Australia for 5 – Family travel to Australia – Destination Penrith

Australia is on the destination list for many families.  The culture, the beaches, the wildlife, and the friendly people are a universal draw for families looking to travel.  Our family is lucky enough to travel to Australia every year and enjoy this amazing country.  Family travel to Australia is rewarding with a huge array of possibilities.

How to get there:

We fly into Sydney via Chile as we complete what we call the Triangle of Awesome.  We travel to Chile for work so our travel plans are a bit unique.  Flying into SYD is relatively straight forward although it can be expensive.  We use Google flight tracker to keep up on the cheapest fares.  Find out how to use this great tool in our flight tracker post.
Rental cars can be quite expensive and if you plan to stay longer than a week I would highly recommend a peer to peer car sharing program called Drive My Car. You can save a boatload of money over regular rental rates.

Where to stay:

Depending on your goals and travel plans you have quite a few options for accommodations. We have always spent our time in Penrith as it is near the Penrith Whitewater Center where I train.  In Australia real estate is very expensive creating a vibrant rental market.  You can rent a house or condo by the week in most suburbs from a leasing agency or use AirBnB to find your pad.  We have used both and find its a bit cheaper to rent by the week from a leasing agency.  It can be expensive to find housing; for a 2 bedroom condo with a community pool and wifi we pay $1050AUD per week.  We use Western Sydney Accommodation for our go to as you pay less fees than with AirBnB.

What do do:

Penrith is good sized town nestled between the Blue Mountains and Sydney giving you options to travel in either directions to find a vast array of experiences.  Here is a few we enjoy:

Penrith Whitewater Stadium

For us this is a no brainer as my kayaking career keeps me at the whitewater center daily.  They offer exciting rafting and kayaking trips most days of the week over the summer.  It was the site of the 2000 Olympic Games for canoe slalom and is free to visit and watch the rafters and kayakers navigate the artificial whitewater channel.

Penrith Panthers Rugby

If you find yourself in Australia during rugby season (March-September) then lookup to see if you can watch a rugby game live.  They are super fun to watch and enjoy the spectators.  The games we have seen have always been packed of people and very exciting.  If you get general admission and want to actually get a seat show up a few hours early as it fills fast.  You are quite close to the field which gives you all the more appreciation for the intensity of the game of rugby!

Blue Mountains

Heading into the mountains from Penrith you quickly climb into the Blue Mountains.  In this beautiful mountain range know for steep cliff, eucalyptus forests and waterfalls you can find vistas, hikes, and overlooks everywhere! Specifically we enjoy visiting the 3 Sisters and Wentworth Falls.  There are hikes of various difficulties that your family can enjoy and see the Australian outback.

Featherdale Wildlife Park

My daughters favorite place in all of Australia.  Featherdale Wildlife Park is a koala bear conservatory that is a small wildlife park that has a free range policy with their kangaroos and wallabies.  You can get up close and personal with them which all the kids really enjoy.  You also can get close to koalas, they used to allow you to take a picture nearby to one, but since have changed their policy requiring a fee to take a picture with the koalas.  Its a pretty small park, but has a cool variety of animals including Tasmanian devils, wombats, echidnas, dingos, and kangaroos everywhere plus a huge variety of birds.  Its a bit expensive for the size but the interaction with the critters makes it worth it for us every time we go to Australia we go visit at least once.

Beaches

Beaches are EVERYWHERE and they are all incredible.  You can find any number of them with variety.  The beaches are sandy, clean, fun, and bountiful.  They do a great job of having life guards and often will have a designated swimming zone that is watched by life guards that avoids dangerous rip tides.  Depending on the season, wind, and tide there can be a lot of blue bottle jelly fish that wash up in the surf which can make swimming painful.  When you arrive at the beach an easy way to tell if bluebottles are around is look for them on the beach washed up at the high water mark.  If you see a ton of them swimming could be a bit more exciting as their sting is not dangerous but can be painful for the kids.  Our favorite beach is Dee Why as it has a great parking, beautiful water, good surf for the kids, is less crowded, and a great burrito place just up the street.

Australia is a huge country/continent and there is MUCH more to do than listed above but if you are in or around the Sydney area this should give you an idea of where to start.  If you and your family travel to Australia during the summer, our families favorite TV show called My Kitchen Rules starts in early Feb and we absolutely love it; imagine a US show like Master Chef with Aussie, Frenchy, and Irish judges.

 

Travel Hack: there really is a free lunch with Priority Pass!

As we often travel with a family of 5 food costs in the airport can rack up quite quickly!  To try to keep our costs as low as possible we utilize the benefits of lounge access that we get from our premium card; American Express Platinum.  With the Amex Platinum card you can enroll for free in the Priority Pass program.  Priority Pass is a network of lounges across the world of over 1000 lounges and expanding weekly!

One of the newer perks with Priority Pass is that many of the new “lounges” are not actually lounges but restaurants.  Basically you get a $28-$36 dollar credit (depending on the restaurant) to be used towards your bill.  Even better you can sign in for 1 guest which gets you double that amount with out actually paying any money as it classified as a lounge visit..

How to use it

Because we travel as a family of 5, I added my wife as an authorized card holder on my Amex account which allows her own priority pass membership.  So for our family with 2 priority pass memberships we get the restaurant priority pass credit ($28-$36) multiplied by 4! We recently used this to have a pre trip lunch in Sydney, Australia and had a credit of $144AUD to spend.  To make things even better there was a restaurant outside security in Sydney so we used our Priority Pass there for breakfast while we waited for the check in desk to open, then again past security at a restaurant for lunch before boarding.  We saved over $200AUD in that day alone!

A lunch from Better Burgers for FREE!

Where to use it

The list grows weekly and I highly recommend downloading the app on your phone and keeping it up to date, you also can find lounges from their website.
Current restaurants as of this writing:

Domestic

  • PDX
    House Spirits Distillery
    Capers Cafe Le Bar
    Capers Market
  • DEN
    Timberline Steaks and Grille
  • MIA
    Corona Beach House
  • STL (St Louis)
    The Pasta House
    The Pasta House & Schlafly Brew House
  • LEX (Lexington KY)
    Kentucky Ale Taproom
  • MSP (Minneapolis)
    PGA MSP
  • JFK
    Bobby Van’s Steakhouse
  • CLE (Cleveland)
    Bar Symon

International

  • SYD (Sydney Australia)
    Better Burger
    Mach2
    Peroni Bar
    Bistro 2020
    MoVida
    Bar Roma
    Wok on Air
  • BNE (Brisbane Australia)
    Bar Roma
    Graze Grill and Bar
    Corretto Cafe & Bar
  • LGW (London Gatwick
    Grain Store Cafe & Bar
  • SIN (Singapore)
    The Green Market

The list continues to expand so make sure you update your app or check online and enjoy!

Better Burger in SYD

Travel Hack: the power of Google Flight Alerts

In order to keep our travel costs low we have to be forward thinking and planning to ensure we are getting the best prices possible on airline tickets. Knowing when to buy, recent fare changes, and fare trends can help keep the costs to a minimum.  We have utilized Google Flight Alerts to great success as a powerful online flight tracker.

Google Flights Alerts

Enter Google Flight Alerts.  You can easily track potential trips using Google’s powerful tool.

How to use it:

You need to have a google account and make sure you are logged in.

flights.google.com

Start a search for a flight with dates you are interested in and click the track flights tool.

Choose your flights then click the tracking tab near the bottom.

Monitor and buy when you are confident.

Examples

Here is a flight I am tracking from a client who would like to travel to Australia for holiday. As you can see the flight costs are somewhat consistent.  I can track and watch to see if there is a dip in price then use that info to buy and save money

Another example is some flights I have been tracking for another client for a multi stage journey to Madagascar, then Dublin, then USA.  This flight was much more unstable in prices and I was able to buy at what I knew was the best possible price.

You can track almost any type of flight including one way flights like this from Auckland to SFO

I have 40-50 flight alerts at any given time for future trips I would like to go on, trips I am tracking for clients, and dream trips that I could only afford if there is a mistake fare!  Keep in mind Google does not search ALL possible fares. Southwest is one of the major ones that will not show a price so double check your flights against Southwest before you buy.

Have you used Google Flight Alert to score a great deal?

Lounge Review – Strata Lounge in Auckland

Strata Lounge AKL

Up the escalators near the rest of the premium lounges is the Strata Lounge

A few weeks ago we were able to pop into the Strata Lounge in Auckland, New Zealand during a trip from Santiago, Chile to Sydney, Australia.  We had a quick 2 hour layover but the timing lined up perfectly for breakfast time and we were happy to tuck into a corner of the Strata Lounge for a quick visit.

The size:

We were there pretty early in the morning and it was deserted! There were a handful of other people, but there were plenty of tables with chairs and couches for lounging.  I am sure this club could handle a rather large crowd without feeling cramped as even the space between tables and couches felt particularly spacious which was a welcomed change after 12 hours of row 37 on LA801 (SCL-AKL).

Staff:

Everyone we interacted with were very friendly and the service was attentive.

The food:

Excellent.  There was a marvelous selection of breakfast foods including sausage, pancakes, noodles, roasted tomatoes, hashbrowns, breakfast cereals, toast, smoothies, cheese and meat platters, and more.
We didn’t sample the alcoholic beverages, but the coffee was fantastic, there was a great variety of juices for the kids.  We felt it was in the top 5 of food selections we have ever found in a lounge.

Electricity:

There were electrical outlets at each couch grouping which made a quick recharge quite convenient.

Kid Factor:

They had an enclosed kids room with toddler toys, bean bag chairs, and a TV tuned into the cartoon station.  It was especially convenient as all the walls were glass so you could easily keep and eye on the kiddos while enjoying the comfort and quiet of a nearby couch or table. Its such a huge relief to have a place where the kids can stretch out a bit and move around with out worry about them breaking something.

The “fishbowl” kids room

Access:

We gained access via our Priority Pass from our American Express Platinum card.  Keep in mind that with the Priority Pass through Amex gets the primary cardholder plus 2 guests. As we travel with a family of 5 we require 2 Priority Pass cards which we got by signing up my wife as an authorized user on my Platinum account.

Overall:

Awesome- they received the priority pass lounge of the year in 2017 and we could tell why. They had TV monitors displaying flight departures with average walk time to get there which is always welcomed in a new airport so you don’t leave too early or too late for boarding.  The food was fantastic, it was super clean, people were friendly, and we enjoyed it!

Booking Report – Santiago, Chile to Sydney, Australia

Santiago to Sydney for a family of 5

As our wanderlust continues to meld with our work/travel/training lifestyle we found ourselves at an impasse last fall.  We love Australia; for us its a perfect continent.  I can work and train at the Penrith Whitewater Stadium (the home of the 2000 Olympic Games) which is a fantastic venue for both work and slalom kayak training.  The wife and kids LOVE the country as we are close to the beach and its a very outdoorsy place similar to our home in Idaho. We also love Chile.  We work there teaching kayaking from Christmas till the end of February.  This year we combined them into what we are calling the “Triangle of Awesome” with the addition of a flight from Santiago to Sydney.
The triangle of awesome

A great way to avoid winter!

The flights to Chile are covered from work and based off the way we fly it costs the same to fly home from Chile as it does from Australia.  So getting down and back was covered, we just needed to figure out how to get from Santiago to Sydney.  A few quick searches yielded one way plane tickets in excess of $1200 per person which is WAY out of our budget.

 So we moved onto points-

Latam is the main flight provider with LA801 which goes from Santiago (SCL) to Auckland (AKL) then onto Sydney (SYD).  Checking on milage charts it would be a spendy flight with Latam miles (169k per person) as they only book roundtrip tickets.   Moving on to American Airlines we checked but availability was impossible to find.  Then we tried British Airway Avios- and we had a winner!  They had bookable flights with an interesting twist.  The AKL-SYD redemption charts for business class (with lie flat seats on an Boeing 787-9) for 10k miles MORE than the coach fare.  We did not quite have enough miles to book the whole family in business (plus we don’t want to spoil the children anymore than they already are) so we split the family into 2 groups (My wife with 2 kids and myself with 1 child) and booked the group of 2 in business for the ALK-SYD leg and the rest in coach. So our itinerary looked like this
SCL-AKL 12 hours flight time – whole family in coach
AKL-SYD 4 hours flight time – 2 in business and 3 in coach
The plan was for my wife and I to sit in business and leave the kids in coach. We were worried they wouldn’t allow it as some carriers do not allow parents to split cabin from their kids if the kids are under 15, but not only was the flight staff ok with it, one of the flight attendant let us know she would keep a special eye on the kids and let us know if we were needed.  Keep in mind this is the 1st time we have split cabins with our kids and only just now feel comfortable enough with their travel skills to leave them in a cabin by themselves. To further eleviate the split we sat in the last row of business class and put them in the first row of coach.  Our kids have each traveled over 75,000 miles over the last 2 years so we decided they were ok in a separate cabin.

When we told our youngest he was in a different cabin, he went to the wrong one! (kidding, he did get a great tour after the flight and was able to meet our captain)

Total Costs:

Using our British Avios (which we transferred in from our Amex Membership rewards) the total costs were:
40k Avios for the coach tickets (3)
50k Avios for the coach/business tickets (2)
Total Avios spent: 220k
Total cost in taxes fees etc: $275 USD
The tickets we found on the same date would of costs just over $6000 so we got a value of just about .03 cents per point which is a redemption we were happy with.

A beautiful landing on Latam LA801 in Auckland!

How I saved $200 AND got 2 week free car rental!

How I used AAVacations.com for a free car rental!

Recently I began the process of price shopping for an upcoming trip to Europe for some kayak racing.  Typically I can find flights from my home airport to most places in Europe for around $1200-1600 USD depending on the dates.  During my travels I have to rent a car as public transport is quite challenging with a 12 foot kayak to lug about.  Barcelona typically has some of the cheapest per day rental cars in Europe and luckily BCN was my destination for this trip.

After the initial salvo of searches I found a few flights on my preferred airline (American) and others (United and Delta) all at the $1450 range which I was happy with as I had little flexibility on the dates or timing of the trip.  Before I finalized my booking I made a quick stop at AAvacations.com to see if I could save some extra money on my rental car by combining them.

Using the exact same dates on the exact same flights I was able to find my same itinerary on American Airlines which included a rental car from Avis for $1240!  Not only did I save over $200 I also got a free car rental!  I wanted to see if this was something specific to my dates and city pairs so I tried a few other searches and was able to find more flights combos that get a free car rental.

These all have the following dates: April 14-May 1
BOI-BCN
AAVactations – $1288.94 with car
AA.com flight only – $1420
Kayak.com rental car – $128 with GoldCar (which requires $1000 deposit to rent without additional insurance payments)

SFO-MXP

AAVacations – $1174.30 with car
AA.com flight only – $646
Kayak.com rental car – $231

ATL-LHR

AAVacations – $1087 with car
Google Flights – $810 on both AA and Delta
Kayak.com Rental Car – $408 with Europcar

Washington DC-FRA

AAVacations – $1256 with car
Google Flights – $1448 (there were cheaper flights but on discount carriers (WOW and Iceland Air) which I can’t fly because of my oversized luggage.
Kayak.com Rental Car – $444 with Thrifty (which requires you to purchase additional insurance)
On the average it seems save money depending on where you fly, it only takes a few minutes, and you can save quite a bit of money and get a free car rental!
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Lounge Review – The Club PHX

Recently during a trip across the US we had the opportunity to explore the airport in Phoenix (PHX) as we ended up with a much larger layover than originally expected.  Since we typically we spend our time in the Admirals Club in PHX (as a benifit from the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card) we decided to explore a new lounge to post a review for those with out Admirals access.  We chose The Club at PHX.

If you find yourself in PHX with a Priority Pass you should head over to the end of terminal 4 and The Club at PHX.

Head over to terminal 4!

Size:  There are two connected room areas with seating around tables as well as couches and chairs.  One room has great windows with views of the tarmac and runways.  The other room has no windows and subdued lighting.  I would image this lounge could fill up pretty quick! We spent time from about 10am-1pm and during the lunch hour it got to about 75% capacity.

Food:

The food offerings were basic for the breakfast hours (the began to swap out for lunch around 11am) with toast, cereal, and fruit.  Once the lunch came out there were more options with 2 types of pasta, hummus, pita bread, ect

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Staff:

We did not have much interaction with the staff but the front desk staff was friendly as we came in and the service during our stay was on par with most of the better lounges.  There were attentive to clear away dishes and kept the food well stocked.

Comfort:

Most of the seating was tables and chairs, in the smaller room there were a few couches, but I could see those filling up quite quickly.

Electrical Access:

Sparse- we had to move a few times to be able to have access to an electrical outlet, of which there was only 1 working plug.

Kids Space:

N/A there was no dedicated kids space, but in the smaller room in the corners there was a few areas of open space you could let the kiddos spread out between wingback chairs.  Especially if you had toddlers or babies you could lay out toddler town between the chairs.

Overall it was a solid club, but to be honest if I was in PHX I would likely go to an Admirals Club instead.  But if you only have access to Priority Pass lounges (via Amex Platinum or Chase Reserve) then its a great option.

Delta #100503A Error Workaround

The Delta #100503a workaround

So you finally saved the miles and found the perfect award booking with Delta Airlines.  You are most of the way through the booking process and BAM you get an error code #100503A from Delta saying the award space is no longer available.  You go back and search for the same itinerary and it still shows available online but you can not get the booking to go through.

You are now in the Delta #100503A error zone!  I recently found myself in the zone trying to book a one way from my home airport (BOI) to Barcelona (BCN).  I found great award space in Delta One (their first class offering) that was connecting through Paris, France (CDG).  In the booking process our flights were all on Delta planes (not a codeshare with another airline) except the last flight.  The CDG-BCN flight was on a code share with Air France.  I tried everything I could think of to get the transaction to go through.  I used different web browsers, different computers, different IP addresses, everything I could think of and finally gave up.

Next, I decided to try to book from BOI-CDG figuring that the codeshare portion of my journey was causing the problems with the actual booking.  Then I planned to purchase a cheap one way flight from CDG to BCN (which was around $60 per ticket).  With my new routing that was only on Delta planes I had no problem getting the booking to go through.  It costs 70k in Delta miles and around $7 in taxes per passenger.

However, before I went ahead and booked the separate ticket from CDG-BCN I had an idea.

First, I found the original itinerary that I wanted from BOI-BCN for 70k miles and around $56 in taxes per passenger.

Then because Delta allows free changes and cancellations within 24 hours of booking I contacted Delta on my new favorite platform; twitter.  I tweeted @delta in a direct message, told them I had mistakenly booked to CDG and wanted to fly instead to BCN.  I sent along the flight numbers and itinerary that I had looked up for 70k miles.

Within about 5 minutes I was contacted back by the social media team telling me that they could accommodate my change without problem and all I needed to do was pay the difference in taxes.  The social media team member then asked a contact number to call me to confirm my credit card info.  A minute later I head a pleasant conversation with a very helpful woman who made the change and got me booked on the itinerary I wanted from the beginning!

Ideally it would be easier to book a codeshare award with Delta but there is a work around that took me all of about 10 minutes to get done!

This blog post is based from my personal experience, your experience could be different. I am not guaranteeing any success with this method but it worked for me!  This is the second time for us that the Delta twitter team has saved the day! Checkout our other article on getting better award routing after a schedule change.

Find the Family Frequent Flyer on twitter!

Global Entry for families costs $100? Save money and time in the airports!

Over the years we have flown quite a bit with our brood of 3 kids.  We try to take them to as many different countries, cultures, and continents as we can before they shove off into the real world to lead their own lives.  Any parent who travels a lot with younger kids can likely agree the most stressful times during each trip boils down to one challening part – security.  The joys of trying to herd three little minions without shoes or jackets through a metal detector all the while making sure all laptops are out of bags, no liquids, no random metal object (typically, the most recent facination) is buried in one of the kids pockets, AND managing to not misplace passports, wallets, and purses can be quite a daunting task.  But there is a solution!
Global Entry for families / TSA Precheck

How do you get it?  Go to Canada!

Well technically you don’t have to go into Canada but you do sign up for the NEXUS program!  Nexus is a trusted traveler program that is a partnership between the USA and Canada.  Although it has great benefits for traveling between the US and Canada it also come with inclusion in the Global Entry and TSA PreCheck programs. After you join NEXUS you will have Global Entry for families and will be able to use the Global Entry kiosks whenever you arrive in the USA by plane.  You also will be able to utilize TSA PreCheck for a smoother experience through security in airports in the USA.

What is it?

Per the Canada Border Service Agency: NEXUS is a bi-national, Canada-United States program for pre-approved, low-risk travelers entering Canada or the United States (U.S.) at designated air, land and marine ports of entry.

For our use it gains us access to use Global Entry kiosks and TSA PreCheck when traveling into the USA on airlines!

What are the benefits?

  • Use of Global Entry kiosks when traveling into USA
  • Enrollment in TSA PreCheck
  • Simplified border crossing between US and Canada while on land
  • Access to Trusted Traveller CATSA Security Line in Canadian airports
  • Only parents have to pay registration fee KIDS ARE FREE!

How do you sign up?

If you are a US citizen you need to start your application in the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES).

Create a TTP account here.

Log into your account and complete the application for NEXUS (you have to make an account for each of your family members including the kids).

After you complete the application and pay the $50 USD fee for each adult, (you pay for only the adults) you make an appointment to be interviewed at a NEXUS Enrollment Center. This is the only place that can be inconvenient as most of the enrollment centers are near the Canadian border.  We live in Idaho and do not have an enrollment center, but Seattle does.  So we took an overnight trip to Seattle to visit the enrollment center.  The available enrollment appointments can be booked quite a ways out, so schedule your appointment and if you can not find a good appointment time, try looking at a different enrollment center.

The entire family gets interviewed at the same time, it took us about an hour and a half to get all our paperwork and interviews done.  Make sure all your kids get finger printed so they can also use the Global Entry.  We made the mistake of NOT getting our kids finger printed, so had to visit an enrollment center in DFW (we luckily had a long layover) to get the kiddos fingerprinted.  A week later our NEXUS cards came in the mail (used only for land crossing and Trusted Traveller CATSA Security Line in Canadian airports) and we now can use our NEXUS number in the Trusted Traveller Program for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry! Make sure you put your Nexus number in the Known Traveler Number field during your reservation process to ensure you get TSA PreCheck.

Now going through security is WAY easier, laptops stay in bags, shoes stay on feet, and we save a few more gray hairs from sprouting on my head.

Save some time, keep this in your bag!

Looking for more tips to travel with your kids? Check out our post on packing and preparing for air travel!

Africa for 5 – Family travel to Africa – Part 2 trip report

my youngest making a new friend at the Elephant Sanctuary in South Africa

Africa Trip with Kids

Part 2 of our Africa trip with kids report will cover how we navigate time in the airport on the trip to Africa. We will cover the flights, the lounges, and what we did to mitigate the pain of flying with kids 24,000 miles!  If you missed part 1, we covered how we booked our flights, cars, and accommodations for a family of 5 for $555 per person! Looking for a primer on the basics of traveling with kids? Check out our post covering most everything you need to know!

Outbound Flights:

A map of our outbound journey.

Our outbound flight map.

As you read in part one we had a somewhat indirect flight out to JNB.  I was excited to try Qatar Airways but it was a lot of 8-9 hour flights in a row.  The first three legs were serviced by American Airline and the last two by Qatar.

BOI-DFW

The checking with the AA desk was easy as we managed to pack everything in 2 roller board carry on bags thus needed to check no luggage much to the surprise of our check in agent.  After confirming our paperwork (to travel to South Africa with minors you are required to have original birth certificates with the traveling parents names) we were off on the quickest and easiest way to get to DFW.  Its a very easy 3-4 hour flight and we were able to snag Main Cabin Extra seats as a perk of my Platinum Status with AA.  Standard service from American which we have found to be great!

DFW- Centurion

One of our favorite clubs is the Centurion Lounge by Amex in DFW.  Access is by our American Express Platinum card.  Until recently one card could get access for an entire family to the club, but since that has changed to the card member plus up to 2 guests.  As we are a family of 5 our solution was to add my wife as an authorized user (which costs $175 for up to 3 additional card members per year) which then allowed our entire family access to the lounge.
The lounge itself is great for kids- it has a specific kids room which is fully equipped with toys for younger kids and a Xbox 360 for the bigger ones.  The food offerings are top notch with a wonderful spread of real food setup in buffet form.  There are also shower stalls and free 15 minute massages (my wife’s favorite amenity).

DFW-LHR

I typically fly through other airports into Europe so this was my first time taking the flight through LHR.  The flight itself was uneventful and again the Main Cabin Extra seats provided a bit extra comfort!  The costs for these seats if you do not have any status on most airlines is $75-$150 but depending on the length of the flight can be worth the extra expense.  Since our kids are a bit older and can sit by themselves we find a row of the Main Cabin Extra with a row of regular seats behind.  We put the parents in the Main Cabin Extra seats and the kids the row behind in the free seats since for them space is not quite as important.

LHR – Plaza Premium

When you arrive at LHR each terminal is a bus ride away.  So unless you next flight is in the same terminal as where you arrived you will be taking some sort of shuttle to get to your departure terminal.  Since we were changing from American Airlines to Qatar we ended up on a 20 minute bus ride to terminal 4 where we checked out the Plaza Premium Lounge.  There was plenty of seating when we were there.  It from the layout it seemed like there would be lots of room for a crowd and the showers were clean and spacious.  There was limited shampoo but plenty of hot water.  The culinary offerings were ethnic with a lot of curries, rice and cream of something, but the quality of the food was great and the kiddos were happy to eat chicken and rice so we were good for the 6 hours.  There was plenty of room for sitting and the furniture was quite comfortable.  We found it to be very quiet and tranquil.  There were no kids rooms or anything tailored for the kiddos but the wifi was fast enough for Netflix and naps.  Access to the lounge was through our Priority Pass cards which is a benefit of our American Express Platinum card.  Like other clubs you can only get the card holder plus 2 guests on each membership card, but when you get an additional card holder on the Amex Platinum you also get additional Priority Pass membership.

LHR-DOH

This was our first leg on Qatar Air.  Boarding was typical, and we got settled into our seats.  The seats themselves were quite comfortable with a large touch screen in the seat-back.  The flight attendants were extremely friendly and we settled into the flight.  The dinner service was good I would rate it as a step above most other carriers.  I had curry chicken which tasted very good and the bread that came with the meal was warm!  My favorite part about Qatar flight was the screen entertainment.  Qatar had edited all of the screen offerings and there was nary a curse word to be heard on any of the movies I watched.  I checked in on quite a few movies and I believe they had edited them all.  It was great for the kids because they got to watch a few movies I would not of otherwise let them watch based on the fact it was edited.  I know for many its annoying for things to be bleeped out, but when you travel with kids it can be a huge relief!

DOH

We had a pretty short layover in Doha and were unable to take advantage of any lounge access, but there was a lounge with access from our Priority Pass card.

DOH-JNB

By this point in our trip everyone was pretty tired. Two 8+ hour flights in a row had us all fighting to keep our eyes open.  I don’t think a single on of us turned on a screen or abided in any meal or drink service.  We were out to the world!

In Country

We flew from JNB-DUR and back to visit the oceanside town of Scottsburgh.  The flights were on British Airways provided by ComAir.  In both directions we found the service to be great.  It was a quick flight so service was only provided on our outbound flight, which consisted of a drink and a scone (which was not very fresh but edible).

JNB – Bidvest

We arrived early at the airport planning to feed the kids breakfast at the airport but were pleasantly surprised to find that there was in fact a club in Johannesburg.  It was called the Bidvest Premium club and it quickly became one of our favorite clubs to date.  The food was plentiful with lots of tasty options.  Roasted beef, croissant sandwiches, pastries, fruit, yogurt, they had a great, diverse spread.  While it was not very spacious it was very quiet when we were there.  I image there was only seating for about 50 people so I assume it can get pretty full.  No specific rooms or anything special for the kids but the food offerings were basic and the kids loved it.  Access came again from our Priority Pass card from the Amex Platinum.

DUR-Bidvest

Again we were shocked to find another Bidvest Lounge in Durban that we stopped in on our way back to JNB.  The food offerings were the same as the other Bidvest Lounge but what impressed me was the power outlets.  There was power everywhere and even more impressive was that they had not just South African plugs, but also European, and North American.

Bidvest Lounge DUR
Bidvest Lounge DUR
Inside security up three floors to the right!
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Homeward

Johannesburg

What happens when you show up 2 hours before the check in desk opens? School!

We were sad to be leaving South Africa but alas all great things must come to an end.  We arrived pretty early to the airport as we had to drive from Kruger Park and I gave us 6 hours of extra time in case of traffic.  Luckily there was no traffic, unluckily we got there 2 hours before the check in desk opened.  We had to check a bag since we had purchased some wine and could not carry it on.  So we found a quiet nook in the airport and got a bit of school work done.  After 1.5 hours of school we headed back to the check in desk.  We were first in line and quickly got checked in, through security, then immigration, and we were set!  We started out in another Bidvest Premium Lounge which had an even more varied food options then before as this was the first time we had been in the lounge around dinner time.  The same quality of food and drinks were found in this lounge at it was quite spacious.  There was PLENTY of room, but there were no kid specific areas.  Access was provided by our Priority Pass cards.

Bidvest Lounge JNB
Bidvest Lounge JNB
Just upstairs in the international terminal in JNB
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With an abundance of time we opted to head out early and check out another lounge before boarding. The Shongololo Lounge proved to be, like its name, a quirky funky layout lounge.  While we were there it was PACKED and unlike the Bidvest lounge there was not space anywhere.  After standing around for 10 minutes a few seats opened up and we were able to settle in.  The food offerings were also quite quirky with supermarket sushi sitting right next to macaroni and cheese servings as well as pre-made sandwiches tasting  very much like gas station fare.  For us the Shangololo lounge is a hard pass, there are way better lounge options in JNB that have better space, better food, and less people. Access was provided by our Priority Pass cards.

Sandwiches
Sandwiches
We call them gas station sandwiches; premade, prepackaged.
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JNB-ATL Delta Flight

After travel hack our flights were better!

After using my schedule change rerouting hack our flights were much better.

What do you do with yourself and your kids for a 17 hour flight??!  That is the question we asked ourselves as we settle into the long haul home.  We were split up a bit with our 11 year old son sitting alone, my wife with our daughter and our youngest son sitting with me a few rows ahead.  This was my first experience with Delta on a long haul flight and I was not very impressed.  During the haul home the flight attendants were quite short tempered with the kids and seem more interested in clearing as quickly as possible rather than customer service.  We are pretty strict with the kids to make sure they are attentive to the flight attendants (no headphones or screens on during food or drink service) but by the time the cart got to us there was only one food option which was unceremoniously plopped down in front of us before they moved on.  I realize that flight attendants have an incredibly challenging job and I do not envy them, but we have taken trips of similar length before on other airlines and the quality of service has been night and day.  As this was our first experience with Delta on long haul flights I can not speak to this being an isolated quality of service, but I do know we will try to avoid Delta in the future.

Menu
Menu
A menu in coach? We felt classy!
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After we arrived in ATL we had very short layovers and were unable to take advantage of any more lounge access and had an unremarkable completion of our journey home.  The only thing of note was how great the rest of the Delta crew was on the regional flights.  We flew from ATL to SLC then to BOI and all the crews were friendly, attentive, and patient.

Look out for Part 3 coming out soon with the low down on what the heck to do with kids in South Africa!