, then your hotel searches are already narrowed for you. Each hotel family's website (i.e. Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt, etc.) has the ability to search for all of the hotel brands within the chain. So it's up to you where you would want to stay and what your budget level is. Many of the hotel chains has brands that range from budget, to long-stay hotels, to luxury brands. Also, other websites such as and have the ability to search a hotel by brand or by name. Remember to sign up for deals from the hotel family website if you don't have an account with them already.
  • Other hotels: Just do a search on one of the travel sites and you can usually find deals, especially if you aren't picky. Even if the hotel you want to stay at isn't part of a chain, do a google search for the actual hotel's website because more often than not, it will have a "specials" page or have advanced purchase rates that aren't offered on sites like expedia and others. And many of those sites will have an email list, so sign up for it and they may email you a promo that coincides with your travel dates.
  • Pre-paid rates: Be careful when you book these because they aren't changeable. They are often a very good deal, but unless you absolutely know you will travel on those dates I would be careful. I never book pre-paid rates until the very latest I can. Here's an example, Hilton usually offers advanced purchase rates at up to 40% off the regular rate, but it has to be done at least 2 weeks in advance. I will wait until the very last day to book a pre-paid just in case my plans change. Also, sometimes I've been able to find rates that are slightly higher than the advanced purchase rate but are completely changeable or cancelable. I'd rather pay $10 extra to know that I have flexibility. 
  • Check rates periodically even after you book: Hotel rates do change, so if you book a hotel rate, it doesn't mean that the price won't go down. I would check once a week or so to make sure the rate hasn't changed. In the event the rate goes down, you'll be happy that you didn't book an advanced purchase non-refundable rate.
  • Check the "all in" rate: This refers to the total price you'll pay per night (i.e. the actual rate). So just because you find a $99/night rate, doesn't mean that's what you actually pay. Go through the booking pages even if you aren't going to book right then just so you can see what the price is with tax. Also, if you plan to go to Las Vegas, know that almost every hotel charges a "resort fee" which is a bogus way for the hotel to charge you an extra $5 to $25 per night. Check out this site for which Las Vegas hotels have the dreaded resort fee.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Planning your flights

Planning your flights is one of the most complex things to do in planning your travels. If you are lucky enough that cost is not an issue, then there is probably no need to read any further. However, if you are like me and are out to find that deal, then keep reading. From the August 21st post, I mentioned some things that help in finding good prices for airfare. Now "good" is a relative term because it really depends on where you are flying to and how convenient you want things to be. Travel between certain cities where there is little to no competition can have ridiculously high fares especially if you live in a hub city for an airline. It's not fair, but that is how the airlines make their money when they sell $200 roundtrips between the west coast and east coast on a regular basis. The time of year you are wanting to fly also affects the prices. Do some searching on the high and low seasons for vacation destinations.

Back to the August 21st post. I recommended that you sign up for airlines' email lists and facebook pages. Many of the airlines including United and American have weekly deals that are released on Tuesday (usually) and the fares are good for the next few weekends. Some of these can be really great deals. I've seen deals from LAX to HNL (Honolulu) for less than $300. Of course these are for last minute travel so it might not be so helpful. I also recommended that if you see airfare that you know is a deal/steal, then book it immediately. It could be a mistake by the website or airline or a genuine rock bottom sale. Who cares why it's so low, just book it. In order to avoid losing any fare that you see as acceptable, I would do some planning before you seriously start looking for airfare especially international travel. I think the best thing you can do is to make a chart or matrix or a list of several different possible travel dates. For every big vacation I ever plan I have many pieces of paper with airline codes, dates, and prices all over the place. I do this so that I can explore all my options and there will be lots of the them if you have a choice of airports to fly in/out of for instance in Southern California there is a choice of at least 5 different airports with lots of air service. Many cities across the US and the world have multiple airports for their city. Usually one will be the major international one and then others will be domestic, but not always. Lots of travelers have no idea about this. Just do a general google search for a city and an airport. Surprisingly wikipedia or wikitravel can be very helpful for this. The latter choice is  one that I use all the time.

For your initial searching, I would look at several different sites like: kayak, vayama, yapta, expedia, and orbitz. I rarely ever book from these sites but it's a place to start. Many of them will also let you set up "airfare watches" and it will look up prices on a route that you specify and watch to see if the price changes then email you. I rarely find good deals this way, but you never know. I really like right now because there lots of ways to search. There was an article on msnbc about kayak and that it will "hack" a price by finding one-way prices that result in a lower roundtrip total price. It may require two bookings, but if the savings is substantial, then it is worth it. I think that having all of your flights on one nice itinerary is a thing of the past especially now that everything is electronic. Once I find options that I like on some of the above searching sites, I go to the specific airline's site to see that I can find the same fares. Sometimes they are even better on the airline's own website. On a few occasions I have booked flights on expedia because the fares weren't available on the airline's website or they were able to put together itineraries that included different legs on different airlines that aren't alliance partners. Another good thing that many people like about sites like expedia is that you can add hotel rooms to your flights and usually save money. I don't like to do this because by booking hotels through sites other than their own company's website, you won't get points/credit for your stay. If that's not a concern for you, then by all means book your hotel along with airfare.

One of the tricks in finding good airfare is looking for open-jaw itineraries. For example you fly SNA (Orange County) to EWR (Newark) and return JFK (New York) back to SNA (Orange County). Another open-jaw itinerary could be SNA (Orange County) to CMH (Columbus) but return to ONT (Ontario, CA).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

10 things to pack

1. Wet Wipes/sanitizer - Airplanes, hotel rooms, and rental cars are disgusting because people are disgusting. Period. When I enter a plane, no matter which class I'm seated in, I wipe down all of the surfaces I'm going to touch including the handle for the tray table, the tray table surface, and the button to recline your seat. When you return from the bathroom, sanitize your hands. Before you eat, sanitize your hands. After you read the inflight magazine, sanitize your hands. When you get into your rental car, do the same thing and wipe that thing down. When you get to your hotel room, wipe down the remote control or put it in the plastic bag that is usually sitting in the ice bucket. Or use the shower cap instead. Wipe down the phone and alarm clock too. You don't want to be sick during your trip, so take these precautions. And if you are going to Asia and you really want to fit in with the germaphobes, then you can don one of those SARS/Michael Jackson surgical masks.

2. Vitamins - Get on some kind of regimen and stick with it. Even if you don't regularly take vitamins on a daily basis, do it on your trip. Take extra vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, Airborne, or something equivalent and start it a day or two before the trip and continue it after the trip. On a couple of vacations, I got sick the day after I got home, probably from the sick person I was seated next to on the plane ride home.

3. The pink stuff & antacids - I think the liquid is too cumbersome especially with the liquid nazis at security these days, so get the chewable tablets. If you are going to a place where the food is very different from what you are used to, you might have some stomach issues or what my grandma calls "oily stomach." The good thing about the chewable tablets is that you can use them as a preventative measure by chewing one before you eat and it will coat your stomach. I chewed on these things like they were going out of style when I went to China because the food is so oily and I never had any stomach problems. I don't like to take pills and medicines that just mask symptoms, but I don't want to have stomach issues in a foreign country either. You will be thankful you brought antacids and so will your travel partners. If you are like me all airplane food instantly turns into enough natural gas to power a 777 at least a few hundred miles. At the Dubai International airport there was a pharmacy and I bought some tablets called antacid/anti-flatulence and they are amazing. They really help when you eat something like a really strong curry and your stomach is just gurgling out of control.

4. Important numbers list - In your wallet or somewhere safe, put a list of your credit card numbers and the company phone numbers in case they get stolen or lost. On this list you can also include contact numbers and website logins and account numbers. You never know when you'll need to access things. The good news is that in just about every country except our, internet access is ubiquitous and free. If you rely solely on your smart phone or website backups, you might not be able to access those as freely as you think, especially if your phone gets lost or wet, or you happen to be in a country where their fire wall blocks certain cites (i.e. China, Vietnam). Also include your passport number, expiration, and any visa numbers too. You should also have a photo copy of your passport with you too. I made a file on google docs with all of this stuff and when I was in China, I couldn't access google docs for whatever reason. I did need something from that list and I was glad I had it in my passport wallet. If you are worried about having a list of these things with you, then disguise some of the numbers and passwords.

5. Outlet adapters & Chargers- Obviously if you travel with electronic devices, this is important. Just about all electronics will convert voltage, so you won't need a converter. But you will need an outlet adapter so you can plug it into the wall. Many hotels have universal outlets in the rooms, but they might only be on the desk and there might only be one. If you have several devices to plug in, then this won't help you. So bring adapters. Chargers are only necessary if you have a device that requires them like a camera, iphone, or laptop. This also includes battery chargers. On a recent trip to Thailand I brought 2 sets of camera batteries, but they both drained before the trip was over. I didn't bring the battery charger because I thought I had enough juice. I didn't really want to buy more lithium whatever-the-hell batteries so I had to be selective about using my camera.

6. Change of clothes and some toiletries in carryon - I don't always do this, but it's a good idea because you never know if your bags will get there or not. My partner has the philosophy that the bags will not arrive, that way we are pleasantly surprised when they do. On a trip to Nice, France my bag didn't make the connection in Paris and I was without anything for an entire day. It was terrible not having a change of clothes after I arrived and took a shower.  I always look forward to that shower after I arrive to make me feel human again. So, at the very least put an extra pair of undies and a long-sleeve shirt in your bag because planes can get cold.

7. Printout of reservations - I know that this is not a very green practice, but you can always print it on the back of another sheet of paper that you already used from another trip. Make sure you recycle the paper afterwards. Even though everything is electronically based these days, if they can't find your reservation and you have nothing to show them, you might be S.O.L. Or it might take a long time for them to search for it. This happened to me in Phuket, Thailand and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia when I checked-in for my flight. Malaysian Airlines couldn't find the ticket number because my ticket had been reissued by Delta each time there was a schedule change. So it was Delta's fault but I was flying with Malaysian and there is no Delta office in KL and I didn't have that print out with the ticket numbers. I just had the itinerary printed out. They told me to go to the ticket office down the way and have them find it. All I had was the boarding pass stub from the previous flight and the record locator. Fast forward 20-25 minutes and they found it. But that time could make the difference in making your flight or not.

8. Frequent flyer cards - Don't travel with all of them, but in the event you get bumped to another airline or some other kind of cancelation incident, you will still get miles, preferred seats, or even better treatment because you are a member. See previous post on this issue. If you are moved to another airline, it is much easier for them to add your number right then and there than it is to retroactively request credit after the flight. Also, in the event you have a cancelation or some other mishap, you do have a choice in airlines. If you know that an alliance partner airline can get you to your destination vs. the one they are telling you is the option, then ask for it. Don't assume that the airline agent knows everything about all possible airlines. I have airlines' numbers programmed into my phone and if you don't, the number will be on your card. One time I was on the plane from Minneapolis to LAX and they canceled the flight due to a mechanical issue. They made everyone get off the plane and get in line to rebook. Instead of getting in line, I called the airline and told them the situation. After a few minutes they had me confirmed on another airline's flight through Salt Lake City and back home. All I had to do was walk to the new flight's gate and pick up my boarding passes. All 200 of the other poor schmucks were waiting in line while I calmly made my way to my new flight.

9. Ear plugs - These might be useful on the plane and depending on the airline and your destination, they might provide you with some in an amenity kit. Don't throw those out. When you get to your hotel, you have no idea what kind of noises you will encounter or how thin the walls are. You could be woken up in the middle of the night or extremely early by anything and everything. In St. Maarten it was frogs that sounded like birds. In Phuket it was peacocks. In Las Vegas it was the whirlpool tub in the room above and housekeeping vacuuming in the hall. In the United Arab Emirates it was the Islamic call to prayer. In London it was the couple having sex next door. At Disney it was the little kids running in the hallway. You get the point. You have no idea what new sounds there will be and no way to anticipate them. Bring the ear plugs. 

10. Snacks - Go get cereal bars, protein bars, nuts, or dried fruit from the store and pack some in your carryon and some in your luggage for the return flight. You never know what kind of $hit-on-a-bun the airlines will serve, if anything at all. And you probably don't want to spend $5 on a bag of chips in the terminal or $10 on the plane for something that costs $0.75. If you are traveling during the holiday, bring a bag of candy with you and give some to the airline staff when you check in. It lightens the mood and it might help you score an upgrade or a better seat. This tactic helped me score upgrades to Hong Kong from San Francisco. I still had to use my miles, but the person became willing to help instead of dismissing me and I didn't have to pay any change fees.

    7 Activities That Could Get You Jailed (or Killed) While Traveling

    Full article at:

    1: TRANSPORTING DRUGS, SOUTHEAST ASIA - There was a movie made about this. I think in Singapore you will get the death penalty.

    2: TRESPASSING, TEXAS - Well it's Texas and they like their guns.

    3: INSULTING THE KING, THAILAND - Thailand is an amazing country and the Thai people are just lovely. The devotion to the king is one of the things you will notice immediately when you visit.

    4: KILLING A COW, INDIA AND NEPAL - Not surprising at all.

    5: NOT CARRYING ID, JAPAN - They do not joke around. Japan quarantined their own citizens after they simply visited a country that had swine flu a few years ago.

    6: EATING IN PUBLIC, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - This is referring to Ramadan, which is happening now. I can just imagine how cranky I'd be by the end of the day if I wasn't eating during the day. But being disrespectful of the faith in Muslim countries is not taken lightly.


    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    7 things I hate about travel

    Full article:

    This is a funny article with some great suggestions/solutions. Only the first 3 are serious, but it's worth taking a look at the full article. Here is the synopsis.

    1. Too many other travelers.
    Solution: First, don’t go in the peak season (typically, the summer months). Second, get up early or go late — if there is access to the sight at night, and it’s safe. Third, go somewhere off the beaten path. Instead of Italy, go toLebanon.
    2. Touts.
    Solution: Avoid eye contact, say no politely. And, if all else fails, try to sellthem stuff.
    3. No public toilets and diarrhea.
    Solution: Clean your hands often, and carry some loperamide on you at all times.

    4. Delayed flights and missed connections.

    Solution: Become rich and buy your own airline.

    5. Visa fees.Solution: Haha. Dream on.
    6. Jet lag.
    Solution: So many solutions, but none are guaranteed to work.

    7. Irish pubs everywhere.

    : Please drink elsewhere.