Thursday, August 18, 2011

Flight stress, perfectionism, and other ideas

I spent roughly 12h this week deciphering, planning, choosing options, and finally booking flights for an upcoming trip to the US. I had a 15% off coupon which expired Monday. Though part of this trip is work-related, I thought I'd save both me and work some money and perhaps earn some brownie points. Given the expiry date, I spent most of those hours on Monday trying to get a combination of flights that would work for us.

Problem #1: Coupon was no good on a multi-city flight. We need to leave home, fly to Eastern US, then to the West coast, then home. Air Canada doesn't fly between points in the US, so that meant I had to use the multi-city option, or book two one-way flights. Either way, I would have only been able to use the coupon once.

Problem #2: After deciding to split it into two one-way flights in order to use the coupon, and applying the coupon to my order, Air Canada removed the option to purchase a lounge pass for our 3h stopover in Toronto. If I removed the coupon, the lounge pass option came back. I picked up the phone and called to ask why, again, they won't take my money. After being on hold for a while I gave up. The coupon was only going to save me $100 total and by 11pm Monday night I had had enough and it wasn't worth it anymore.

Problem #3: Between Monday and Wednesday, one of the flight legs went up $150 per person. I not only gave up the $100 coupon savings, but also increase the overall cost by $300. At this point, I was ready to smash something. The pre-dawn flight was still at the lesser rate, as was the late-night flight, but I wanted to go in the middle of the day, at a reasonable hour, on a Sunday. Waiting two days to plan appropriately and determine other options equaled punishment by having to pay a lot more than anticipated.

Problem #4: Air Canada seems to force me into making snap decisions if I want to save money. "Grab it when you see it" is not something I can usually do. My husband thinks I take too much time and effort into getting the perfect/right answer, and there is some truth to that, but read the fine print. Ticket change fees have now doubled and are $150 per person. If I hadn't taken the time to make sure we got the exact flights we needed, I ran the risk of paying another $300 to make changes. $300 was the cost of flying from SoCal to home, so that's a pretty significant chunk.

Air travel has become a stress-inducing activity. It's difficult to book what you want, when you want, for a reasonable price. It has gotten to the point where Aeroplan (Air Canada's flight reward program) has become so limited that it's not worth my time to check for a points flight if I have any kind of schedule to adhere to. Since I'm not retired nor do I own my own business, I have a limited amount of vacation time and have to fly after work/on weekends.

We have a wedding to attend in mid-January. I thought this would be an easy time to fly, points should be available since it's after Christmas and a quiet time. My plan was to leave Friday night after work, and return home Sunday afternoon. Checking Aeroplan yielded some of the worst options I've ever seen. The only option for the times I specified was from SJ->Halifax (4h drive from home)->Moncton (1.5h drive from home)->overnight Moncton-Montreal. There was obviously no human logic component to these flight choices. Why would anyone want to fly to Halifax, back to NB, stay overnight 1.5h away, and then get up before dawn the next morning to go to Montreal? If I thought it would do any good, I'd call Aeroplan and complain that that should not be an available option. So in the end, for a short-haul flight, normally 15000 points per ticket, the only decent options available cost 50000 points per ticket. I only have 41000 points right now.

It's hard to get a deal when you have a set schedule, and yet I keep trying. I guess I should value my time and stress levels more. I'm also not sure why I bust my ass trying to get Aeroplan points when I can never use them for actual travel.

I have Air Miles, which is a different loyalty program, and almost enough to get two flights to Montreal in January. I would have to pay a small fee to top up, but can probably get us two tickets for $400. I think I need to start putting more effort into Air Miles and less into Aeroplan.

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