Rental Car travel hack – finding a car when company is sold out!

If you have ever been stuck making last minute arrangements for flights it can be incredibly frustrating, especially around holidays.  Rentals cars can be even worse.  Limited availability, holiday rushes, and high prices can keep you stuck at the airport or relying on public transportation for your surface travel needs.  Use this rental car travel hack to find hidden availability!

The Problem

I have found on more than one occasion I am unable to find ANY rental availability for required dates to accommodate my travel needs.  I search each carriers website, then search the broader websites (rentalcars.com ect), and even still I have been in situations (especially in Latin and South American countries) where there is NO cars available.

The Solution

Search better! Instead of using a US based search engine, or a multi agency search engine, I will use the search engine for the brand of rental car in the host country.  A perfect example is in Chile.  I needed to book a one way car rental and checked Hertz.  I had to call in to request the car and 4 days later I was told nothing was available.  Then I tried EuropCar (the only other rental agency that I could pick up in Santiago and return to an airport in southern Chile.  Same problem with no cars available.  Once I searched europcar.cl I was able to find exactly what I needed and it was actually cheaper than the price was typically listed on the US based sites.  It did not require a Chilean license or passport.  Luckily I can read Spanish, but Google translate could of taken care of that as well!

So next time you can’t find a rental car use this rental car travel hack, check the local version of the site!

Don’t get stuck up the creek with a big boat and a tiny car!

What is a mistake fare and how to use it to travel with your Family

Mistake fares can make your family travel money go further and help you travel to those exotic destinations across the globe! There is a lot of jargon that gets thrown around in the frequent flyer game and our goal as travelers is to utilize every tool available to us to get our family to the far flung places across the globe.  One tool we have been able to use with great success is the concept known as a “mistake fare”.  This is a hot button word and rarely do true “mistake fares” come around but if you have travel goals and don’t mind monitoring the internet you can use some low cost mistake fares to accomplish your goals.

What is a mistake fare?

Mistake fares come up for a very short period of time when the pricing algorithm gets an error and prices normally much more expensive flights for much cheaper.  Most extreme mistake fares are cancelled as you are paying pennies on the dollar and per the Department of Transportation (DOT) US carriers do NOT have to honor obviously mismatched fares.  But we have had some luck with higher cost mistake fares being honored.  With any possible mistake fare you do not immediately want to make additional reservations for hotels, cars, ect until you feel confident your fare will not get cancelled (typically if they get cancelled it happens within a week).

How do you find mistake fares?

Luckily for all of us travelers there are plenty of websites out there who do most of the hard work for you.  Our favorite hands down is Secret Flying.  They have a great email subscription program which can send you flight alerts, and if you are a Facebook user you can like them and have their posts come up first on your feed. Other options include Fly4Free and AirfareWatchdog.
In our family we have a standing list of places we want to travel that I am constantly searching for, if a mistake fare comes up for one of those we go ahead and try to book.  Fares are often for travel within a few months of the posting so you need to be flexible and prepared to travel on alternate dates.
Lastly, unless you live in hub cities (San Fransisco, LA, Seattle, Washington DC, Miami, Atlanta, New York, and Dallas) you will likely need to “position” to get your flights.  That means you will need to travel to an alternate airport (one of the airports that has the mistake fare) from your home airport.  For example, we fly out of Boise, ID (BOI).  So we are always looking for flight departing from SEA and SFO as both of those cities we can easily drive to or fly on cheaper regional airlines.

How do you confirm your mistake fares?

So you found and booked your fare?! How long do you wait till you make additional travel accommodations? I always wait 2 weeks after I get a confirmation email with confirmed seats.  After the two weeks I actually call into the airlines call center and ask for help changing seats and confirming my flight.  If that all goes through with out a hitch then I have always felt confident enough to make additional travel reservations.

Example:

Amazing beaches!

One of the many AMAZING beaches of Australia.

One of our greatest mistake fares came about last fall.  We had been wanting to travel back to Australia because the family loved the place and it has a great slalom kayak course (site of the 2000 Olympic Games).  Flight costs were quite high for a family of 5 and the cheapest we could find for the family was around $1800pp.  During my coffee hour one morning I got my email alert from Secret Flying showing tickets from LAX-SYD-SFO for $370pp!  Without even asking my wife I booked the entire family for a 7 week trip to SYD for the fall.  I waited a week and called the airline to change seats and confirm my flights.  They confirmed, moved our seats and we were good to go!

Have you had a mistake fare for your family? Tell us below!

France for Five: Part 2

A tale of 2 trips

If you read Part 1 of this trip report you know that my daughter and I flew out a few weeks before the rest of the family for some additional kayak races.  Both trips were on different airlines and different routes so here are the lounges and flights for each one.

Tren plus 1
SFO-YVR-MXP-FRA-SFO-BOI

Getting ready to take off!

We got a free upgrade to business class from my status (Gold) with United on our first Air Canada flight.

My trip started with a drive.  As we booked a mistake fare from SFO and were unable to find cheap enough flights to get to SFO so a one way car rental from Avis was the first leg of our trip.  Check in was easy as I chose a time that didn’t have any arriving flights and after chatting with Avis agent we decided on the most fuel efficient car they had in their lot.  I wanted to keep fuel costs as low as possible and they kindly gave us an upgrade to a hybrid car with 80MPG!  The drive to SFO was easy and under 10 hours, typically when we position to SFO we stay in an airport hotel, but a friend of mine lives nearby so we did some couch surfing as we had a very early departure in the morning.

We checked in early enough to get use of the Centurion Lounge from our American Express Platinum card.  The Centurion lounges are my favorite brand of lounge and this one didn’t disappoint.  They have a good breakfast buffet with sausage, potatoes, granola, yogurt, toast, bagels, ect.  The kids always hear the same thing “eat your fill cause you have no idea when you are going to eat again”.  After enough caffine to hop up a race horse we were off.  We flew AirCanada from San Fransico (SFO) to Vancouver (YVR) which was a pleasant short flight.  We had a 5 hour layover in Vancouver so we made our way to the Maple Leaf Lounge.  It is Air Canada’s branded lounge and we used the Priority Pass benefit from the Amex Platinum card.  This Maple Leaf Lounge is fantastic.  It is quite large with solid buffet option. Macaroni and cheese, nachos, and a few protein choices plus quite a few beers on tap (Tren+Guiness=Happy days).  And we were lucky because our YRV-MXP flight was delayed by 5 hours.  We both were well fed and watered and didn’t need any more food but I did check with the customer service desk and they were offering food vouchers for everyone on our flight.  If you delay is more than 3-4 hours its always a good idea to check with customer service to see if any food vouchers are available.  Finally 5 hours late were boarded from the YRV-MXP flight which was comfortable, well serviced, and not super crowded.

Lounges make delays MUCH more comfy.

After HOURS of delay, my daughter resorted to candy bars and Netflix in the Maple Leaf Lounge.

For the return trip the fare we purchased ended putting us on Luftansa the whole way home.  First flight was MXP-FRA and we did not have much time after a lengthy check-in to use a lounge and we went straight to the gate.  During check in I was surprised to be told that I was allowed only one carry on (I carry a small laptop backpack and a rollerboard) and would have to check and pay for my slim backpack.  I explained that we had booked the flight as a codeshare with United and per my confirmation email I was allowed a personal item plus a carry on bag.  After about 20 minutes of slow motion we finally got the bags checked, the carry on bags weighed and labeled as “approved”, and we were off for the gate.  The first opportunity for a lounge was the Lufthansa lounge in FRA.  They are currently renovating the terminal we were in and finding the lounge was a bit of a labyrinth but finally we found it.  Frankfurt is a big airport for Lufthansa and the lounge was packed.  We stood around for about 10 minutes until a table opened up and we slid in.  The food offerings were quite limited to bratwurst, soup, and crackers.  Olivia was thrilled because they did have gummy bears for the kids.  The food was not very good and we opted to get a few cups of coffee/hot chocolate then head out to the terminal to await our flight to SFO.  In SFO we paid a visit back to the Centurion Lounge for some hydration and got our last flight to BOI.

My wife and the boys

BOI-PHX-DFW-LHR-TLS BCN-JFK-PHX-BOI

My wife’s trip had less layover time with only layovers long enough for lounges in DFW, LHR and JFK.
DFW- Is one of the better Centurion Lounges in the US.  It is large, has a kids room with a bunch of Xbox 360 games, and has great food offerings.  she likes it in particular because you get free massages.
LHR-  London is a VERY big airport and if you are arriving by an international flight you have to choose your departure terminal.  It does not seem that you can easily move between terminals and Linzie’s connecting flight was via terminal 5 which brought her to an Aspire Lounge with access from the Priority Pass benefit from our Amex Platinum card.  This was any of ours first time in an Aspire Lounge and it did not disappoint.  The food offering was during the lunch time with mini sandwiches, pasta, sausage, dessert platter, fruits, and soups.  There was a premium menu which came with its own costs, but the free options were plenty to recharge while they waited for our last flight.  It was SUPER busy and there was a 20 minute wait list before being allowed in as well as a 3 hour maximum time you are allowed in the club. She and the boys had a 5 hour layover however they were graciously allowed to stay the entire time. With it being so crowded it was hard to stretch out and my youngest son fell asleep which made space quite difficult as they had no kid room.
JFK- On the way home it was a shorter layover in JFK and there was an Admirals Club near the gate.  They had access via the Citi AAdvantage Executive card which comes with a full Admirals Club membership.  The offerings of the Admirals Club are very consistent; soup, cheese, veggies, desserts, coffee, soda, water, and everyones favorite guacamole bar in the afternoon.  The best part of the Admirals Club is the kids room and the helpfulness of the front desk staff if you have any flight problems.  The front desk staff have always been very helpful and informative for flight changes, and have always gone the extra mile in helping us solve our travel problems.

If you missed it check out Part 1 showing you how to book a family of 5 with frequent flyer miles.
Stay tuned for part 3:
What to do with three kids in the South of France!

Family Travel Hack – Less points = better routing on award tickets

Family travel hacks can take long haul international trips and make them shorter, easier, and get you home faster.  We once took a flight from Chile, to Miami, to North Carolina, to California, to Sydney Australia.  Look at that on a map and its a terrible idea.  We recently booked an award trip to get us home from South Africa (JNB) on Delta airlines hoping to get the direct flight from Johannesburg (JNB) to Atlanta (ATL).  Sadly when checked for award availability, the only flights possible for the cheap award fare were via Johannesburg (JNB) – London Heathrow (LHR) – Seattle (SEA) on Virgin Atlantic. Having two overnight flights in a row can be a challenge for the kids, but the difference in award fare was substantial.  It was 40k Delta miles per ticket to fly via LHR and 110k Delta miles to fly via ATL. To make matters more complicated there are no free seat assignments on Virgin Atlantic flights and to ensure we sat together we ended up spending over $600 to get preassigned seats on the flights.

Caution - Schedule Change Ahead

The Option

We always book our flights out as much as possible, in this case it was exactly 340 days before our trip.  Because we booked so early between the time we booked the trip and flew there was a schedule change.  Typically when there is a schedule change of more than 90 minutes you can take the option to change your ticket.  Most of the time they will allow you to change departure times and sometimes even your route to accommodate your schedule.

The Solution

As soon as I realized we had a schedule change (the last leg of our flight home was 90 minutes later that we originally booked) on our flight I though of this family travel hack!  The problem was; we figured it out while in South Africa and were unable to call Delta to get a change.  Then we tried to change our flight using the web portal with no success.  Without being able to call or change online I emailed them via the contact us page.  Linzie then had the genius idea of contacting Delta via Twitter.  Sure enough within minutes someone from Delta responded on twitter.  We began to direct message and I asked them if it was possible to reroute our tickets because the new itinerary did not work for our schedule.

The Outcome

Success!  Within an hour of back and forth twitter messages the extremely helpful Delta rep was able to rebook us on the much shorter and more direct JNB-ATL flight!  Although the JNB-ATL flight is 16 hours 45 minutes long, it gets us home 14 hours faster and eliminates a second overnight flight.  Even better we were able to contact Virgin Atlantic about getting a refund on the preassigned seat fees!  Keep this family travel trip hack in mind if you have a change in

We will post the joys and comfort of a 16 hour 45 minute flight with kids aged 11,9, and 7 in our next trip report that will be out next week:
Family Travel for 5 to Africa!